Monday, October 29, 2007

News values: A classic man-bites-dog story

Two stories here, both from the British Broadcasting Corp. Both illustrate the cliche, "When a man bites a dog, it's news. When a dog bites a man, it's not.

The first, on the BBC News website today (well, actually tomorrow since it's Tuesday morning already in the U.K.), is a hunting story gone wrong. The head says it all: "Dog shoots Iowa man during hunt." The dog, it turns out, stepped on his gun when he set it down. I read it because Mike Royko, late columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Trib, used to pick up stories like that all the time. He had done enough police reporting in his younger days to be a firm believer in gun control. (Police reporting does that to you, as you cover too many tavern brawls and accidental gunshot wounds, but that's a story for another day and probably another class.) So Royko, whose column was widely syndicated, was always ready to give national ink to dumb accidents involving guns.

Then, off to the side, I saw the link to the classic man-bites-dog story. It was irresistable. I clicked, and there it was. The perfect man-bites-dog headline.

"Man bites dog (and a policeman)," said the headline, dated Nov. 13, 2004. To their credit, the writers for "the Beeb" played the story absolutely straight. It must have taken a lot of inner strength to resist the temptation to play it for laughs. But they persevered. As written, the story was a straight-laced account of a scuffle involving the dog, the policeman and a man who was subsequently charged with resisting arrest. And it was even funnier that way.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Links for copyeditors (and that would be us)

This morning I was looking for tip sheets on the Internet on how to write headlines, and I found one with a headline I liked: Copy editor struggles with headline I think that's a pretty good head in itself. It's from a Lee Enterprises seminar for copyeditors, and it features a quote from Roger Buddenberg (whoever he is). Good quote:
“Heads are like poetry. Hell, they are poetry. You’re a poet: You choose words that tell and find a way to fit them into given limitations.”
Here's another, from Joel Pisetzner:
“Friends from other lives will attest to how often I, having just copyread a difficult story, will go to the men’s room (after delaying nature’s call the requisite hour or two) and will come out with a great headline idea. I can’t explain it. But I recommend that copy editors drink plenty of liquids.”
Buddenberg is with the Omaha World-Herald, by the way, and Pisetzner is with the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. I just Googled them -- oops, performed a keyword search in the Google search engine. Something that should be getting to be second nature to you now. I look up everything I don't know.

The "No Train No Gain" Web site has a very good directory of tips for copyeditors, by the way. According to its "About Us" description, "No Train No Gain is a resource site for newsroom trainers. The site offers training tips and handouts on writing, editing, reporting, newsroom management skills, recruitment and retention, diversity, technology and newsroom surveys." Very useful.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today's headline writing exercises

Instead of canned exercises from our textbook, we're going to work with some real-world news releases today. We'll find them on PR Newswire, an internet service that posts releases on a daily basis. I'll paste some more information below, in case you're not familiar with it. You'll find PR Newswire at -- logically enough -- But first, how to do the exercises:

1. Load the "Head_files" folder from the CD in the back of your textbook to hard drive. Go ahead and create a folder, labeled with COMM 207 and your name, in the "My Documents" folder; or save your work to your flashdrive. When you open one of the headline templates and insert copy into it for an exercise, be sure to rename it and use the "Save As" function so you don't write over the template. It will be a Microsoft Word document.

2. Find the story we're working with on PR Newswire. I'll point you there, at least for starters. Copy and paste the text into the headline template (where it says "Paste story here."

3. Edit the story, stripping out line feeds and doing whatever you need to the text -- you'll probably have to take out corporate spin, decide which angles will most interest readers and -- all too often! -- convert it to good AP style. Try to rewrite it so it's lively and interesting. I know that's a stretch for some of the stuff you'll see, but try anyway.

4. Write a head for it in the style indicated at the top of the Microsoft Word document. I've found it's best to insert a line of extra leading on top so you don't write over the 1/24/3 heading.

5. As you try these exercises, remember, always remember, this is an experiment, and we'll have to *tweak it till we get right. We could do this with the little exercises in the book, but I think it's better practice to use PR Newswire and work with live copy.

*Important generational footnote. "Tweak" doesn't always mean what you think it means! People of an older generation, especially writers and editors, use it in the sense of making small adjustments or minor editing changes to a piece of copy. In fact, I just looked in and it doesn't even make any reference to crystal meth. For that you'll have to go to Both are good references for editors, by the way, although neither is considered authoritative by The Associated Press.

