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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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!


Charles Apple

Virginia Beach, Va.



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.

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.


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.