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 Post subject: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Tue Jan 28, 2003 8:35 pm 
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Location: Salt Lake City
Our publisher recently put out word that our headlines, in short, suck. The powers that be want more pizazz, more "key words in big print," etc. Since our copy desk works with other designers' headline specs (and they're not often kind --- 4-col, 66-pt. on an accommodations tax scandal), we're feeling a lot of pressure.<p>It's this situation that prompted me to just send a hed to the slot using the word "ferocity" as a loose synonym for "intensity." I know it's a stretch, but ferocity is so much more lively (here comes the whore part). Is it terribly bad to stretch your synonyms for the sake of color?


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Tue Jan 28, 2003 9:14 pm 
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Location: Bethesda, Md.
<blockquote><font size="1" face="TImes, TimesNR, serif">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by Kawtry:
Is it terribly bad to stretch your synonyms for the sake of color?<hr></blockquote><p>Yes. (I fail to see how "ferocity" adds more
"pizazz" than "intensity," and the words certainly are not interchangable.) That is the way of, first, bad headlines, and then, wrong headlines. You had better make a thesaurus sweep before someone gets hurt.<p>Your publisher clearly needs to spend more time shaking down used-car dealers or speaking to the Rotary or whatever it is publishers do. "Key words in big print." If he persists, put him in touch with me.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Tue Jan 28, 2003 9:37 pm 
I agree. It sounds like your publisher wants to apply the same principles to headlines that are used in developing ad slogans. "Pizazz" shouldn't be the highest priority -- clarity and accuracy should be. If that means headlines are a little dull as a result ... too bad. The readers are still served. And I bet THEY aren't the ones complaining.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 12:39 am 
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Few publishers have so much as a sniff of an idea of what we do. I'm sorry that yours is sticking his/her nose where it doesn't belong.<p>If the publisher didn't like your headlines, and chances are your publisher has no idea how a headline is written, he or she should have gone to the top editor and spoken privately. Then one of two things should have happened. <p>Best-case scenario: Editor tells publisher that he or she doesn't know jackshit about our work.<p>Worst-case scenario: Editor says OK, and then the EDITOR passes down the word.<p>The publisher doing it is stupid and should not have happened.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 4:22 pm 
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Sorry if I confused ... the publisher didn't come to the copy desk directly with the complaint. Actually, it's screwier than that.<p>She went to the design director to personally vent her frustrations. The design director happens to be my husband, so he told me what she said and I passed it along to the copy desk, including our chief, who was clueless.<p>Maybe that makes me the asshole, but I hate it when I know upper management is looking down on us for something but we're not given the opportunity to improve or even respond.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 4:26 pm 
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You're not an asshole. The publisher is an asshole.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 6:05 pm 
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the only intelligent reason for a publisher to complain to the design director instead of the copy chief about headlines' content is to order that copy editors get better hed counts. are the hed counts unreasonable?
or are the heds bad only in the mind of the publisher? <p>of course, this would be expecting way too much of many publishers' understanding of how a newspaper gets put together and what works for readers.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 6:32 pm 
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Yes, the specs are bad sometimes.
The publisher's background is in reporting (where you are apparently permitted free license to trash-talk all headlines, if our reporters are any indication).<p>A typical scenario: we choose a lead story for the front page. The editor or ME will say, "Let's make sure it gets big play." Big play in our paper typically means a four- or five-column centerpiece with a huge-ass photo and a honking, single-deck headline stretched across said photo. (Side note: that photo more often than not will convey something entirely opposite of the story, and the headline, but that's another issue.)<p>After that's set up, the ME or editor will say, "Now, let's make sure we get the key words into the headline." That comes regardless of topic ... accommodations tax scandal, Iraq, sniper case, anything in Afghanistan in 2001-02 ...<p>Occasionally, I'll be privy to the meeting where this stuff is decided, and I"ll pipe up -- "We can't fit such-and-such word into those specs, and that's the key word. What shall we say in that head?"
But for the most part, we set ourselves up to fail.<p>Of course last night, with Bush's blathering speech, we set up a hugh, glaring lead headline, with TWO decks ... and there was nothing to say....<p>The ME actually got to see the problem scenario in action the other night, when he and I struggled the full 15 minutes prior to deadline to fit the truth, nuance and "key words" of said accommodations tax scandal story into a single deck in which "This is what will fit here" fit PERFECTLY. Oh, sure, there was a subhead. Six words fit there. Could we change the hed specs? SURE .. but that would involve cutting the story and we CAN'T cut this story!!! <p>So ... the shit filters went to work and came up with the atrocious:
Tax vote questioned
Promoter voted as councilman<p>And the morning that showed up on peoples' doors was the morning the publisher vented her frustrations.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 8:39 pm 
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"Now, let's make sure we get the key words into the headline."<p>I guess I'm missing something. What's this "key words" stuff?


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 8:53 pm 
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Murphy's Law seems to dictate that the key words are the ones that won't fit, but that's looking at it ass-backward.<p>They're what the editor or person making the statement thinks they should be. Example: 3-deck, two-column hed about Martha Stewart and SEC investigation updates ... A mug of Martha was planted directly beneath the hed, and all were placed above the fold, but the copy editor was unable to get Martha Stewart in the hed without a nasty split or without dropping Martha.
The editor said the key words were missing.<p>In the accommodations tax scandal headline I'd discussed earlier, they missing key words, according to the powers that be, were the councilman's name. But the copy desk would argue that he's little-known and his name -- Cooper -- is too common, especially on the breaking story. Besides, his photo ran alongside the headline.<p>We've run those big CP blow-out stories about one of our communities -- Georgetown. And since there's also a Georgetown County, and we have to be specific, well ...<p>I know every copy editor on this desk doesn't write the best headline every time, but it's insulting to have the editor (or publisher) say, "Let's get the key words in that headline," when every copy editor tries to get the "key words" into a headline.<p>It'd be nice to be a part of the Monday-morning quarterbacking sessions in which these little critiques take place.<p>I always want to ask: What would you say? You have five minutes -- go.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 9:04 pm 
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"Key words" sounds like baby talk in that context.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 9:15 pm 
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Funny, that's the tone the editor uses when she spouts that phrase ...


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 9:37 pm 
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<blockquote><font size="1" face="TImes, TimesNR, serif">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by Kawtry:
<p>It'd be nice to be a part of the Monday-morning quarterbacking sessions in which these little critiques take place.<p>I always want to ask: What would you say? You have five minutes -- go.<hr></blockquote><p>It might seem that way, but be careful what you wish for. The opportunity to do that several times a week contributed to my being forced out at a paper.<p>On that morning paper's staff, the second-guessing began at a meeting early in the day, without copy editors present. Then, another critique would be held after the 4 p.m. news meeting. The criticism often was off-base -- of your "missing keyword" variety.<p>Asking a non-copy editor to suggest a better hed would lead to a recitation of the 40-word lede or nut graf, or a stern "that's the copy desk's job." <p>And if a copy editor dared to suggest that a reporter's work wasn't perfect, look out.


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 Post subject: Re: A question of word-whoring ethics ...
PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2003 9:52 pm 
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<blockquote><font size="1" face="TImes, TimesNR, serif">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by Wayne Countryman:
<p>And if a copy editor dared to suggest that a reporter's work wasn't perfect, look out.<hr></blockquote><p>Wayne, you should thank your lucky stars to have been forced out at a place in which an idiotic concept like this is part of the culture. And if such action led to you being forced out, bravo for you.


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