Here's more about PR Newswire. It's another business that's been around a long time, but has really taken off with the advent of the Internet:
Now in its 50th year, PR Newswire Association LLC ( provides electronic distribution, targeting, measurement, translation and broadcast services on behalf of some 40,000 corporate, government, association, labor, non-profit, and other customers worldwide who seek to reach a variety of critical audience including the news media, the investment community, government decision-makers, and the general public with their up-to-the-minute, full-text news developments. Established in 1954, PR Newswire has offices in 14 countries and routinely sends its customers' news to outlets in 135 countries and in 30 languages. Utilizing the latest in communications technology, PR Newswire content is considered a mainstay among news reporters, investors and individuals who seek breaking news from the source. PR Newswire's leading brands include ProfNetSM, eWatch™, MEDIAtlas™ and MultiVu™. PR Newswire is a subsidiary of United Business Media plc of London.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Polls and surveys -- this one's better

With election coverage simmering, I guess we'll see plenty of examples of news people writing about political poles, uh, let's make that polls! Now comes Eugene Robinson, op-ed* columnist for The Washington Post. Today Robinson's column explores the significance of recent presidential preference poll results for Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here's the part I want us to look at. I think he does a much better job than the blog, from another major metro paper, we looked at yesterday:
Obama, of course, would be the first African American president, which would be equally historic. And the predictable notes of caution that must be inserted into any column about Clinton's campaign -- that the polls in Iowa show a close three-way race, that anything can happen in New Hampshire, that Obama can rebound in South Carolina, that Howard Dean was leading in the polls four years ago, that nothing matters until someone, somewhere, actually casts a vote -- are more than cover-your-behind caveats, they're real. There's plenty of time for the whole nature of the Democratic race to change.

But some of the numbers are stunning. A national CNN poll released Wednesday showed that among registered Democrats, 68 percent of African American women said Clinton was their likely choice for the nomination while only 25 percent backed Obama. By contrast, Obama led Clinton -- 46 percent to 42 percent -- among African American men.

The CNN sample of black voters was small, meaning those numbers are not precise. But even taking into account the margin of error, the poll reports an unmistakable tendency that clearly works in Clinton's favor: To the extent that African American voters are taking identity into account as they ponder the presidential race, women are considering not only race but also gender. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign, has called it "the 'sistah' vote."
A couple of points I'd make about it:

Robinson is cautious about all the polls. And he's especially cautious about the CNN poll he was analyzing. Notice how he points out the small sample of black voters? He's aware of the margin of error, too, which has an inverse correlation to sample size. In English that means the smaller the sample, the higher the margin of error.

And Robinson cites the CNN story. Links to it, too, on the website. Political junkies who live in Washington and read his column in the print edition will know how to find it. So I think that lets him off the hook a little -- he doesn't have to go into methodology because he isn't writing the main story. His analysis is kind of like a sidebar to CNN's mainbar.

Now let's look at the original CNN report. Here's the lede:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton's lead over Sen. Barack Obama, her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, is growing among African-American voters who are registered Democrats, and particularly among black women, a poll said Wednesday.

Sen. Hillary Clinton is the top choice of African-American Democrats, a new poll suggests.

Among black registered Democrats overall, Clinton had a 57 percent to 33 percent lead over Obama.

That's up from 53 percent for Clinton and 36 percent for Obama in a poll carried out in April.

The 26-point difference between black women and men underscores the fact that the nation's vote is divided not only by race, but also by gender, said CNN political analyst Bill Schneider. "Black women don't just vote their black identity," he said. "They also vote their identity as women."

Among white registered Democrats, Clinton drew 49 percent support, versus 18 percent for Obama and 17 percent for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the latest poll found.

The question had a sampling error of plus-or-minus 6.5 percentage points.
I think that's well done. It reports the head-to-head numbers. It offers, and attributes, a little bit of analysis. And it notes the high margin of error near the beginning of the story.

Plus it does something I think is important when you're writing -- or editing -- copy with a lot of numbers. It makes comparisons. See how Wednesday's poll is compared to one in April? If you're working with a story on a new city tax rate, compare it to last year's. Is it up or down? How much? A new city budget is adopted. What was last year's? Readers want to know stuff like that.

