Saturday, January 7, 2012

Newspaper style

Every newspaper has its quirks. My most recent newspaper calls the Camping World Truck Series by the shortened name of Trucks Series. Not Truck Series. They've changed the name, but no one has complained.

You can't say Olympic champion there; it's Olympics champion (and maybe Olympics-sized swimming pool). There are no athletic directors, only athletics directors. And Cam Newton was not an All-American; he was an All-America (I'd change it to All-America quarterback to make it sound right to my ear).

I worked at a newspaper that wouldn't call the local hospital by its real name (Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center), and it wouldn't call it by what locals call it (Baptist Hospital). I think they called it Baptist Medical Center; it was editor preference, something you see a lot of in the newspaper business.

At another paper, we could jump only one story off the front, so we'd have to decide which story we want to jump. At other places, you can jump every story.

I once worked for a man who wanted 25 headlines on the sports front; that may not seem like a lot to you, but six headlines on a page is a lot. I once did 17, and that made him feel better, but I had to do a briefs package to do it.

This same boss didn't like white space on a page. I couldn't put a cutline (caption) to one side of the picture without filling in the white space above it. That made me get creative, and I started putting an information box beside photos. I'd put the cutline above or below the info box, and my boss was happy with the intense use of space. He liked stories crammed in there, and I had to battle to let them breathe.

One newspaper won't allow Tiger in a headline, but nothing is said about Serena and Venus. Another newspaper had us use Kyle and Richard in headlines to differentiate between Kyle Petty and Richard Petty. And another paper wouldn't let us use Earnhardt Jr. in a headline, just Earnhardt.

And if you mention someone in a news story for that paper but don't quote him, they'll cut him out of the story. It's one of their ways to keep stories short.

One boss didn't like names in headlines or the start of a story. I guess he thought that Simpson might be confusing (Jessica or O.J.?). Besides, Smith or Jones in a headline could be anyone. That same editor didn't like us starting a story with a person's name. He had his reasons.

I've worked for bosses who didn't have rules until you did something they didn't like.

And I've worked at newspapers that had rules for anything and everything. Years ago, we were putting out the sports section, and our top story was about a college coach, the school's offensive coordinator, being fired. Naturally, the headline was something like "???? University fires offensive coordinator." Fine.

Minutes later, someone from news side came charging over and told us we couldn't use the word offensive in a headline. It was a rule of the newspaper; no offensive headlines. I told her that the man was fired because his team wasn't offensive enough; that didn't go over well.

I assume we changed the headline to get the word offensive out of there. But we came away scratching our heads; we couldn't see anything offensive about the headline.

WRITERS' GUIDELINES: If you want to write for magazines (or book publishers), check out the writers' guidelines on my Freelance Writers and Editors group on Yahoo!

CHECK IT OUT: You might look at Funds for Writers, which specializes in grants for writers.


Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

Entries from The Dog Blog

Blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

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