Monday, June 30, 2014

La dulce vita

Were all the lit majors off on the same Saturday, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article last Sunday about an exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, “The World at War, 1914-1918,” misspelled the first word in the title of a poem by Wilfred Owen, who was killed in the war. It is “Dulce et Decorum Est” (not “Dolce”).

An article last Sunday about the effect World War I had on America’s cultural consciousness misidentified the era in which John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” — an allegory of hardship and redemption that many British soldiers and officers were familiar with — came out. It was published in the 17th century, not during the medieval years.

A biographical note with the Your Fellow Americans column on June 22, about Rick Perry’s possible presidential run, misstated part of the title of a recent book by the writer, Mark Leibovich. It is “This Town,” not “Our Town.”

Q: What about the theater majors?
A: Yes, the theater majors too:

An article last Sunday about the former actor Richard Beymer and a documentary that he filmed in Mississippi in 1964 misidentified the gang that Russ Tamblyn’s Riff belonged to in “West Side Story” — the movie in which Mr. Beymer starred as Tony in 1961. Riff and Tony were both Jets; neither one was a rival Shark.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stop press!

With half the 1A hed spent on the guy's name, you can be forgiven for expecting him to be someone you recognize at once (along with the need to distinguish him from seniors or IIIs of the same name). Or maybe a friend of the publisher.
Would it help to know that he's "also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr."? OK, how about that the lede introduces him as "the man charged in the April shooting rampage that left three people dead outside two Jewish facilities in Overland Park."

The online hed -- "Accused Jewish centers gunman F. Glenn Miller Jr. is dying of lung disease, friends say" -- gets two things right that the print version doesn't: It tells you why you've heard of the person, and it avoids making medical determinations that, alas, copy editors shouldn't generally be in the business of making. Attribution is nice (in a case like this, we could go so far as to say it's essential), but it raises new questions of its own: Who are these people, and how do they know what they know?*

“He’s dying now, there’s no doubt,” said Craig Cobb, a neo-Nazi who made national headlines when he starting buying plots in a small North Dakota town in 2011 and later announced plans to turn it into an all-white hamlet.
Read more »

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Out saving the world ...

In case you wondered what the Fair 'n' Balanced Network did by way of national coverage between bursts of Kenyan perfidy:

A live-in nanny who refused to leave her employers’ home in California after they fired her left just as mysteriously as she has acted since shortly after the couple her, they said.

Uh, got it.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014


Just a couple minor suggestions for the morning 1A meeting at the Star:

1) If you have to burn a third of your summary deck ("The party with an elephant for a mascot") just to explain the illustration, you have the wrong illustration.

2) He might have stepped right over the skyline, but -- keep your voice down and move slowly toward the exits -- it looks like at least some of your fair city is about to take a pretty serious stomping.

Really. That's a lot of time and space invested in what amounts to an undigestible word-n-image hash. The elephant and donkey aren't the universally recognized icons you think they are, and a Godzilla hit on some office buildings isn't exactly an intuitive way to explain why you didn't make the top two list of places to hold a convention in midsummer. Next time an idea like this starts to take on a life of its own, drop a dictionary on it. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Forbidden ledes: Thumb test

Today's tip: When you're tempted to begin your story with one of the Great Cliches,  stop for a moment and put your thumb over the cliche. If the ensuing text makes just as much sense as it did before, go ahead and delete your precious lede. (Yes, even if it's just a brief.) Your readers will be none the wiser, but if they were, they'd thank you.

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Oh, shut up

Pausewise, these are trying times:

Few things give people more pause than a human biting another human.  

Offhand, as it turns out, I could think of quite a few. I'm not sure "allowing the sports department to offer broad social-cultural generalizations without adult supervision" is among the top five, but -- you know, add some size and some offensive help and it might still make a late-season run.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

That's what: Threat or menace?

You guys are just toying with us now, aren't you?

Gang members, or misunderstood rap fans?

That’s what a federal judge will soon decide about the “Juggalos” — fans of Detroit music duo Insane Clown Posse, which claims the FBI is giving its fans a bad rap by labeling them as dangerous gang members.

