John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Two warnings

Be careful about what you write: Mike Memoli, one of my former students, now covering the White House for Real Clear Politics, sent out a tweet this week warning journalists to be careful what they say in e-mail, because that correspondence can be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The State in South Carolina got hold of e-mails to Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff by that means, and some of what came to light was not pretty.

Be careful about what you listen to: Unless the program directors have turned up someone more interesting in the past three days, a short interview with me on the parlous state of copy editing is to be broadcast on this week’s On the Media at National Public Radio.

The program’s Web site will help you find when the program is being broadcast in your area, and you can download the program from the Web site if it’s not possible or convenient to listen to the broadcast.


  1. FOIA, as I understand it, requires the release to the public of the documents generated by government employees. Except for those working for Stars and Stripes, journalists are not government employees, and FOIA shouldn't touch them.

    That said, emails and other electronic records are subject to legal discovery and possible disclosure if the newspaper is sued, but newspapers aren't any different from any other corporations in that respect.

    (I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice -- but it's not the unauthorized practice of law, either.)

  2. Mr. Cowan makes a distinction that I should have. FOIA (which has also made its appearance in the trade as a verb, as in when your e-mail is FOIA'd) applies to communications with governmental officials or employees. That appears to be what happened in the Sanford matter. It is when you happen to be caught up in a civil or criminal proceeding that legal discovery apart from FOIA would apply.