ACES honors the year’s ace headline writers

While I’m here in Virginia Beach slaving away over a hot stove blog, my ACES colleagues are in New Orleans this week, attempting to create an acute beer shortage meeting and discussing the finer points of journalism.

Naturally, I wish I could join them. Perhaps next year.

In the meantime, though, ACES today announced the winners of its annual headline writing contest. I have to say: As often as my own pun-laden headlines have been criticized and shot down over the years, there are a lot of puns and much wit among this year’s winners.

Don’t get me wrong: These are much better than anything I’ve ever dreamed of writing. And they’re all worthy of note.

This is not a complete listing of winners. These are just a few of the headlines that caught my eye. Keep in mind that each winning entry consisted of several headlines.

First place winner for staff in the 240,000-circulation-and-over category was the Dallas Morning News. It’s easy to see why, with genius work like this…

…and this.

In second place in staff for the largest papers: The Los Angeles Times.

In addition, the Times David Bowman — as a science fiction geek, I gotta love that name — won first place in the individual category for the largest papers. Two examples of David’s work:

David’s LAT colleague, Laura Dominick, earned second place.

The desk of the New York Times earned third place in the largest newspaper category. Winning third place in the individual competition was Andy Webster of the Times who came up with this gem:

First place for staff at the 160,000-to-240,000-circulation category went to the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

Second place in the 80,000-160,000-circulation staff category went to the Omaha World-Herald.

The World-Herald‘s Nick Piastowski won second place in the individual competition for his paper’s circulation size.

The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle won first place in the under-80K newspaper staff category.

There were a number of non-newspaper categories as well. First place for staff of an online publication went to the Today show/MSNBC.

As much as I loved all those, however, I think my favorite batch in the entire show was submitted by Peter Donahue of the Providence (R.I.) Journal, who earned first place for individuals from papers with circulation 80K-160K.

Peter’s samples ranged from the sly…

…to the obvious…

…to the punny…

…to the fall-down-laughing-at-the-sheer-genius-of-it.

Wonderful work by all, of course.

Check out the official ACES announcement of all the winners — including judges’ comments — here. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find a link to a PDF file containing clips of all the winners. Download that and study it well.

Go here to keep up with with all the news about this year’s ACES conference in New Orleans.

Longtime newspaper copy editor Pam Nelson leaving newspapers

Board member Andy Bechtel of the American Copy Editors Society and a former News & Observer colleague of both Pam and myself writes today:

Pam Nelson is taking a new job.

Starting on April 2, she’ll be a copy editor for publications at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She’ll work from the Durham office.

A 1976 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Pam spent 13 years as a copy editor, assistant news editor and assistant editor of the News & Observer’s state Capitol team before leaving to become managing editor of She returned to the N&O in 2001.

Last fall — when corporate parent McClatchy moved that paper’s editing and design to its new Charlotte Publishing Center — Pam made the move as well as a universal editor. She’s been staying with her parents during the week and commuting back to the Triangle on the weekends.

Andy writes:

Pam told me via Facebook that she made this decision with some reluctance because she loves news. But the lifestyle of living in Charlotte during the week and then going home to her husband in the Raleigh area on the weekends was too much to handle.

She writes on her own Facebook wall today:

My last day at the newspaper publishing center in Charlotte is March 30.

This means I get to live at home with my husband full time. I am glad about getting the chance to gain new knowledge and put my skills to use, but also a little sad at the thought of not seeing my parents as often, at leaving my very fine pub center colleagues and at leaving the newspaper business. Life is full of trade-offs.

As you know, Pam is also the grammar blogger right here on the ACES web site. She began blogging about grammar in 2005 and moved that blog to a stand-alone site last summer. A member of ACES since the group was founded, Pam signed on as an ACES blogger in December.

Andy adds:

She’s going to keep blogging for us and hopes the new job will allow her more time to do that and to bring in examples from her new job.

Find my Q&A with Pam here.

Two years ago, Pam appeared on the TV game show Jeopardy. Read about that here.

Pam Nelson starts new grammar blog for ACES site

No longer will this little visual journalism blog be the only blog here on the American Copy Editors Society web site.

Today, longtime grammar blogger Pam Nelson — of McClatchy’s Charlotte production hub and a former colleague of yours truly — kicks off a new ACES blog called the Grammar Guide.

A 1976 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Pam spent 13 years as a copy editor, assistant news editor and assistant editor of the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer’s state Capitol team before leaving to become managing editor of

She returned to the N&O in 2001 but when McClatchy moved all of Raleigh’s editing and design work to Charlotte this summer, Pam slid over to a role there, editing features for the News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer and the Rock Hill, S.C., Herald.

Pam started the Triangle Grammar Guide in April 2005. She moved to a stand-alone site this summer.

You can find her new ACES home here.

Pam took some time recently to answer a few questions for us…

Q. So, why a grammar blog? Why not a blog on food or history or books or something else?

A. I am a born-again grammar geek. When we started the blog at The N&O site, I wanted to help non-journalists by pointing out what I considered bad grammar and usage and to explain how to write more coherent sentences, but I also wanted to help writers and editors and to show that copy editors play a vital role in making the stories better.

Q. Does blogging take up much of your time? I mean, when you get home from the paper each night, why do you want to sit down in front of a computer and bang out a post?

A. I have been more of an on-demand blogger, posting when I had something to say. I hope to start posting more often on the ACES site.