Sigh. If it wasn't a good idea Saturday and it wasn't a good idea last week, why would it suddenly have become a good idea for today? Not that things get much better as we go along:

The FBI says it has only labeled a “subset” of the Juggalos as gang members — not the entire fan base — and wants a judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the gang-designation is causing ICP to lose fans and violates the freedom of expression rights of Juggalos.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland today said he will issue a decision in two to three weeks in a lawsuit that has pitted the FBI’s rights to investigate gangs against the rights of music fans to express themselves freely without fear of retaliation.

No, they're the same lawsuit (as is the "a lawsuit" in the following graf) -- suggesting that we want a nonrestrictive clause, to make clear we're adding more information about the one that's already in play.

It'd be nice if the genuinely good (and expensive) public-interest reporting the paper still occasionally does didn't come amid so many distractions.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Too good to check out

Here's a suggested rubric for those stories that are too good to check out: if the phrase "went viral" occurs in the second or third paragraph, lie down until the feeling goes away. By the time you get up, somebody might have asked the relevant questions:

The report of a Jackson KFC accused of asking a 3-year-old girl to leave because of facial scars was a hoax, according to the Laurel Leader-Call.

And that's especially true if the attribution is too good to clog up the display type. Naturally, a story about a Bible -- OK, a book that "has Bible verses in contemporary language" -- stopping the bullets of three rampaging blackamoors on a gang initiation spree has the sort of frontpage appeal that rates a "Divine Intervention" at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. Too bad it took nearly three months for the null hypothesis to catch up:

A white bus driver's story that a religious book in his shirt pocket blocked bullets as he was attacked by three black men isn't supported by evidence and testing, Dayton police said Wednesday as they closed the case, which had been investigated as a possible hate crime.

We make a big deal, for good reason, about the "discipline of verification" that distinguishes journalism from the lesser crafts. If we want to have those skills available next time we're trying to inform the national debate on launching a war* in the Fractious Near East, we'd do well to hone them on the smaller-scale stuff available locally. Doesn't matter if you personally think KFC and Saddam Hussein are more or less interchangeable; what matters is that you ask the fairly obvious questions when the mob is forming.

* Imagine that.


Your Life Work series: Journalism

"... even a slight error has been known to influence the financial markets."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Solon flays nod nab ploy

There's a saying among the headline tribe: If "Afghanistan" didn't fit in one column yesterday, why do you think it's going to fit in one column today?

Designers like size, advertisers like size, space is finite and somebody has to split the difference.* For that and other reasons, deciphering headlines can often seem like a game of Scrabble devised by particularly malicious orcs: great if your vocabulary is long on words like flay, blast, rap, nab, flee, rip, solon and cops; nasty, brutish and short otherwise.

With no space concerns in play, though, it's hard to see why "nabs nod" made sense as anything but a stroll through the antiques mall. I'm not sure the audience is as fond of buggy whips and kerosene lamps as we are.

* One of the uglier hed calls I remember was a 2/60/1, no descenders, for the bizpage news lead. Quick, think of a verb and pronoun that fit with room left over!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

That's not much better

Well, speak of the devil and he will surely park his satanic vehicle on the street the day they're supposed to sweep the leaves. No sooner do we get done complaining about the prevalence of the Thurber Lede at certain downtown founts of knowledge than this appears:

On the night accused shooter Theodore Wafer fatally shot an unarmed woman on his porch, he was overcome with fear, yelling from the backseat of a police squad car: “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God.”

That’s some of what the jury can expect to hear in the highly anticipated second-degree murder trial of Wafer, who is charged with killing Renisha McBride last November after the 19-year-old showed up on his porch of his Dearborn Heights home just before dawn, within hours of crashing her car into a parked vehicle.

Why the paper bothers with "accused shooter" when the next two words say he did it is a little puzzling, but it supports the idea that details in general are going unnoticed. So does the glitch toward the end of the second graf: "his porch of his Dearborn Heights home." And the lede of the next story downpage (now fixed online; print version shown here). And the second graf of the 1A lede story:

Gov. Rick Snyder officially approved the state’s portion of the grand bargain Friday, signing into law a package of bills provides the state’s share — $195 million — of the $816-million deal in which ownership of the city-owned museum would be transferred to a nonprofit trust, with proceeds going to ease deep pension cuts.

