Friday, December 31, 2021

Journalists' resolves

 Can  you ...

Write about a person's death from cancer without using "a long battle with"?

Describe X, a person  whose situation is representative of your story, without then saying "X is not alone"?

Write about some hugely expensive house, particularly a vulgar McMansion, without calling it "stately"?

Manage never to use "iconic" to describe any person, place, or object? (You knew this one would be on the list.) 

Eschew copspeak ("suspect" for unidentified perpetrator, "ejected from the vehicle" for "thrown from the car," or anything else copied verbatim from the officer's report)?

Never say that "an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death"? (Because why else do they cut people up?)

Forgo using synonyms for "said"?

Write about Mars without ever calling it "the Red Planet"? 

Omit describing what the subject ate for breakfast in an interview story? (Because you weren't important enough to rate a lunch interview.)

Refrain from setting foot in any leafy suburb, sleepy rural town, gritty urban neighborhood, hardscrabble community, or any other place that tempts you to condescend to your subjects?

Friday, December 17, 2021

I'm an editor and I'm OK

 An editor boasts that in a single shift I:

Item:  Eliminated a sentence-ending preposition.

Item: Changed like to such as

Item:  Gave data a plural verb instead of a singular. 

Item:  Changed convinced to persuaded.

Item: Changed since to because

Item: Changed a singular they to he or she

Item: Changed loaned to lent.

Item: Removed and from the beginning of a sentence. 

Item:  Eliminated a split verb.

Item: Changed over to more than

Item: Changed that to who in a reference to a group of people. 

Item: Gave none a singular verb instead of a plural.

Item: Changed careen to career.

Item: Changed hopefully to it is hoped that.

Item: Unsplit an infinitive.

Item: Removed however from the beginning of a sentence. 

Item: Changed collided to crashed


An experienced editor knows the why and wherefore of each of these changes, but you may be mystified. That's all right. Each of these changes, except in rare circumstances, does nothing to correct or improve the text. They are all editorial fetishes that have grown up over the years, permitting the belief that making these time-wasting and inconsequential changes is a badge of professional craft. 

I in my time have been responsible for most of them, and some of them I taught for years in my editing class, until I learned better. I've said elsewhere that I spent the first half of my career as an editor learning and the second half unlearning. Do not discount the benefits to the reader of your unlearning. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Listen up, people

 There, awaiting my morning grumble, in the middle of an Associated Press article on the recent tornadoes: "crews recovered pieces of peoples' lives."

People, a plural noun, is equivalent to "human beings" or "persons." 

Peoples, a plural noun, identifies a group of human beings, typically a large one, with a common culture or kinship. 

Crews were therefore recovering people's effects, the belongings of individuals. 

Unless you are writing about the peoples of the world represented at the United Nations, you are seldom going to be called upon to use anything but people

See if the Associated Press can master this distinction, and if it sticks, maybe tomorrow it can have a go at another one.