Thursday, April 30, 2015

Theoretical Thursdays: Symbolic convergence

So, how many times do you figure the dusky harridan is mentioned in the 513-word EAGnews epic that Drudge links to here? If your first guess was "none," take the rest of the day off!

The usurper himself, of course, appears in the lede:

Meat dating to the year of President Obama’s first inauguration was served to students in some Hawkins County, Tennessee schools last week.

... but nowhere else in the text -- not that a few minor evidentiary details ought to get in the way. How do EAGnews readers talk about this story?

Read more »


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coincidence, or what?

Now that it's too late to go back and change your answers on the content analysis exam, here's a way of getting at that question about whether and when you should recommend some slightly more outre flavor -- like discourse analysis -- over old-fashioned quantitative bean-counting: How interested are you in rare cases?

Quantitative analysis isn't always hospitable to outliers; indeed, because outliers can do the same thing to your data set that Bill Gates can do to a salary distribution, we have ways of hunting them down and dispatching them. That makes for smoother, and  more reliable, patterns of aggregate data. If you want to catch year-on-year changes in how the War On Terror® looks to most people, you can't put too much weight on something that shows up every few months. The point of content analysis is to catch it when it moves from every few months to, oh, once a month or so.

If you're watching Jon Stewart interview Judith Miller even as we speak, you probably agree that that's a good and valuable trend to monitor. But smoothing out the occasional glitch in the Times, or ignoring the odd foil-helmeted rant, also means overlooking rare cases that do mean something. Hence, when Drudge reported Wednesday that the "Clinton Cash" author had brought some fresh security on board, it's nice to have just moved a pile of stuff into the "random paranoia" folder -- including the February suggestion that CEOs were likely to start disappearing if they crossed the wrong Kenyan. 

You have to admit it's hard to set up a quantitative sampling frame to capture media discourse about state dinners. But -- spelling aside -- you also have to admit it's good to have a way to account for the every-now-and-then "Obamas feast" story.


To ... get to the other side?

After a question lede like this:
Why did the victim of a burglary grab the crook a can of Coke?

... you'd like to think there's no place to go but up. Instead:

A suspect on the loose had burst through the home of Your Name Here, 70, around 2 a.m., demanding a phone call, a can of Coke and a cigar.

All at once?

Anyway, as our Iowa correspondent points out, once you get started on all the writering, it's hard to stop. I'm especially fond of this one:

... Here grabbed an eight-inch letter opener to defend himself. But the suspect, likely in his 30s, twisted the older man's fingers and pushed him into Here's new lamp, breaking it. As Here retold the story from his living room chair, he pointed out two forefingers that were taped together and still hurt from the incident.

What's he pointing at his forefingers with if they're already taped together?

And there's another lovely case of "another woman":

... According to another police report, minutes before the suspect arrived at Here's door, he and another woman were stopped in the 3500 block of South Union Street. The two were "very nervous," the report states.

You'll want to enjoy the whole thing yourself. But you might wonder, along with the Iowa bureau: Did a "content coach" sign off on this one?


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Today in misplaced modifiers

Seems a little judgmental for a headline, doesn't it?

Even for the strange, ammonia-based grammar of Planet Drudge®, that's an unusually bold case of taking a bad hed ("Bumble Bee charged in gruesome worker oven death" is the version as linked at CNN Money) and making it vastly, gruesomely worse.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

The forbidden hed

Q: Having just indulged in one of the Great Cliches on Friday, is there a way you could possibly make it worse upon elevating it to the frontpage display type on Sunday?
A: Actually, there are several! You could, for example, make the meter even clunkier. You could insert a random comma in the "oh my!" part. You could even -- not wanting to spend precious creative time looking up whether commas go inside or outside quotation marks -- try it both ways!

It's hard to emphasize this rule of hed writing too often: If it's the first thing that comes to mind, lie down and wait for a second thing to come to mind. It's certainly hard to imagine why anyone would consider this a gift from the gods to a languishing hed world. The sports world, as usual, is a prime offender:

Seahawks schedule: Lions, Tigers (well, Bengals) and Bears, oh my! 

2015 MASCOT DEATHBRACKET: Dragons, Tigers and Bears, oh my

But the movie angle has appealed to others too:

Dinosaurs and ants and bears: Oh my! 

And it's still a Forbidden Hed when real animals are involved:

Fish and turkeys and bears, oh my!
Lions, Wolves and Bears, oh my!  Game and Fish offers seminars on large carnivores to teach safety and awareness

Lynx and Wolves and Bears, Oh My! Europe's Carnivore Resurgence

Getting the meter almost right will not save you:

Readers take on hot wings and I-4 and bears, oh, my!

