On hiatus

Q: On hiatus? What does that mean?

A: It means I don’t really have the time or energy to keep this blog up to the standards to which I aspire. So rather than keep running endless birthday posts, I’m going to take a break for now.

Q: Will you return?

A: I imagine I will. Some day.

Q: Are you taking a break from the Web in general?

A: Not at all. I’m still all over social media. In fact, I’m sharing good pages and graphics and links to online presentations that impress me. I’m just doing it there instead of here.

Q: Are you ill?

A: No, just sick and tired (heh). And eager to have a little “me” time for a change.

You can’t tell me you didn’t see this coming. Back when I was doing the consulting/teaching thing full-time — which is a fancy way of saying I was unemployed — I was able to blog five or six times a day. I was mighty happy with that.

When I returned to work in March 2013, I spent several months living by myself in California while my wife and daughter still resided on the East Coast. I still managed to get in a lot of blogging time. Not quite as much as before — hey, having a full-time job can be quite the time suck! — but still enough for me to feel like I was serving my readers.

When my daughter moved out to California with me, however, I found myself wanting to spend more of my down time with her and less with my head buried in my rapidly-aging laptop. So I cut waaay back on my blogging. I’d go days, sometimes, between posts — other than the by-then-obligatory birthday posts.

When I moved to Texas a little more than a year ago, that time crunch became acute. Not only did I no longer have time to write thoughtful posts, I found it a real problem just keeping up with furniture items — those birthdays. Which, thanks to the lack of substantive content, had completely taken over the blog.

I dislike doing something poorly. Therefore, the decision to stop was an easy one. Or should have been. I should have stopped two years before I did.

Q: Why didn’t you just become a full-time blogger?

A: I never really found a way — or, at least, a way I could live with — to monetize this blog.

We talked about it from time to time. But since so many of the pages and photos and graphics I posted here were donated by you, my readers, I didn’t feel right trying to charge you to look at your own work. I was always much more comfortable as essentially a nonprofit operation.

The main problem with a nonprofit operation is: You don’t turn a profit. And I still need to eat, sleep with a roof over my head and pay the bill to move pixels around the interwebs.

I tried, though. I came this close, once, to getting hired by a big Florida-based journalism think-tank. That was way back in 2012.

When that opportunity tanked for me, it took with it any real hope I had of one day being a full-time online journalist. No matter how prolific I had been over the years.

Q: Will your archives go away?

A: I hope not. I put a lot of time and energy into blogging over the past 12 years. Five of those years reside here, at CharlesApple.com. I hope we can maintain that permanently. Or, at least, as permanently as anything can be online.

A blog reader leaves feedback

Here in the world of blogging, you get comments from time to time.

But sometimes, you get extraordinary feedback, above and beyond that you might ordinarily get.

I’m going to share one such comment that came in over the weekend. If you can take a few minutes to read it, you’ll find it’s really complimenting photography and editing work done in newspapers around the world.

LaurieAnn Ray tells us:

I stumbled on your site by chance while looking for photos and stories covering the 2013 Colorado Flood.

I wanted to see more of the details one of our family members experienced during and following the flooding of Lyons, Colorado. She has 70+ years of experience dealing with challenging circumstances and chose to remain in Lyons rather than be evacuated when flood waters thundered through town.

That’s a story for another time… the purpose of my comment is to thank you. I have been enthralled with the beautiful –though often tragic — photography you have featured and the commentary you’ve provided to assist your readers in understanding not only the art, talent, and technology involved in covering the stories but also helping us comprehend the events in more human terms.

I cannot help but wonder if some of the ph0tographers and writers from this time traveled back to ancient Rome, Greece, Babylon, Palestine, etc. what images they would capture and how closely the events that led to the fall of those societies as world powers would parallel the events now unfolding in our own times. I do believe that the oft repeated words “those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it” are true even though the words in quotations are actually a misquote of “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,” written by Spanish philosopher George Santayana on page 284 of “Reason in Common Sense: The Life of Reason” (volume 1) published in 1922 by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York).

I’ve enjoyed my tour through recent history and hope others will find their way to your site. I appreciate your editorial efforts and have enjoyed your sense of humor as well. I have found humor in some of the most unlikely places. Laughter has helped me deal with events that might otherwise have turned me a into quivering mass of misery.

There is no doubt that cancer, natural disasters, war, crime, etc. are obstacles to human happiness. However, these very disasters often bring out the very best in us. Strangers become heroes to neighbors they may never have known until tragedy strikes. Communities once divided by differences — both real and imagined — come together to combat a common foe. They become stronger as the cleanup and rebuilding begin and they are never the same again.

It happened in Windsor, Colorado following the 2008 Tornado and it’s happening now in Lyons and other communities affected by floods, fires, hurricanes, and other calamities that have impacted people throughout America and across the face of Earth. It happened after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and it will surely happen again because already we as a nation have forgotten the lessons we should have learned and should be passing on to our children.

The collective conscious of our society has once again become self-centered tuning into “reality” programs rather than tuning into their families and communities. Too many people adults and children spend their lives in virtual arenas where actions seldom have real consequence. Choice and accountability are too often ignored and so society breaks down as families are divided by cruel or selfish individuals more concerned with themselves than with the family as a whole.

I’m 56 and am amazed and appalled by how things have changed since my birth. Their are marvelous inventions that have improved the quality of our lives in so many ways. However, technical advances in entertainments has also made it possible for people to ignore each other in ways that were unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. All around I see evidence of social decay where children are left to fend for themselves, the elderly who have a wealth of experience/history/talent are relegated to the status of unwanted pets, marriage becomes a farce as each partner seeks gratification in whatever way that pleases them, conversation is becoming a forgotten art as everyone tunes into electronic pastimes. People are more alone now — even within a house full of others — than they used to be on a horse under a bright prairie sky.

There is something terribly wrong in a society where individuals who have chosen to live outside the law and to prey upon other citizens live better than the most common citizens. It is wonderful to come across something new and refreshing that helps restore my faith in people and your site has been such a discovery. Not only did I view the images and comments you selected to share — but where the image was clear enough — I read the other items editors included on their front pages and was happily surprised to find many “Good News” items of people rising above their circumstances, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, or just being good neighbors.

I miss the days when good news was considered as news-worthy as the latest tragedy. I feel sorry for those who live vicariously through the famous (movie stars, sports figures, reality personalities, etc.) rather than making an effort to enjoy their own lives.

Which on that note I am going to do right now. I feel the need to make one of my — soon to be 11 — grandchildren giggle.

Thanks much for that, LaurieAnn. And thanks for reading.

A gorgeous new home for the visual journalism blog

Several years ago, after I repeatedly crashed and burned the web page of my good friends at VisualEditors.com, I decided: I really need a new home for the blog.

Leaping to my rescue was my good friend Daniel Hunt. At the time, he was a designer and copy editor for the Orange County Register. Dan is a pretty good web designer. He offered to set me up with my own site.

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Dan and me in West Chester, Pa., 2009

As we began to brainstorm what my own blog site might look like, I eventually talked myself out of it. I really liked working for a nonprofit organization. At some point, the light bulb went on over Dan’s head. Dan was also on the board of directors for the American Copy Editors Society and served as that organizations’ web master. He huddled with his ACES colleagues and came back with an offer: We’ll host your blog for you.

And so a wonderful relationship started. The folks at ACES have been very kind to me. Despite the fact that I’m not a copy editor — nor am I remotely qualified to be one — the organization made me feel right at home.

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ACES hosted my blog for three years plus one week. Today, however, we go back to Plan A: My pal Dan has built me a wonderful new web site — the one you’re reading right now. And while it’s most certainly not finished quite yet, I hope you’ll agree it’s got a lot of potential.

Q: So what are the features of the new blog?

A: For starters, it’s stripped down. Dan has taken out everything that we possibly can from the basic home page.

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Several of the things you used to see in the rails down the sides of my old ACES blog are moving into pull-down menus and such. The idea is to move that stuff to a place where you can find it if you want it but to keep the visual emphasis on the content of each post.

Q: If you’re going to redesign your blog, why not go with a “responsive” design?

A: This is a “responsive” design, fully HTML 5 compatible. This blog will now sense what kind of device you’re using and the width of your monitor and then configure itself to what it thinks will be optimum viewing for your device.

Q: Does that mean I can read you on my smart phone now?

A: It does indeed.

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Granted, the blog will still take a while to download — especially via 4G. That’s because many of my posts are stuffed with fairly large JPG images.

There’s not much I can do to change that. This is, after all, a visuals blog.

Q: I just checked. Some of your archives aren’t displaying correctly.

A: I know. Some of those will be fixed in time. I hope. I’ve already sent Dan a grocery list of things that don’t seem to be working correctly. And I suspect we’ll be adding to that list throughout the weekend.

Q: Come to think of it, some of your posts are better when I can’t read them!

A: Bite me.

Q: Why did you change your photo at the upper left of the blog?

A: The mug I’ve been using — in which I’m smirking a bit — was made while I was on assignment for Gannett in Pensacola, Fla., in August 2003.

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I look a good 10 years older now, so it seems time to change my picture. This new picture was taken by my wife on my iPhone in a Carl’s Jr. in Tucson, Ariz., on our way to California back in February.

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It might not be the greatest picture ever. But I liked the lighting.

Plus, I don’t have to pay my wife a licensing fee in order to use that picture.

Q: This new blog is pretty spiffy. Who is this Dan Hunt character, anyway?

A: I first met Dan when he came to a three-day workshop that Darren Sanefski and I taught in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2008.

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Dan is the one with “P” all over his hat. Heh.

At the time, he was with the Gannett paper in Wilmington, Del. He later moved to the Orange County Register, helped me move my blog to ACES in 2010 and served as my behind-the-scenes technical genius for the past three years. His term on the ACES board ended recently.

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Dan and his most recent project.

On a more personal note, Dan played a huge role in recruiting me for my new “dream job” at the OC Register. Before I actually got here, though, he left us for McClatchy in Sacramento.

I even live in his old apartment.

Q: Well, I like his work. Will he redesign my web site, too?

A: Perhaps, If you can afford him. Contact him here:

thedanielhunt [at] gmail.com

Q: You said it’s not quite finished. What else is there to do?

A: Lots of tweaks and upgrades. A bunch of under-the-hood stuff that speeds up the time it takes to format my content. We still have to add my extensive list of blog links and get my archive categories set up correctly.

And sometimes, the text seems very, very large and at other times, it seems impossibly small. Some of that is because of the responsive thing. But some of it is because we’re still finding just the right default settings for each configuration.

Dan’s a bright guy. He’ll get it straightened out for us. In the meantime, feel free to tell us what you think. Especially if you like it.

Q: Why leave ACES in the first place?

A: Well, because I really need to give this a try. I probably should not have chickened out three years ago.

Also, part of the reason for inviting me to ACES was to help generate some traffic for the ACES home page. That worked pretty well… until that piece I published back in April about the New York Daily News photoshopping a cover photo of the Boston Marathon bombing. That post went viral in a big way — at one point, I was even quoted by the New York Times. The influx of readers crashed the ACES servers repeatedly.

That put me in the same situation I had been in with VizEds back in 2008: I really hate feeling like I’m crashing someone else’s system.

So this seemed like a good time to make a break.

Q: I see you brought all your old posts with you. How did you do that?

A: That was in my original contract with ACES.

Q: Will we ever see your old VizEds archives?

A: Those posts are still out there — you can find some of them at the Wayback Machine archive. But you have to know precisely where to look.

But for the most part, I think they’re all gone. Which is a real shame.

Q: How come you don’t blog as often as you used to?

A: Because I have a job now. Hey, I spent four-and-a-half years unemployed. I forgot how much work a real, live job can be!

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Fact is, I can no longer blog throughout the day. I spend a good eight or nine hours a day at work — just like you do. In addition, I’m now on the West Coast. Meaning you’re probably up and surfing the web while I’m still snoozing away.

I have only an hour or two every morning to tend to the blog. My new pattern is to do most of my work in the evenings, try to write things in advance and then post those items during that morning window.

Q: What’s going to change, now that you’re no longer blogging at ACES?

A: Not a damn thing. I intend to continue the birthday posts. I intend to continue the popular “why they need a copy editor” series. I don’t really intend to change anything at all.

Q: Will the new site have ads?

A: As a matter of fact, it might just. If you or your organization are interested in advertising here, let me know and I’ll set you up with my advertising people.

Q: Who are your advertising people?

A: I don’t actually have any right now. But that may change.

Q: How come you didn’t list my birthday?

A: Only because I didn’t know it was your birthday. I have a pretty extensive list of visual journalism birthdays that I work off of. Plus, I add more every week via Facebook. If you’d like to be listed, then don’t be a stranger. Friend me on Facebook.

Q: How do I submit a possible “why they need a copy editor” item? Or, for that matter, a cool page?

A: Just drop me a PDF via email and tell me a little about the page or the error.

chuckapple [at] earthlink.net

Q: How long have you been blogging, anyway?

A: I first started blogging in 2003, at the request of the American Press Institute.

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A year later, I became a heavy user of the bulletin boards at VisualEditors.com. That was something we really needed, I thought: A bulletin board for visual journalists.

Lots of folks there suggested I write a blog instead. Having been there and done that, though, I resisted the temptation. I knew just how much work it takes to blog well. Eventually, though, I was spending so much time at VizEds that it just made better sense to put my work — scattered throughout the boards — into a blog format.

So, I did.

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I cranked up the VizEds blog in early 2007. In the summer of 2010, I moved to ACES. Obviously, I became sold on the format.

And while I have major uses for Facebook and Twitter as well, I still find a blog to be the best way to get my message out there. Judging by the reaction I still get, many of you feel the same way.

Q. Can you teach me how to blog?

A. Sure. Here ya go.

Q. So how much longer are you going to do this?

A. If you’ll read it, I’ll write it.

As always, folks, thanks for sticking with me.

Make sure you update your bookmarks, please. And feel free to pass along the news that I’ve moved.

Yes, the blog is having technical issues

Have you had trouble recently accessing my blog?

I have. For several weeks now, I’ve been increasingly getting what is known as a 503 error: Service to the servers is down.

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Sometimes when I get that screen, I’ve simply lost contact with the servers. When I manage to re-establish my connection, I’m fine. But sometimes, I lose whatever it was I’m working on. You can imagine how frustrating that can be.

This little issue started back in April and has been increasing ever since. Lately, I’m getting that error message so often that assembling a post of any length at all has become a real chore. Especially in the mornings, when is my best — and, some days, my only — window of opportunity to work here in the blog.

What’s worse: I have no clue what the issue might be. I suspect it’s with the company that hosts this site, though: I’ve seen a lot of internet traffic complaining about our host’s service lately. In particular, I’ve read they’ve had issues with the servers they have based in Irvine, Calif.

Now, perhaps it’s a coincidence that Irvine is just a couple of miles south of where I’m sitting right now. But perhaps not.

And it’s not just me who’s affected. I had six items ready to post this morning: Four were written in advance and two needed additional work. Only now am I getting the final two of the six posted. Several folks wrote me this morning and said they couldn’t get my blog page to load. A couple said they could access the blog, but it was very, very sluggish.

The good news: A fix is on the way. The bad news: That solution won’t happen for a few more weeks.

I’ll keep you posted as the time approaches. In the meantime: My apologies.

And a quick pat on the back to this blog’s loyal tech wizard…

…who was fruitful and multiplied this past weekend.

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That’s designer and copy editor Daniel Hunt of the Sacramento Bee and his new son, Liam Alexis Bayard Hunt. The latter of whom was born at 10:56 a.m. PDT Saturday.

In case you’re wondering, Dan reported these stats:

  • 8 pounds, 3 ounces
  • 20 1/4 inches
  • Blue eyes
  • Mom doing great

By Sunday, Dan added:

Mastered swaddle and almost diaper change. Roseville nurses are great at giving tips and advice.

Daniel spent three years on the sports copy and design desk of the Bakersfield Californian before becoming a community news editor for the Los Angeles Times in 2003. He moved to the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa in 2004 and was hired as a senior presentation editor at the Wilmington, Del., Journal News in 2008. He moved back to California in 2009 to join the Orange County Register as a senior designer.

After helping recruit me to the Register, however, Dan moved to the Sacramento Bee just a few weeks before I arrived. As a matter of fact, he then did me yet another tremendous favor by recommending me to his landlord. I’m sitting in Dan and Amanda’s old apartment at this very moment.

In just a few more weeks, Dan will wrap up several years of service as a board member for the American Copy Editors Society, for which he also served as webmaster. In that capacity, Dan has been the technical brains behind this very blog since 2008.

Congrats, Dan and Amanda.

And Liam: Welcome to the world. As soon as you’re able to walk and talk, please come visit me here in Santa Ana. I could use some help learning CCI.

A close call this weekend with my workhorse of a laptop

Posting here in the blog was a little light Sunday and Monday for a good reason: I was minus my trusty MacBook Pro for the better part of two days.

Late Saturday night, my Firefox web browser hung up. That happens from time to time. Typically, I simply force it to quit and then reboot Firefox.

This time, however, I couldn’t get the application to force quit. My Mac just spun and spun, working on it to no avail.

Hmm. Not good. So I rebooted my Mac. Much to my shock, the laptop wouldn’t boot back up.

This sent me into what you’d call a blind panic.

This little laptop has been my baby since the summer of 2009. It’s been with me through trips to South Africa (five times), Kenya, Nigeria, Reno, Iowa City, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Chapel Hill…

It’s treated me very well. And how have I repaid it for its loyal service? I hardly do anything at all to maintain it. Despite the fact that I have a one-terrabyte portable external drive, I’ve even become lazy about backing up my data.

Yikes!

Once I calmed down, I dug out my original system install discs and ran a diagnostic to see if I could repair the hard drive. The good news was that the minor problems on the drive were indeed fixable.

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The bad news was: My system still wouldn’t boot.

Or so I thought. I let it sit there while I took care of something else. When I returned — much to my amazement — the computer was up and running. Turns out the system was booting. Just very, very slowly.

Now, we were getting somewhere. The system ran very, very slow. That suggested my problem might be a bad hard drive. So that would be the next step: While the drive is still spinning –and before it seizes up or something — back up the rest of my data.

How long had it been since my last backup? A year or more, I guessed. When I hooked up my portable drive, I found the real answer: Twenty-nine months.

Oh, wow. Not good. That’s going to be one huge incremental backup via the Mac’s built-in Time Machine software. Especially with my drive running so incredibly slow.

So I moved in to my wife’s wife’s Mac Mini — in a corner of my downstairs library — and set up my ailing MacBook on a card table beside me so I could keep an eye on the backup process.

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I set this in motion around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The backup wasn’t completed until 10:30 a.m. Monday morning — 19-and-a-half hours later. I kid you not.

Here’s the successful message that was waiting for me when I returned home early Monday afternoon.

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The next step: Replace the hard drive. Should be fairly simple… for a trained technician, that is. And I have one of the best: Kevin Copeland of Beach Tec, here in Virginia Beach. He’s a former Apple Genius Bar genius who set out on his own a couple of years ago by opening his own technical consulting firm.

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He understands Apples, of course. And he understands my needs. He’s a graphic artist and cartoonist himself. And he reads this blog. Meaning, of course, he’s man of refined tastes.

Kevin dropped by our house Monday evening, yanked out my hard drive, installed a new one in moments and found… nothing. No change at all.

Hmm. Not what either of us expected.

After experimenting around with my old hard drive, a brand-new one and a spare drive mount, Kevin came to the conclusion: My hard drive is fine, most likely. It’s looking like the problem might be with the connection between the hard drive and the motherboard.

What you see here is my old internal hard drive, functioning (very well, in fact) as an external drive in the mount Kevin loaned me.

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This is, in fact, how I’m operating for the next day or two: With a portable laptop that’s not portable.

If the ribbon cable connecting the internal drive and the motherboard is bad, then that’s an easy — and relatively cheap — fix. I ordered the part last night. So we’ll see.

If the problem turns out to be with the motherboard itself: Well, that could be quite a bit more expensive. For now, though, I invite you to join with me in hoping for the best.

The lesson in all this, if there is one: If you’re a Mac user, you have Time Machine built into your operating system. Plunk down $100 or so and buy yourself a 500 GB or 1 TB external drive (my Passport portable drive came from OfficeMax). And back up your computer once a week. Or even more often, if your livelihood depends upon it.

Or, better yet, subscribe to one of the several “cloud” services out there to back up your data.

I’m not quite out of the woods yet. But at the very least, I lost no data at all. So I got very, very lucky.

Do as I say and not as I do. Back up your work today.

What gives you nightmares?

Some people dream about sex. Some people dream about wealth.

And some people dream about not getting embarrassed online.

Ivan Lajara is the life editor for the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y., and engagement editor for the east region of Digital First Media. He tweeted that last night while participating in a chat with the folks at Muck Rack.

Funny stuff. Just so you know, though, the intent of my longrunning — and, evidently, popular — series of “why they need a copy editor” posts is not to embarrass folks. And certainly not to embarrass readers of this blog (who, after all, have exquisite tastes).

The intent is to draw attention to the fact that — whether you’re in print, online or on television — you need copy editors. Yet, at a time when our credibility is more important than ever before, we — the media — seem to be shedding copy editors. Or just cutting them out of the production process.

And just in case I don’t say it enough: I’m not a copy editor. I need copy editors as much as anyone else. If there’s one thing I miss about not being in a newsroom these days, it’s knowing my friends on the copy desk have my back.

I sleep a lot better myself, Ivan, when I’m working with trained, experienced sharp-as-hell copy editors on my team.

The nightmares, though? I can’t help you there. I have ’em myself.

Perhaps you could do what I do: Drink.

Technical issues here in the blog

In case you’re wondering…

I have a client/student in town this week. Elsolet Joubert, from Johannesburg, South Africa. I’ll explain more about it later. But it’s kept me tied up much of the day.

Once we end our w0rk for the day, I’ve been sitting down to try to post a few blog items. This worked well until last night (Friday). Suddenly, I couldn’t get any images to upload to my blog.

My webmaster, Daniel Hunt is working on the problem. But, of course, he has a job, too. So the issue isn’t resolved quite yet. But last night, I had a roundup of Friday’s NBA fronts and a really cool features page to show you. And this morning, I got up early to show you a few Jerry Sandusky front pages. Can’t get them posted. I can post text, but no pictures.

Also, any photo I’ve already uploaded works just fine. And all my birthday posts through July 1 are already in the can. Which is why you’re seeing those still coming.

Hopefully, we’ll get this resolved quickly and get the blog back up and running soon. When that happens, I’ll try to get you caught up on everything here that’s piling up. But having no visuals really hurts a visual journalism blog, as you might imagine.

So please stand by. And please continue to send me pages and news stories.

About that spelling-and-grammar test for UNC j-school students

Yesterday, I posted what was an attempt at a humorous take on news that UNC is making huge changes to the famous spelling-and-grammar test it’s required all j-school students since 1975 to pass.

There was a bit of an uproar yesterday, throughout the industry blogosphere, about the changes to the test.

I didn’t really have much of an opinion one way or the other. Instead, I came up with what I thought was an amusing one-liner: Just like McClatchy pulled editing and design out of its Raleigh newspaper last year and moved them to the Charlotte Observer, I said that UNC would pull its editing and design classes out of Chapel Hill and move them to UNC Charlotte.

Apparently, the joke didn’t go over so well. At UNC Chapel Hill. Despite that a) I had clearly labeled this as a rumor I had just started, and b) I had clearly stated that I was hoping this was humorous.

So, for the record and for the benefit of the not-so-freakin’-amused…

1. The grammar part of the test is not going away. Just the spelling part is.

2. Editing professor Andy Bechtel writes in the comments of my post:

The new version will be similar to the test given by the Dow Jones News Fund. It will be a better measure of skill in editing and writing.

3. No, I don’t have anything against the University of North Carolina’s journalism school. If I did, I wouldn’t have donated nearly a full day advising design students via Skype a few weeks ago. Nor would I write about UNC as often as I do.

Knowing full well that my own post was an attempt at humor and that I was offering no real content, I ended yesterday with links to the real story. I’ll offer those links again:

The real lesson here? Perhaps this little ol’ blog has grown to the point where I can’t make dumb jokes any more.

Why PaidContent.org needs a copy editor

PaidContent.org — a site owned by Guardian News that provides “global coverage on the economics of digital content” — needs a copy editor to keep it from inserting questionable links into its news stories.

Friday, the site posted a story about the consolidation going on at Cox Media Group.

The story quoted my own story from Thursday night, which is cool. I have no problem with that, of course. In fact, I’m somewhat honored.

What I do have a problem with is the NASDAQ symbol Paid Content inserted after my name.

And when I say “I have a problem with it,” what I really mean is: I’m laughing my ass off.

Memo to Paid Content: I’m just Apple. Charles Apple.

 

An easy reference guide… Left: Me. Right: Them.

If I were Apple computer, I wouldn’t have spent the past three years looking for a job.

The fact that an error like this makes it into print suggests that, in addition to paying for content, Paid Content might consider paying for a little copy editing, too.

Find the Paid Content article here. Find my own story on the Cox consolidation project here.

You know who else needs a copy editor?

Local TV news operations. Chicago’s WMAQ-TV in particular. And Harrisburg’s Fox43 TV news. And Local 15 News in Mobile, Ala. And Fox2Now in St. Louis. And Charlotte’s WBTV. And other local TV news operations. And CBS local media. And the web operation for DC101 radio. And CNN and CNN Money and Fox News (and Fox News again) and the BBC and German news channel N24. And Martha Stewart’s TV operation. And the Disney Channel. And creators of mobile apps. And Google News’ ‘bots. And Baseball jersey manufacturers. And Georgetown University. And Kansas State University. And the University of Iowa. And the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals (boy, do they need a copy editor). And the National Hockey League. And Fox Sports. And college athletic department ticket offices. And the Virginia general assembly. And college alumni magazines. And pharmacies. And the makers of Sudafed. And Borders bookstore. And the U.S. Postal Service. And government agencies and political candidates. And Tea Party candidates. And the White House. And city and county Boards of Elections. Both the state of Pennsylvania and its department of transportation. And Pittsburgh skywriters. And road paving contractors. And the city of Norfolk, Va. And the Ohio Dept. of Transportation. And South African traffic cops. And gas stations. And billboard companies. And sign painters. And Home Depot and manufacturers of “hoodies.” And T-shirt designers. And more T-shirt designers. And Old Navy. And rubber stamp designers. And glass etchers. And Starbucks. And restaurants, breakfast joints, Chinese restaurants and cake decorators. And more cake decorators. And drive-in movie theater managers. And romance novelists. And South Africa’s New Age and Sunday Independent newspapers. And Dublin’s Sunday Business Post. And newspapers in the U.K. And the Washington Post (Hey! A repeat offender!), the Post‘s Express tab, the New York Times (Hey! Another repeat offender!), the New York Post, Wall Street Journal Europe, Newsday, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times (Yet another repeat offender!), the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat & Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Portland Oregonian, the Durham, N.C., Herald-Sun, the Missoula, Mont., Missoulian, the Times-Record of Denton, Md., the Amarillo (Texas) Globe News, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Waynesboro News Virginian, the Virginian-Pilot, the Des Moines Register, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Gannett’s N.Y. Central Media hub, the Carbondale, Ill., Southern Illinoisian and the Canarsie Courier of New York City. And the Associated Press. And Mann’s Jeweler’s Accent magazine. And Investment News magazine. And Time magazine.

Let’s take a moment to thank my webmaster, Daniel Hunt

I’d like to take a brief pause from my blogging and my freelance work this evenng to give thanks to Daniel Hunt of Santa Ana, Calif.

Dan is a) A copy editor and page designer for the Orange County Register, b) A national board member for ACES, the American Copy Editors Society.

And c) As webmaster for ACES, he’s the technical muscle behind this here blog.

Dan is not only a wizard, he’s also a saint. I’m OK with visual journalism, but I don’t know squat about programming or HTML. Dan handles all that for me, makes it look easy and is way too accommodating to boot.

Find Dan’s web site here and his Twitter feed here.

The reason I offer my thanks: Today marks the one-year anniversary of my moving this blog here to ACES. And while I’m grateful to a large number of extremely hospitable folks, you wouldn’t be gazing at these pixels right now if it wasn’t for Dan.

A few interesting numbers from the past 365 days of blogging (counting today, right?)…

  • I’ve posted 1,264 times. (Oops. Make that 1,265.)
  • That’s an average of just under four posts a day.
  • You’ve replied with a total of 1,525 comments.
  • We currently have 120 comments “waiting for moderation.” Except those are all spam. So to hell with ’em.
  • This blog has 452 fans for its Facebook page.
  • And largely because of this blog, your author currently has 1,912 followers on Twitter.

What I can’t tell you about is readership numbers. From time to time, Daniel updates me on the traffic that pours into here. The numbers are so much larger than anything I’m comfortable with that I end up with a touch of stage fright for a day or two. So I’ve asked him to not tell me.

I think this venture has been fairly successful, though. I see myself quoted from time to time in other venues. Every now and then, a post here in the blog will go viral. I’m still shocked at the reaction to the USA Today graphic I posted six days ago. (Lesson learned: Forget cool graphics or great headlines. What folks will click on is porn. Even if it’s unintentional porn.)

I hope the stuff I post here keeps you informed and entertained and, perhaps, make your job just a little bit easier from time to time. Or make you feel just a little bit smarter about your profession.

If that’s not the case, please let me know. I’m perfectly happy to give you your money back.

I’d also like to thank the entire ACES organization for going out on a limb and extending an invitation to a “visuals guy.” You guys are way too generous. At the very least, I hope I’m earning my keep around here.

And a very special thanks to two more guys…

Robb Montgomery, the creator of VisualEditors.com, where I did much of this same sort of thing for six years.

It was Robb who created the first real bulletin board for visual journalists, giving me a place to play. And then it was Robb who pushed me out of that comfortable playground in 2007 and back into a blog environment. It took him a solid year of urging me to resume blogging. Have I ever told you that?

Next week, Robb will be traveling across Georgia — the country, not the state — consulting at various TV stations. Find his web site here and his Twitter feed here.

Thanks for everything, Robb. Save travels.

And thanks to Chad Capellman, the guy who hired me to do my very first blog work, way back in 2003 for the American Press Institute.

When he first asked me to write a blog, I agreed. Right after I Googled the word “blog” to find out what the hell he was talking about.

Ah: A column, basically. Sure. I can do that…

It came out OK, though (and, in fact, all that material is still online over at the API web site), thanks to Chad’s patience and encouragement.

It was a lot of work, though. Which was one reason I was so reluctant to leave the bulletin board and blog at VizEds three or four years later.

Thanks much, Chad. You unleashed a monster.

Find Chad’s consultancy web site here and his Twitter feed here.

And, of course, thanks to you. For putting up with my occasional bouts of silliness and for my frequent linguistic abominations. For continuing to come back here, day after day, to check out the best and most interesting visual journalism in the world.

Thanks to you all.

Footnote No. 1: By the way, I’m happy to share any of the blogging know-how I’ve picked up over the past eight years. Start by reading this. If you still have questions, ping me and I’ll see what I can do for you.

Footnote No. 2: I spoke a little about blog traffic. But I didn’t say much about SEO. Google is pretty kind to the blog, and I’m grateful for that. If you’re curious to know what I think about search-engine optimization, however, this pretty much sums up my thoughts.

Footnote No. 3: If you’re not following us on social media, please do:

No, I’m not on Google+ just yet.

Footnote No. 4: Dan tells me he’s considering making a few design tweaks to the blog. One thing I’d like to add, if possible: “Like” buttons for Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

I like the clean and functional layout of the home page, however, so I’m not inclined to want to screw around with it too much.

If you have any suggestions, please speak up.

A blog reader asks: Were this week’s bin Laden fronts overplayed?

Tuesday afternoon, I received the following message. And man, did it make me stop and think.

After pondering it, off and on over two days, I finally composed a reply last night and sent it off just now. I’m also posting it here. Let’s see what you think.

First the letter and then my reply — which, yes, will quote passages from the letter and also include a few visual aids.

On May 3, 2011, at 3:33 PM, Bo Bryan wrote:

I’m a longtime reader and a newspaper designer who has emailed you in the past. I chose to use an anonymous email address for this because I’d prefer to remain anonymous, so as to not be seen as critical of my colleagues (who read your blog, as well).

First, let me say, I love what you do and I was happy you highlighted the brilliant designs from Monday’s newspapers. Which leads me into my point …

My question is this: Is it at all worrisome to you that many papers played Osama bin Laden’s death with larger fonts and more special design touches and such than they did (or, technology-wise, in many cases could) the actual 9-11 attacks?

We’ve been told again and again by the media covering the War on Terror that bin Laden’s role in al-Qaida is very much on the fringes, or even nonexistent. This is not the equivalent of Hitler’s death. It doesn’t not trigger a massive regime change or the end of the War on Terror.

By blowing the coverage of bin Laden’s death up so large on so many covers, we are essentially cheering for the government and its public relations spin. In addition, those papers choosing to applaud the mission are essentially taking a stand on the side of capital punishment.

I am not trying to suggest that “getting” bin Laden was not a very big story. But I do wonder if it’s a story worth of the type of treatment The Plain Dealer or The Virginian-Pilot gave it. If you’re going that big for the death of a mostly irrelevant figurehead, what would you do if the president were assassinated?

The paper I worked for has a picture of its front when Kennedy was assassinated in the lobby. The headline was smaller than it’s headline Monday. The design was more standard.

I know the times are very different now. I know we’re in a world where we need to force people to grab the paper, while in the 1960s, people were just grabbing it every day as part of their routine.

I also understand that there are massive changes in technology that allow us to do cooler things now than we could have 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

But I do think there’s a serious issue of news judgment being put on hold in order to really blow up this story. I think Americans have been misled by the government and the press into believing that this is a huge deal, when the truth being reported by more dutiful and experienced professionals — both journalists and academics — is that bin Laden’s role has been marginalized to the point of irrelevance.

In fact, some of the stories being laid out in these fanciful, extreme ways have made that exact point.

I agree that the work done by many aesthetically was wonderful. I just wonder if we’ve lost site of news judgment and restraint in the process.

Okay, that’s the letter. Here’s my reply…

Hi Bo! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you…

You, in fact, raised a lot of points and asked a lot of questions. Let me see if I can address some of them…

My question is this: Is it at all worrisome to you that many papers played Osama bin Laden’s death with larger fonts and more special design touches and such than they did (or, technology-wise, in many cases could) the actual 9-11 attacks?

No. This was about what I would have expected.

Compared to the 9/11 attacks? That was ten years ago. Some papers have changed designs or typefaces since them. Like you note, some have changed front-end systems. Some have changed editors. Some have changed editors multiple times since then.

Left: My paper on 9/11 was the Des Moines Register.

This was our Extra Edition that afternoon. Right:

Monday’s Register, nine-and-a-half years and three

editors later.

I mean, if you play the Democratic convention one way and then give the GOP convention the next week lesser — or greater — play, I can see a worry there. Perhaps. But events ten years apart? Not an issue.

Also, keep in mind that for 9/11, most papers had an entire day to put together the next day’s paper. For this story, some papers — especially those here on the East Coast — had only minutes to rip up page one and rebuild their front. That factors into this as well.

I find it interesting that you seem to think the story was overplayed. But I had another journalist ask me why the story was underplayed (scroll to the bottom of this post here) by so many papers.

Two folks have raised this question, so they kind of average out. Right? Ha!

We’ve been told again and again by the media covering the War on Terror that bin Laden’s role in al-Qaida is very much on the fringes, or even nonexistent. This is not the equivalent of Hitler’s death. It doesn’t not trigger a massive regime change or the end of the War on Terror.

Now, see, that’s interesting. I’ve been covering this story since before 9/11 — I remember building a “Who is Osama bin Laden” front in Des Moines right after the USS Cole bombing. But I don’t remember reading that bin Laden’s role was on the fringes. I’ve read that he had delegated day-to-day operations to his lieutenants but that he was still very much in charge. Or, at least, that’s the impression I got from the reports I’ve read.

This is not the equivalent of Hitler’s death.

I would argue it might very well be. At least in this country. After all, Hitler never directly attacked the U.S. until war was declared. Bin Laden did.

Above-the-fold comparison of the San Francisco Chronicle from May 2, 2011 and an extra edition from from May 1946.

It doesn’t not trigger a massive regime change or the end of the War on Terror.

I would argue it is massive regime change but I’d agree it is not the end of the war on terror. I suspect the war on terror will never end. Unfortunately.

I do consider this the end of this chapter, though. In the U.S. History book of 2111, the “War on Terror” chapter will begin with the leadup to 9/11 — the embassy bombings, the Cole incident, perhaps even the Oklahoma City thing — go into 9/11 and then end with Sunday night. Whatever happens next will be considered aftershocks.

Or not. But that’s my take on it.

Clearly, though, Bo, we’re not discussing journalism here. We’re discussing politics.

By blowing the coverage of bin Laden’s death up so large on so many covers, we are essentially cheering for the government and its public relations spin. In addition, those papers choosing to applaud the mission are essentially taking a stand on the side of capital punishment.

Well, again, I’d disagree. “Cheering the government” might be one way to look at this. But “cheering the war on terror” would be another. “Cheering for our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan” — and, yes, on those spiffy new stealth helios — would be another (Full disclosure: “Seal Team 6” is based at the Dam Neck amphibious base here in Virginia Beach, maybe five miles from where I now sit). “Cheering for the home team, the good ol’ USA” would be another.

Example: If the Packers beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl, would you put a big, jubilant victory headline on A1? Probably not.

Unless you worked at a paper in Wisconsin. Then, you sure as hell would. Especially if you hope to sell a single paper the next day.

essentially taking a stand on the side of capital punishment.

Well, perhaps. But I don’t see this as a public execution. I see this as a military action.

Again, it occurs to me we’re not talking journalism or news presentation. Sounds to me like we’re talking politics.

But I do wonder if it’s a story worth of the type of treatment The Plain Dealer or The Virginian-Pilot gave it. If you’re going that big for the death of a mostly irrelevant figurehead, what would you do if the president were assassinated?

I would imagine the Plain Dealer or the Pilot would play it about as large as they did bin Laden on Monday.

Your point, I imagine, is that a presidential assassination should be played larger than bin Laden. I can’t disagree with that point. But I’d argue in favor of punching up the display of any huge story like this as much as you can.

And — as you saw in the blog — I think the Plain Dealer and the Pilot and the Freep and several of the others did it pretty well.

The paper I worked for has a picture of its front when Kennedy was assassinated in the lobby. The headline was smaller than it’s headline Monday. The design was more standard.

I know the times are very different now. I know we’re in a world where we need to force people to grab the paper, while in the 1960s, people were just grabbing it every day as part of their routine.

Exactly right. I don’t think you can compare news design in 2011 to news design in 1963. Apples vs. oranges, y’know? Or, perhaps a better comparison: Mules-and-carts vs. NASCAR.

The Dallas Morning News Monday vs.

that same paper on Nov. 23, 1963.

But I do think there’s a serious issue of news judgment being put on hold in order to really blow up this story. I think Americans have been misled by the government and the press into believing that this is a huge deal

Well, I wouldn’t disagree that we’re being misled by the government all the time. It happened under the previous administration and it’s happening now. Hell, a number of disconcerting changes to the narrative of what went down there in bin Laden’s compound Sunday have come out just since you sent me these questions back on Tuesday afternoon.

But in my opinion, this is a big deal. And deserving of the play it was given on page one Monday.

when the truth being reported by more dutiful and experienced professionals — both journalists and academics — is that bin Laden’s role has been marginalized to the point of irrelevance.

Again, I’m not sure the material I’ve read over the years has led me to quite the same conclusion. But even if you’re right, this man was still the guy who founded al-Qaeda, bankrolled al-Qaeda for many years, ran al-Qaeda and called the shots at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

That made him target No. 1, ten years ago. And even if he was no longer the tactical leader of the operation, he was certainly the face of it. Still.

Speaking of Extra edition covers… Here I am holding

the Des Moines Register’s Extras the first two days

of the Iraqi war in March 2003. In addition to working

as graphics editor for the Register, I blogged for the

American Press Institute.

In fact, some of the stories being laid out in these fanciful, extreme ways have made that exact point.

Not sure I get your point.

You saw Tuesday’s Plain Dealer, right? “Now What?

That was brilliantly done. Other papers were running those stories. But that was the first paper to take that question and put it out there in our faces.

So on Day One, our papers told the little bit of news we got on — or after — deadline. Day Two, we presented — you know — the second-day angles.

The San Diego Union-Tribune from

Monday (left) and Tuesday (right).

Seems to me the process worked the way it was supposed to.

I agree that the work done by many aesthetically was wonderful. I just wonder if we’ve lost site of news judgment and restraint in the process.

Well, let’s see. From the positions I staked out earlier, let’s see what ground I can concede to you…

1) I liked the front pages that showed the spontaneous street celebrations Sunday night. Because they happened, they were spontaneous, they were pretty massive and, yes, they were news.

But frankly, it bothered me that folks were dancing and singing in the streets in the first place. Maybe I’m just a party pooper, but rather than go out an celebrate the bloody death of bin Laden, I’d rather sit back, let out a long breath and shed a tear or two for the folks who died on 9/11 and since then.

Furthermore, I don’t think these street celebrations played well at all in the countries that look at the U.S. with a little suspicion and fear. Which, sadly enough, is a lot of them.

2) While I don’t think anyone is going to regret their Monday front page, I do think papers may come to regret their Tuesday fronts. Especially the ones that used diagrams that, indeed, were built from handout material from the government + military.

The more the details of what happened Sunday in Pakistan change, the more they’re going to regret it… the only “out” being qualifying language that says something like “here’s how officials said the attack went down.”

3) I think we have lost sight of news judgment and restraint in a couple of areas, as I’ve mentioned in the blog over the past couple of days.

a) I question the use of the photo of the president as he reenacted his speech.

I don’t care if “that’s the way we’ve done it for the past 30 years,” it violates what I thought was the standard. We don’t use set-up or reenactments.

Ever. I thought.

b) Ditto for the famous situation room photo.

I understand why the White House altered it before they released it to the press. But I thought — especially after a few high-profile screw-ups with this including one last year of the BP operations center — we didn’t use altered handout photos.

Ever. I thought. No matter how awesome it is.

4) I agree we’re being misled by the government. I dislike the whole way embedding is handled. I dislike the way we’re holding prisoners and torturing some of them. I have a rough mental picture of what I think the U.S. stands for and it does not tolerate governments who conduct business that way.

Except our own, evidently. Heavy sigh.

However, I do not think that Monday was the day to address that on page one. Or Tuesday, even.

I’d be happy to play it up on Day Three, though, if you can bring me a fresh angle or something that can push it out to the front. Otherwise, it goes back on the nation/world page. Where it usually plays.

Yep. I think among the points you’ve raised here, that’s the only ground I’ll give you. But for the rest, I’d have to stick with the arguments I’ve laid out.

Great questions, though!

I’m going to post this in the blog today [Friday], if you don’t mind. I’ll be curious to see what discussions this stirs up.

Thanks much!

-C

Charles Apple

Virginia Beach, Va.

chuckapple@cox.net

www.www.charlesapple.com

Sorry, all circuits are busy…

So, after staying up ungodly hours last night — bringing you preliminary and low-resolution newspaper front pages in progress, purloined from every Twitter and Facebook feed I could find — my plan today was to get up early and compile a collection of the best Osama bin Laden fronts from around the U.S.

Ah, well. Best-laid plans and all that. Even as early as I tried this morning, the Newseum‘s web page is completely jammed. This is as far as I’ve gotten with opening the daily archive there:

Not much I can do with that, right?

The Newseum‘s iPod app is working, but it’s very, very slow — much slower than usual today.

However, that doesn’t help me much — I can’t save images from that onto my MacBook. Hell, I’ve not even blogged about that app yet. I’ve been waiting for a few more bugs to get worked out of it.

This is the worst logjam I’ve seen at the Newseum since Election Day 2008. Again, this proves the enormous interest there is in print newspapers when momentous events occur. I just wish we could find a way to leverage this interest into a steady, day-to-day thing.

In the meantime, there are a few places where you can go to grab a look at a few of today’s front pages.

First of all, Julie Moos of the Poynter Institute posted 20 front pages today. A few of these are baffling — why is the Chicago Sun-Times in black and white, for example? I posted a color version last night.

Secondly, magazine consultant Robert Newman today tweeted a link to  site called Cover Junkie which posted a slideshow containing a couple dozen front pages. The catch: They whiz by at about a page per second. Good lucking trying to get a good gander at them.

Thirdly, there is the Press Display web site. I used this site to pull foreign front pages, occasionally. It’s very difficult to use, it’s a real bitch to navigate and — unless you’re paying a fee — you’ll only get very low-resolution pages. Feel free to knock yourself out, though.

And then, again, there is my preliminary collection from last night. Suddenly, I’m very glad I sat up and did this. I long ago asked Daniel Hunt, the ACES webmaster to please not give me page view numbers. But this particular post has been retweeted more than 100 times, according to my Bit.ly data. God only knows how many actual views that translates into.

The two pages from last night that seemed to gather the most reaction were this one by the Detroit Free Press

…and my favorite from last night, the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer.

Both of those pages feature huge headlines and clean lines. Normally, you want to run your art big and get the hell out of its way. But what can you do when your art is a file photo that you’ve used over and over for more than a decade?

Detroit paired its bin Laden portrait with a 9/11 picture, which is quite effective. Cleveland simply blew up its portrait into a magazine-like presentation. I like how the Plain Dealer reduced the size of its nameplate to give its reversed headline even more visual emphasis.

Some of my favorite fronts avoided this “ancient lede art” issue by bringing some immediacy into their page with big photos of the spontaneous street celebrations that kicked up immediately across the U.S. Two great examples of this are the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News and the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.

It gives me a slightly creepy feeling to see throngs of folks celebrating beneath a headline that says “dead” or “killed.” But given the horror of 9/11, you really can’t blame folks for taking to the streets.

I don’t think these street scenes are playing well outside of the U.S., however. I follow a number of foreign folks on Twitter and Facebook who are shocked at what they consider excessive display by Americans. We here in the U.S. can scoff at this attitude. But it’s this sort of thing that causes folks overseas to dislike us in the first place.

Naturally, the Virginian-Pilot also went huge and visual today. This, as you know, is the paper I get here in my own driveway.

