Ask the AP

Sometimes words are overused. Other times, entire phrases are overused. Your call.








Reading for Dummies

Unlike the ombud’s own postings, which carry only a mug of the ombud. So, something for the deltas.

Post-scripts: Jacqui Shine’s takeout in The Awl on the history of the Times Styles section, where all the best fake trends are born, is fascinating if you’ve got the time. It’s 12,000 words long; but it has pictures.

(New York Times)


Onward and downward

Fewer words; so, fewer monkeys at fewer keyboards.

Reuters news stories will be kept to reduced word counts from Monday.

Editors around the world have agreed the new limits in an attempt to “tighten up the file and give us more room to focus reporting and sub-editing effort on the stories that matter most”, as Richard Mably, Europe, Middle East and Africa editor put it.

The new maximum story lengths are

  • 400 words for non-exclusive spot news stories
  • 800 words for insights, exclusives and update/wrap-up trunks on major news stories
  • 2,000 words for special reports.

Exceptions may be granted, but only on rare occasions. Only news editors are authorised to grant exceptions.

(The Baron)

More layoffs are coming to Reuters, editor in chief Steve Adler said in a memo to staff today.

Adler said that the news organization’s budget would be 1% larger in 2015, “It’s not big enough, however, both to cover inflation and to fund the growth initiatives that are vital to our future success,” Adler said.

Adler said that the tight budget will mean further reorganization of the newsroom. “Staff members in areas that we are reducing will find opportunities in services that we are launching or expanding,” Adler said. “In some other instances, though, the moves will result in job cuts, a course of action that I know will be extremely difficult for those involved.”

An October draft of a Thomson Reuters cost-cutting plan, obtained by BuzzFeed News, said 111 positions would be eliminated. A source familiar with the plan said there would be no more than 55 job losses in the editorial side of the company.



Alms for the poor!

A heartwarming Xmas message of hope in this, the season of love and giving. (Hard-to-believe what?)

WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — Gerry Lenfest never anticipated that, at age 84, he’d find himself the sole owner of a beleaguered media company and publisher of its three news outlets, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and

But thanks to a bizarre, hard-to-believe-Harry chain of events, that’s precisely where the billionaire businessman and philanthropist is.

And he’s having the time of his life.

“I’m motivated and excited,” Lenfest told me in a wide-ranging interview in the offices of The Lenfest Group here in the Philly suburbs. “I’ve given over a billion dollars away to charitable causes, but nothing I’ve done has the importance of saving these newspapers.”

(USA Today)




If only

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries developed an extreme reliance on editors; authors really had no need to get things completely right themselves, as the copy-editor could be relied on to fix it.



Alpha and omega o’ the day

New York Times readers range across the entire spectrum of humanity, from Professor Kingsfield to Gordon Gekko.

So who is The Times written for — the superwealthy, or for citizens of all income levels? Is the paper trying, in the axiom about journalism’s mission, to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”? Or is it plumping the Hungarian goose-down pillows of the already quite cozy?

I asked the executive editor, Dean Baquet, whom he has in mind when he directs coverage and priorities.

“I think of The Times reader as very well-educated, worldly and likely affluent,” he said. “But I think we have as many college professors as Wall Street bankers.”



From the dead beat

E&P‘s most intrepid reporter gives us the scoop on a way to make even more money from death notices (not, repeat not, obituaries), assuming the customers have never heard about all the exciting advances being made in glue, scissors and paper.


by: Press Release | Wave2 Media Solutions

Wave2 Media Solutions has announced the release of its iPublish AdPortal Digital Obituary Platform consisting of its industry leading self-service AdPortal Obituaries and AdPortal Digital Obits with Lasting Memories. It is now available to all existing AdPortal customers and new customers. Several Wave2 customers have already licensed AdPortal Digital Obituaries to instantly display their print obits on their websites with Lasting Memories —a memorial website application bundled with the digital platform. It utilizes social media based protocol enabling a family to manage their personalized website memorializing a loved one forever. “All of our AdPortal Obits customers can easily upgrade to our new digital solution.” said Brian Gorman, Wave2’s Vice President of Sales. “This provides our customers with a very quick and easy way to increase their obits revenue by as much as 40 percent.”