... though there's some merit if you actually manage to nail it:

Texas and dildos and bears, oh my! Alcee Hastings insists Texas is 'crazy,' also bashes Florida

In general, though, this is how good you should be if you want to get away with one of the Great Cliches:

Lying and taiga and bears—oh my! Russian president lays the blame for Russian woes at the feet of the West and "fifth column" insurgents

Any questions?


Friday, April 24, 2015

Thumb ledes

Two cases of the thumb lede in the first four pages of the morning paper.

Why "thumb lede"? Because you can place your thumb over the first paragraph with no damage to the rest of the story! See how easy it is?

There will be no panda-monium in the Motor City.

It's a little hard to forget about the notion, especially if you forgot it shortly after somebody said it on TV a year and a half ago, but you'll notice that the second graf has all the impact of the first, with none of the panda-monium. (As an added bonus, though, the story actually gets worse online: the fourth graf becomes "It's simply too dang expensive.")

On to page 4A and a metrically flawed thumber: Cookies and brownies and Rice Krispies treats, oh my!

... garnished (healthfully!) with a piece of elongated yellow fruit: "the tasty — but less healthy — homemade confections."

Beware the thumb lede. Why make readers wade through your prose before they get to your news?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

His master's voice

Pro tip for the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: Don't peak too soon, kids.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Because ... he died in 1989?

There is, as alert readers might have noticed, a pretty straightforward problem with Thursday's Obama Shock Outrage question: Mistah Khomeini, he dead. Thus it's kind of fun to trace the tale back through the journalistic checkpoints to its apparent beginnings. (Yes, you can draw conclusions about the quality of Near East reporting these sources provide.)

The Fox Nation -- which, oddly, managed to find a picture of the right guardian/jurisprudent for the homepage -- borrows both its film clip here and its text from the Daily Caller, as credited in the insert:
During Thursday’s White House briefing, the Associated Press’ Jim Kuhnhenn interrogated press secretary Josh Earnest over the Obama administration’s unequal treatment of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Not entirely true, but hang on a second:

Kuhnhenn asked the White House flack why the Ayatollah is getting “the benefit of the doubt” from the administration over comments about the Iran deal last week, but Netanyahu does not after his comments that there would be no Palestinian state.
Read more »

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How to write headlines

Oyez, oyez. Order will now be come to by the Loyal Order of Friends of the Passive Voice. Even if the idea is not spoken aloud in your inner circle, verb voice is best chosen according to the mission of the headline, not some strange whim half-remembered from the journalism class you didn't pay attention in anyway.

The exclamation points are nice, but they're really just garnish on those majestic passive clauses. This 1A play from the Cleveland Morning Leader was brought to you by the Washington Post.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Today in visual journalism

Wonder how many times we'll see the Maniacal Hillary mug over the next few months. That should make an amusing content analysis for someone.

Meanwhile, enjoy this from the Weekly Standard, headed "Brooklyn hit with anti-Hillary street art" (and dutifully picked up by the Daily Mail):

A source sends along these photos from Brooklyn today of anti-Hillary Clinton signs everywhere. Clinton is expected to announce her presidential campaign later today. The campaign's headquarters are located in Brooklyn.

The signs appear to be a riff on a group of supporters calling certain words often used to describe Clinton as sexist. Words such as 'secretive,' 'ambitious,' and 'entitled.'

The signs are posted near Hillary's campaign headquarters:

(Here follow the, um, three photos that earlier were "everywhere," though somehow "street art" seems to invest it with -- oh, a bit of a borrowed aura?)

It is not known who posted or funded the Brooklyn street art.

Bummer. Too bad we didn't think of asking the source, huh?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tormented lede of the morning

Raising the musical question: Is there a particular kind of crime the cops aren't supposed to investigate?

General principle of lede-writing: When in doubt, tell us who did what to whom. Save the doin'-what-you-don't-confess for your budding career as a singer-songwriter.

OK, one more thing. As long as you're going to edit for online readers, why not try it for print victims too?

The U.S. State Department and Department of Defense did not return calls seeking comment Thursday evening. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf had said last week that an operation to rescue Americans in Yemen was too risky, and "could put U.S. citizens' lives at greater risk" because "the situation in Yemen is quite dangerous and unpredictable."