OK, maybe that was an extreme case of the strange belief that journalism always get better when you take out "that." But otherwise, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that nothing but the occasional spellcheck stands between the writers and the audience. That's unsettling for the audience, but it should be really, really scary for the writers -- the unreported victims of the War on Editing.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

That's a plenty

What with a particularly bodacious cops lede in the morning fishwrap:

Got ’em.

U.S. Marshals captured escapee No. 3 — a convicted drug dealer who disappeared last month with his two cohorts just before the jury delivered its guilty verdicts in one of the biggest drug trials in Detroit history.

... it seemed like a good time to revisit the Forbidden Lede front, especially since a regular offender has been showing up rather often:
Enough with the calls.

That’s what one consumer is telling Kohl’s in a federal lawsuit that claims the department store is stalking her and harassing her by phone over an overdue credit card bill, calling her at all hours of the night over what she calls a measly $20.
(June 17)
He stole from the dead to pay for cable TV.

That’s what a mortician’s assistant is accused of doing nearly a year ago after transporting a man’s body from the morgue to a Detroit funeral home, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court.
(June 11)
 In the end, cooperation worked.

That’s what the government learned in relying on Derrick Miller for help in putting away corrupt politicians and crooked contractors.
(May 29)
Detroit may have a serious violent crime problem, an international border to keep an eye on and ongoing public corruption scandals to contend with.

But other cities have it bad, too.

That's what FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday during his first visit to Detroit since getting sworn in as America's seventh FBI chief eight months ago.
(April 30)
Read more »

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

1090 and all that

Still having trouble with those pesky foreigners and their pesky sports?

An article on Tuesday about Germany’s 4-0 victory over Portugal at the World Cup misspelled the surname of the Portugal center forward who left the game with a leg injury. He is Hugo Almeida, not Almeido. The article also misstated, in some copies, the year Germany last won the World Cup. It was 1990, not 1090.

I'm kind of sorry I didn't get the T-shirt.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Running out of BENGHAZI !!!!!!!

Here's the landing-page summary, which often differs enough from the lede to be worth preserving on its own:

SECRET MISSION TO NAB Benghazi terror suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala was months in the making, but the Delta Force operators who carried out the mission did so 'efficiently,' completing it in 32 minutes, Fox News confirms.

You can see why this story finally made it to the top of the page. Compare it, for example, to Tuesday's top BENGHAZI!!!!!! story

Hillary Clinton, in a sit-down interview with Fox News, suggested Tuesday that she had doubts from the outset about whether the Benghazi terror attack was triggered by a protest over an anti-Islam film -- though her State Department pushed that narrative for days. 

That'll be the "false narrative" beloved of Fox reportage and commentary for the past year and change. Having already noted that promoted the same false narrative the day after the BENGHAZI!!!!!! attack, may we quote the particularly flavorful story from Fox Radio* on Sept. 12, 2012?
Read more »

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Giornolism 101

Today's editing tip: If you're not sure how to spell something, look it up. If you are sure, look it up anyway. Right, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A picture caption in some editions on Monday with an article about the international makeup of the San Antonio Spurs’ roster, using information from The Associated Press, misidentified one of the two Spurs players shown talking. Tiago Splitter of Brazil — not Marco Belinelli of Italy — is at the left, talking to Manu Ginobili of Argentina. The article also misspelled the Italian word for good day. It is buongiorno, not bonjourno.

While we're at it, let's ask for a ruling on one word vs. two (not looking good for the home team, according to the references around the manse here). And when are we going to see the third correction on the June 2 Personal Health column?

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Monday, June 16, 2014

That corrections policy

"The Free Press corrects all errors of fact," we're told every day on page 2A. OK, let's see how long it takes to fix this self-induced error. The disappearance wasn't "in Israel"; it was in the West Bank near Hebron. There's a difference, and it's the sort that the Free Press used to pride itself -- given the local population dynamics and all -- on getting right.

Owing mostly to the current unpleasantness in Iraq, US news culture is in one of those rare periods in which the stuff normally denigrated as "that Mideast trivia" -- say, how the current borders got to be the way they are -- is all of a sudden abnormally salient. That's likely to fade as soon as a new squirrel distracts our little friends at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, but it's a useful reminder that details matter. We do this journalism stuff, after all, so members of the (potentially) voting public can form opinions that actually reflect their interests. If we can't tell which side of a border something is on, or why that distinction might make a difference in understanding the information that's presented, we really don't have much of a claim on the public dime, do we?

