Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blog on Hiatus

The Waldo Canyon Fire has devastated thousands of acres of wildland, and now an unknown number of homes and other structures on the northwest side of Colorado Springs. This is the largest disaster to affect this area in many years - and quite possibly the largest in our history.

Out of respect for those who have lost their homes, and to allow time to come to grips with this catastrophe, this blog is on hiatus.

Please keep the firefighters and residents in your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

And You're Really a Geek...

...when learning that "email" sans hyphen is now an acceptable form of that term - at least according to AP Stylebook, 2011 version - and the revelation causes a momentary pang of distress, much like when Pluto was demoted from planet status...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You Know You're a Word Geek When...

...You're excited because you just ordered an updated version of The Associated Press Stylebook, and you can't wait for it to arrive in the mail.

The AP Stylebook is the standard for journalists, but many writers who are not in journalism use it, too. (On the other hand, modern media provides daily reminders that many writers and journalists don't use this book when they really should, but I digress...) It's quite the handy reference book. Want to know when certain words should be capitalized? Do you need the correct spelling of a foreign title or name? Is it "e-mail" or "email"? (The former, at least according to AP circa 2004.) The Stylebook has all of this, and more.

If you're serious about writing of any kind, pick up a copy and keep it by your desk, right next to The Chicago Manual of Style. These two books will cover just about every writing question that might arise during your day-to-day work.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Here We Go Again…

(Photo from TimesCall.com)
The High Park fire in northern Colorado has now consumed approximately 37,000 acres (as of the time I'm writing this post) and damaged or destroyed more than a hundred structures, including many homes. The conditions are nothing short of hell on earth: reports of fire rampaging at an estimated 40 feet per second, flames reaching as high as 300 feet into the sky, smoke plumes rising to 23,000 feet. Residents and firefighters alike tell stories about being chased by walls of fire and barely reaching safety. Some residents left pets and livestock behind. Fueled by dry, beetle-kill timber and driven by high winds, the fire shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

This is certainly no time to be quibbling about semantics and typos.

But I have to give a shout out to radio station 850 KOA. About 3:30 p.m. today, I tuned in to the Dave Logan show just in time to hear Dave talking about the fire with traffic reporter Vicky Evans. Listening to the two of them, it quickly became clear that they both have a good grasp on firefighting operations and terminology. Their correct usage of wildland firefighting lingo established a credibility that, sadly, many other news stations lack.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know how many times I’ve ranted about reporters and writers who don’t even attempt to do their homework when it comes to fire-related stories. That certainly wasn’t the case today.
The news Dave and Vicky were delivering in that segment was bad, but it was almost a pleasure to listen to them because they got it right. No bumbling or stumbling, no wrong words at the wrong times, no making up crap to fill air time. Just solid facts related in a way only a firefighter could appreciate. Kudos to them.

Many people have been affected by wildfires across the nation. Please keep them and the firefighters in your thoughts, and fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a long and bumpy fire season.

For information about wildland fires happening across the country, check out InciWeb, the Incident Information System, at http://inciweb.org/.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So Long, Ray Bradbury

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury has passed away at the age of 91. Click here to read a nice write-up on Yahoo! about Bradbury and his writing career.

We had to read Fahrenheit 451 in school. The only thing I remember about the book is that I hated it. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that I didn't really hate the book or the author. What I actually hated was the notion that a society, even a fictional one, would destroy books. Not only was this a vivid demonstration of intolerance - people were burning books. Books! How could anyone do such a thing?

I've always loved to read, and I have nearly a dozen bookcases that are packed full. It's been that way my whole life. Instead of paring down my collection, I just get more bookshelves.

Books were my haven during those tumultuous school years when other students picked on me because I got better grades and wasn't very fashion conscious. (Hey - guess what? I still get better grades than my fellow students, and I still don't give a whit about style trends. Deal with it.) Books continue to serve as my preferred method for escaping this craziness we call life. Some people watch movies and TV to forget their troubles; I'd rather read a good book.

When I first picked up Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, I was very naive to the ways of the world, which is probably why it rubbed me the wrong way. I viewed the world in strict measures of black and white that did not take into account the complexities of a society, or the anomalies of human behavior. The title has always stuck with me, though, and even came in handy as a firefighter: 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the ignition temperature of paper.

Reading articles of Bradbury's passing, and of his life, I am inspired to give Fahrenheit 451 another try. I'm guessing my take on the story will be totally different. I may even enjoy it.

Thanks, Ray, for helping to bring science fiction into the mainstream.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Copy Editors: Invisible Word Warriors

Nothing is more embarrassing than making a typo that draws national attention.

Case in point:  A campaign app for presidential candidate Mitt Romney that went viral not because of any sort of candidate popularity, but because “America” was misspelled as “Amercia.”

One word comes to mind. Really?

I’ve ranted on this blog about the dire typographical straits that we now find ourselves in thanks to media downsizing and the increasing apathy with which many people – even writers and journalists – regard the written word.  Thankfully, there are still many who proudly carry the torch for proofreading and fact-checking.

In her article “Why 'Amercia' needs copy editors” posted on CNN.com, Merrill Perlman discusses the decline of typographical correctness. Readers of newspapers and news sites, she says, are “seeing lots of typos, as well as errors of grammar, fact and logic — many more than they would have seen before news organizations decided that they did not need so many copy editors.”

Perlman says one reason for publications choosing not to employ copy editors is that “reporters can simply ‘proofread’ themselves better. But no one can read something he wrote as well as someone else can.”

Let’s repeat that last sentence.

“No one can read something he wrote as well as someone else can.”

That’s a basic tenet of writing. Always proofread your own work, but then hand it to another capable soul who will find the errors that you missed.

The result of copy editor layoffs, of course, is a plethora of mistakes that make it into print. Publishers and news staff that think readers do not care about typographical errors need only to check the comments section to see firsthand the scorn and ridicule by readers who are weary of typo shenanigans. “How many comments say things like ‘where were the editors?’” asks Perlman.

Credibility becomes another casualty of word wars when the professionals don’t bother to check their work. Perlman cites research that shows “readers view edited news more positively than they view unedited news.” No surprise there.

The bottom line is simply this: Everyone needs a proofreader.

Proofreading and copy editing is not glamorous work. It is behind-the-scenes, tedious work that often goes unheralded. But without good editors, readers are subjected to substandard content that tarnishes a writer’s reputation, as well as that of the company who hired him or her to do the work.

As Perlman notes at the end of her article, “Copy editors are the quality control experts. Let them inspect.”