June 30, 2012

My Peasant Project

I have spare minutes at work every now and then. I usually fill them with online reading, picking my toes and decorative origami, but I'm also working on my writing skills. Specifically, pumping out 140 ironic characters.

Yes! My years of education and experience have finally born fruit in a fake Twitter account! @Mom will be so proud.

@PeasantTweet is written by an 11th century Bulgarian peasant. He's married, usually has 8 children (depending on mortality and market rates) and loves to dig.

Is this a great big waste of time? Yes (though I'm sure the three bots following me would be devastated if I quit). On the other hand, taking my daily problems and filtering them through a snarky medieval serf helps me stay cool, yo. 

So follow @PeasantTweet. Or better, start your own fake Twitter accounts. Who knows, maybe one day you too can proudly stand beside my favourite comedy accounts - @CobraCommander, @Sockington or even @PMHarper (a person who tweets just like a bot - love it!)

June 28, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #2

5) The find function

You can scan for a word as hard as you wish, you still may miss it. Your computer, however, will not. If you come across a word that's misspelled (and will likely be misspelled throughout the rest of the piece) or you're looking to strike superfluous "that"s, use the find function. It's usually activated by hitting ctrl + F (or Apple + F). It's not the alpha and omega of editing, but it will help you find those words in a snap.

6) Edit out orphans

"Orphans" or "widows" occur when a paragraph's final line contains only a few characters. In an editor's battle to cut a story down to size, fitting it between advertisements and art, paragraphs containing orphans are the first place to look for possible trims. Why delete an entire paragraph when knocking off a few orphans accomplishes the same feat.

Not this one...                                              this one.

7) Be a news junkie

Finding spelling and grammatical mistakes is relatively easy compared to catching errors of fact. Having not conducted the interviews, seen the scenes or attended the events, a copy editor is fantastically limited in their ability to catch factual errors. What they can do to compensate is read all the news, all the time. If a reporter deviates from accepted facts, the copy editor will be able to spot it. A deviation isn`t necessarily wrong, of course, and news that refuses to say anything not already said is hardly worth the pixels it`s printed on. But you need to be able to identify new twists (or contradictions) in emerging stories and consult your reporter to make sure statements stand on solid ground. There`s no other way to do that than keeping up to speed.

June 22, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #1

I've been copy editing (writing headlines and editing stories) for three weeks at the Winnipeg Free Press and the learning curve remains vertical. Any perception of myself as a good speller and/or grammarian has been washed away. That's fine. I will learn and improve.

And I've learned a lot already. So here is the first in a series of posts on what I've picked up from the copy desk. Let me know if they're useful.

1) Grow a thick skin

Your brilliant, witty, insightful headline only looks that way to you. Or maybe it is super tasty. Guess what? It just got replaced. Get over it; you have ten headlines to write and seven pages to edit.

2) Bring the book

The spelling authorities still use analog. Can you find the definitive Canadian spelling of "half-full" (or is it "half full") online? Yeah, didn't think so. Set a dictionary and a CP stylebook by your computer.

3) Triple-check

Do go over your own writing, comparing it to your CP stylebook and dictionary, but beware the conceited human brain tends to overlook its own mistakes. Copy and paste your work into a program with an automated spell check (if the layout program you're using doesn't have one) and catch some easy errors you missed. Then get a colleague to read over your work. And when they point out obvious mistakes, do a face-palm, then write them down.

4) Be sensitive

You will be inundated with stories of larceny, wrongdoing and loss - those are the stories that make up the news. It's a natural response to distance yourself, through apathy, cynicism or dark humour. Those are legitimate responses to a whole lot of mess. But don't let it come out in your writing, because people who do care will read your paper. The punny headline you wrote about yet another Winnipeg homicide? That's someone's loved one. Ask yourself how the people involved in the story will perceive your headline. Don't write to please them and don't write in a world devoid of them.

June 18, 2012

Man cold

I have no idea what evil doorknob I licked, but I have caught something that is absolutely draining my ki. Typing is an effort. Breathing is an effort. Whining is... easy. But breathing is an effort! Woe!

June 1, 2012

Here there be Dragons (New Commute)

On Monday I'm starting my internship at the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy editor on the night rim shift. Yes, the official term is night rim. I've thought of five jokes since starting to write this sentence, but I'll keep this blog classy... until my term is over.

I'm going to try biking to work everyday as a 1) path to better health and 2) path to not waiting for the bus. The  WFP offices are a little ways away, but I think I've mapped out my course: