Friday, November 30, 2007

Insensitive column on Sean Taylor's death

I know Matt wrote about the murder of Redskins safety Sean Taylor during an apparent robbery earlier this week. But as a follow-up, I saw on Romenesko a Washington City Paper blog entry about the backlash against a pretty insensitive column titled "Taylor's Death is Tragic but Not Surprising" by Leonard Shapiro in the Washington Post. Shapiro said he has received an outpouring of hate e-mails about his insensitivity and even racism in the column. In the blog he was quoted as saying he did not write the headline that accompanied his piece (which he said a lot of people couldn't get past) and if he had the chance, he would have rethought some points. But he didn't apologize for what his column was trying to say. Taylor had many on- and off-field transgressions that tarnished his image, but teammates and others said he was going through a transformation to clean up his act. Shapiro asserted that due to Taylor's embracing of a "thug lifestyle," his murder was very tragic but really shouldn't have surprised anyone. I think this debacle is so interesting, especially for us as copy editors, because it shows that headlines are so important in conveying a message. Shapiro himself said people couldn't get past the insensitive headline. I don't think it matters if this is a column, writing that someone's untimely death was not surprising (that it was maybe even coming to him) is in bad taste. This man was 24 and had a newborn daughter. He had so much time to turn around his so-called thug image. The discipline problems may have worked themselves out in time. The bottom line is he was murdered, and though I understand what Shapiro was getting at, it was insensitive to Taylor's family and legacy, and victims should be treated with much more respect. What ever happened to the basic journalistic principle of minimizing harm? Though Shapiro wrote almost the same exact phrase in his column, he wants to blame the headline for the backlash. That's legitimate seeing as how prominent the headline is, but he needs to take responsibility for this mistake. However, I wouldn't call him racist after reading this. The copy editor who wrote the headline and edited the column, should have and double-checked and discussed this piece with a multitude of higher-ups before its publication. The copy editor also should have thought of a less-jarring, more sensitive headline. Both the copy editor and especially Shapiro should have taken greater lengths to minimize harm.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Editing business news

I should put a question mark in the title, because I really don't know how to edit business news. I'm at work, having finished looking at a business story (a different version of the one that's in the link) and a business column. And I'm thinking it's a bad thing that most of the stories' terminology is totally foreign to me. So, my question is: How do you edit a story when you really have no clue about the subject? I wish I knew the answer. Common terms from the linked story include "cash equivalents," "gross margin" and "investment gains." I'm clueless as to what I'm dealing with when I come across those phrases, and I'm kind of wondering if most people who are reading the business page understand them. Typically I skirt along, correcting minor stuff and hoping none of the terminology is off. Thank god this was a wire story. But if I come across something I really just can't decipher, I ask my bosses. Maybe something like a business copy desk should be created, similar to the sports desk. Then again, who has money to do that in this industry, especially when business pages are dwindling anyway.

Fake-news blackout could have consequences

The Boston Phoenix tackles the story of what could happen when people who depend on shows normally written by the writers who are on strike are cut off from even fake news as the country nears a presidential election.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This is on the poynter site:

"Meet early and often with all staffers to plan major projects," said Kelli Sullivan, Los Angeles Times deputy design director for news projects. "The best work is done through collaboration and teamwork," Sullivan said, the lead designer on the paper's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Altered Oceans."

Her advice: Determine space and color needs early to get the best project, perhaps holding it until you have the proper amount of space. Edit tightly to play key elements well, and work through multiple versions to improve design. Be ruthless when editing photos and graphics, and remove clutter. "Our motto is, 'Keep things simple.' "

She'll break design rules for special projects, such as a front-page magazine approach to "toxin tide," and use "quiet" graphics and headlines on an account of war veterans' traumatic injuries.

I like this because I think it neatly illustrates something we've talked about in class: letting the story dictate the design. The rest of the article is interesting, too, and it brings up something I'd like to ask for everyone's opinion on: is it okay to run 'busy' graphics and sensational stories (with photos) IF it reaches more readers? Or are we pandering to the "lowest common denominator" or people's desire for "sensationalism"? When does it become tabloid journalism?

Here's the story:

Whoops, sorry about that. Oh, btw, the seven rapists got a slap on the wrist -- 2 to 9 years. That was AFTER her appeal.

Okay, it's hairsplitting...

But it's still really bad math. This was on CNN's website this morning:

The ministry's account Saturday alleged that the woman and her lover met in his car for a tryst "in a dark place where they stayed for a while."

The girl was initially sentenced to prison and 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her. An appeals court then doubled the lashes to 200.

The increase in sentence received heavy coverage in the international media and prompted expressions of astonishment from the U.S. government. Canada called it "barbaric."

