A he or she behind the face

Facebook wants users to specify if they are male or female so the site won't have to write "their" for everything on users' profiles, according to a New York Times article.


It could be funny...

... if it weren't so true. (But it is still funny.)

Read this brief piece from The Onion.


The basics of copy editing

For many reasons, but mostly because of a query about how a college-level class about copy editing could be structured, I have been thinking about how copy editing can be taught.

From this pondering, I have decided to start an infrequent series of posts that explore the basics of copy editing.

I have learned over time that the first thing a person who is interested in being a copy editor should learn is how to read information and know what it is about.

If there is to be any editing beyond simple punctuation and grammar fixes, the copy editor has to grasp what is happening in the article.

Breaking news and gamer sports stories are easy: an event happened. But news analysis and features can be more complex. If the copy editor cannot understand that the analysis has to do with superdelegates in the upcoming presidential election, they will never understand why a quote about Elliot Spitzer being a supporter of candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is important. Finding any significant, or even many minor, errors in the story really hinges on understanding the larger picture--what it is all about.

Being able to understand what an article is about is especially important for any copy editor who must also write display copy such as headlines and captions. A headline is the news story wrapped up in significantly fewer words, and not knowing what the article is about would leave a copy editor in the dark.

Is it easy to teach a person to read in this way? Perhaps. In really breaking it down, it is Critical Thinking 101.

At one point in my journalism education, I was taught to jot down key words as I read through and edited stories. Then, when it came to the headline, I had words to work with and build from. In reality, this also made me pin down what was going on in the story.

Another exercise I remember was writing one-sentence summaries for all of the news stories in a newspaper section each day. (Kind of sounds close to headline writing, huh?) At that time, there was a grade on the line. Now, there are thousands of readers grading my headlines, and I don't want to be the one to fail them.


A day to speak well

OK, so today is National Grammar Day, brought to you by The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.
You can swing by the site and print out your card to flash at people when you find them using bad grammar. (However, prepare for some mean looks and possible physical confrontation from strangers.)

But in all seriousness, isn't it sad that there is a National Grammar Day? Shouldn't every day be grammar day? Oh, a copy editor can dream, right?


Wikipedia as a source, take two

The newspaper at which I work had an interview with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.

One part of this question-and-answer interview, however, was edited for space. This part had to do with using Wikipedia as a reference. Here is the question and answer:
Q: What are your thoughts on whether researchers should cite Wikipedia pages in their papers?
A: In general, an encyclopedia is not the type of thing that should be cited in an academic paper, and that goes for Britannica or anything else. When I was in college it would be considered quite silly to cite Britannica unless you were in grade school or something. It's really more about getting that broad background knowledge and that kind of information to get you started. It's a starting point rather than an ending point.
I know that this is talking about academic papers, but I do believe that you could use this to argue why Wikipedia should not be used as a source in newspaper articles, which I posted about before.

So, there you have it. The founder of Wikipedia would not use it as a source.


More from the typos department

A comment was left on a previous post, and it got me thinking about typos.

Many people may remember a brief flutter of activity in the Barry Bonds steroid scandal that erupted over a typo. But now there is even more because of one small error.

Barry Bonds seized on a pair of typos, complaining in court papers Thursday that the government's mistakes could compromise his chances for a fair trial.

The typographical errors showed up in a recent filing by prosecutors wrongly accusing Bonds of flunking a drug test in 2001. They later admitted they instead meant 2000.

Baseball's home run king has pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges alleging he lied when he told a federal grand jury he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. He is asking a judge to dismiss the case, arguing the questions posed to him while under oath were ambiguous and confusing.

In a filing last week opposing Bonds' motion for dismissal, prosecutors twice referred to a drug test he failed in November 2001. They later said they meant to reference a November 2000 drug test that had previously been mentioned in the indictment.

Still, some media outlets reported that the government had procured new evidence proving Bonds had lied.

The mistakes were corrected the next day, but Bonds' lawyers argue in their response to the government's filing that the damage to the case was already done.

Yep, that's Bonds looking to have his case kicked out over typos. Looks like the prosecutor could have used a copy editor.


I (heart) ;

I like semicolons. I like writers who know how to use them properly (and I don't mean for a winking emoticon).

So you can imagine my joy when I saw this New York Times article.

You can read some other people's thoughts about the article here, but, for me, this is almost as good as it gets.

Now, if I could only get the people at the airport to change the name of the lot from Long Term Parking to Long-Term Parking the world would be a better place.

Ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking

Ceremonies are always great events, right? The city is breaking ground on a new development, or the library is opening a new branch.

All local papers cover these types of events, and many write the phrases ribbon-cutting ceremony and groundbreaking ceremony.

This is redundant.

From the Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition (the dictionary preferred by The Associated Press):
ribbon- cutting (n.) a ceremony marking the official opening of a site, the commencement of its construction, etc., typically involving the cutting of a ribbon suspended across an entrance
groundbreaking (n.) a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building
Now, for groundbreaking, I can see more of an argument of using it as an adjective, which is the first use of the word in the dictionary.

Still, I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn't understand the word as a noun.

Catching up on my reading

David Sullivan, whom I know through ACES, recently started That's the Press, Baby. In his own words:

My aim is, as those of you who know me know, to speak on behalf of the printed newspaper, but not just out of slavish tradition or nostalgic warmth. But to find a way for the newspaper to find a renewed and viable place in a world in which, if everything is available instantly and immediately, nothing much is special -- which a newspaper needs to be.

And then there is, of course, much conversation about the post on Refections of a Newsosaur that poses the question (not begs the question): Can newspapers afford editors?

It's not as though this is new, which you can see at John McIntyre's blog and Bill Walsh's blog.

There are enough links to reading material on those two sites to keep you busy for some time.

Also, look back at this post if you get time (or haven't read it yet).


Insure vs. Ensure

For some reason, I always tend to use ensure when writing about guarantees and insure when writing about monetary backing. The Associated Press Stylebook says it should be this way.

Use ensure to mean guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy.
Use insure for references to insurance: The policy insures his life.

But this Web site points out that it is not so clear. This is also backed up here (look at bottom of entry).

Sometimes the right word is difficult to find, and there are not always clear answers. But one that showed up recently in a headline at the newspaper at which I work (though not on my watch) was the use of diffuse instead of defuse.

Sometimes a few letters off can land you in a place that you can defend (as in ensure, insure). Other times it cannot.