Roman, Arabic, even, odd, manipulated...


I become very frustrated when numbers are misused, because as a former math major, I sort of love them like I love language. (Except differential equations, I could never stomach those nasty little things.)

I become more frustrated when people whose job it is to understand the numbers attempt to avoid them like I avoid phone calls from Blockbuster when my two-week-old movie is still in my DVD player. Hey, guess what... it's a journalist's job to deal with numbers.

That said, many journalists do not like numbers and would prefer not to spend their time crunching numbers. The number of numerical errors that slip into newspapers has been stated and restated ad nauseum.

Instead of pounding numbers into the heads of people who do not like them and who tend to be more word-inclined, it seems a solution might be to have a dedicated numbers editor. I know the last thing newspapers want is to hire more staff, but this would increase efficiency -- the numbers person, who knows what they are doing, could crunch all figures and stats, and edit any part of a story with any number whatsoever. Knowing what they were doing and unhindered by a dislike for the work, they would work efficiently and leave the reporters free to report and write and continue the rest of their one-man band. But maybe we could take at least this one man out of the band and give him his own instrument.


check this out!

Where this = everything.

This is what I now do, check every single little thing out to make sure it is correct.

Last year when I bought my AP Stylebook, I sort of thought the whole thing was silly. After all, the Stylebook is composed of arbitrary conventions that AP has decided its writers should use.

I started looking up words and phrases (Is it Capital Hill or Capitol Hill?) when I had to for my editing class on quizzes. But I quickly developed an editor's eye and began looking up suspicious words at all times. I found myself pulling out the Stylebook for research papers, memos, and even activities I design for my Spanish students.

It's not just the Stylebook; whereas before I found minor conventions to be, well, minor, I have begun to realize their importance. I find myself having the need to check things out where I would have passed over small details before.

In the letter of interest I just e-mailed to a prospective employer, I found myself googling the company name to find out if it is Proworld, ProWorld, or Pro World (the second is correct). It's not that I would have refused to do this before, but it probably wouldn't have even occurred to me. Look, I just looked up how to spell occurred in the dictionary. And this is my personal blog, and I never would have cared before.

My desire to know (not just the big stuff, but the devil of the details too now) is growing exponentially. This class is good for me.


"*** ***** ** this"

Do you know what words the above stars refer to?

Neither do I. I suppose English offers hundreds of possibilities.

And this is one problem that I have with the deletion of expletives from quotes in newspapers. I'm preparing to write a paper examining the issue, focusing how Blagojevich's "bleeping golden" comments were edited (or not) and printed.

At first, I was prepared to argue that there is no difference between "f---" and "fuck" (no, I do not edit myself) because both words refer to the exact same thing, and have the same meaning. This seems akin to saying "gato" (from Spanish) and "cat" have the same meaning.

However, I spoke with a linguist who talked about the idea of creating a linguistic community. She pointed out that only "in" members of the community can interpret coded messages with deleted letters. So when I use "f***", I am speaking in code, and assuming that readers will be able to understand what I mean. This creates a feeling of trust and connection.

In addition, readers who aren't "in" are unable to interpret the message. For those who are interested in protecting children from foul language, this is important. A child who doesn't already know the word "fuck" could learn it from reading this blog entry, or a news story with unedited quotes, but he won't start saying it after reading a censored version.

Another consideration is that the words are shocking, and this may be important to express the full weight of the context. For instance, Blago swore repeatedly, and I think this says something about the situation, and about his personality and attitude. I'm not sure if this could be conveyed as well using "expletive deleted." I think that when situations are offensive, sometimes the reader needs to be offended, because offense if the appropriate response.



Disappointing reporting

On my way home from the gym the other morning, I saw what is becoming a familiar scene of mangled steel and wrecked concrete at the overpass on Springfield Avenue near Neil in Champaign.

A semi had ignored the low height and driven right into the underpass, getting about four feet in before it became stuck.

In the year and a half I have lived in Chambana, I've witnessed stuck trucks here three times. Three times in less than two years! That is ridiculous. And yes, the overpass is low... apparently much lower than most. It's marked with a small yellow sign announcing its height and blinking yellow lights that must be all too easy for a sleepy truck driver to overlook.

I excercised an impulse that I think few people share with me in these times, which was to look to the local newspaper for an explanation of the event. To its credit, the News-Gazette ran a photo with a great, unique angle as the main art on the front page the next day. It's too bad I can't find the photo; it really says it all.

But the reporting was lackluster.

The Gazette reported the event as if it were a funny oddity instead of an apparently serious problem. For one, it is lucky that no one is injured in these crashes. Secondly, this damage costs the truck companies and likely the city money in repairs. And thirdly, there is no reason for a city to have an overpass that trucks periodically crash into.

I wanted to know why this keeps happening, and who, if anyone, will do anything about it.

But the caption failed to even make mention of the other recent events.