Because we care

Any memo from the boss that starts with “Fellow associates”* has to be bad news. This boss does not disappoint.

Fellow associates:

It has been a few weeks since my last note, and I just wanted to take a moment to update you on a few important initiatives.

The disruption in delivery continues to be the most important and most pressing challenge we face. Unfortunately, the issue is still not completely fixed.


I am optimistic that these actions will continue to improve our circumstances. We just need to keep fighting.

In that spirit, I am very excited to announce a brand new effort that will be rolled out over the next few days. We call it the WE CARE campaign.

Many of you have reached out to me to ask how you can help and get more involved. Truth is, we need your help and our customers need to hear from you. I take full responsibility for not having organized a robust, companywide effort earlier. That said, we need your help, and we need it now.

By the end of the week, we will be inviting associates to help in calling back subscribers who have been affected by the disruption in service. We want to give our customers the opportunity to talk to a real person with a sympathetic ear. Most importantly, we want our customers to know that we care.

(OC Weekly)


* 1. What other kind of “associate” is there, assuming the boss really does fraternize with the help? 2. If you want to deal with humanity, join the effort to stamp out Ebola. 3. Never, ever, answer a ringing newsroom phone.




Today’s lazy journalism

Traditionally, New York City officials have preferred not to draw attention to the unidentified bodies that pass through city morgues and receive public burials in mass graves on Hart Island, off the coast of the Bronx.

But on Saturday, city officials, for the first time ever, they said, organized a day geared partly to help identify the roughly 1,200 bodies they have received since about 1990 that they have been unable to identify.

(New York Times)

1. It is or it isn’t.

2. If it is, so what? As famous firsts go, this superlative is not terribly interesting. Leave it out and see if the sentence suffers.

3. If it is, and you want to report that it is, do the research to confirm that it is, then report it without the qualification.

4.  If it isn’t, the qualification ain’t gonna save you from nyah-nyah-nyah letters from readers who know better.

5.  If you can’t confirm it, don’t say it.


The good old days

But rather than what modern readers would expect from a censoring hand, they are something closer to our present-day blurbs. One of these censors, a professor at the Sorbonne, notes: “I had pleasure in reading it; it is full of fascinating things.” Another, a theologian, remarks with obvious delight that a book inspired “that sweet but avid curiosity that makes us want to continue further.” As Darnton makes clear, censorship under the Bourbon monarchy was not a system of limitations; it was a way of channeling the power of print through the figure of the king and his representatives, asserting royal authority over everything, even the word. Royal censors were not mainly on the outlook for subversive voices: instead, they worked like copy editors, concerned with matters of style, grammar, readability and originality of thought, even going so far as correcting spelling and redoing math. A book approved by the king should not be badly written.

(“Censors at Work,” in New York Times Book Review)

Write blurbs, correct math and throw writers into the Bastille? Sign us up!


Onward and downward

Dramatic changes, check. Overhauled reading experience (you’re coming to my house to rebind my books?), check. Digital platforms, hard to stand on but whatever, check. And lots and lots of “engagement”* editors. And lots and lots of people out of work, but we’ll give their résumés a look.

The Times continues making dramatic changes inside and out.

We overhauled your reading experiences this year, adding new content and new sections. We greatly invested in new digital platforms, now speedy and packed with local news and features for any device and in apps. We are addressing print and delivery concerns.

We have put together an incredible team of journalists and associates focused on serving our customers.

Today, we announce a significant reorganization our news team as explained in a previous column. We created a new statewide newsgathering structure with local beats in Shreveport that includes shared responsibilities to deliver news across the Gannett network in six cities: Alexandria, Lafayette, Monroe, New Orleans, Opelousas and Shreveport. Journalists could apply for positions in a team of 79 people.

(Shreveport Times)

* Back in the Nixon administration, on a tour of the Detroit Free Press, I was told that the paper had stopped publishing engagement notices, because 70 percent of the engagements ended in something short of marriage. Nowadays “engagement” means something else, but I still have my doubts.




