Friday, October 12, 2012

Kudos all around to my colleagues

   A little more than four years after being unceremoniously (acrimoniously might be a better word) dumped by my employer of 20 years, the newspaper that rescued me from the discard bin of long term unemployment, the Bristol Press, was named Newspaper of the Year in its circulation category for 2012 by the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Its circulation may be smaller than that of my previous employer, but its staff is way more enthusiastic and talented, its management much more concerned with putting out a good product than the vast array of deadwood at the paper where I used to work.

   My contribution to the award winning product was marginal, a few headlines here and some page layouts there, dividing my time between the Press and its sister paper, the New Britain Herald, but I'm proud to have contributed even in some small way to the paper's achievement.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What copy editors have in common with tuna fish

   In the year and a half since I was rescued from the discard heap of unemployment by the New Britain Herald, I've noticed that some of my colleagues who are half my age (but they're catching up ... in twelve years they'll be three quarters of my age, but don't quote me on that, I was never good at math), and even some of my contemporaries, have just a little bit of difficulty in the placement of commas. For those more advanced in years it's a little late to try and effect a change since, like me, they'll be voluntarily out to pasture in the next few years, and with the younger crew, there's no one there to correct the results of their college professors' neglect.
   That said, I've been noticing more and more simple grammatical errors on the Internet, where you'd think that the people posting the news would at least have a college education.
   Cut to the chase: The following paragraph was on the Yahoo main news page, and is likely a transcript of a video of Christiane Amanpour bemoaning the inevitable demise of the world's tuna population because we eat too much sushi.

      "Sushi: The Global Catch, a new film from documentarian Mark Hall takes an in depth look at how the growth of the international sushi industry, which exploded in America in the 1980's, has lead to a dramatic depletion of our oceans fish supply. Hall was inspired to make the film when he witnessed the popularity of Sushi in Eastern Europe during a trip to Warsaw, Poland, and was amazed at how fast sushi's popularity has spread."

   The above paragraph is missing a comma, misspells "led" and neglects to make "oceans" possessive, although they're not going to possess much anyway if we keep eating sushi. And perhaps I'm rushing to judgment in concluding that the craft of copy editing is headed in the same direction as the world's supply of tuna ... Hello? My order from Sushi Heaven is here? Thank you, I'll be right down ... Excuse me. After all, I might be overlooking the possibility that the transcription of Ms. Amanpour's video might have been done by voice recognition software, in which case, not bad at all. ... Hello, Sushi Heaven? You forgot to send an eggroll with my bluefin tuna and wild sockeye salmon platter ... What? You don't make eggrolls, but you'll be happy to send a miso soup? Put a sockeye in it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I don't know, Ange, what do you feel like doing?

A Bill Gallo cartoon
Many of my Facebook friends have posted pictures of Ernest Borgnine and mourned his passing. I'll always remember him in "The Poseidon Adventure" with Shelley Winters, one of my favorite actresses. He won his Oscar for "Marty," which was indirectly responsible for one of the memorable moments in my copy editing career.

I'm referring to the day in 1981 that Paddy Chayefsky died.

I was working in the sports department of the New York Daily News. I had been there about three years, after coming over from the New York Post. Early in my career I had the honor of working in two of the greatest sports departments in history, those of the New York Post from 1969 to 1978 and the Daily News from '78 to 1983.

At the Daily News I worked with such luminaries as Dick Young and Bill Madden and Jack Lang and, especially, the legendary cartoonist Bill Gallo.

Which brings me to August 1, 1981 (I looked it up on Wikipedia)  and the day Paddy Chayefsky passed away. The News had recently hired a young night sports editor who, I'll give him credit, was a whiz at graphics. He could overlay 120 point white type on the surface of a full page picture like nobody's business. Heck, today with InDesign even I can do stuff like that, but this was 30 years ago. The only problem was, he was wet behind the ears, so to speak. Look at me talking, I was only 31.

Now, when Paddy Chayefsky -- who wrote the screenplay for "Marty" -- died, Bill Gallo drew a cartoon with two of the regular characters of his sports cartoons, Yuchie and Mookie. Yuchie was the quintessential young baseball fan with his Mets cap on sideways and Mookie was his sidekick.

In the cartoon, Yuchie says, "Mookie, what do you feel like doing tonight?"

And Mookie says, "I don't know, Yuchie, what do you feel like doing?"

Off to the side of the cartoon is a caricature of Paddy Chayefsky with wings on his way to heaven.

So the wet behind the ears night sports editor says to Bill Gallo, "What does this mean?"

Bill Gallo, dumbstruck, says, "It's a line from 'Marty.'"

And the night sports editor says, "Who's Marty?"And he made Bill Gallo change the cartoon.

I said to myself, one day I'm going to write a headline and he's going to ask me what it means, and we're going to have this same argument.
About a month later, during the U.S. Open tennis tournament, there was a quarterfinal match in which Jimmy Connors came from two sets down and barely avoided being upset by an Indian tennis player named Vijay Amritraj.
So I wrote a headline that said "Connors spoils Vijay day"

And the night sports editor said, "Who's Vijay?"