Last time I checked, doubling 90 gives you 180. I think "more than doubled" would have worked. This is from the story of how a Saudi Arabian rape victim fought back by taking her assailants to court -- where she was victimized again by the judicial system. When she appealed her 'sentence,' the judge doubled her punishment. Whipping -- how quaint. I don't often send outraged letters to my congressional representatives, but I did over this issue. Something to think about the next time we gas up at the pump: this is the type of government we're funding in Saudi Arabia through our purchases.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sean Taylor's Death

Some of you have probably heard that Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died this morning from a gunshot wound during an apparent burglary of his home Sunday night. I read just now that a black sportswriter named Zuri Berry told his colleagues at the National Association of Black Journalists that the AP story on Taylor's death "provides a laundry list of transgressions Taylor had" that he feels are not important to this event. For those of you who don't follow sports, Taylor had several off-field problems as well as notable incidents of bad behavior on the field. He was fined at least seven times for on-field incidents such as when he spit on a Tampa Bay player during a playoff game two years ago. Apparently, this writer feels that background should not be mentioned in the story covering Taylor's death, but I must disagree. True, the fines he received for on-field transgressions did not lead to his death, but they are certainly an important part of his story. Berry argues that there is no scandal here, just tragedy, so past scandals of Taylor's are not relevant. However, I think that people should know about his background, including his run-ins with the law or the NFL. I am not saying the story should imply that Taylor's death is not a tragedy because he had problems in his life, but I do not think the story should ignore these facts either.

LA Times creates readers' interactive blog

I was looking over Romenesko when I saw a link to an article about a new blog launched today by the Los Angeles Times, called the Readers' Representative Journal, which explains the paper's editorial decisions. I couldn't believe what a good idea this was and that I had never heard of any other paper creating a similar blog. Readers can ask questions about stories, the story behind the story and even be grammar snobs by critiquing the paper's grammar usage. Reporters and various editors respond to the readers' questions. I think this is an awesome resource for readers' to get more information on the stories they read, and they might be more likely to ask questions on an online discussion board rather than personally contacting the reporter. Other newspapers need to pick up on this important forum and incorporate their own forms of it on their Web sites. Already there are two interesting and informative question-and-answer entries on the blog. They were: the use of "he said" after a quote obtained through e-mail, and the Times' naming of an undercover cop who was run over by a suspect. Several reporters and editors, often with different views, respond to these concerns, giving the topics a multitude of expert opinion and information. This is an awesome resource for copy editors to see what kinds of issues readers are concerned about and even how to avoid pitfalls in the field. Everyone should check it out!

Whoa -- now they're just *asking* for it

The logo for New York magazine contains the sylized "New" that is used in this ad, which is a "cover wrap" for New York magazine. It was sent to a "select" group of subscribers/readers, but it's causing a general brouhaha because of how it's gone against understood ethical standards against allowing magazine covers to be co-opted for advertising purposes. Romenesko links to this blog entry: 'New York' bending the rules with cover wrap?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cutting out the copy editors?

David Montgomery from the European newspaper group Mecom has openly the questioned the need for copy editors. "'Reporters out in the field can call up a page on their laptop and put copy straight onto the page without intervention,' he said. 'I see a situation where experienced journalists that can be trusted have no barrier to communication with their audience,' he said. He endorses an environment in which 'journalists can be freed from humdrum roles and the sub-editing culture can break down.'" Sub-editing is essentially copy editing. This news comes to the chagrin of the Baltimore Sun's John McIntyre. McIntyre makes the point that editing is what allows for reporters to look good and present factually accurate stories to the public. While Montgomery does have an interesting proposal, but it is not feasible.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Power of design font

I saw this on the New York Times Web site and thought it was a pretty interesting and fun example of a slide show. But more than that, I think it shows just how powerful (or weak) the right font and design can be. Though it focuses on political campaign posters, I definitely think it applies to page design. I wonder what our pages are really saying...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NY Times review of its new building

I read an article in "Editor & Publisher" at the Poynter Institute Web site about how the New York Times' architecture critic had to review the paper's new building. According to the article, the institute's ethics group leader said it was OK that the paper's critic reviewed his own building. But I think it was a tad unnecessary considering that it may have looked slanted to the public and other media professionals. The E&P article said the critic opened his review discussing the questionable position he was put in, which is why the institute's ethics leader cleared him of subjectivity. Personally, if I was a copy editor or editor at the paper, I would have ran just a news story about the new building, with commentary from other architects, people on the street and perhaps other papers' architecture critics. That would have sufficed in place of the paper's own commentary. As a copy editor/designer at the Times faced with the review, I definitely would have placed it on the op/ed page or made it the paper's editorial for the day. It might have even needed a disclaimer. I don't know where the Times ended up placing it, but I'm sure it was accurately labeled as commentary. It seems the paper may have threatened its own credibility for a review that perhaps wasn't all that important. What does everyone else think?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Local style

How useful is a newspaper's local style, anyway? In transfering from the Tribune to the Republic, I've noticed the differences in local style between the two papers and also how often it can be confusing and unnecessary. How often do people notice local style rules, and even when they do, it's usually because it has differed from other news outlets (at least in my experience). Do these differences add anything or do they serve to simply make stories more confusing and copy editors feel important in formatting stories according to these rules? I'm not sure, but it seems like there can be a uniform way to do things, and it seems that way should be Associated Press style. For example, the Republic capitalizes "Black" and "White" when they refer to races. The Tribune and AP do not cap them. The Republic hyphenates any and every compound modifier and AP doesn't hyphenate ones where it is obvious what is being modified. Those are just a few instances where local style differs, and those differences can end up confusing the reader as they try to adapt to changing format styles.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is it a blurb? A cutline?

