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/.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Q and A


Amid the cascade of congratulations about my return to The Baltimore Sun next week as Night Content Production Manager, there have been a number of questions, and I think it would be useful to clear those, as well as some unrelated ones that have cropped up.


Q. Does that mean that the Sun will, as of May 4th, become as interesting and mind-tickling as your blog?

A. You exaggerate my transformative powers.

A colleague at the paper wrote Tuesday to say that the newsroom was full of smiles and that people were saying my appointment was the best news they had heard in a long time.

I said that they will be sick of me again soon enough, and she answered, “If you’re doing your job, they will.”


Q. Does this mean I have to figger out a way to rejiggle the who-shah-callit on my-watchama-callit to get this blog, again?

A. To answer the most frequent question of the week:

This blog will continue.

I’ve been invited to bring it back to Baltimoresun.com, and the changeover will occur as soon as the appropriate arrangements can be made, probably late next week. You’ll be given information about locating it.


Q. Have you thought much about how this blog may change now that you are heading back into the newsroom?

A. I suspect that the pace may not match the 393 posts since May 1 of last year, but I will be writing regularly.

And, AP style be damned, I’m keeping the Oxford comma.


Q. Can you tell me where the title "content manager" comes from?

A. The title editor appears to be falling out of fashion, and is probably unnecessary, what with nearly all the editors being sacked.

I suspect that as reporters and writers have become responsible for doing more than reporting and writing — taking photos, shooting video, etc. — there is a certain logic in describing them as providing content for publication in various forms, and thus making those who oversee the work content managers.

I don’t object to the title, so long as (a) I get to do useful work and (b) someone pays me for it.


Q. Do you have any misgivings about returning, given the ugly manner in which you and so many of your colleagues were shoved out the door a year ago?

A. Anyone involved with a newspaper, or any publishing concern, lives in apprehension. The Philadelphia Inquirer was sold at auction this week, and the colleagues I know and respect there are waiting to learn what is in store with them. I fear that a number of them will be turned out.

The predictions of the death of newspapers may come true — Sumner Redstone was quoted this week as saying that newspapers will be gone in two years, to which a wag replied that newspapers will outlast Sumner Redstone — but they, like any other business, have to live within their revenue. The prospects are shaky at best.

I accepted the offer from The Sun in full knowledge of the uncertainty of the business, saying to Kathleen, “I’ll ride this horse until they shoot it out from under me.”

As to the “ugly manner,” I responded to an inquiry from Jodi Schneider, formerly of Congressional Quarterly, who offers advice to unemployed writers and editors (content producers and managers, sorry) in her blog DC Works. She has published my reflections in today’s post (beginning about halfway down).


Q. How does this fit into your masterful performance as FDR?

A. Too kind. The Memorial Players’ production of Annie was met with thunderous applause last week, and I will be back onstage tonight for the first of the three final performances. You still have a chance to see it: Memorial Episcopal Church, corner of Bolton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Bolton Hill. Tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30, Sunday afternoon at 3:00.


Q. What do you advise about “beg the question”?

A.  As it happens, Professor Mark Liberman addressed this very question on Language Log, explaining how the shifting understanding of Greek and Latin terms led to the current confusion. You will want to look at his whole explication, but here is a short version.

To beg the question was originally a term in logic identifying circular reasoning in which the original conclusion is assumed. “God is all-powerful because he is God” is such a circular argument; it assumes the very thing it seeks to prove. But the expression has come to mean “to raise or prompt the question” in common discourse.

Beg the question, Professor Liberman concludes (and I agree), is best avoided altogether. The people who know something about logic — not many in this broad republic of narrow education — will look down their noses at you if you use it in the colloquial sense, and nearly all others will develop unflattering furrows in their brows if you use it in the technical sense.