This and that

A writer sings the praises of a grammar checker. The story might have benefited from another turn through the checker, then a rinse and spin through the crap detector.

I don’t know about you kind reader, but I have a regular, annoying need to have my written words checked and rechecked by another set of eyes. About 1000 times.

I need this editor or educated friend or plain old pal to ensure I haven’t made any typos, misspellings, grammatical errors or mistakes in syntax or style. That’s a lot of potential mistakes I need caught before the embarrassment of having them published and me outed as an ignorant fool.

Writing for many of the world’s top publications and editors as I have, it’s crucially important that I make my editors’ jobs easy and not make them, or me, look bad. That’s why a new grammar, spelling and oversight software called Grammarly caught my attention recently.

Grammarly does everything I used to need to bug my editor/friends to do. It checks over 250 intricacies of grammar such as subject-verb agreement; article use; and modifier use, all the really gnarly details and sometimes arcane small-stuff of the written word. Serving up citations and similar written ideas with references, Grammarly is a writer’s coach, cheerleader and referee.


As I moved forward with my journalistic testing of their product, Grammarly turned out to be a breeze for me. Not only am I now running everything I write through it (as I’m doing with this piece before it runs in HuffPo now), scanning for simple errors but Grammarly also checks to see if the words I am stringing together in any particular order might be ‘borrowed’ from some other writer or whether I need to properly attribute something I write to somebody else.

(Huffington Post)



This and that

No, I think that beheading is a fine way to make journalists pay attention to grammar.

I disagree with the gist of Rick Eaton’s letter to the editor titled “Where are journalists learning their craft” (Sunday, Sept. 7). Eaton, simply, writes that our journalists on occasion make grammatical errors in their writings.

Eaton needs to realize that the No. 1 function of American journalists revolves around “getting the story.” That is to say, getting the story is much more important than an occasional error in grammar.

After all, American journalists sometimes, put their lives on the line digging for an important story. As we recently have read, sometimes putting their lives on the line means a beheading.

Indeed, I say their bravery in bringing home their stories is much more important for us than is a rare grammatical error.

(Santa Clarita Valley Signal)


Lead zapping

Finally, the Court must address the format of BP’s opposition memorandum. The briefing order allowed BP’s counsel to file a response of up to 35 pages, double-spaced. (Rec. Doc. 13154).

This is 10 pages over the usual limit for response briefs. BP’s counsel filed a brief that, at first
blush, appeared just within the 35-page limit. A closer study reveals that BP’s counsel abused the
page limit by reducing the line spacing to slightly less than double-spaced. As a result, BP exceeded
the (already enlarged) page limit by roughly 6 pages.[4]

The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case
as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and
in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure
compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not
appropriate here.

[4]  Page 2 of BP’s brief (CM/ECF page no. 10, Rec. Doc. 13269) provides a clear example. That page contains
only text—no headings, footnotes, block quotes, double-returns, etc. There are 27 lines of text. A double-spaced page,
with 12 point font and 1 inch margins should have only 23 lines. Multiplied across 35 pages, BP granted itself
approximately 140 extra lines of text, or 6 extra pages (140/23 = 6.09).

Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck.


(In Re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010)


Today’s playbook

That’s one potential approach: Give readers what they can get anywhere else (with free shipping?), try to muscle out the competition, don’t expect to turn a profit.


CHICAGO —It’s a dilemma facing so many legacy news outlets.

In an exceedingly crowded and competitive media landscape, with so many platforms to do battle on, with staffs far smaller than in the past, how should they proceed?

There are no easy answers. So it’s hardly a surprise that that was one of the first topics to surface as many of the the nation’s editors gathered here in an annual rite of introspection and searching for solutions.


Mike Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, conceded that newspapers can’t do everything. But he thinks they must keep their aspirations high. “Our ambition is to be the Amazon of our news environment.”

(USA Today)


At the zoo

The Financial Times takes a page from the Barbara Walters playbook.


Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 2.54.58 PM






This and that

One editor I worked for hated the phrase “You see,” both as a lazy locution used by journos who couldn’t come up with a better transitional phrase, and as an insult, unintentional or otherwise, to the reader, who presumably should be able to see what the writer is getting at from the quality of the writer’s writing. (“The ‘stupid’ is implied,” the editor would say before wielding his editorial hatchet.) I’d put “you guessed it” in the same category.


Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 9.25.27 AM


(Paul Krugman in the New York Times)


Today’s duckspeak

The graduate J-school at UC Berkeley wants to “supplement” tuition by more than $10,000 a year so it can help students by increasing financial aid. Hat tip: Jim Romenesko.


In the next few weeks I will be asking the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism to join me in recommending a supplemental fee to be paid by students starting in fall ‘16.

It’s a significant move, one not made easily. But an analysis of rising costs, of the inadequacy of central campus support, and of the money we will need to ensure the institutional strength and instructional quality of the School make this an action we need to take.

Nobody welcomes higher expenses. But the reality is that the amount students now pay does not reflect what their degrees cost to provide. Reluctantly, we’ve concluded that our students will have to shoulder more of this cost, just as nearly every other professional school student at Cal does.

Our students will pay more, but they’ll benefit as well.


We’ll take aggressive steps to lessen the additional costs that our students will bear. For starters, we’ll allocate one-third of the new revenue to fellowships, on top of the growing array of financial aid programs already in place.




Hammer till it fits stereotype

Through many of his 39 years at The Huntsville Times, his name seldom appeared in print. But hardly a day went by that James Magness didn’t have his signature on the Times’ sports page.

Magness, who would have turned 68 years old this past Thursday, served on the sports copy desk for much of his tenure, though he covered the high school sports and Alabama A&M beats after joining the staff in March 1969.

He died August 20 at his home in Collierville, Tenn., from complications from Parkinson’s. He leaves behind wife Gloria, to whom he was married for 41 years, children Yancy and Laura and four grandchildren.

Anyone who knew “Mag” couldn’t help laugh to think of his reaction had he seen the obituary posted by a Mississippi funeral home that said he was a “Sportswirte & Copy Editor.” The typo would have sent him into a tizzy.

(Huntsville Times)

I’ll bet it wouldn’t have.


This and that

Sod you and sod that adverb.






This and that

English, we’re told by a post to Language Log, is a writer-responsible language (the writer has to write in a way he thinks he will be understandable to the reader). Chinese, Korean and Japanese are called reader-responsible languages (the reader knows the speaker or writer is an important person, so the reader knows that what the speaker or writer is saying is important, so the reader will try to dope out any confusion on his own). I’m just happy that the manual in the Honda glove box is in English.



This and that

Singular or plural, dammit?


Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 6.33.27 AM Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 6.33.56 AM


(New York Times)


Extra! Dozens swindled … paper, mister?

“Readers don’t like to be tricked into reading something.”


Keep calm and write a headline worth reading

Ease up on the exaggerations because someday you may need those explosive adjectives when a truly big story lands

Facebook announced recently that it would be cracking down on teaser headlines crafted to lure readers into clicking on weak content, and it was a gratifying win for the newspaper traditionalists.

The art of writing a headline—fitting an accurate, compelling, occasionally clever description of a story into a tight space—has been on the decline since the rise of Twitter and Facebook. The “newsfeeds” on those sites, and others like them, are tailor-made for posts topped by come-hither pitches that overpromise on stories that underdeliver.


Hyperbolic come-ons of this sort run counter to principles more traditional (some might say outdated) news outlets take pride in following. Among them: Keep the exaggeration in check and the blowout language in your back pocket, because someday you may need those explosive adjectives when a truly big story lands. Using “destroys” to describe what a comedian did to a politician’s position looks odd when the word also characterizes the devastation wrought by deadly floods.

News organizations that have been at this a while know readers don’t like to be tricked into reading something. But many upstart Web publications haven’t been around long enough to learn this rule. They do, however, know they might not be around much longer if they don’t attract clicks.