And what's that byline doing there if this is a blurb? Check out the first sentence that isn't a sentence; it's a label. Was this a mistake or a new online form?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Run-ins with reporters/editors

Since we were talking about problems with reporters and editors in class today, it reminded me of one time I had a major issue when copy editing a story. It was one of my first days interning on the copy desk at the Tribune, and I got into a seriously heated discussion with the night editor. It wasn't too bad because I had done some reporting there a few months ago, and she regularly edited my stories so we knew each other pretty well. But the issue was about a story on a teacher who has just been fired because the school found out he had been convicted of murder, but the conviction had later been overturned. In the story, a school mom gave a quote that said something along the lines of "I don't want a convicted murderer teaching my child." So that set something off in my head -- we couldn't have some random lady libeling this guy a murderer, because though he was convicted, the charge was erased from his record and could no longer be labeled that. I went to the editor about it and she told me not to worry about it, and we debated for awhile, but I ended up walking away thinking it would be fine to keep the quote in the story. But when I read it again, I was convinced it was wrong, told my boss about it, and she talked to the editor about it. My boss came away also thinking it was fine. But we discussed it further, looked up definitions for murder and agreed that it was in fact not OK. So my boss went back to talk to the editor, the editor consented and then came in to where our desks were. She ended up cursing while saying we should just come talk to her once not a million times for an issue. I was offended, but my boss told me not to worry about it and talked to her later. All in all, it was an interesting way to start out at a job, but I didn't back down from what I knew was wrong and libelous, and I ended up being right and we took the quote out of the story.

Steroid reporters joining ESPN

I just read this story about a couple of very prominent reporters who have covered steroid sports stories in the recent past joining ESPN. Apparently ESPN is putting together a 15-person enterprise unit that will do investigative stories, and two of the people in that unit will be Mark Fainaru-Wada, who gained fame while with The San Francisco Chronicle for his reporting on baseball's steroid problems, and TJ Quinn, who broke several big steroid-related stories for The New York Post. Also, ESPN said these two will not just do steroid stories, but other investigative stories as well. I think this is another sign of ESPN getting more serious about its journalism. They recently began an investigate reporting show called E:60, and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, they just signed Rick Reilly, who is probably the most renowned sportswriter in the country. ESPN takes a lot of heat for its lack of true reporting, and I think the organization is responding by trying to improve itself with these new developments. I really think these moves will help ESPN and sports journalism as a whole.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Youtube is more than funny videos

CNN reported that the person who killed eight students and injured others in Finland had posted videos possibly foreshadowing the deadly school shooting. Youtube apparently removed 89 videos associated with the student, some of which contained images of his gun and "Nazi imagery." Often when many people think of Youtube, funny homemade videos come to mind, but it is scary to think that people can use the site to plan or advertise their deadly intentions or worldviews.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Step in the Wrong Direction

With all of the turmoil in Pakistan right now, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has taken away the free press liberties that he had previously granted the media. The action is out of fear that his opposition will use the media as a way to voice their opinions. He has already blacked out television news channels like BBC and CNN. The local media has broadcast the opposition response to some of Musharraf's actions and he clearly wants that to stop. He still hasn't really gone after newspapers or the internet, but the possibility exists. It is a shame that this sort of censorship still occurs.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Editing disasters

Here are some funny examples of bad editing that i found to be pretty humorous!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book reviews

If you *haven't* already told me your choice, feel free to sign up here. :-)

Odd Dow Jones question

I don't know if anyone else took the Dow Jones exam, but I thought one of the news questions it asked was really odd and inappropriate. It asked you to fill in the blank with the racial slur that Don Imus used against the Rutgers women's basketball team. Is that weird to anyone else but me? I understand it was a huge news story, but I think it's in bad taste for the question to be set up in a way that forces someone to write in "nappy-headed hos." People taking the test shouldn't be forced to write a racial slur. There could have been a blank for "Rutgers" or something instead. I was really shocked by it and think Dow Jones made a big mistake in its setup of that question.

Layering and A1

Many thanks to Andrew Long for guesting in class yesterday and for critiquing some class work. Much of what he said involved "layering," an attempt by contemporary news designers to provide information in usable "chunks" and in related packages that appeal visually, intellectually, practically. I've posted three examples of papers that did some layering with their main stories.
Since your assignment (due Monday) is to revisit your A1 pages and apply layering techniques, these should be helpful. Don't neglect visiting newseum and pulling other examples. It's one of the best ways to learn. Also, Poynter's Page One Today blog offers many examples of news judgment expressed in design. The three pages I just posted came from there.