Now, Vijay Amritraj was pretty well known in tennis circles -- according to Wikibedia, he'd scored victories against the likes of John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Ken Rosewall, and he even won five of his 11 matches against Connors -- so I got pretty upset.

That was the train wreck I'd seen coming. I subsequently went to my supervisors and demanded that they rearrange my schedule so I would have to work with that particular editor as little as possible. The paper came out seven days a week, so I was able to get it down to one or two overlapping shifts a week.

Oh, and here's the line from "Marty," thanks to

Angie: What do you feel like doing tonight?
Marty: I don't know, Ange. What do you feel like doing?
Angie: We're back to that, huh? I say to you, 'What do you feel like doing tonight?' And you say back to me, 'I dunno. What do you feel like doing tonight?' Then we wind up sitting around your house with a couple of cans of beer watching the Hit Parade on television.

May you rest in peace, Ernest Borgnine. And Paddy Chayefsky. And Bill Gallo.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Production of Bath Salts outsourced to China

Now you've stepped in it, Arianna. I mean, it's one thing to order your copy editors to put names and places in headlines, I get it, that's how people searching the Internet find your story when 20 or 200 news-oriented web sites have the same or similar story. But today as I looked at my aol page, which uses the Huff Post as its news service, I was greeted with the following blaring headline:

Face Eating Attack In China: 'Dong,' Drunken Bus Driver, Allegedly Bites Woman 'Du's' Nose, Lips

Now it's a terrible thing, these face eating attacks that seem to be occurring all over the place, not to be confused with the flesh eating attack by a germ (or a virus?) on poor Aimee Copeland. But ol' Arianna Huffington has gone and done it now. I wonder how high up this story will appear when some shmo goes to the Internet and types in the name of his favorite porn expression. Huh? Some guy in China? Hel-lo. C'mon Arianna, wouldn't it be enough to simply announce "Drunken bus driver allegedly bites ..."

And then there's attribution. I love the use of "allegedly" here. Like what's Mister Dong going to do, sue Arianna for ruining his reputation?

Besides, Huff Post and all the other news outlets are missing the real story here. Obviously, Monsanto or Dow or Cargill or whoever produces the stuff has outsourced the production of Bath Salts to China.

Well, I wish Miss "Du" a speedy recovery. As for the Huffington Post's headline dictates, I wish I could say the same.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Meaning of Gumpton

After trekking several thousand feet up to the summit of one of the lesser Himalayas, I entered the heated tent of the Wise Man and said, "Wise Man, may I ask you a question?"

"Yes, my son," the Wise Man said.

"Don't My Son me," I said. "I'm 62 years old and don't have an ounce of the DNA for wisdom in me."

"As you wish, Mon Frere," the Wise Man said.

"Mon Frere my ear," said I. "You're 140 if you're a day, do I look like I could be your brother?"

"What is your question?" the Wise Man asked, appearing just the least bit agitated.

"What is the meaning of gumption?" I asked.

"Of gumption?" the Wise Man repeated. "Is that all you want to know? Most people who climb the thousands of feet through winding mountain trails, leaping crevasses in a single bound, ask me far more difficult questions, like 'What is the meaning of life?'"

"I already know the meaning of life," said I. "You either get it with parole or without."

"I will tell you the meaning of gumption," said the Wise Man.

"Thank you," I said. "My feet are killing me. I knew I shouldn't have gotten my climbing shoes at Walmart."

"Let me tell you about a friend of mine," the Wise Man said. "My friend took his wife out to lunch at a fancy restaurant, and each of them had an expensive meal."

"This is gumption?" I said.

"Let me finish," the Wise Man said. "After my friend finished his ahi ahi tuna salad, cleaning his plate he enjoyed the salad so much ..."

"The salad was made with Chicken of the Sea?" I said. "Is that gumption?"

"Stop interrupting me," the Wise Man said. "As my friend was applying a linen napkin to his lips, his wife pointed out that there was a strand of hair on his plate. 'WAITER!!!!' my friend cried out. 'There was a hair in my salad!" He then took out his iPhone and snapped a picture of the forlorn looking strand of hair that there but for the sharp eye of his better half he might have ingested along with his ahi ahi tuna."

"I'll be right back," the waiter said, returning shortly thereafter with an adjusted check, with some fifteen dollars, the price of his ahi ahi tuna, deducted and the words "HAIR ON PLATE" written on the check. My friend took one look at the adjusted bill, summoned the waiter back, and said "You forgot to deduct the coupon I gave you for a free appetizer."

"Aha!" I said. "Now I see. So that is gumption?"

"You got it, Bro," said the Wise Man.

"By the way," I said, "there wouldn't happen to be an elevator to the base of this mountain, would there?"

"Don't push your luck," the Wise Man said.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How news stories get mangled

Scene in a Greenwich Village basement:
FBI Agent No. 1 looks at watch, sees it's half past noon.
FBI Agent No. 1 to FBI Agent No. 2: Have you eaten?
FBI Agent No. 2: Yes.
Lurking New York Post reporter, whips out cell phone, makes call: BOSS, they found Etan's remains!!!
New York Post: EXCLUSIVE: Etan Found!!!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hey Jeremy, What's the Story?

