John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to email@example.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Item: Phillip Blanchard, testiest of the Testy Copy Editors, advises us, as he does (futilely) every year, to pay no attention to the “Person of the Year” hoo-hah from Time: “Please remember that ‘Person of the Year’ is a magazine promotion, and as such is not news.”
Item: Time is also running an article calling the current decade the “decade from hell.” No doubt the 1960s, with the assassinations and riots; or the 1940s, with the Second World War, or the 1930s, with a worldwide depression and the rise of facism, pale in comparison with, say, “the record number of corporate bankruptcies, many of them household names: Kmart, United Airlines, Circuit City, Lehman Brothers, GM and Chrysler.” Sometimes a writer should just breathe into a paper bag until he calms down.
Item: Though Nicole Stockdale of the Dallas Morning News pointed out several years ago that “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, is not the biggest shopping day of the season, journalists continue to copy and paste that phrase.
That journalists should be writing about Black Friday at all is suspect. Yes, some people make it a ritual to rise well before dawn to stand in line in parking lots to get the first shot at brummagem merchandise.* And yes, newspapers are solicitous of their advertisers, who are cowering in fear that this season’s shopping will be so feeble that they will go under. But really, when a mob tramples someone to death to get at the mark-downs, that is news; that people shop a lot in November and December is not.
Item: When a couple of gate-crashers elbow their way to the side of the president of the United States, that is a security item, and news. Going into the details that they aspire to participate in yet another tacky reality show winds up giving tacky reality shows free advertising that they do not appear to need.
Item: Did the journalism outlet(s) you follow run something about the president’s “pardoning” the Thanksgiving turkey? Do you wonder if something important was omitted to make room for that?
Item: On the first, fifth, tenth, or twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of a child, soldier, or other young adult by accident, disease, or homicide, it is not news that the family continues to mourn the loss. In fact, nearly any article about the anniversary of an event will be little more than a copy-and-paste job from the files, running because it was an easy way to fill up space.
Item: Any story about the weather that mainly informs you that it gets hot in the summertime and cold in the winter. If you can find out the same information by opening the front door, you don’t need a journalist to tell you about it.
Point to ponder: I invite you, as you consider these articles and others like them, to pose a question once memorably uttered by Ursula Liu, a former Sun colleague: “Do I have a tattoo on my forehead that says, ‘Waste my time’?”
*You don’t know brummagem? The adjective means cheap, showy, and possibly counterfeit. The word is a dialect version of Birmingham, the English city once known for the counterfeit coins and plated goods manufactured there. (Thank you, New Oxford American Dictionary.)