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/.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RED ALERT! RED ALERT!

A colleague in an unnamed state has just sent me an alarming bulletin:

"FYI: AP is running on the wire Sunday the annual nonstory on the cost for the 12 Days of Christmas."

If you have any influence at all at your publication, spike this story, which is — and I know how much territory this claim takes in — perhaps the dumbest single story the Associated Press ever runs. It is an annual exercise in banality. It is factually questionable and devoid of originality. It is worse than a weather story. It is worse than the presidential pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey. It is worse than a story quoting Miss America. It is a zombie story that refuses to die, and the person assigned to do this annual dirty task must have done something really, really dreadful in a previous life that you do not want to know about.

If you are monitoring the wire services, tell no one about it. If you are an assigning editor, shun it. If it has been scheduled and you are on the copy desk, take this appeal up to the Supreme Court (or find some way for the system to delete it beyond recovery — you should know how). Interpose yourself between this monstrosity and the reader, at all costs. You are the last line of defense.

Don't you ever talk about what's RIGHT with America?

Before I undertake the heavy lifting myself, does anyone else want to address the character who made — anonymously — the captious comment scorning copy editors on the “Not news” post?

Item: you can still count on the copy desk for indefatigable negativism. There is plenty of good journalism out there, even if there are fewer people producing it.