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.

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, 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 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?