In case you’re wondering, the fold falls just along the bottom of that huge, red headline. It makes for one hell of an in-rack display, I’d imagine.

But I’d also imagine that you can’t even begin to find one of these for sale anywhere in town. I’m betting that they sold out fast and early. These will be keepsakes for decades to come.

And, speaking of a) keepsakes, and b) pandering to the mob, you just knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?

Looks as if there might be a half-dozen papers like this around the U.S. If I ever get ahold of the Newseum archive, I’ll let you know.

And finally, there’s this question on last night’s post by Fin O’Reilly.

Fin writes:

I’m curious to hear an American perspective on why so many US newspapers didn’t clear their front pages for this — did it break too late in their production schedules or does “local” news rule that much?

My reply:

1. Most larger papers did clear their front pages. As far as I can tell, that is.

2. Most smaller papers that I’ve seen so far did not clear their entire pages. And yes, that’s because they intentionally focus on local news.

3. I’m sure the late, late, late-breaking news did factor into how the story was played. Many U.S. papers have skeleton crews on weekends to begin with. This has become more acute as staffs have shrunk. And it’s not like it was easy to call in extra help — this happened so incredibly late last night and then the official announcement was delayed a number of times.

So, yes. All of the above, I think.

If you have unusual or interesting pages, please send them to me. I’ll try to post more… assuming I get access.

Why college alumni magazines need copy editors

College alumni magazines need copy editors to keep them from making mistakes like this one by University of North Carolina -Asheville:

Wow. I mean… Wow.

Luke, of course, did change jobs back in June. He moved from the Arizona Republic of Phoenix to the Boston Globe. I can only assume the alumni folks took their info from this blog post but then missed that key first sentence. And maybe the headline.

Luke writes on his Facebook page:

No idea where they got this, but I demand compensation!

Tell ya what, Luke. Take your demand to the head of that design firm you’re working for. And when you find him, give him my resumé, willya?

You know who else needs copy editors? Pharmacies. And Tea Party candidates. And city and county Boards of Elections. And Google News’ ‘bots. And billboard companies. And sign painters. And rubber stamp designers. And restaurants. And breakfast joints. And college athletic department ticket offices. And the New York Jets and the St. Louis Cardinals. And baseball jersey manufacturers. And the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and Time magazine. And drive-in movie theater managers. And Home Depot and manufacturers of “hoodies.” And T-shirt designers. And road paving contractors. And cake decorators.

Everything I’ve learned the hard way, here in the blog: 10 tips for bloggers

A Facebook friend wrote recently:

Hi, Charles…

I hope all is well on your side. I enjoy reading your blog, as I once worked in [the print] sector. I am more interested now in becoming an interactive producer.

I was interested in starting a blog on all that is digital: written, social networking and broadcasting — things that interest me. I was just looking for tips on making a decent blog and also tips on doing it on a regular [schedule].

Y’know, In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never posted blogging tips. So perhaps it’s time I did.

Frankly, I didn’t know how to blog myself, when I started. For the longest time, I pretty much stumbled my way around.

Let’s start with a little background…

HOW I GOT STARTED BLOGGING

Way back in 2003, the American Press Institute hired me to keep a blog during the land war in Iraq. They wanted me to write about running a graphics department during wartime and to touch on some of the resources that other graphics departments might find useful.

First thing I had to do — seriously — was to look up the definition of the word “blog.” I wasn’t familiar with the term.

Best I could tell, a “blog” was basically what we print folks think of as a column. I had written a weekly column for my college newspaper — way back in the early 1980s — so I had a pretty good idea of how grueling it can be to constantly be coming up with ideas and having to hit a deadline.

But I agreed to write the “blog” and I did muddle through it, somehow. In fact, I received quite a few compliments on my work for API. I had to admit, though, I was relieved when the gig was over.

For what it’s worth, those blog entries — amazingly enough — are still online at API:

So a couple of years later, my pal Robb Montgomery suggested I take all the articles I was posting on the old VisualEditors.com bulletin board and put them into blog format instead, where they’d be easier for my audience to find and probably easier for me to write. For the longest time, I resisted — I simply didn’t want to invest the kind of time it’d take to do a blog well, and I also had no real interest in being associated with what was becoming known as the “blogosphere.”

Eventually, though — in February 2007 — Robb talked me into it. And it worked out OK.

Well, more than OK, actually. Readership is a lot higher than I would have thought and it just keeps going up. Even when I changed platforms this summer — from VizEds to ACES — I thought it’d take a long, long time for my audience to build up again. That didn’t happen. My webmaster — Dan Hunt of the Orange County Register — tells me my numbers are insanely high and that my hosts are excited about the traffic I’m bringing their way.

I’m glad they’re delighted with my work. And I’m delighted with the response I get from my readers. Although I have to admit, much of the time I find myself wondering why so many people are interested in what I have to say.

I never really set out to become a spokesperson or anything for visual journalism. It just kind of evolved.

Now that I’m here and I have a track record, however, I’d like to make sure I use this newfound super-power for good and not for evil, y’know?

So that’s my background. Now, on with some tips…

1. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

The No. 1 most important thing a blogger should have? Something worthwhile to say.

Sure, you need a topic: In my case, visual journalism. In your case, that might be interactive journalism. Or — to cite some of my favorite blogs — sports uniforms. Or insider observations of the entertainment business. Or astronomy. Or journalism itself.

In addition to expertise in your field — an obvious enough of a requirement — you’ll also need contacts. You’ll want to write about notable work being done in your field. It’s a lot easier to get info out of these folks if they know you or your work.

But again, it’s not enough to simply report that stuff happens in your field. You have to have something to say about it.

Here in my blog, for example, I have a number of threads that run beneath the surface of many of my posts. For example:

  • Visual journalism is more than just decorating pages. It’s important we understand content, that we contribute and report content whenever we can. Content is the most important aspect of everything we do.
  • On a big breaking news day when you have fabulous photos, run them big and get the hell out of their way.
  • Small papers can do great work, too. It’s not always about who has the most resources. It’s about who has the best ideas.
  • It’s important to occasionally have some fun on our pages. Readers like to be caught off-guard; to be surprised and delighted — as well as informed — on some days.
  • Downsizing of newsroom staffs is a bad thing. We need to be investing in more journalism and in better journalism, not cutting back in ways that diminish the quality of the product we lay before our readers.
  • Visual ethics are important. Our products mean nothing if the public can’t trust us.

Stuff like that. That’s really what my blog is about. While not every post touches on all those bases, I’d like to think I’ve been fairly successful in sticking to these points over the years.

So before you begin blogging, you might want to put some thought into coming up with, say, three (or five or eight) basic principles. And then, over time — as you write in your blog — try to honor those principles. You’ll find you make a greater impact on your field and on your colleagues that way.

NOTES:

a) Don’t list too many principles. The longer your list, the less likely you are to service each item.

b) Consider coming up with tags or categories on your homepage that allow readers to quickly access each post that falls under that topic. You see mine, there, on the left side of my homepage.

2. POST OFTEN. AND STICK WITH IT.

New blogs are being created all the time, all over the world. Most, however, don’t make them into their second or third month before they’re abandoned and left to die. The bloggers simply run out of steam.

Blogging is hard work. It’s just like working for a newspaper — or, yes, like writing a column. You have to post and post often. If you don’t, then you’ll never attract an audience.

Some bloggers post every day. Some post weekly. Either is fine. But it’s important to find a rhythm that works for you — and for your audience — and then stick to it.

When I started out, I felt great if I posted three or four times a week. Now, I try to post that many times a day. For example: Over the first 15 days of this month, I posted 68 separate items. That’s an average of 4.53 items a day.

A pace like that is unsustainable. And, in fact, over the five days since then, I’ve posted only six items in total, not counting this one. But hey, for a while there, news was breaking and I had the time to blog. So I did.

Generally speaking, though, the more you post, the more often folks will come back to see what new stuff you’ve posted.

Of course, the material has to be good. But you know that already. More about that in a moment.

I have a friend who has a great message and a great angle for a blog. His problem? He posts maybe once every other month. Folks might see his blog and enjoy his article. But they’ll come back a few days later for a fresh post and they won’t find one. A few days later, they might check again and again, they’ll come away disappointed.

Maybe they’ll keep the bookmark and maybe they’ll check it periodically. But maybe they won’t.

So then — two or three months later — my friend posts a new article and he might wonder why his blog traffic is so dismal. He’d have a lot more success in bringing readers back if he were posting with some degree of frequency — some degree of regularity.

If you wanted to, you could turn this a scheduled thing. For example:

  • You might post a roundup of interesting events in your field on Mondays.
  • On Wednesdays, you might post a Q&A with an industry professional or examine a nice piece of work done recently. Or you might write an essay on a topic of interest in your field.
  • Fridays, you could post something fun: A photo essay or something more personal. Call it Phun Phriday or something silly like that.

That way, your readers would understand there’s a pattern to what you’re doing and they’d know to check in with you three times a week. At least.

What you don’t want to do, however, is post three times one week and then take a month off. And then post, say, five times over two weeks. And then post nothing at all for two weeks. And so on. If you do this — and most blogs do this, I’m afraid — then I can almost guarantee you won’t attract much of an online following.

So regularity and frequency. Important qualities for a blogger.

NOTES:

a) You know those infamous birthday posts I’ve posted over the years? Here’s the story behind them: Those started out as filler!

Yes, I began fretting when I didn’t have any content at all on some days. I’ve always maintained a list of birthdays of my closest friends and colleagues. Somehow, I hit on the idea of expanding on that list.

At the time, there was a tool on VizEds that allowed me to look up birthdays. I started out with the most frequent VizEds bulletin board users and went from there. Next thing I knew, I had a sizable list.

And then Facebook came along. And — zoom! — the birthdays thing kind of took off. And very nearly got out of hand.

Every once in a while, I’d think about throttling these back. But then I’d get a quick note — typically from Richard Curtis — telling me how much he loves the birthday posts. And I’d keep them alive a little longer.

I write my birthday posts in batches, and sometimes as much as three or four weeks in advance. (And sometimes, I have to perform major surgery on them right after I post them!) Here’s what was stacked up in my advance que, as of last night.

Now, they’ve kind of become a tradition. Plus, I keep running across people who tell me they’ve made a contact with someone as a result of a birthday post. So if nothing else, I’d argue they’ve become a networking resource for the visual journalism industry.

But admittedly, that wasn’t by design. They came about simply because I was a little paranoid about not getting fresh content each day.

b) By the way, have you ever wondered why your birthday isn’t listed in the blog? It’s only because I don’t know when your birthday is. Believe me, if you’re a visual journalist — or a copy editor or a journalism professor or in any number of related fields — then I’d be happy to add you to my list. Drop me an e-mail or “friend” me on Facebook.

c) Occasionally, you’ll be reading a blog and you’ll come across a sentence like this: Well, it’s been a while since my last post! Things have been crazy around here!

If you find yourself posting that sentence — or a variation of it — time and time again, then do your readers a favor and consider not blogging.

Hey, there’s no shame in being too busy to blog. If you don’t have the time to do it right, though, consider not doing it at all. A blogger who spreads his links around but doesn’t contribute any content is just a part of the deafening roar of background noise on the web.

3. SHOW A LITTLE PERSONALITY

My regular readers know I do a lot of teaching, consulting and free-lance work. But they also know:

  • I’ve been hunting for a visual management job for a while, now.
  • They know I have a wife — not just a wife, but a “long-suffering” wife — and a teenaged daughter.

  • They know I travel a lot and that I’ve acquired a number of “travel mishap” stories over the years.

If you’re writing a professional blog, you don’t want to write about yourself all the time. But occasionally, you should put yourself into your blog.

Folks come back to read your blog because they enjoy reading — or are enlightened by — your take on things. Over the course of months and years, this repeated exposure to your brain causes your regular readers begin to understand a little about how that brain works (and in the case of my brain, that’s a frightening thought for you all).