Pulp nonfiction

Someone who knows how to write books, but not necessarily how to sell them, quits his bookselling gig at Amazon, to the astonishment of precisely nobody. Bonus: He “allowed” as to why he quit. Didn’t that whiskery synonym for said or admitted go out of style in 19th-century publishing?


Prominent Editor’s Exit Is Setback for Amazon Publishing Unit

In an interview, Mr. Park said that the battle between Amazon and publishers was not the main reason for his departure, but he allowed that it was one of several factors that made the job difficult and ultimately led to his decision to leave.

(New York Times)


Standard deviation

The Huffington Post’s newsroom is on edge following recent incidents in which several employees were disciplined and a major story was put on pause.

Two of the incidents involved journalists who were suspended after publishing sensitive articles. The other pertains to a deeply reported investigative piece that was was being prepped for publication when the site’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, Arianna Huffington, stepped in with objections to certain aspects of the reporting, sources familiar with the matter told Capital.


Earlier this week, a reporter, an editor and a copy editor were suspended over a storythey’d worked on highlighting criticisms of a financial partnership between The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education and the activewear retailer Lululemon.

There were no errors, fabrications or plagiarized quotes in the story, but a version originally published on Saturday relied primarily on critical anonymously posted comments appearing on the Lululemon website. (The quotations taken from those comments have been removed from the Huffington Post article, according to an editor’s note attached to the piece.)

Several months earlier, in August, a junior-level writer and an editor were suspended after publishing an aggregated article about plagiarism accusations leveled against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

The article compiled reporting from other outlets but did not include original reporting. More than seven hours after it was first published, the post was updated with a response that Zakaria had given to POLITICO. The issue in this case was that the writer did not reach out to Zakaria for comment.

There are concerns within the newsroom, according to sources across the organization, that the suspensions were inappropriate and that punitive actions were taken only after Huffington received complaints from a Dalai Lama Center representative and from Zakaria. In an interview with Capital, Huffington denied that she received complaints from either. She said the suspensions amounted to one day with pay, that they were decided upon by a group of four senior editors and that they were necessary because the articles did not meet The Huffington Post’s general editorial standards.

(Capital New York)

That is indeed shocking: HuffPo has standards?









When choosing an out-of-context, say-nothing quote to strip across your front page, make sure you know who said it. (Albany, N.Y., Times Union)



This and that (and I and me)

If you say “It’s not you, it’s me,” you are probably a native speaker of English or someone with a good command of how native speakers actually speak. If you say “It’s not you—it’s I,” you will quickly achieve the goal of making the other person not want to spend any more time with you. Yet this bizarre formulation is just how Nathan Heller of the New Yorker would have you speak.

This little conundrum illustrates a great deal of confusion about English grammar. Mr Heller was reviewing Steven Pinker’s “The Sense of Style” (which The Economist reviewed here). Mr Pinker writes that it is normal informal English style to use the accusative pronouns—me, him, her, us or them—in a predicate after forms of the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were and so on). In other words, it is natural and correct to say It is me as opposed to It is I. A granny facing a police line-up, jangled by her recent mugging, will point to the perpetrator and naturally shout, “That’s him, officer!” And as Geoffrey Pullum, a syntactician at the University of Edinburgh, points out, there are many cases where the nominative pronoun—I, he, she, we, they—in predicate position is so weird as to be unacceptable. He gives the example of looking at an old photograph, pointing to oneself and saying This one here is I at the age of 12.

But of course many traditional grammars do prescribe it is he and so on. It is the preferred form for formal usage, and Google’s Ngram-viewer tool (which allows searches of books) finds “it was him who…” to be almost non-existent in books.

(The Economist)


Fun with politics

Let’s see: He was right in 2012, you were wrong, so get rid of the guy who was right (and who made your political team look foolish) and replace him with something under the political team’s control. He’ll still be right, this time around (calling the Senate for the GOP weeks ago, to everyone else’s dismay), but you’ll embarrass yourself less.

Two years ago – during the coverage of the 2012 presidential race – the relationship between Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight (then based at The Times) and the paper’s political team seemed tense. And an observant reader could sometimes pick that up in the journalism.

