Saturday, June 28, 2008

Copy editors fight back

With the news that the Orange County Register is testing having some copy editing and design outsourced to India (see previous post), the American Copy Editors Society has launched a website, Why Editing Matters. As a former writer who early on had a great story ruined by a disagreement between subject and verb in the first sentence (I was at a small paper and was my own copy editor -- a recipe for disaster), I have always valued copy editors. Can someone in India capture the nuance needed in a story at Marquette? I don't think so. Anyway, it's interesting to read some of the comments (66 since June 25), go here. My favorite -- and one that every student should notice -- is "Because I just graduated from college and need a job." I'm sure the writer is thinking only that they want to keep jobs in America, but clips and resumes (and at some of my past posts) demonstate the need that all of use need editing.

Doing journalism

Some ideas to mull over on a lazy summer Saturday (unless, like me, you are starting teaching a summer school graduate class next week, in which case you're planning a day of reading and creating lecture outlines).

Let's start with the thoughts of a recent graduate on the Innovation in College Media blog from which I filched the title of this segment. She says its time to quit talking about trying to save newspapers or broadcast, but rather to just save journalism. Ideas? A number, such as "Our readers, watchers and listeners aren’t sheep. They can and do think for themselves. They know what they want, and they’ll get it - somewhere." Her solution is to do more and in a bigger variety. I totally agree.

Also, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post muses on originality and his Pulitzer Prize-winning idea. Is there nothing new under the sun? And how important is originality in journalism anyway -- can you be totally original? It's an idea that I've wondered about.

And here are some comments on "Saving the Newspaper" in a letter to the Post. The writer attacks the Post's "bias," especially on the Boy Scouts and NRA. I disagree with his perceptions of bias, but he represents a large segment of the community.

Friday, June 27, 2008

J schools and new media

Editor & Publisher explores whether journalism schools are properly preparing students for the new media environment. Especially biting (and, frankly, wrong) is an observation from Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Indianapolis Star, that "Journalism schools are always [trailing] behind the industry, and today it's more so." Leaving aside the use of "always" (which our students find on a list of absolutist words that should be rarely, if ever, used), I don't think Ryerson is looking at most newsrooms. Frankly I'd suspect that a far higher percentage of our graduates have used Flash, InDesign and a web authoring program than than the percentage of journalists in just about any newsroom, including that of the Star. Still, the story is well worth reading.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Orlando Sentinel redesign

The redesign of the Orlando Sentinel has gotten a lot of publicity lately because many think it's a test for major redesign by other newspapers owned by the Chicago Tribune, which says it will be redesigned this fall. For views of the new design and lots of informed designer comment, see both the cover and earlier blog items at

California paper may outsource editing jobs to India

A California newspaper may outsource jobs to India. The Orange County Register says it is testing having an Indian company do some copy editing and design work. Last year, a California web site outsourced reporting to an Indian company.

Thinking about Obama's middle name

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Also the journalism news is fairly light (at least I’m not hunting it anyway).

But an item in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel Crossroads section prompted some thoughts. It was in the section’s “Best of the Blogs” feature and quoted a conservative blogger writing about Barack Obama. It called him by his full name, “Barack Hussein Obama.” Obama does not use his middle name normally, but some conservative talk show hosts (the blogger quoted Sunday has a talk show) and bloggers have been using the full name – some maintain as a way of implying Obama is a Muslim. Obama is a Christian, however, a recent poll showed that 10 percent of Americans believe he is Muslim.

The question for journalists is how do we handle this partisan argument. Because this will assuredly come up in our student media this coming election season, I emailed a couple of senior editors at the Journal Sentinel for their thoughts, and received very thoughtful answers from both. Here’s part of the reply from Kathy Schenck, assistant managing editor – copy desk, who emphasized the difference between news and editorial pages:

“On the news pages, we need a good reason to refer to Obama by all three of his names. He is known as Barack Obama. Adding his middle name is wordy and unnecessary to identify him. Bill Clinton is Bill Clinton unless he's being inaugurated or impeached. Those stories are historic in nature, so his full, formal name could be considered relevant.

“Now, if someone were writing an opinion column, that's a different story. They may have a good reason for referring to him that way, but I would bet it's to further the misinformation that Obama is a Muslim. If they are writing about his heritage, it could be considered relevant. But to use all three names without specific context would be confusing and misleading to readers.

“No one refers to John McCain by anything else. For fairness, Obama should get the same treatment.”

A response by O. Ricardo Pimentel, vice president and editorial page editor, addressed the question from the standpoint of opinion. I’m reprinting it in full:

“One of the purposes of our blogs feature is to depict as much as is permissible – given the general-interest readership of our newspaper – what is actually occurring and being said on the blog. Like it or not, one segment of the blogosphere is using the middle name. You will note,
however, that we don't use it in editorials we generate unless it's in context. Yes, we could edit them out of the blogs. While we excerpt for space, this other kind of editing, however, would serve to change the substance of the blog, beyond even tone. We could choose not to run
these. But then this wouldn't necessarily be representative of what's being said out there. And I would note that some of our bloggers have been pretty rough on President Bush and that we allow these as well. The blogosphere, for sure, is a different kind of animal.”

The lesson that I take from their answers – and one I learned on the job long ago – is that fairness is tough. While I understand the reasons to permit the use of all three names, I also realize that some Muslim leaders have take deep offense at what they view as a affront to their religion. Their view is that Obama opponents attempting to tie him to their religion are implying that there is something wrong with their religion. As Abdul Musaitif, who runs a Muslim pizzeria in Maryland, was quoted in the NPR story: “It's no shame to be a Muslim.” Implying there is, especially merely to attack a political opponent, is shameful, and I would hope that our student media can avoid this construction unless it is absolutely required. The guidelines offered by Schenck and Pimentel are good ones. A good rule of thumb is one that I was taught: use the name by which people are known -- or what they choose to use. When Prince decided to use a symbol for his name, we used his choice at the Journal. If Barack Obama decides to use his middle name, then we should. If not, we shouldn't.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bloggers growing up

The story is about sports bloggers, but I think it holds true in general. Basically, it says that bloggers are becoming more responsible as they are growing in popularity. It shows the maturing of the Internet.