Therefore, it’s a nice change of pace to occasionally show yourself at work. Or talk about something that happened on your way to work or to school today. Or just something that caught your fancy. Especially if there is some lesson about your industry that can be drawn from the story.

A warning, though: This can be overdone. If you do too much of this, you’re no longer entertaining and congenial, you’re just self-aggrandizing.

I often worry that I’m overdoing this in my own blog. Folks I respect assure me I’m doing OK. But I do worry about it. A lot.

NOTES:

a) Jim Hopkins of the Gannett Blog used to humanize his work by posting video of himself, once a week or so. That help put a face on his byline. Think of it as Branding 2.0.

Jim Hopkins

b) Make sure you include a mug shot of yourself, a link to your e-mail address and a link to a page where your readers can find a detailed biography.

c) If you have hobbies or interests — and who doesn’t? — don’t be afraid to set up a page somewhere with links specifically geared to your hobbies.

d) I used to get so much feedback on my various trips around the U.S. that I began posting “travelogue” items — they didn’t have anything to do with visual journalism; they were just quick glimpses of the cities and towns I’d pass through.

The response to those pieces was pretty decent, so I began making them more and more elaborate. Until the ultimate last year: A large series of posts on South Africa, during my extended stay there. I had a hard time believing that most of my readers cared anything about South Africa. But they did.

The lesson here: You never know what will catch the eye of your readers. So touch on anything that seems interesting, concentrate on telling your stories well — no matter what the stories may be — and be flexible enough to shift gears if your audience responds with enthusiasm.

4. INTERACT WITH YOUR READERS

One thing I don’t like about a blog is that it’s an awful lot like old-school technology: I’m up here on my mountain and I’m preaching to all you folks, sitting there in a circle at my feet. Just like the Sermon on the Mount. Or like broadcasting from behind a desk on national TV. Or like writing a column.

This doesn’t seem to honor the principle of Web 2.0, in which there is more interaction and more discussion than what we, as an industry, fostered in the past. And for which a lot of journalism futurists tell us we should be striving.

A bulletin board or social networking format would seem better suited for this sort of thing. However — as we found on the old VisualEditors message boards — a great many readers prefer a more passive experience. For some reason I don’t fully understand, many folks would rather read than participate.

Yet, it’s important to draw participation out of your audience. Ask them questions. Encourage comments. Embed polls into your posts (something I have yet to try).

Me, blogging in: (clockwise, from upper left) Orlando,

Aug. 2006; Manila, March 2007; Boston, Oct. 2007;

Johannesburg, Oct. 2009. And YES, that shirt WAS

washed — at LEAST once — between March and

October of 2007.

For years, I made the mistake of not replying to comments. My feeling was: I said my piece in my blog post and now, in the comments, I’ll shut up and give my readers a chance to speak out.

However, it’s more important you answer questions that come up in the comments of your posts. Thank folks for their observations or participation. If someone makes a point, ask them a follow-up question.

It took me the longest time to figure this out myself. And I still don’t quite do it enough.

NOTES:

a) Here in the blog, any first-time commenter must have his comment approved by me. Once you’ve had two or three comments approved, my blogging software assumes I trust you and your comments go up directly. An automatically-generated e-mail containing your comment comes my way, however, just to keep me posted.

Some bloggers prefer to put all comments on moderation. Depending on your work load and the number of comments you get — and the nature of those comments — that might be the way to go. The system I use currently is what works best for me right now.

My control panel, from where I can moderate, approve and delete comments. Here, I am God. Mwah-ha-ha-ha…

b) I wish more readers would comment and participate. But some readers prefer not to appear in your comments — they prefer to comment via e-mail or Facebook or Twitter or even LinkedIn. I’ve received comments via each of those.

It’s your job as a blogger to accommodate your readers, regardless of where they might be — or from what platform they prefer to use. More about that shortly.

c) At my old blog at VizEds, there was a little section — at the bottom right of my home page — where you could see just the comments. In three-plus years, I never heard much buzz about that tool. So when Dan put together this new blog page, I had him leave out that feature.

Did any of you longtime blog readers use that tool? Do any of you miss it? If so, please speak up.

d) One of the most common questions I get in my new blog is something along the lines of: Why do you let HIM comment?

Yes, I let “him” comment: Robert Knilands — or “Wenalway,” he calls himself here in the blog. Robert has made a huge name for himself, over the years, complaining — often quite bitterly — about news design and, in particular, newspaper designers.

Frankly, I was curious to see what Robert would say once he got past some of the kinds of comments that I considered out-of-bounds: Personal attacks and so on. So rather than simply ban all his comments from my blog — which I had done in the past — I set him up for permanent comment moderation.

Every comment he posts, I read first. Anything I consider uncool, I spike. My pledge: I’ll never attempt to edit his comments. Either I spike them or approve them. That’s the deal.

And it seems to me — perhaps this is the case or perhaps it’s just my imagination — that, over time, Robert has moderated his language just a bit. I’m finding that I rarely have to spike his comments any more.

Yes, I still think Robert is awfully negative at times. But I’m finding more and more of his comments not only interesting, but sometimes downright fascinating. And occasionally funny as hell.

I’m grateful he’s participating here in the new blog.

e) One of the things Robert is great about pointing out are typos in the blog.

Although my host site — ACES — is a copy-editing web site, I am not a copy editor, nor would anyone in their right mind hire me to be one. Yeah, I suck at copy editing — and especially at copy-editing my own work.

If you spot a typo — or any other kind of error, for that matter — in my blog, please let me know. If you’re feeling generous, make it a private e-mail. If not, then post a comment. Either way, I’ll fix it as soon as I can.

I loved all the copy editors who took such good care of me over the past 25 years. Not having a copy desk to keep me from looking stupid is one of the big drawbacks of being a blogger.

5. LINK AND AGGREGATE

Way too many bloggers spend way too much time worrying about search engine optimization and page views.

I say phooey to that. Worry first about serving your target audience with great content. Let the page views and the SEO take care of themselves. Or, at the least, take care of them later on.

Within reason, I mean. There are some things you can do to to help these things.

For example, you may have noticed that I maintain a lengthy list of links in my “blogroll,” on the right side of my page. If you link to good, healthy sites — and if they link to you — then this might help your SEO.

That’s not why I provide these links, however. I do it as a public service. I truly want to have the most thorough and complete listing of notable web sites and Twitter feeds in the visual journalism business. The SEO thing is just a happy accident for me.

Same thing with aggregation. Hey, I love to break news in my blog. But if someone else has it first, I don’t mind that, either. As long as the news gets out. I can always write just one or two sentences about what happened, give my quick take on it — or not — and then link to the site that broke the news. You’ve seen me do this a number of times, over the years, with SportsDesigner, Mark Evanier‘s blog and the SND web site.

This way, you make your blog the No. 1 site to visit for news in your business. If it’s news, then you have it. If you don’t have it, then you still have it — because you’re letting folks know it happened and then you’re sending them to where they can read the whole story.

Don’t let any big story happen in your field without noting it and linking to it. Whether or not you want to offer your opinion is beside the point. Write it and link it. Aggregate.

And if you happen to find a fresh angle for a comment for your blog, then that’s just gravy.

NOTES:

a) SEO numbers scare me. And for good reason: They often tell me stuff about my blog — or my blog audience — that I might prefer not to know.

b) Having said this, I’m treated very, very well by the search engines. Probably better than I deserve.

I have Google Alerts posted on a variety of key words and phrases — just one of my many newsgathering tools. One of those phrases happens to be my name: Just so I can keep up with folks who repost my stories or when I get mention in a prominent blog or web site.

However, it happens once a week or so, that I’ll post something new in the blog and — just ten minutes or so later — I’ll receive a Google Alert containing my own name… and showing me my brand new post.

c) There’s a whole science to SEO. And I question worrying too much about it.

I’m not saying that SEO is bad or that the science involved is invalid. I’m simply saying that I’ve gone out of my way to not worry about SEO. Yet, the search engines have found me anyway.

6. REACT TO THE NEWS

Again: When news breaks in your field, write about it immediately. Aggregate it and link to it. Immediately.

And then try to come up with some clever follow.

The best example I can cite was when the Rocky Mountain News shut down last year. This came on the heels of a big bunch of layoffs. I had compiled a number of tips and links that I was sending out to my friends who suddenly found themselves out of work.

I was freshening up the links in order to e-mail them to my pals in Denver when it suddenly occurred to me: Hey, dumbass: Why don’t you just put this in your blog?

So I spent a lot of time pulling together a much, much larger version of my e-mail. I fired off urgent requests to certain folks for tips on coping with layoffs and I asked them to rush their replies back to me. I spent an all-nighter on this.

The result was something that was perhaps my finest moment as a blogger: My guide for laid-off journalists.

This piece has been linked to frequently, cited by a number of papers and trade organizations. The Society for News Design even asked me to create a print version for its quarterly magazine, Design. Which I was glad to do, of course.

So if something happens in your field, aggregate and link. And then ask someone who used to work there for their reaction. Go back and ask folks involved in whatever happened for a Q&A. You can follow a day or two later with a fresh take.

Basically, this is the same sort of thing we do in our “real” journalism jobs. Why not bring the technique to your blog?

NOTES:

a) Don’t feel bad about linking. This is just a facet of our medium. Go for it.

b) Likewise, don’t feel bad when you actually break news and then everyone else links to you. Sometimes you’ll get credit for breaking the news and sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve been ripped off.

Don’t feel bad about that, either. If this never happens to you, then you’re not doing it right.

c) Having said that: I always get a charge when Jim Romenesko links to me. I’ll go months between appearances in Jim’s blog at Poynter.org, but then he’ll turn around and link to me twice in one week.

Everyone has their gold standard. Romenesko is mine.

d) These days, being linked to from a blog might not result in nearly as much traffic as a Twitter link going viral. Which brings up my next tip…

7. USE SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES WISELY

I dislike Twitter. One-hundred-and-forty characters just doesn’t leave enough space for a long-winded guy like me to express myself.

But man, Twitter is one powerful device. It took me a good year or so to fully understand how to use it.

I signed up for Twitter in early 2009 began tweeting my blog headlines and links. It generated a bit of traffic. Not a lot, though. I began to wonder if it was worth the time I was putting into it.

Over time — as I gradually added to the list of people I follow — I noticed something interesting. I’d see stories and web pages and blog posts popping up via Twitter — and here’s the important part — hours or days before I saw them elsewhere.

My mistake was that I was using it only as a tool to get the word out. It hadn’t occurred to me that its real value was in bringing the word in. In the form of leads for stories or blog posts.

Once upon a time, I got a lot of information from Jim Romenesko’s blog at Poynter. Wanting to give credit where credit was due, I’d mention him in my posts and link back to him.

But these days, you don’t seem me mention Jim anymore. It’s not that I don’t give him credit. It’s that Jim — as much as I love him — is simply no longer the first thing I read every morning. The first thing I do every morning is go through my Twitter feed.

Folks who live and breathe Twitter are almost cult-like in their devotion to the speedy dissemination of information. So I find tips on Twitter, I follow the link and I write it up. I’ll sometimes get my blog post up before Romenesko gets his posted and sometimes not. But often, it won’t be for hours, yet, that I’ll discover Jim even blogged about it.

This goes for cool articles about visual journalism. This goes for interesting front pages and links to multimedia graphics or videos. Sometimes, I even get tips about job changes on Twitter — although most of those tips tend to come via Facebook.

Many of the folks who use Twitter are what we call “early adopters” — the kids who were always a step or two quicker to jump on the next big thing. So if you want your blog to be ahead of the curve — as opposed to behind it — seek out the very best and brightest and fastest Twitter users and the most compulsive story-linkers and follow them. Religiously.

