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Friday, May 05, 2006


Re: Kaus's equation: I can remember making errors as I edited copy at a college newspaper, but I can also remember fixing a lot of stuff. The process worked best when editors could sit down with writers or associate editors to go over the copy. I tend to miss typos in my own work and usually try to have someone else look at it with me before I hand it in.

Here's another copy-editing post for the week: the editors of the San Antonio Express-News have banned puns in headlines (link from Romanesko).
In declaring the ban April 21, Rivard e-mailed news editors: "It's a shame to see the good work of so many disparaged because of the immaturity of a few headline writers who seem more focused on peer approval than on producing a quality newspaper for the community."
A reporter whose byline appears on a story does NOT write the headline. Headlines are written by copy editors, who battle deadlines to clean up or rewrite the reporter's copy, massage it, then crown it with a spiffy headline.

Generally, copy editors have small egos. Many are former reporters who prefer the relative solitude of the newsroom late at night to the limelight of chasing news. Their goal is to, anonymously, make a story better.

Copy editors are underappreciated, taken for granted and typically go unnoticed unless they "bust a hed," miss a factual or grammatical mistake, or — worse — insert an error in their editing. Now, puns are a no-no for them as well.

I have a high tolerance for bad puns, and I remember crafting a few really esoteric ones for headlines when I worked at the Spectator. I used to say it was to save my sanity, but there may have been another explanation. And yes, most of the time the goal was immaturity and peer approval.

Some of my all-time favorites from the Spec staff:

"When 116th Was Gnomon's Land" (about the missing gnomon from the sundial on Columbia's College Walk)
"CTV's Revolution Will Indeed Be Televised"
"Columbia Prof Says Neutrons Matter"

I still remember looking over at Ross one night to see him giggling to himself while he worked on his page's headlines. "Are you laughing at how witty you are?" I asked.

He could barely collect himself to answer "yes!" (the headline was for a review of Peter Pan: "Second Star to the Right and Straight on Til Boring")


Blogger Marina on Thu May 04, 08:46:00 PM:
I could never think of headlines for the Edinburgh Student, but my section co-editor, Frances, could. She was in fact so famous for bad puns that particularly excruciating ones were called 'Frantastic'. . .

Anonymous Anonymous on Fri May 05, 09:19:00 AM:
My favorite pun headline of all times wasn't published. My friend Michelle (comic genius, actually) suggested that the Post or News headline for the Janet Jackson Superbowl breast exposure thing should have been: "It was the breast of half times, it was the worst of half times."