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Whatever you do, don't mention the war

On the whole, it's probably less interesting to examine Mike Rogers's babbling prescriptions in detail than to look back -- could it be nearly eight years? -- to those halcyon days when, by golly, real Americans thought twice before declaring something a civil war:

"You have not yet had a situation also where you have two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power, but for territory," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences. ..."

Ah, differences. And that sort of carelessness is a sure sign of a librul media plot -- right, Bill O'Reilly?

NBC News has declared that there is indeed a civil war in Iraq. Now that's not shocking, because NBC is the most aggressive anti-Bush network these days, as they have made a calculated effort to woo left-wing viewers.

The question is: Is NBC wrong about Iraq? The answer is yes — at this point.

The Iraq War has morphed into a number of conflicts, much like the chaotic Baltic* situation under President Clinton. Because the Bush administration miscalculated the problems after Saddam, the ensuing chaos has given power to a number of bad guys.

Good thing Fox had leading policy thinkers like Cal Thomas to put it all in context:

The height of pretension in all of this was when Matt Lauer got on the "Today" show, and like a head of state, announced that they were now going to call it a "civil war." What right does he have to do this? Who elected him to anything?

Read more »

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

I thought that was kind of the point

In one of my favorite sequences from "Love and Death," Boris justifies the (proposed) assassination of Napoleon thus: "You're a tyrant and a dictator and you start wars!"

Napoleon turns to Sonja: "Why is he reciting my credits?"

Similarly, when The Fox Nation gets a case of the vapors over the idea that the Drudge Report might be, you know, sort of a clearinghouse for made-up stories, one is tempted to ask: Wasn't that the point in the first place?

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Meaty strips of yellow fruit

What can you say after you've already said "bacon"?

“Extremely limited” ticket sales began today for the third annual Baconfest Michigan — a strolling chow-down in which some of the region’s top chefs and caterers prepare meaty strips of cured pork in nearly every conceivable manner.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wrong band

I'm thinking we mean "asleep at the switch," but I've been wrong before. But enough about that. What's the big story here, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

The Obama administration's apparent miscalculation of the threat posed by Al Qaeda-aligned militants in Iraq drew severe criticism Thursday from top Republican lawmakers, who accused President Obama and his national security team of "taking a nap," warning "the next 9/11 is in the making."

... The administration once again appears to have been caught off guard by an explosion of violence in a country U.S. forces helped liberate from a dictator.

Maybe somebody should remind Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that the first 9/11 didn't come from Iraq. And that if we wanted a stable, secular Iraqi autocracy that was really good at killing insurgents (and large numbers of other people who looked at it crossways) while acting as a regional counterweight to Iran, maybe we shouldn't have broken the one that was already there.

The sunshine realists were out in force during the bumbling in Ukraine. Wonder how quickly they'll scurry for cover on this one.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today in sourcing

The sources, in order, to whom direct quotes are attributed in today's Fair 'n' Balanced look (so far) at the future of the House leadership:

one senior House GOP source

one member

one senior House GOP leadership aide

another aide

a senior House Republican source who asked not to be identified

one senior aide to Boehner

one former House Republican

Indirect quotes are also attributed to:

Republicans* sources

one Republican aide

GOP sources

For a total of ... um, no named sources at all in your lead story.

I'm in the camp that thinks the journalistic obsession with naming sources sometimes comes at the expense of appropriate attention to the quality of information that sources provide (quick, see how long it takes you to find a named source affirming the imminent peril of Iraq's WMD stockpile). But there ought to be at least a favor or two you can call in after all that service as the Eyes and Ears of the Party.

* Yeah, (sic)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The black guy's playing golf basketball again

How are things on the White House beat there, Washington Times?

He’s the world’s most powerful armchair quarterback, and President Obama hasn’t shied away from weighing in on the link between concussions and football, the furor over the Washington Redskins‘ name and other high-profile sports controversies of the day.