And make sure you give them a tip of the hat when you write about something they tweeted. Readers love seeing their own name in your blog.

All this applies to Facebook as well. I tend to get more breaking news stuff from Twitter and more featurey, off-beat stuff from Facebook. A good blog, of course, will contain a mix of each.

And yes, this also applies to LinkedIn. If you’re not getting an occasional story tip or two via LinkedIn, then you’re probably not linked in to quite enough people yet. Expand your network. That’s what it’s there for.

NOTES:

a) Once you get your blog cranked up, you’ll want to create a fan page for your blog on Facebook. My hope was to use mine to pull in more feedback from my readers and to give readers a tiny “behind the scenes” look at my work — kind of like the commentary on a DVD, perhaps, except not quite as elaborate.

However, I’ve not been very successful in actually doing much of this. I’ve asked my Facebook blog fans what I should be doing differently and, without fail, they say: We like what you’re doing now.

That’s a good thing, I suppose. But not quite what I was expecting.

My blog’s Facebook fan page is still a work in progress, I suppose. Find it here.

b) One thing I’ve noticed Twitter users hate is hearing folks say they hate Twitter. So if you dislike that medium as much as I, please don’t make the same mistake I’ve done. Kiss Twitter‘s ass. Whatever. Just don’t talk as much trash as I have about it.

c) Post links and info linking back to your blog on Twitter and Facebook. But be careful how much original material you post at either of those. Both platforms have, at times, claimed ownership or copyrights of photos or text posted to them.

Your blog content is your content, not Mark Zuckerberg‘s or Evan Williams‘. The tools they built should be used for your benefit, not theirs. Don’t let either of those gasbags forget it, either.

d) By the way, feel free to link or follow me via any of these social media:

8. HAVE SOME FUN WITH IT

Make no mistake, writing a good blog is a lot of work. But still, you need to find ways to have some fun. Drop in a little humor now and then (along with the personality we spoke about in No. 3).

Or, in my case, drop in a lot of humor. Really bad humor, if that’s all you have.

We’re in the serious business of mass communications. We need to use a little more humor in our work, too. But especially here — in our trade discussions — we can perhaps use just a tad more humor than we do in our “real” jobs.

Don’t be a buffoon. But try to keep things light and positive whenever you can. This might offset all those times when you have to write about layoffs and shutdowns.

NOTES:

a) A while back, a longtime blog reader complained to me about my series of “You know they need a copy editor” posts. I had to point out to this reader — a good friend — that I had been posting similar items in my old blog, too, long before I moved my blog to the ACES copy-editing web site. The only thing that changed? The way I phrased the headline.

Funny, though, how perceptions can fool us.

9. KEEP YOUR SITE CLEAN

One of my beefs with so much of the blogosphere: Way too many blog home pages have too damn much happening on them.

Dancing logos. Big, ugly advertisements that suddenly drop down over top of whatever you’re reading. Commercials you have to sit through before you can read what you came for.

And one my biggest pet peeves: Automatically-playing music and video. Especially when the music or video is a commercial.

The simple fact is: Many of the readers of a professional blog will be reading that blog while they’re at work. During breaks and between deadlines, of course. But at work, at their desks. On company equipment. With the boss nearby.

And maybe even behind the boss’ back. We hope not. But possibly.

Having video or audio play immediately upon pulling up your site automatically “outs” these folks whenever they click on your bookmark. Before long, you’d think, they’d learn to mute the sound on their computers before they visit your site. However, it’s much more likely that they’ll simply stop visiting.

Keep the navigation clean and simple. Don’t make the text too difficult to read. Don’t ever — Ever! — push obstacles like “drop-down” advertising between your content and your reader’s eyeballs.

And keep the mouseovers and the crap like that to a bare minimum — especially if you want folks to read you on their iPads, of course.  It amazes me how much Flash-powered work there is out there, while our audience increasingly is peering at our stuff via a Flashless iPad.

Stay focused on content. Let the content drive the design of your blog. And never ever let the design get in the way of the content.

NOTES:

a) Does any of this sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same thing I teach in my print design classes. It’s funny, sometimes, how the medium changes but the lessons can stay amazingly similar.

Young Mr. Daniel

Hunt of the OCR.

b) My webmaster — the aforementioned Daniel Hunt — did a fabulous job designing this web site for me. It’s clean, it’s crisp and (I hope you agree) it’s very, very functional. I’ve resisted adding more features to my home page in hopes of keeping the home page as clean as possible.

If you happen to have any suggestions, however, please feel free to pass them along. I’m always open to suggestions. I might not always follow them. But I’m open to them.

10. DO THE UNEXPECTED

It’s the same thing I tell print designers: Look for ways to surprise and delight your readers.

For example, why publish a list of Top 10 blogging tips? Wouldn’t it be more amusing to instead publish a list of nine tips? Or 11 tips?

Or instead of finishing with a very important high-point, close instead with a couple of dumb jokes. A couple that are barely amusing, perhaps.

Just sayin’…

Covering the Koran burners, part two

Update: Ha! Moot point. The event has been canceled!

Last night, I made an admittedly absurd suggestion: How about all the newspapers and TV news operations simply not cover the preacher in Florida who says he’ll burn copies of the Koran this week?

By making huge news out of this story, our entire industry has been a party to taking what should be a very small-time, local wack job and turning him into a national incident.

Simple solution: Just don’t cover it.

I blogged this last night, tweeted it and put my suggestion on Facebook.

Almost immediately, replies arrived via all three media.

One of the most intriguing replies:

Love idea; worry about precedent

What precedent? The media willfully ignores things all the time. We intentionally downplay the cause of death in suicide cases, for example, and have for years. I think the harm that would come from the coverage outweighs any news value this has. Which is nearly no news value.

Lots of hype value. But no real news value.

Apparently, a few news outlets agree with me.

  • Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post thinks we ought to downplay coverage. He writes:
  • Why does the world need to follow the antics of one obscure book-burner in Florida? You can say we’re just covering the story, but our combined megaphone has made it into an international story. And this isn’t like over-covering Lindsay Lohan‘s jail sentence. This is a tinderbox right now.

  • The Associated Press says it’ll staff the event but will move no photos that show actual burning.
  • Fox News has decided to give the event no coverage at all.

I’m hoping more will jump on this bandwagon. In particular, I’d like to see some restraint exercised by:

  1. MSNBC. It broadcast the preacher’s press conference Wednesday, Kurtz reports.
  2. Newsweek. They’re the ones who reported the Koran-flushed-down-the-toilet story five years ago. Riots ensued. Later, Newsweek retracted the story and apologized.

In his column today, Kurtz cites the AP’s memo regarding this kind of coverage. The very last sentence:

AP policy is not to provide coverage of events that are gratuitously manufactured to provoke and offend.

Exactly. Thank you.

Find Kurtz’ column here. Read about the Fox News decision here. Read about the AP photo policy here.

Poynter’s Kelly McBride is offering ethics tips on coverage of this thing. Find that here.

Find my previous post about this here.

A visit from Jim McBee

My old pal Jim McBee is in the process of moving from Bluffton, S.C. to Casper Wyo., where he’ll begin work next week as assistant news editor of the Star-Tribune.

He’s taking the scenic route on his trip out west, however. Tuesday — only the first day of his cross-continent voyage — found him here at blog headquarters in Virginia Beach in the largest damn rental truck I’ve ever seen.

Jim is one of my closer friends and a wonderful colleague in advocating for visual journalism — he’s the brains behind the Tuesday night VizEdsChat on Twitter — yet we hardly ever see each other. This was the first time we’ve been together in three years.

Jim — along with his lovely companion cheap pick-up cute dog, MacTavish — crashed overnight on the futon in my home office. But not before he and I polished off the rest of the Yuenglings I had in the fridge.

After a good night’s rest and a lazy breakfast at IHOP, it was time for Jim to hit the road again.

That is one sweet-tempered doggie. Jim says MacTavish seems quite content to watch the world roll past his window. I’ll bet he really enjoyed the “South of the Border” signs on I-95.

Before he pulled off Jim had to select the day’s tunes from his extensive iPod playlist 8-track collection binder of CDs.

I have never seen a binder this thick with discs. When I realized his mobile collection even included the old VizEds CD exchange discs, I pointed out he was at the beach, so he should start out with my Beach Boys disc from SND/Houston.

So, with “Surfin’ Safari” blaring from his open window, McBee and MacTavish picked their way through the neighborhood to head west.

Have fun in Casper, Jim. And once you get there, please say hello to the friendly ghost for me.

The evils — and joys — of Search Engine Optimization

It was with great interest that I read Gene Weingarten‘s piece in the Washington Post this week about search-engine optimization and the effect that still-emerging science has had on the declining art of headline writing.

In case you didn’t see it, Weingarten mentions great headlines of the past…

…including this one, when the Senate failed to convict President Clinton: CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR; and this one, when a meteor missed Earth: KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE. There were also memorably wonderful flops, like the famous one on a food story about home canning: YOU CAN PUT PICKLES UP YOURSELF.

Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don’t seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.

Hence, the clever and ironic inclusion of Lady Gaga in the headline of Weingarten’s column.

As a guy who really loves clever headlines, I, too, dislike this trend.

I understand why newspapers want the search-engine traffic. Your Google Alert may be attracted to the headline on a particular story. But will that headline make you want to actually read that story?

Who cares? As long as you were exposed to the ad alongside the story.

Sigh…

I have my own SEO horror story.

A few years ago — at my old blog at VizEds — I used to have a tool that allowed me to track search-engine traffic. Most of my readers come in via bookmarks or in via the main homepage. But yes, a number of them stumble across my work via searches.

The tool would show me what those visitors had searched for. Some were looking for “newspaper design” or “visual journalism” or whatnot. Some, however, were looking for other things entirely.

The No. 2 most common search that would bring folks to my blog was the phrase “pumpkin carving.” I once posted about how the Apple household designed and carved its Halloween pumpkins.

Readers would just flock to that page from search engines — especially every October. Go figure.

But the No. 1 search phrase that brought people to my VizEds blog? That phrase was this:

Visible penis

Yes. Visible penis. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what those search-engine users were looking for.

Those of you who have asked me, over the years, what kind of traffic my blog gets and seem baffled when I admit I never look at my numbers? This is why I stopped looking at my numbers. The traffic from this single search string dwarfed the number of clicks from the visual journalism community.

It was a powerful lesson in new media. One that I won’t forget anytime soon.

So how did it come to pass that seekers of peni were directed to my blog?

Because in April 2007 — in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings — I showed blog readers the front page of my paper at the time, the Virginian-Pilot:

It was a masterful job of breaking news design by Robert Suhay. But, to our surprise, the phones rang off the hook the next day. Readers were convinced they could see — in the lead photo by Alan Kim of the Roanoke Times — the victim’s penis.

That’s not what that is in the photo, of course. But that didn’t stop readers from calling and saying that’s what it was. Our editor, Denis Finley, even wrote a column about it in the paper the next day.

I wrote about all this in the blog. And the search engine ‘bots took it from there.

So when Gene Weingarten writes about editors’ inserting “Lady Gaga” in the headlines of his stories, I get it. Boy, do I.

It could be worse, though, Gene. The headline you get stuck with could be:

Lady Gaga’s visible penis

While I’m totally screwing up my SEO today, let me mention a few more things, for the benefit of the webcrawling search engine robots:

  • Hot college girls on Spring Break
  • Steamy encounters with bored, beautiful MILF
  • That really cute chick from Mythbusters, Kari Byron

There. That should just about do it. Thanks for indulging me.

Find Weingarten’s column here.

Same old blog. Brand new location.

Hello, world! You’re now looking at my new blogging home on the web.

Spiffy, ain’t it? The credit for building this blog all goes to my good pal Daniel Hunt of the Orange County Register. He’s the webmaster for ACES, the American Copy Editors Society.