One reason the margin of error is so high here is because the analysis discusses survey findings among smaller groups -- or subsets -- of the main sample. It's worth looking at the way CNN throws the numbers around, at one point even noting results on one "question had a sampling error of plus-or-minus 6 percentage points." How can that be? Because the subset for that question was "white registered voters." A smaller subset of the overall sample.

At the very end, CNN appends this graf:
he CNN/Opinion Research Poll of 1,212 adult Americans was carried out by telephone Friday through Sunday. The sample included interviews of 307 blacks and 762 non-Latino whites.
That's the way it ought to be done.

Footnote.* An "op-ed" column is called that because in the print edition (also known as "dead tree format" because it's on paper), the "op-ed page" is opposite the editorial page. It's another word for an opinion column, which traditionally run on the op-ed page.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Looky, looky what Blogger can do!

You can edit text, which ought to be of keen interest to us in COMM 207, and you can even show how you edited it. Here's an example from a recent post to this blog, the author of which I shall not identify here:
I guess it could be argued that readers of "The Swamp" are likely to be political junkies who are used to drawing conclusions about political poles, polls, but I still think somebody's reaching a little too hard for a political angle here. The story is about Al Gore's being awarded the Nobel Prize, but that isn't my problem. What I have a problem with is the way The Trib handled the survey research data here.
See how "poles" is struck through (stricken through? neither one of them sounds right) and "polls" is underlined? The strikethrough means to delete something, and the underline means to add it. You see them used a lot in drafts of bills in the legislature and other legal documents.

How did I indent that block quote? Would you believe there's a bracket-blockquote-bracket tag? Would you believe I'd been doing Web publishing six years before I discovered how to do it? Here's a link to the Webmonkey HTML Cheatsheet. It lists a whole series of common HTML tags (not all of which you can use in Blogger), and it gives you an idea of how much you can do in HTML. Notice how 99.99 percent of the tags come in pairs?

poll corrections

There were quite a few things wrong with the Gore poll. When using the AP Stlyebook you can find how a correct poll should be done on page 193-194.

There was no percentage for the mrgin of error in the poll. It didn’t say who was being interviewed or if it was a random sampling. It didn’t say who the poll is being sponsored by. It didn’t say how the poll was conducted via internet or phone conversations. It didn’t say how many people were interviewed during the poll.
This was a group assignment right????

Poll Analysis

There were quite a few things wrong with the Gore poll. When using the AP Stlyebook you can find how a correct poll should be done on page 193-194

There was no percentage for the mrgin of error in the poll.

It didn’t say who was being interviewed or if it was a random sampling.

It didn’t say who the poll is being sponsored by.

It didn’t say how the poll was conducted via internet or phone conversations

It didn’t say how many people were interviewed during the poll.

5% Increase for Hilary!

There is a story about the 2008 Election in the Chicago Tribune.

The author of this article states that Hilary Clinton's approval rate has been increased by 5% from 2006. This is obviously not a big enough increase to have much impact on her chances so why is it in the article? Probably just as filler to this already unnessary article.

Poll Reveals Trib’s Disappointing Omission

Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune needs to take his AP Stylebook out of his bathroom and use it. The AP book says sampling methods and margins of error are necessary when writing about polls and surveys. Silva did not give his readers this information. If he did not want to include these necessary elements in the body of his copy, he should have included this link.

Polled in what direction?

According to the AP style book, I would assume there are a few things wrong with the poll.

1)There is no margin of error listed anywhere.

2)It did not say how the poll was conducted, for example it didn't say if it was via the internet, phone, etc.

3)It also doesn't have any sub polls, like for ages of the people or if the people are male or female.

4)Also, it doesn't specify who participated in the poll.

5) It didn't say what questions where actually asked in those poll.

Tribs Errors

Looking over the article that the Chicago Tibune released on regards to the upcoming presidential race between Al Gore and Hilary Clinton appeared to be somewhat interesting. However, a few things that should have been done differentally... In the Ap stylebook under polls and survey there are certain steps that should be followed when it comes to these type of stories.. First, the story never said how the survey was conducted or how many people were actually interviewed for the story. Second, the author made a big deal about the 51% to 49% when they should have simply expressed the margin of error between the two candidates, which would have been 2%. Thirdly, they didnt say who is sponsoring the poll..

Polls poles...

After reading about polls and surveys in the AP style book, I found some mistakes including:

-There was no margin of error
-It did not mention who was surveyed in the poll
-It didn't indicate how many people were surveyed
-It did not say how the poll was conducted, via internet, in person, etc..
-We do not know who actually conducted the survey

What the poll?