Q. You spent 24 years in Raleigh. Then, suddenly, your job disappeared this summer and you’re commuting to Charlotte. Why are you willing to make such a sacrifice for your job?

A. First, I didn’t want to be without an income and health insurance at my age (I’m 57) and to be struggling to find a job in this economy. Second, I knew that I could live with my parents (relatively) near Charlotte during the workweek and perhaps help them (they are elderly and have some health problems). Third, I wanted to continue to practice my profession and to try to help with the transition to the central publishing center. I thought I could do some good by being there to help preserve the N&O way. I think I have done that.

I also was professionally curious about how the publishing center was going to work. I have been too busy day to day to delve into the process beyond my own part, but I have been interested to see how our team leaders have handled problems that have come up.

Pam appeared on the TV game show ‘Jeopardy’ back in 2010.

Here she is with a stagehand or somebody; I’m not sure.

Q. You blogged for the News & Observer site and then for a few months on your own site. How do you feel about moving to ACES?

A. I feel excited and nervous about being on the ACES site. It’s a wonderful and visible platform, and I know I’d better be careful.

Q. Do you fear the ACES site is being taken over by those barbaric, uncultured designers? Just judging by the bloggers, I mean.

A. No, Charles, I love designers. Your blog has given great visibility to copy editors and designers!

Q. In the made-for-TV movie about copy editing, who plays Pam Nelson?

A. Sally Field — short, determined, candid to a fault — and with brittle bones.

The official ACES press release about Pam’s blog states:

Nelson joined ACES when the organization started in the 1990s and attended its first national conference, held in 1997 in Chapel Hill, N.C. She has also been a presenter at ACES regional conferences over the years.

“I’m excited that Pam will be sharing her knowledge, wisdom and upbeat outlook on our site,” said Andy Bechtel, a member of the ACES executive committee.

All three of us — Pam, Andy and I — worked together at the News & Observer. Andy spent five years there in the 1990s and then four more years in the 2000s. I worked there for only three years in the 1990s.

The release says Andy…

…suggested that ACES host Nelson’s blog after her move to Charlotte.

“Pam and Charles are a great one-two punch,” Bechtel said. “Taken together, they represent so many aspects of what editors do.”

I’d agree Pam’s work adds a punch to ACES. To go along with my feint.

The world needs more copy editors

The problem, of course, is the the world doesn’t always realize this. But you have to keep hope alive that it will.

The trick, of course, is to be prepared with copy-editing skills when opportunity knocks. In order to do that, why not study a year with an assist from a scholarship from the American Copy Editors Society?

The ACES Education Fund is preparing to award five scholarships for the 2011-12 academic year. The top award is for $2,500. Four other awards are for $1,000. Awards are open to those of you who will be college juniors, seniors or grad students next fall, and to graduating students who will take full-time copy editing jobs or internships.

Read more about it here. Download an application here.

Whither the clever headline?

David Wheeler of the Atlantic reports:

Despite the fact that [Las Vegas, Nev., Review-Journal copy editor Matthew] Crowley has won ACES’ top award for headline writing, he regularly finds that his funny headlines for the Review-Journal have been re-written by the online desk to be more search-engine-friendly.

Matthew Crowley

For example, when Harrah’s casino announced plans to build a new entertainment center with an observation wheel, Crowley came up with the headline “Brave new whirl.” The online desk changed it to “Harrah’s plans retail, entertainment center.”

“I understand the shift toward search optimization,” he says. “But I think we’re losing something when we take the wordplay and surprise out of headline writing.”

The title of the piece is from a Crowley quote at the very bottom of the story.

Google doesn’t laugh

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post covered this same topic quite famously last year, citing great headlines of history:

…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.”

Weingarten’s piece sailed out into the interwebs with a very clever SEO-ready headline:

Still, this new piece in the Atlantic tells the story from the perspective of a headline writer; a copy-desk staffer. And from people who are educating young copy editors.

Wheeler writes:

Indeed, the same week that Crowley was sharing his passion for puns with fellow copy editors in Phoenix, SEO experts were sharing their zeal for data with college students in New York City. At the national College Media Advisers conference, students attend sessions like “SEO 101 for Journalists,” where they are told not to be “tempted” (the word used by one session leader) to write funny headlines.

“People are flat-out less likely to read funny headlines,” says session leader Aram Zucker-Scharff, an SEO consultant who works as the community manager at George Mason University’s office of student media. “You have to be transparent.”

Find Wheeler’s Atlantic piece here.

Find Weingarten’s Washington Post piece from last summer here.

Go here to read my own search engine optimization horror story.

Buy this cool T-shirt and support ACES’ Education Fund

Brian White of the American Copy Editors Society has put together a fundraiser for ACES’ Education Fund.

And it looks like fun. Check it out:

Wouldn’t you love to have that on a T-shirt? Yeah, me too. Especially after I learned it was designed by my good pal Patrick Garvin of the Boston Globe.

Left: Brian White. Right: Patrick Garvin

The T-shirts run from $12.95 to $21.95, depending on the style and size you want. That same imprint is available on a coffee mug for $13.95. Click here to order.

This fundraiser coincides with the start of this year’s ACES National Conference in Phoenix. Follow the official conference blog here.

Find Brian’s Talk Wordy to Me blog here. Find Patrick’s blog here.