Thursday, January 31, 2008


Copyediting--a lost art, and Britney Spears

by Larry Geller

I was copy editor and then managing editor of our college newspaper, so my brain was thoroughly conditioned to pounce on tiny little typos that really don't matter much. In fact, I appreciated the little bloopers because most of the articles student reporters turned in were so bad that it would be cause for celebration if there were only a small typo or two.

Some typos are funny. LIke the principal the DOE allowed to remain at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School for 112 years in today's Star-Bulletin.

Probably thinking enough is enough, the DOE put him on administrative leave. The article gives no hint whatsoever about why they waited this long or what motivated the decision. It's probably with pay, so he might well continue to earn a salary for the next couple of decades while they figure out how to oust him permanently.

[Update: I see that the S-B has fixed the 112 year typo. Good news for me, I have at least one reader over there. Or maybe an anonymous source tipped them off.]

I was checking this morning's Star-Bulletin to try and find out about the two people who ended up on the H-1 Freeway yesterday (am I supposed to capitalize "freeway?" Gotta be careful if I'm going to write about copy editing...). There wasn't much in the print Advertiser this morning. They ran the breaking news from last night that I linked to in the previous article.

The news was hidden 'way down on page B2, tucked into the left corner under the obituaries. And under the tiny story about the Superferry cancellation for today. (If you're looking for the Advertiser's coverage on the Superferry problems, please continue to check the obituary page. It's close to dead).

One paper or the other has the story backwards. The Advertiser reported:

Earlier today, a 32-year-old woman injured in a 3:45 a.m. fall onto the H-1 Freeway's westbound lanes near Halona Street in Kalihi died at Queen's at 4:29 a.m.

While the Star-Bulletin reports:

Shortly afterward, police received a call about a woman lying in the middle of Halona Street. Police said the woman apparently fell from the freeway onto Halona Street. Preliminary investigation revealed no signs that the woman was hit by a vehicle, police said.

Even though this is on the same page as the 112 year reign of the Laupahoehoe principal, it has that air of truthiness about it, don't you think?

I'll leave the editors to duke it out on this one, who fell from where onto what, when (those Ws journalists are supposed to worry about first thing).

While checking today's breaking news to see if anyone else had ended up on the freeway (lower case is ok this time I think), I also learned that according to "a police officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter" that Britney Spears had just escaped from her home again in an ambulance.

Have you noticed how many news stories now depend on someone "who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter?" I imagine newspapers would be much thinner if stories based on all these unauthorized anonymous people were suddenly banned. Papers would be thicker, on the other hand, if they would stop firing reporters who research stories by interviewing real people.

And of course, with the rash of stories based entirely on these dubious sources, I'm wondering how I can get to be one myself. I'm not authorized to speak on much at all, and I am quite happy not to give my name. So any young reporter wanting to make that big front-page splash (is front-page hyphenated?), just give me a call and I'll tell you anything you want to know.

By the way, Britney's escape was very cleverly planned to get her past the huge crowd of paparazzi:

The crowd of photographers and news trucks outside her gated home was larger than normal Wednesday night.

At least, I think it was clever. If a reporter wants to ask me anything about Britney Spears, bring on the questions. I'm happy to answer any and all of them anonymously, and I'm totally unauthorized to say anything about Ms Spears. And I'm ready to spill all. Just call me.

I'm your perfect source on anything Britney.


Having worked in the newsprint medium for several years and then reading The Elements of Typographic Style, my life both in words and in their setting will never be the same. If only I could turn a blind eye to the small errors and word processors generic kerning. But for the dailies, there is hardly any justification.

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