Copy-editing with a twist

The ins and outs of being a copy editor

Archive for the ‘in the news’ Category

Getting creative on the cops beat

Posted by Noel Sanchez on November 21, 2008

Here’s a bizarro story from the Miami Herald.
Synopsis: Guy got shot on the night of his birthday after his family thought he was asleep. They found him a mile or two from his house, shot to death outside of his car.
Ridiculous sentences:
  • Detectives speculate Santos may have been robbed, but even that is iffy. Iffy? Really? Way to sound sensitive.
  • A burly man dressed in a plain white T-shirt, blue basketball shorts and flip-flops, Santos drove a white Chevrolet Impala. What does burly entail? Was he heavyset or big and strong? Why not just say that? Did he have a beard? The word “burly” always makes me think of Bluto from the Popeye cartoons. Did he look like Bluto? That’s a description I could get behind.
  • Perhaps Santos left to party somewhere? A nearby strip joint, maybe? A smoker, maybe he went out for more cigarettes? Detectives have only theories. What the hell? How can this blatant speculation make its way into a ‘reputable’ newspaper? That’s the real questions that need to be answered.

I’m all for getting creative with mundane stories. But that was a bit ridiculous.

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Bailout to the rescue

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 14, 2008

Are copy editors to blame for the public’s perception of the $700 billion financial rescue plan?

The plan has been called a bailout for weeks, and more recently it’s been referred to as a rescue. Has the change in semantics affected public opinion?

Kathy Schenck points out that “bailout” carries some negative connotations, while “rescue” sounds much nobler. I have to agree with her; even the first time I heard the bill referred to as a “bailout,” I thought it sounded a little opinion-tinged. But, to be safe, I checked out what the the ultimate objective authority, the dictionary, had to say.

From Merriam-Webster:

Bail out- v. to rescue from financial distress

Rescue- v. to free from confinement, danger, or evil

“Bailout” certainly seems like the appropriate word, but I still think that it carries a negative connotation. To me, when you bail someone out, you’re giving them a handout. You’re helping them out  when they’ve gotten themselves in deep trouble, and they probably don’t even deserve your help. As in, “I’ll bail you out this one time, but you owe me big. Don’t expect me to help you out like this again.”

Maybe that’s just me, but this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel talks about how the b-word might have influenced people’s perceptions, and consequently, the House’s initial rejection of the bill.

A rescue, on the other hand, is the ultimate form of selflessness and nobleness. Helpless animals and children need rescuing; drunk friends across town with no cash and no way of getting home need bailing out. Heroes rescue; annoyed roommates bail out.

I’d like to think of the Wall Street bigwigs as somewhere between helpless critters and inebriated college students.

Headline writers weren’t wrong in using the word “bailout.” It is, afterall, probably more accurate than “rescue” because its meaning deals specifically with finance. But writers should never underestimate how a simple word can shape a person’s perception.

Posted in headlines, in the news, real-life dilemmas | 1 Comment »