Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Worth commenting on

Copy-editing comment: I received a nice but anonymous comment on my "Needs editing" blog entry, so I thought I'd pass it along.
Just came across this blog, Tom, and am really enjoying it. It's reminded me of the fun I've had headline-writing -- a very challenging (and very credit-challenged!) job that even the mighty Internet won't kill.

However, it's your mention of NY Times style requiring the separation of speaker from the word "said" that reminds me of the managing editor at one metro paper for which I was a copyeditor who decreed that, henceforth and forevermore, every quote would be followed strictly by "so-and-so said." No other word but "said" could be used, and only AFTER the quote. No more "joked so-and-so" or "replied so-and-so" or "so-and-so shouted back angrily" or "so-and-so recalled." Nor could there be any beginning-of-sentence "So-and-so replied" or "Answered so-and-so".

It didn't matter whether such variations helped the reader to better follow the flow of the story, or if they helped capture its flavor, or even put a little life into an otherwise mundane report. Just plain old "Joe Blow said" -- always at the end of the quote, just like the period.

To paraphrase Poe: "Quoth the M.E., 'Nevermore!'

I had been taught always to "listen" to a sentence with your "inner ear" as you would music, to "hear" its melody and rhythm -- its romance, even -- and I had developed a pretty good ear for that kind of music by that time. So this decree had me thinking, for many years after, that that M.E. had a "tin ear" when it came to language.

But I realized, much later, that the real reason for this (to me) abominable dictate was that our paper would be going from "hot" type to "cold" type, enabling the company to get copy off the wires in ready-to-print form through the photo-offset process, and thus cut costs by jettisoning typesetters and their machines, materials, etc.

Additionally, the wire-copy would be formatted in the same "[comma] he said/she said" style, and by not allowing copyeditors to deviate from it, the company could further save time and money by avoiding changes to its ready-to-print copy (except, of course, for obvious spelling or factual errors).

And who do you think had representatives with "boots on the ground" to watch and learn from this transition?

Why, none other than The New York Times!

I've worked with one or two newspapers that mandated "he said" attribution. It's boring, but what can you do?

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