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, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The world turned upside down

Two propositions worth considering:

Item: Glenn Beck is a satirist employed by the sinister left-wing media to subvert conservatism by making it look ridiculous.

Evidence: Jon Stewart’s Daily Show simply runs excerpts of the Beck interview with Eric Massa. Commentary is hardly necessary.

Item: The Onion is not a satirical publication, but a factual one.

WASHINGTON—Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.
Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words.
“Why won't it just tell me what it's about?” said Boston resident Charlyne Thomson, who was bombarded with the overwhelming mass of black text late Monday afternoon. “There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I've looked everywhere—there's nothing here but words.”
“Ow,” Thomson added after reading the first and last lines in an attempt to get the gist of whatever the article, review, or possibly recipe was about. …

 Think of the students whose eyes glaze over if they are asked to read more than a page, or the managers unable to conceptualize except in PowerPoint. This is a documentary article.


  1. Oh my gosh, that Onion article is frighteningly accurate.

    I am a professional grant writer. Some years ago, I took a "How to Write the Perfect Grant Proposal" seminar from someone who'd been writing grants for decades. His major piece of advice?

    Ensure that each page communicated its main points without having to actually be read.

    So, use bullets, underlines, bold-faced type, or any other kind of formatting and highlighting you could think of to convey tiny bits of key information that would encourage a [non-]reader to approve your proposal without having to read it.

  2. It's one of the funniest Onion articles I've read in a while.

    For some reason, your remark about PowerPoint reminded me of the Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation.

  3. I've got a grant proposal that will make your eyes bleed. (Incoherence reigneth.) I didn't write it; I just made the mistake of asking the Tourism Dept in my county for a copy of what they sent in.

    And John ... use Teh Google and look up "PowerPoint" and "Ed Tufte."

  4. The Onion is just continuing in the venerable tradition of the court jester, who played the two roles of joke-maker and truth-teller.

  5. The Onion and Jon Stewart may be the two last reputable news sources in America.

  6. Patrick K. LackeyMarch 11, 2010 at 9:16 PM

    Textbooks these days come pre-highlighted in various colors. Sales of yellow markers must be off.

    Remember when U.S.A. Today started, with its colorful and confusing stand-alone factoids? I couldn't help looking for the stories that they surely went with.

    What's impossible with series of shorts is cohesion, not to mention coherence. The reader leaps from one small flat stone to another, hoping to arrive somewhere, not noticing that the stones are randomly placed.

  7. Can't even begin to put into words how much I appreciate this one. Besides, no reader would get past the first sentence anyway.

  8. "The reader leaps from one small flat stone to another, hoping to arrive somewhere, not noticing that the stones are randomly placed."

    Then again, if you give me just the facts, without all the connecting fluff, I can usually figure out the cohesion and coherence. In fact, I'd rather do it myself.

    Being told what to think and how to react are my current pet peeves with news stories (of course, I've been reduced to reading the NYDaily News; maybe the DMRegister doesn't do this).

  9. To quote someone I read somewhere, no wonder those 800-page Harry Potter books don't sell!