You can see why it took a while to get the tone of the hed just right. Clearly not the deck from the 1A centerpiece:

Obama takes Bush lead on controversy and runs with it

The HTML kind of fades out with "When it comes to sports controversies, Obama is eager." And the Web version went back and forth from morning to evening too:

Which I guess finally sums it up: The Kenyan still wants to imitate Bush, and he's not just eager to jump in, he's a mean drunk about it. Right, White House beat?
Read more »

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Math is hard. Let's go framing!

Pause for a second and think about what whole number it could be that, increased by two, makes for a rise of 53 percent. Then see what the hed writer tried to mean:

Sunday’s slaying of two Las Vegas policemen raises to 23 the number of law enforcement officers killed by gunfire this year, a 53 percent increase over the tally at this time last year, which is spurring concern about the influence of radical groups.

Yes, yes, Washington Times, but what kind of radicals? Did they wave Kalashnikovs and shout "Allahu Akbar"?

After shooting the policemen at point-blank range, the husband and wife killers took the officers’ weapons and reportedly covered them with a Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag, which depicts a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” The officers’ killers — Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda — had been at Cliven Bundy’s ranch during his standoff with federal officials in April, though the rancher’s family said Monday the two had been chased away.

Not the kind who dress up like movie characters either? Well, I guess you had to lead with something.
Read more »

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Free curly fries: Hat trick of error

We're up to two corrections so far on this Personal Health column at the Nation's Newspaper of Record. Should we go for the hat trick?

Decades ago, I met a surprisingly quiet, withdrawn young man. Surprising because I knew his bright, vibrant wife and wondered what had attracted her to him. He barely participated in conversations even at friendly family gatherings.

Some years later, the same man seemed to have undergone a personality transplant. He was forthright and funny, intelligent and interesting. I asked a mutual friend what could have accounted for the apparent transformation.

The answer: surgical removal of his chronically inflamed colon to treat ulcerative colitis. Once free of painful abdominal cramps, persistent diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and the depression and anxiety that can accompany these symptoms, he came to life. Even having to cope with a colostomy bag did not dampen his newly awakened spirit.

Uh, no. If his colon was removed, he has an ileostomy, not a colostomy. (The operation is a colectomy or proctocolectomy.) The writer's pop-psych opinions are a little bizarre, but the site of the ostomy is a matter of anatomy, not opinion.

Regular readers may have noted the low opinion held in these parts of reader comments in general. It's worth noting that not only has one reader picked on the writer's characterization of surgery as "rather draconian," but another has already ("five days ago," as it's marked) pointed out the factual error. When can we pick up our curly fries?

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Gotham tab noun pile spread preposition link

The monarchist takeover of the New York Post has been an open secret for some time now, but this one from the New York Daily News comes as a bit of a surprise. It packs a lot of redtop -- claim quotes, two noun piles, and a verb-replacing preposition -- into six words.

Are they driving on the wrong side of the road up there too?

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

GOP Slams Kenyan Over (filename)

Now that they've gotten the message over at the New York Post and Sunday's 5 Dirtbags have become the Swap Jihadis (which is not actually a band name contest, see right, with a little Daily News bedwetting thrown in for good measure), it's worth a little look back at how some of today's salient news stories looked in the recent past.
For example, there's the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage on Jan. 16, shown above. And there's this AP story from April 24, noting that ... what's that, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.?

"Given the significance and necessity for centralized command and control, which I have been informed is little to nonexistent, I urge you to seriously consider the idea of directing an individual to organize, manage and coordinate activity that involves multiple elements of the federal government working toward Bergdahl's release," wrote Hunter, a Marine veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

... A month after Lumpkin's appointment, Hunter wrote President Barack Obama, asking him to make the Defense Department the lead on all efforts to get Bergdahl back "with the specific aim of achieving a faster resolution than can be provided by the Department of State." He also asked Obama to name one coordinator to oversee the entire Bergdahl effort.

Interesting how that's worked out, isn't it? How do you suppose Fox readers were talking about the case a year ago* over at GretaWire?
Read more »

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Razz, jazz. huckle, dew, goose and straw

Say it ain't so, Old Hometown Newspaper!

If you missed the memo, write it down now: "Berry good," "berry fine" and all their friends are forever consigned to the ash heap of history. Shun them.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Message fail

Looks like somebody at the New York Post didn't get the message from the home planet: Negotiating with terrorists BAD!

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