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 jemcintyre@gmail.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, October 24, 2009

Can you tell 'live' from 'news'? Facebook can't

Motoring along the highway or creeping down a city street, I cringe at the sight of a “PROGRESS AHEAD” sign, knowing full well that it means that the roadway has been torn up and I will be jockeying for position with lunatics.

Yesterday, it appears, Facebook put into effect a redesigned home page for members, with a “live feed” and a “news feed.” It seems to be the case that the “news feed” will include items that Facebook has concluded would be of interest to me, while the “live feed” will list all my friends’ activities.

How do I know this? From an article on the changeover in PCMAG.com, which Jack Mulkey thoughtfully put up on his news feed. Facebook gave me no information. Or perhaps Facebook did publish some announcement to readers; but it was not anywhere that I saw, and Facebook is so chaotically organized and its search function so pathetically useless that I probably could not have found the announcement had I known to look for it.

These are the consequences of the double feed. I have to look in two places to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. And since the “live” and “news” categories have some obvious overlap, I get to see some of the same posts in two different places. Oh yeah, and the chronology is all gummed up, with my news feeds listed in this order: an hour ago, 6:27 p.m. yesterday, 11:37 p.m. yesterday, 11 hours ago, 4 hours ago [emphasis added].

When I see Internet enthusiasts scorn newspapers for their arbitrary redesigns that disconcert readers, for their lack of transparency in informing their audience what they are doing, or for their ineptly designed Web sites that make navigation troublesome, I think of Facebook and curl my lip in bitter scorn.

Weekends are for catching up

Item: While the actual Associated Press Stylebook is unintentionally hilarious, FakeAPStylebook on Twitter is a hoot and a half. Some examples:

The numbers one through ten should be spelled out while numbers greater than ten are products of the Illuminati and should be avoided.

Do not change weight of gorilla in phrase, “800-lb gorilla in the room.” Correct weight is 800 lbs. DO NOT CHANGE GORILLA'S WEIGHT!

There is no such thing as an “Oxford comma.” The other guys in the newsroom are pranking you.

While it's tempting to call them “baristi” because of the Italian roots, the plural of “barista” is “journalism majors.”


Item: If you are concerned about potential dangers of vaccines, Steve Silberman of Wired has provides a link to a useful, fact-based article on the subject, with copious references to the science. The comments on an article in Wired by Amy Wallace on fear and panic over vaccines demonstrate how quickly public discussion devolves into shouting and personal abuse.

As with the AP Stylebook, many of these comments career into unintended hilarity.

Item: Onlineclasses.org has forwarded a link to its list of the top ten plagiarism scandals. It says “of all time” but is in fact limited to those, mainly in journalism, of recent history.

For a longer view, take, for example, the passage in Tristram Shandy denouncing plagiarism: “Shall we forever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another? Are we forever to be twisting and untwisting the same rope?” This passage, your eighteenth-century professor would have pointed out with a dry, donnish chuckle, Sterne lifted from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Thus we see the difference between the amateur cut-and-paster and an inspired pro.

Thomas Mallon’s Stolen Words is a fine study of plagiarism, mainly the literary kind.

Item: I should have been reminding you about GoodSearch, a search engine powered by Yahoo that pays a small sum to the good cause of your choice for each search you make there. My GoodSearch is set to the American Copy Editors Society Education Fund, which provides scholarships to promising students who seek a career as editors. Every search I perform there brings a penny to the fund, and if you, my beloved readers, would also participate, we could over time aggregate a tidy sum. I urge you to try it.

DISCLAIMER FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION:

If a reader of this blog should order a copy of Stolen Words from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below, I will eventually receive a minuscule portion of the proceeds.