Daniel and me, April 2009 in West Chester, Pa.

And yeah, he’s good. And fast. One recent evening, I was suggesting changes over the phone. As soon as I’d finish my sentence, Dan would say, “OK, refresh your page.” I’d hit refresh and the changes would instantly pop onto my screen.

However, I bring with me a lot of moving pieces, as you can see from the columns at left and right. The links to the right are all live; the ones to the left will fill in as the days and months go by. In the meantime, I hope you’ll let me know if there’s something not working correctly. I’ll tell Daniel, he’ll fix it and then I’ll take all the credit.

I imagine you have a few questions, though. Here’s where I’ll try to answer them…

Q. Why move your blog to a copy editing society web site? You’re not a copy editor!

A. Heh. You better believe I’m not a copy editor!

I respect and appreciate all the copy editors I’ve ever worked with, though. A number of you out there have saved me from making a hell of a fool of myself over the past 25 years.

I moved the blog here to ACES for a number of reasons. Most importantly: They asked.

Most copy editors don’t just process words, y’know. Thanks to universal desks and newsroom consolidations and a bunch of other factors, copy editors are very often asked to design pages as well. They always have, in fact. The idea of copy editors only editing copy and designers only laying out pages is a relatively recent one in the history of newspapers.

In fact, I’ve always written the blog with copy editors in mind. That’s one reason I prefer to use the term visual journalists. To me, that word includes copy editors, photographers, photo editors, designers, artists… plus, it often includes the reporters who work with them and the editors who supervise them.

We’re all visual journalists. And we’re all journalists.

So it makes perfect sense that ACES might host a visual journalism blog. Especially since ACES would like to increase awareness of its own organization among designer-types.

And perhaps they’d like a little day-traffic passing through their site. That helps, too. I suspect you’ll see ACES bringing in other bloggers to cover other topics over the next few months.

So, to recap: I’m moving the blog here because…

  1. I wanted a new home and ACES could provide it.
  2. A lot of ACES members design pages. So a lot of ACES members were already readers of my blog.
  3. ACES is interested in possibly getting into hosting blogs. So they could use a guinea pig like me.
  4. They’d love to reach out the visual design community. And now they have.

Q. Why are you leaving VizEds in the first place?

A. Well, I certainly didn’t have to.

Yes, we had server issues a couple weeks ago that pushed me into thinking of moving the blog. But those issues were dealt with very rapidly thanks to a suggestion from wonderfully helpful fellow blogger Ernie Smith and the nimble efforts of the founder of VisualEditors.com, globetrotting multimedia consultant Robb Montgomery himself.

I’ve known Robb for 14 years. We worked together briefly at the Chicago Tribune, back in the mid-1990s.

Robb and me at SND/Boston, October 2007.

When I started all my volunteer work for VizEds back in 2004, the idea was to keep folks coming back to the VizEds web site. I aimed to create things folks would want to read and discuss. Come read what I was posting and then hang around the bulletin boards or the chatroom for a while.

The past couple of years, however — as traffic to my blog has grown and, from time to time, caused server issues — I’ve wondered if I had become less of a plus for the VizEds site and more of a minus. An attractive nuisance, perhaps.

VisualEditors, as you might know, is a nonprofit. Robb has always paid for the upkeep of my blog out of his pocket. Over the past year or so, he’s begun selling Google ads to help defray his expenses, but I doubt that revenue has even come close to covering what I’ve cost him.

Despite Robb’s assurances, I felt like I’ve drained his resources enough for one lifetime. It seemed a good time to move on.

Q. What will become of VizEds now?

A. That’s up to Robb, of course.

VisualEditors can be used to do a lot of things. It started life as a bulletin board, morphed into a Ning-based social networking site and can transform itself again as the need merits.

As you know, I’m primarily a print guy, who writes mostly about print design. Without me putting my dead-tree face all over his web site, Robb might be able to redirect VizEds into a forward-thinking new media lab. There are so many issues out there regarding journalism for tablets and smart phones. Perhaps VizEds becomes a place for folks to explore ideas and practice using video and multimedia techniques that don’t require the soon-to-die Flash.

That’s what the industry needs right now. Not more talking about the future of journalism on iPhones and iPads. We need to see how to actually make it happen. What we need is a working, breathing Epcot Center of electronic journalism. Perhaps VizEds can become that.

Or, perhaps, not. Whatever happens, just remember: He is Robb Montgomery. He always seems to be a step or two ahead of everyone else — that’s Robb’s nature. And that’s why he’s in such demand around the world.

Although my blog is coming out from under Robb’s care, I’m still a fan of Robb and his work. And I’m still a card-carrying VizEds member (and still an administrator, even). As VizEds morphs into its next life, I’ll be there to read and to learn, to cheer it on and, perhaps, even to participate.

When Robb and VizEds makes news, you can bet you’ll read about it here in the blog. Because that’s what I do. I cover the news.

Q. What will become of all those posts you wrote for the VizEds blog?

A. Good question. Originally, I wanted to bring all 2,492 of them over here with me. But then Robb suggested we leave them where they are and keep them open where we can refer and link to them.

That seemed like a great solution. So I’ll be here at ACES blogging away, day in and day out and creating new archives here. And everything I posted before today will still reside over at VizEds, in searchable and linkable form.

You should find links to older and newer posts over on the left side of this column, under “Archives.”

Q. What will change about your blog or the way you write it?

A. Not a damn thing.

ACES has promised me complete editorial freedom — which was the same deal I had with Robb. We added a disclaimer — about how the blog is my own opinion and not that of ACES — and I thought that was just dandy.

At one point, we discussed whether or not I should try to post more items about copy editing. Until we started scrolling through the archives and realized how many articles I’ve always published are about copy editing. I have a lot of copy editors in my birthday data base, for example.

So no change was requested of me and no change was offered.

Q. What’s the deal with those birthday posts, anyway? I mean, who cares?

A. I felt the same way when I first started posting birthdays. At the time, I was writing only four or five interesting posts a week. I came up with the birthdays in order to “fill dead air” — to give me something to post on days where I had nuthin’.

At some point, they kind of took off. A number of times I played with the format and even stopped posting them entirely. And that’s when someone I respected would come along and tell me how much they enjoyed the birthday posts. So I’d go back to posting them.

I’ve always maintained a list of birthdays of my friends and colleagues. For a while, there, VizEds listed birthdays. So I added greatly to my list then.

Nowadays, I still maintain my own calendar but I’m constantly pulling in new names and birthdays from Facebook. I try to write my birthday posts in batches, keeping a good week or two ahead of schedule. Occasionally, I fall behind and I have to scramble for a couple of birthday posts. Also occasionally, someone will fall through the cracks and I’ll have to add them belatedly.

If you’re not on my list and would like to be on it, send me your info. If you’re an editor or manager or art director, send me birthday info for your entire staff. I need the date, enough biographical data for three or four sentences and a decent mug shot.

Q. Why do you blog in the first place? Who died and made you the spokesperson for visual journalism?

A. Heh. I ask myself that nearly every day.

Truth is, I never intended to be a blogger. I just kind of fell into it.

Waaaay back in 2003, the American Press Institute hired me to write a blog during the initial phase of the Iraqi War. Basically, to write about how a modern graphics department was covering the war: What we were thinking, how we were preparing, what resources we were using. Stuff like that.

I worked my butt off for a couple of months — on top of my job as graphics editor of the Des Moines Register — for that blog. So I learned just how much work writing a blog can be.

If you do it right, that is. And I think I did.

A year later, I was graphics director of the Virginian-Pilot when Robb created the first version of VisualEditors.com as a bulletin board. I got all excited and spammed my entire address book, urging folks to join up.

But then it occurred to me: To get folks coming back, day after day, there has to be content there. Discussion boards need discussion. So I started posting news items, just to get conversation started.

And it worked, I suppose — the VizEds boards were really hoppin’ there for a couple of years. But over that time, folks — most notably, my pal Robb — kept urging me to take the work I was doing and apply it to a blog format. Where it’d be easier to read and to follow various threads.

But I just wasn’t eager to put that kind of time into a new blog.

In February 2007, however, I served as a judge for the annual Society for News Design contest in Syracuse, N.Y. I wrote up my experiences as an eight-part diary but found I couldn’t cram it all into the bulletin boards. So Robb tried it in blog format and it worked pretty well. (Find the first part here.)

Well, once I got started, I kinda fell into a groove. When Mark Friesen stopped posting in his NewsDesigner blog and Alan Jacobson gradually stopped posting the Best Front of the Day pages, I was left as one of the few bloggers who covered print journalism.

Next thing you know, it’s three years and 2,495 posts later. And traffic to my blog is so heavy that I stopped looking at the numbers a long time ago. Because every time I see them, I get stage fright.

Robb sent me this over the weekend, for example:

Traffic at my VizEds blog over the past three weeks or so.

That big spike at the end? That’s my LeBron James post

starring the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s page one.

This doesn’t happen real often, thankfully. Still, I find myself amazed, some days, that I get any traffic at all.

Simply quitting was indeed an option. I put a lot of time into the blog. I’m not quite sure what I’d do with that much spare time on my hands. Perhaps I could chase down more free-lance work or find something actually profitable to do.

But whenever I consider calling it quits, someone comes along and tells me what a service the blog has been to the visual journalism community.

For example, Iowa University journalism student Adam Sullivan made me smile this past spring when he broadcast on Twitter:

@charlesapple always reminds me how much good stuff is still happening in print editions.

That’s what this blog is all about. Championing visual journalism. Yes, I touch on multimedia and mobile design and social media. But the majority of what you read here will be good, old-fashioned print journalism.

Good, old-fashioned knock your damn socks off print journalism. To inspire you. To teach you. And sometimes just to entertain you.

One day, the visual journalism community will no longer need this blog. When that day comes, I’ll happily find something else to do with my spare time.

For now, though, you’ve said that you want and need this blog. So here it is.

I hope you like its new home.  And I hope that our work here fills your needs and your hearts and inspires you to create your own spectacular visual journalism.

So that’s my spiel today. I hope that explains everything.

My thanks go out to…

Robb Montgomery

Robb, thanks much for creating Visual Editors and for dragging me back into blogging. Thanks for all the work, the technical support and the advice you’ve given me over the past six years.

I just hope my value to VizEds was greater than the headaches I caused you.

I kinda doubt it was. But I hope.

Daniel Hunt

Dan, you worked like a dog to bring the blog here to ACES and then to build the framework, tweak the design and the coding and then hold my hand through the learning curve. Which ain’t over yet, of course.

I hope I can live up to your expectations.

The board of directors of ACES

Thanks for inviting me into your web site and for making me feel so welcome. I hope that, by hosting this blog, you’ll raise awareness of your organization in the visual journalism community and awareness of visual journalism within the copy editing community.

One day soon, perhaps, we’ll no longer think of designers and copy editors as being different constituencies in the first place. When that happens, perhaps my work here will be done.

Or, perhaps it’ll be done the first time I post something nutty and your servers crash faster than a German dirigible in Jersey.

Either way, I’m grateful for the opportunity to call ACES home.

My ‘board of advisors’

There was a small group of folks with whom I consulted over the past few weeks. They spent a lot of time making recommendations and pointing out option. I appreciate each and every one of those suggestions. Even though I wasn’t able to use them all.

You also offered me a ton of moral support. And I’m very grateful for that.

You know who you are. Thanks much.

You, the readers

This blog is here for you: To support to visual journalism community. To further the art of visual journalism. To champion good work. To frown upon practices that endanger our ethical or quality standards.

Let me know what you want to see. Let me know when you’ve created or published something cool or unusual. So we can post it where everyone else can see it, too.

Let us know what you think. This is your blog, more than mine. I’m just the guy who puts it together for you.

Thanks to you all.

So. What shall we write about today?