Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ITiots

The Editrix first admits a few things:
1. She loves technology. She got her first Palm Pilot in 1997.
2. She politely loathes most IT managers. She believes they worship Mordac.

What prompts this post is the web manager's refusal to comply with the Editrix's reasonable request to post back issues of her major publication online, without a yes from AMB.

Now, if you really want to piss off the Editrix, tell her that she is in charge of a product, but cannot make simple decisions about the functionality of that product's website. Customers have asked for back issues online, the Editrix wants them for her own ease of reference and use. Both of these facts have been communicated to Mr. Holy, the web manager. This simple task should have been completed by now. Mr. Holy freely admits that there is no technical difficulty in complying.

This highlights the real problem with ITiots. They know a lot about one thing, but mistakenly think that they can apply the logic of their discipline to areas outside their expertise. Sorry, ITiots, the world of content is not comprised of one's and zero's. My world is more complex. It involves intuition, connotation, communication, and yes, even feelings. Do not mess with my editorial world, and I will not mess with your server update schedule. Or worse yet, go spill my caffeine-free Diet Coke on your keyboard.

Monday, October 23, 2006

There Is a (Grammar) God

Good news for editors everywhere--grammar is officially back in style at high schools. According to the Washington Post, teaching grammar had fall out of favor in the 1970s. This is news to the Editrix, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s learned all about grammar, including how to diagram sentences, in public school in Kentucky. That fact may seem astonishing to many, seeing as Kentucky's schools have not exactly set the country on fire with their educational prowess. When I was in school, Kentucky's schools ranked in the bottom five or ten states in the country. And I'm not sure much has changed--Kentucky currently can claim the highest percentage of rural adults without a high school diploma, along with the highest percentage of rural students who qualify for federally subsidized lunch. Granted, I grew up in one of the alleged cities (pop. approx. 30,000 at the time), so my schooling may not have been quite as lacking as the more rural parts of the state. I did, after all, learn quite a bit about grammar! Thank you Miss Jones, Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Matthews, and Mrs. Curnutte.

Yet, the Editrix realizes that there are still hordes of writers out there without much of a clue regarding the use of commas, semicolons, and indeed, the need to use entire words, rather than IM abbreviations. For the record, the Editrix adores IM, but tends to use whole words and corrects her spelling before hitting enter. One of the nice things about working in b2b publishing is that most professionals do know the basics of sentence construction, though certainly not the intricacies of parallel structure and similar means to make writing sing rather than plod.

The Editrix highly recommends Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by the wonderful curmudgeon Lynne Truss, for those interested in an entertaining venture into the world of grammar. If she could pull it off, the Editrix would require all her authors to read that book plus the inimitable Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Sadly, since she can rarely offer actual money to her authors, the Editrix thinks the chance of that happening falls somewhere between nil and no way.

The Editrix owns both the fourth edition and the illustrated version. The Editrix admits that she often fails to live by the most important precept of Strunk & White: Omit needless words.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pub-anomics

Most people outside the publishing industry associate titles like "editor" and "writer" with glamour. Ha bloody ha.

Sure, if you're editor in chief at a major glossy, New York-based magazine, like Real Simple, you'll be raking in the big bucks. Or if you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you will be recognized and possibly even mobbed on the street. Not to mention those extremely nice, juicy royalty checks that would come your way.

Make no mistake, though, most editors and writers will remain safely anonymous and barely middle class.

Want some proof of the value most suits see in editing? Take a look at this story, which recounts how the new, shrinkwrap barely off, $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville apparently does not employ proofers for its signage. And it took the local paper a month to figure out a word was misspelled. Super. I'm sure someone will get fired or upbraided in some fashion for this faux pas; I'm also sure it won't be the doink who said, "why do we need to pay someone to proof everything? we can do it ourselves and save money."

It's not news that word processing software makes everyone think they are writers; nor is it news that spellcheck provides a crutch for poor spellers and convinces people they are also editors. Combined, they make bean-counters question the need for actual, gasp! editing by professionals. After all, if spellcheck and grammar check didn't flag anything, your document must be A-OK. Right--at least, until there's an embarrassing glitch.

Of course, once you've had a good copyeditor or proofer catch some glaring mistake in a headline that five other people on your staff (including you) did not see, you understand just how valuable they are. Yet many, many pubs do not have positions devoted to such a valuable function. The dailies do, because there are so many writers and tight deadlines they cannot afford the error rate. But smaller publications, particularly b2b shops, have axed that job in the name of efficiency. They just pile it on someone else's duties, oblivious to the fact that not everyone is good at copyediting or proofing. They are real specialties. I am not anyone's gift to either, I can assure you. I will never ever be even a lowly sergeant in the Style Police Unit.

The same trend holds true for writers. Suits seems to think that any reporter can write stories about anything. In some small way, they are right: a good reporter should be able to cover just about any topic. BUT. That does not mean that a good reporter wants to do so, or that they can perform the miracle of tough, insightful interviews on any subject after taking up said subject two days before. It takes time to learn the nuances of any beat, and a couple years to have a really good rolodex of contacts. Robots do not good reporters makes. So of course, the Tribune Co. has decided to squash the publisher that stood up for these fine sentiments and principles, and will most likely fire lots of good reporters in the name of the bottom line. It seems that a profit margin of 20 percent just isn't enough. Note to Tribune suits: Maybe you could do more with less salary of your own? Trade your inflated $150,000+ salary for, say, four or five really solid, experienced reporters that actually produce the stuff (stories) you sell? Or can you Tribune suits can go out on the street and sell your spreadsheets? Didn't think so.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Alleged words

I'm mounting the soapbox with my language police uniform on. It's somewhat dusty and a tad tight. Though far more lax than the average copyeditor, even The Editrix gets riled with those who take too many liberties with the English language.

Incident No. 1
"Decider" did not bother me overmuch as a coined word. Partly, because Dick Francis used it as a book title in 1993, long before Shrub stirred up the word mavens last spring. Also, importantly, "decider" follows an understandable English language logic: The suffix -er signifies "one who" (among other things). As in, baker, one who bakes; candlestick maker, one who makes candlesticks. Simple, easy to apply, even for eight year-olds.

But recently on weather.com, I saw a link for an "Explainer." Turns out, this is weather.com's tag word for a background story.

My word: Fie.

Fie on you, lazy marketing types. Fie on you, editorial dweebs in search of hipness. "Explainer" is clunky and plain lazy. It grates. It does not make any linguistic sense. The alleged word is not shorthand for one who explains; it is shorthand, I gather, for a story that gives background on hurricanes. For crying out loud, just call it a backgrounder and stop mucking up my day.


Incident No. 2
Normally, my wonderful associate editor Blondie writes well. Imaginative, generally clear, if not quite concise enough (but that will come).

Every once in a while, I think Blondie wants to see if I'm paying attention.

Like when I get a sentence from her with the alleged word "congrue" in it.

Yes, there are many verbs I now accept that once upon a time were only nouns : IMing, Googling, texting. I can even live with "plutoed." Truth be told, that's clever--and easily understood. Unlike congrue, or explainer.

Incident No. 3
I discovered this wonderful new word at BuzzWhack: Targasm. See, I'm not a complete stick-in-the-mud. Language evolution can be fabulous.