The data-based Five Thirty Eight had one strong narrative based on Mr. Silver’s algorithm: President Obama very likely would win re-election handily. Political reporters were presenting the race, based on traditional reporting and analysis, as either side’s to win. And Mr. Silver’s efforts were generally not integrated into the whole of The Times’s coverage.

This year’s midterm elections were a different story. The replacement for Five Thirty Eight (Mr. Silver left The Times for ESPN last year) is The Upshot, headed by a Times insider, David Leonhardt, who had been the Washington bureau chief. And Times coverage leading up to the election not only integrated what The Upshot was predicting but reflected what it was predicting: a big Republican win in the Senate.

On Election Night, The Upshot’s elegant and effective Senate election model was on full display, and very much a part of the whole.

(New York Times)


The editor’s craft, cont’d.

What emerges well from Kotkin’s account is Stalin’s activity as a publicist and editor. Books that Stalin annotated reveal that we are dealing with the ultimate proofreader, a man who never missed an author’s or an editor’s mistake. No wonder Soviet literature’s greatest achievement was eliminating misprints, which were considered ‘raids by the class enemy’ (an attitude one wishes Penguin Press might adopt).

(Literary Review)


Outstandingly bad

The prize for Election Day’s worst  lede goes to Deutsche Presse Agentur (“dpa”). English is a second language to dpa, but still.

By Niels C Sorrells
dpa, Berlin
WASHINGTON — The US elections will put a little Love into the US House of Representatives, in the form of Mia Love, who will be the first black female Republican member of Congress when she is sworn in early next year.



Wooden ships, iron men and buxom types

When I started at the Miami News in 1966, I remember that reporters typed their stories with two fingers on cheap paper. If they needed to move paragraphs around, they did so with scissors and glue. They impaled finished stories on metal spikes for a psychopathic editor who forbade talking until sunrise.

The few female reporters wrote for the “women’s section.” I remember only one reporter of color. Everybody seemed destined for lung cancer; occasionally a wastepaper basket burst into flame from hot ash.

I remember reporters who kept whisky bottles in desk drawers and editors who punched writers who whined one too many times about changes to their precious copy. All-night poker games erupted Fridays at midnight in the news library.

Sometimes, late at night, the paper’s star reporter ambled majestically through the newsroom, on his arm a buxom dame said to be a stripper who went by the name Helen Bed. Or was it Elza Poppin? He drove an XKE convertible and was probably the most foul-mouthed reporter I’ve ever known.

I was barely 17. I wanted to be him. There could be no more romantic business than this.

(Tampa Bay Times)


Frontiers of science

The Times, aghast at the prospect of a Republican-controlled Congress, turns to divination. The Etruscans tried this, and where is Etruria today? The Romans picked it up (and later dropped it), and where is Rome … well, what’s the circulation of Il Messaggero?


One cold, gray day in February, in search of that one last bit of strength, I took a break. Family friends agreed to sit with my mom as she slept the day away, so I set aside guilt and got in the car and drove. Minnesota that winter morning was all steel sky. The pan-flat landscape slid by, farm after farm, an austere poetry in the scenery that seemed about right.

Anger was driving, its foot heavy on the gas, and my thoughts were boxed in tight and spinning. It took a while to banish my circular thinking with deep breaths, and feel unbound. And then, along one curving road lined with a particularly tall row of trees, something pulled at my gaze. Way up, against the somber sky, a bald eagle perched on a branch. It was a splendid creature, and not an animal I was privy to seeing often in my usual suburban world. It alone would have lifted my spirits.

But then, I saw a second one. And a third. It seemed for a little while that every time I looked up from the road (I’d slowed to a near crawl by then), a bald eagle appeared. One flapped its huge wings, circled around and landed in the next tree. Another preened, its head twisted impossibly far to get at feathers around its back. Still another fell from above like Tennyson’s famed thunderbolt.* Two others perched like statues, doing nothing in particular but looking spectacular.

There were, in total, nine bald eagles along that stretch of road. It was the ninth of February. And later, after I’d returned home and settled back on the couch next to the baby monitor broadcasting from her room, my mother took her last jagged breath. The quiet that followed knifed through me, but then came a sense of ease, of calm. The suffering was over.

* “The Eagle,” because you won’t find hyperlinks in the dead-trees Sunday Review.