It's nice to have spelled "quite" correctly (especially if the alternative was adding a comma to "quiet, dangerous and unpredictable"). It's probably nicer, transparency-wise, to have pointed out that the comments came from a briefing last week, rather than leaving open the possibility that they were some sort of response to Thursday evening's* curiosity.

* Were the lawsuits filed after hours, or did it just not occur to anyone until evening that comment might be warranted?


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Today in diagramming

Have at it, phrase-structure fans:
One last question for the Mail: How are we going to cover the guy who's second to undergo the world's first full head transplant?

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Lying with other people's work

This seems about as close to lying as you can get and still have your pants on. Not the "won't stop Iran" part; that's an opinion and thus not falsifiable -- the part about what the Kenyan did or didn't admit. Here's Fox's version:

The president was attempting to answer the charge that the deal framework agreed upon by the U.S., Iran, and five other nations last week fails to eliminate the risk of Iran getting a nuclear weapon because it allows Tehran to keep enriching uranium.

Obama said that Iran would be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms of uranium -- not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material.

"What is a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero," Obama said.

Correctly quoted; Fox doesn't do a lot of original reporting on international issues, but when it transcribes other people's work, it's usually pretty accurate. Of course (you first-language speakers might have noticed this), that means it also transcribed the bit about what a relevant fear "would be." Which kind of sets up the next few sentences, from the NPR transcript:

Keep in mind, though, currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months by our intelligence estimates. So essentially, we're purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year ... that — that if they decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we'd have over a year to respond. And we have those assurances for at least well over a decade.
And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter, but at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves. We have much more insight into their capabilities. And the option of a future president to take action if in fact they try to obtain a nuclear weapon is undiminished.

You can make your own decisions about the Kenyan's gullibility, but I find it hard to see it as an admission that anyone's going to have anything. If Chelsea Clinton manages to hold off Amy Carter in the Democratic primaries and thwart President Cruz's third-term ambitions, she's  going to have about the same decision-making window for launching a preemptive war as the current president. Unless there's something in the transcript I'm missing?

Foxwise, the only thing I find surprising is the play. The story spent most of Tuesday morning at the top of the homepage (that's the lower inserts, with the hed above the art). Why move it downpage when you've finally tweaked the hed into its own blissful state of deranged paranoia? I mean, at this point, you're not expecting people to actually read the story, are you?

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Two Minutes Hate

Today's quiz: How many times do you figure the Marie Antoinette of America's School Lunchrooms is mentioned in the "Wonkblog" post that Drudge links to?

a) 0
b) 1
c) 2
d) Well, we did do the lips nose

Reminder to our friends at the Washington Post: Even in your blogs, when you say "more scientists" do something, you really ought to provide some -- you know, evidence. But the point, as usual, is something larger: What makes Michelle Obama work so well for Drudge as a stock illustration of the pro-nutrition sins of the Nanny State?

It's an amusing coincidence, one supposes, that even as the first lady is being used as a proxy for the cramming-health-down-your-throat bureaucracy, the usurper himself is taking heat for, in essence, telling a bunch of toddlers to man up:

At the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll this weekend, a group of innocent children, there to ostensibly hang out with the President and dye colored eggs, were beset upon by a horde of White House bees.

Can I interrupt for a second? The point of an event called Easter Egg Roll* isn't to dye the eggs, and if it was, it's probably a good idea to dye the ones that aren't colored yet. But onward:

But though the children screamed in horror, their shrill voices piercing through the springtime air, President Bee-Rack OBeemer, reading aloud a copy of Where The Wild Things Are, seemed unfazed by them. “Bees are good,” he placidly said, telling them to hush. “You’re not supposed to be scared of bees when you’re a Wild Thing!”

"Bees are good" isn't quite the same thing as "we rode bicycles down the steps without helmets and ate raw hamburger meat and STILL won the Cold War," but you can see the same sort of general idea emerging: Lighten up and be a Wild Thing every now and then. No doubt some Fox commentator pointed out that he'd be sleeping on the couch if Moochelle found out.

You really do have to wonder what Drudge and Fox are going to come up with when they have to make do with scary white people again for their securitization needs.

* I have it on good authority that I was taken to one during Ike's second term, though apparently neither I nor anybody else in the family brought a reporter's notebook.

A thousand here, a thousand there ...

What's that minimum distance again?

Michigan's Sex Offender Registry law is so vague that parts of it are unconstitutional, including the requirement that offenders stay at least 1,000 feet from schools, a federal judge has ruled.

Sorry, didn't catch that -- could you repeat it in the third graf?