(Columbia Journalism Review)


Today’s cliché lede

If “recently beheaded” is not enough to have “in common,” what is?


James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the two journalists recently beheaded on video by members of the militant group Islamic State, had a number of things in common. They both cared deeply about the Middle East and believed that stories from the region needed telling. They were intelligent and brave. And they were both freelancers.


(Los Angeles Times)




Jeez, who’s on that B-list?

NEW YORK — There was no red carpet, but Joan Rivers’ funeral was an A-list event.

Howard Stern, Donald Trump, Kristin Chenoweth, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and Barbara Walters were among the stars spotted arriving at Rivers’ funeral Sunday at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side.

USA Today


Conrad Black latest

The world is still not quite to the taste of Canada’s greatest historian-columnist-pundit. Also, stay the hell out of Collingwood, Ont., just in case. (“Thermidor” refers to the reaction during the French Revolution to the excesses of Robespierre; once everyone else in government realized he was eventually going to guillotine them, they guillotined him first.)

Thanks to the many readers who have asked about my well-being these 10 weeks that I have been away from this and other columns. My wife and I were in Great Britain, and I was taking, and giving readers, a break from gnashing my teeth almost every week about the appalling condition of Western political leadership.

Two and a half months later, a more uplifting political climate has not arrived. Let us, one more time, review strategic conditions, and how we got here.


The terrorists cannot possibly win: Islam isn’t necessarily a violent faith, and it is not markedly more acceptable to the Muslims of the world than, say, to the Town of Collingwood, Ont., that innocents be massacred, foreigners beheaded, or women flogged for wearing a mini-dress, driving a car, or even seeking to be educated. Islamic discontent, like most revolutions, has become gradually more extreme, but terror is ultimately intolerable and Thermidor always comes.

(National Post)


This and that

Newspapers are always looking for new revenue streams. How about blackmail?


After C1 Financial’s chief executive, Trevor Burgess, rang the opening bell and posed outside the New York Stock Exchange with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders on Aug. 14 to celebrate his Florida-based company’s first day of trading, he received a message from Jason Grenfell-Gardner, the chief executive of the pharmaceutical company IGI Laboratories:

“And then there were two.”

So far as is known, Mr. Grenfell-Gardner and Mr. Burgess are the only publicly gay chief executives of publicly traded American corporations.

There have long been gay chief executives at American corporations, including some who lead relatively open lives. How many remains a subject of speculation. Among current chief executives of publicly traded corporations, Mr. Grenfell-Gardner and Mr. Burgess are the first who are willing to be publicly identified as gay. Both said they weren’t aware of any others.


This and that

No reverse archy and mehitabel, please. Hope Bill Walsh doesn’t suffer for, in effect, teaching the new boss something about the English language.







Help wanted

You don’t want a journo. You want some Brasso. (


Fast-paced, innovative Leeds-based digital agency needs a brilliant Writer/Editor to work on editorial projects for some of the UK’s top brands.


What you’ll be responsible for:

  • Writing compelling and informative stories, articles, blog posts and social media output in a clear, accessible and friendly voice.
  • Editing copy to the highest standard – writing will sparkle, copy will be spotless and headlines or tweets will grab readers’ attention.


Sedentary. Not dead.


Paul joined the paper’s business desk as a copy editor in 1975 but has worked throughout the newsroom.


Today’s Orwellianism

New Media Investment Group “will make offers of employment to most of the current employees” at the Providence Journal, according to an email sent at 5 pm Thursday, and the ProJo’s longtime publisher, Howard Sutton, is on his way out at Fountain Street.

(Rhode Island Public Radio, Aug. 29)


And by “offers of employment to most” is meant decisions of non-employment to many.

Twenty-two members of the Providence Newspaper Guild were laid off Tuesday, as part of New Media Investment Group’s acquisition of Rhode Island’s statewide newspaper, including the Providence Journal’s well-respected longtime metro columnist, Bob Kerr.

(Rhode Island Public Radio, Sept. 2)