Back in the daze, the newspaper I worked for had a financial columnist who shall remain nameless but who considered himself an expert, if you will, on mutual funds. So much so that when his son turned 16, did he give his son the keys to a used Volkswagen Bug? On the contrary, he gave his son shares in a mutual fund. I'm sure he told his son "You'll thank me someday."

Said son became a poet whose body of work included numerous references to women's private parts. Whether he thanked his father for those shares in mutual funds I don't suppose we'll ever know. But I was thinking about this financial columnist because on occasion he would use the term "contrarian" to describe a certain type of investor.

I've always considered myself a bit of a contrarian when it comes to writing headlines. Take Jeremy Lin for, oh no, I can't stop myself, Stop! Stop! Whoa, Nellie! for Linstance (slapping self in face), Okay, take a deep breath now, and continue, every headline writer east of the Mississippi has been squeezing every last bit of pulp outof that three-letter name, but how many headlines describing the exploits of the New York Knicks basketball sensation have you seen playing off his first name, Jeremy? That's right. None. So if there are any sports copy editors reading this, I dare you to write a headline like Mamma Jeremy-a, Knicks throttle Pistons, instead of the obvious "Knicks throttle Pistons but Jeremy plays like belly button Lin(t)."

Not to mention, Jeremy is a safe headline word, whereas Lin is a veritable minefield of opportunities to offend a whole culture, as some poor shmo who worked his way up from being an intern at ESPN found out. So why don't more headline writers use it? I imagine it's because they don't want to get fired. Now where did I put that share of a mutual fund? Oh, it's in my Linvestment portfolio (smacking self in face again).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Quick quiz

The following two headlines today were found on the web site of:

a) the National Enquirer
b) the News of the World
c) CNN

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Pirate of the Pacific' comes full circle

The crew of the USS Kidd (DD661) hoisting the jolly roger (photo from  

When I'm not writing headlines and introducing typographical errors into captions ("Hello, Mister Caption, I'd like you to meet somebody whose name is about to be misspelled), I lead a double life as a World War 2 historian. And when the USS Kidd recently captured a bunch of Somali pirates and freed some Iranian fishermen, the name USS Kidd rang a bell.

Initially I thought it might have been one of the destroyers that came in close to Omaha Beach on D-Day and shelled the German pillboxes, but a quick Google search revealed I was wrong about that. That was the USS Frankford, which some veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion I interviewed more than a decade ago credited with turning the tide, no pun intended, on Omaha Beach. A tank on the beach would fire a smoke or a white phosphorous shell at a target overlooking the beach so that the Frankford and another destroyer could zero in on it with their bigger guns. The other destroyer, however, was not the USS Kidd, which was in the Pacific at the time.

It turns out, however, that the name USS Kidd really did ring a bell. The very newspaper I work for, the Bristol Press (and its sister paper the New Britain Herald), had an article on Dec. 8 of last year about a ceremony at the VFW post in Bristol in which a bell from the USS Kidd that someone donated was dedicated and was rung in memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Making the ceremony even more poignant was the fact that the Kidd was named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, who perished on the bridge of the USS Arizona.

Of course the USS Kidd that fought in many famous World War II battles was not the USS Kidd that freed the Iranian fishermen. The original Kidd is a floating museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The latest Kidd is the third generation of the ship with that name, a grand Kidd, if you will. But going back to World War II, I learned first from Wikipedia and later from a visit to the ship/museum's web site that the original crew of the Kidd adopted the famous pirate Captain Kidd as their mascot, flew the jolly roger on their maiden voyage, and had a caricature of Captain Kidd painted on both sides of the forward smokestack. The ship became known, according to the museum web site, as "The Pirate of the Pacific," and its crew was known as "The Pirates of the Pacific."

Lest you think the crew was being disrespectful, this from the history section of the museum's web site:

"The KIDD's first voyage was one of some notoriety. Under the command of Cdr. Allan B. Roby, the destroyer moved across New York Harbor for delivery to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyards . . . flying the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger high from the foremast. The edition of TIME magazine that week carried a photo of KIDD, announcing that it had been one hundred years since the Jolly Roger had flown in New York Harbor. The crew quickly adopted the pirate Captain Kidd—who ironically hailed from New York—as their mascot and hired a local cartoonist to paint the famed buccaneer's image high on the forward smokestack.  Not wishing to dishonor RADM Kidd, however, the crew obtained permission from Mrs. Kidd first.  The Admiral's nickname at the Naval Academy hadbeen "Cap" (as in "Captain Kidd") and he had gone by this nickname his entire life.  So on the crew's behalf, Mrs. Kidd obtained official permission from the powers-that-be in the Navy for them to paint the pirate on the stack and fly the Jolly Roger.  The KIDD would become the only vessel in the history of the United States Navy to ever have such leave granted to fly the flag of piracy."

So in one of those bizarre twists of history, when the modern USS Kidd captured a group of Somali pirates, it was as if the Pirate of the Pacific had come full circle.