Regarding the 1,000-foot school safety zone, he said offenders are left to guess where the zones were and are not provided with enough information from the state to abide by the restriction.

It's probably worth noting that the story isn't at the top of the front -- relegated to a single column, of course, by Opening Day -- because the local fishwrap determined independently that the alleged "safety zone" is too hard to follow. It's there because that's what the judge found, and the deck needs to be as clear as the main hed in explaining how the paper knows what it knows.



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Saturday, April 04, 2015

At the Fair 'n' Balanced spelling bee

Hey, kids! What's the one word you'd figure everybody at Fox has learned how to spell by now?

HANNITY: Pat, if you say in one speech corpse-man, it tells me you don't know what a Navy corpsman is. That's a lot worse than this.

OBAMA: Navy Corpse-man Christian Brossard.
OBAMA: Corpse-man Brossard.
OBAMA: Corpse-man Brossard.

HANNITY: ... The president in one speech multiple times, he doesn't know what a navy corpsman is. He said corpse man four or five times. He didn't get as much play as your 53 seconds or Herman Cain recently. He says, to all of you on this Memorial Day, and I see you out there, he doesn't know the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. I have been to what, fifty seven states now?

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And all the clams we can eat

In which the Nation's Newspaper of Record should have turned left at Albuquerque:

David Brooks’s column on Friday misidentified the sea that God parted in the Book of Exodus. It is the Red Sea, not the Dead Sea.

Copy editors, you were just toying with him, weren't you?

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Wash and dry

The first sentence here isn't a bad sentence (aside from the part about the baby at the Last Supper, which sounds just a little apocryphal). It's a perfectly good sentence. Problem is, it's two perfectly good sentences:

Pope Francis
(washed) (dried) and (kissed)
the feet of 12 inmates and a baby

Pope Francis
(washed) (dried) and (kissed the feet of)
12 inmates and a baby

Which actually makes more sense, in light of the "willingness to serve others and to cleanse them completely" in the last sentence.

I'm inclined to cast this as an edited-in error. I can only find seven hits for that fairly distinctive sequence, all from last spring and none from what you'd call the "mainstream" press. Here's the AP this year:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates and a baby at Rome's main prison Thursday in a pre-Easter ritual meant to show his willingness to serve. He asked them to pray that he, too, might be cleansed of his "filth."
As the inmates wept, Francis knelt down, poured water from a pitcher onto one foot apiece, dried it and then kissed it, re-enacting the ritual that Jesus performed on his apostles before he was crucified.
Somebody's also run across the bizarre sub-peeve that holds that "re-enact" is redundant, though the OED takes the sense of a "dramatic reproduction" back to the 19th century. And the whole-body wash doesn't sound quite so literal in the seventh graf:
Speaking off-the-cuff as he has done for the past three years on Holy Thursday, Francis explained the foot-washing ceremony is meant to show Jesus' willingness to serve others like a slave, to cleanse and purify them completely.
All told, the editing time allotted to this brief didn't add much to the sum of human knowledge, seeming rather to subtract from it.
Much of the bad grammar you'll attend to during the average editing shift isn't "wrong" -- it's just right about more than one thing at a time. And if you're off on some particular snipe hunt of your own -- tracking and killing the complementizer* "that," for example -- while the pope is hosing people off in a prison, you are (to be kind about it) not part of the solution.

* AP calls it a conjunction, which is fine. I don't care what you call it, as long as you read the fairly sensible entry and apply it cluefully.

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Dear Beeb: If you have to be a 13-year-old, come right out and be a 13-year-old.

your readers


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Do the math. Think of the children!

Having spent most of last week hanging around with 500-odd* editors at the ACES conference, I suppose it's nice to find the local frontpage still turning out classroom-ready material regularly.

There's a reason we teach the difference between "1 percent" and "1 percentage point." They're both correct things you can say about taxes, but they aren't the same correct thing. This proposal would take the sales tax up a point, from 6 to 7 percent, but that's an increase of about 17 percent. Put that way, the already ungainly -- and, it seems, wildly unpopular -- plan loses a few more moving parts.

The Freep, it's worth noting, has supported the proposal. I have no reason to think that has anything to do with the error at hand, but if a caller asks whether we lowballed the tax increase because we're biased or because we're clueless, I'd rather not be in the position of having to say "Clueless, but thanks for asking!"

And yes, "results" in the first clause needs a plural verb. How the poll managed to become a "huge pothole" I don't know, but that's writering, not grammaring or mathing.

* Go on, lose the hyphen You know you want to!

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