There was no mention of the number of people that were interviewed.
It also did not mention how the poll was conducted-via internet/face to face/phone
Lack of margin of error
or who cinducted the survey.

Polls, Polls, Polls

1- The margin of error was not in the story.
2- It didn’t say who was sponsoring the poll.
3- It didn’t say how many people were interviewed.
4- It didn’t say who was interviewed or if it was a random sampling.It didn’t say how the poll was conducted (telephone, computer, etc.)

Major Error Blown by the "Windy City" Tribune

The Tribune failed to provide the error margins of the polls between Gore and Clinton, but also, it doesn't provide the sponsors for the poll ratings. To find out more about this error, go to the Chicago Tribune.

Punch Line Without Context

My answers in the form of sentence fragments:
Doesn’t say how the survey was conducted.
Further research says that the Gallup Poll did survey 1,010 random adults, so that’s good news.
Doesn’t tell the margin of error.
Makes a big deal about a small change in percentages, one of which actually falls within the margin of error.

The link for the Gallup Poll info.

The Swamp link.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sample html



Here's a link to the SCI website.
Here is a fun link Check it out.


A bunch of students pretend to attend class. But they're actually sleepwalking zombies.
Okay, so I'm a nerd. I think I hate HTML! Check out this website because Dictionaries are almost as fun as the AP Stylebook.

Logging on.

I was able to long on

No trouble

I was able to post to the blog with no trouble.

W3C standards-based tutorial on HTML -- how cool are all these letters?

Today we're going to continue learning HTML (hypertext markup language). Let's start by going to an introductory HTML tutorial put up by W3Schools, an electronic learning portal that educates people to W3C standards. (W3 stands for the World Wide Web Consortium, an influential group of Web users.) Anyway, W3Schools has a good tutorial. It's Norwegian. How can that not be cool? Let's open a window (we'll have several open today) and go there.


I was able to get into and post to the blog without any problems!

first post

I'm in! No problems with the new far anyway.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What's wrong with this poll?

OK, there's nothing wrong with the poll itself. At least nothing in the scanty information that's reported about it. But take a look at what The Swamp, a blog maintained by The Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau, does with national survey results about U.S. Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y., candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But now, just three months from the premier presidential nominating caucuses in Iowa, Clinton has not only solidified her commanding role in the eyes of Democrats nationally, but also started to erase some of the doubts around the edges of people who say she is too polarizing a figure to win the election.

The latest Oct. 4-7 Gallup Poll on the 2008 election shows that 51 percent of Americans surveyed hold a favorable view of Clinton – and 44 percent hold an unfavorable view. That sort of split might be considered fatal for anyone else. But this is someone who, just last month, had split the public right down the middle – 49 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable in September.

The latest measure on Clinton could be a fluke. The 51-44 split stands where it did in the early summer of 2006. Or it could be a sign that she is starting to change some minds.
Or it could be a sign of something else.

Your assignment for extra credit. Read the "AP Stylebook" discussion on polls and surveys (pages 193-95 in my edition), and answer the question: What's wrong with the Trib's analysis of this poll? Hint: Read it all, but read paragraph No. 6 on "sampling error" especially carefully. Post your answer to this blog. If you've joined it as an author, post it as a separate message. (BTW, congratulations, Dave, for being the first to post. And "welcome aboard" to Claire, Jill, Alyssa and Lauren.) If you're still trying to get on and collecting little red-and-yellow error messages, post it as a comment to this message.

I guess it could be argued that readers of "The Swamp" are likely to be political junkies who are used to drawing conclusions about political poles, polls, but I still think somebody's reaching a little too hard for a political angle here. The story is about Al Gore's being awarded the Nobel Prize, but that isn't my problem. What I have a problem with is the way The Trib handled the survey research data here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hey Doc,
I was able to get on the blogger with no problems... Like it alot better than the previous ways!!

Welcome to our comm207fall08 blog


Everybody who was in class Tuesday has been invited to join this blog as an author. This invitation is not only a great honor and your chance to join the ranks of published authors (if you're not one already): Joining the blog, posting to it and learning some of the fundamentals of HTML (hypertext markup language) are requirements for successful completion of the course.

You'll receive an email message from, the commercial service that hosts the blog. Follow the prompts, and you'll get signed up easily. A couple of things we learned the hard way last year: (1) Write down the user name and password you use to sign up; and (2) don't forget it. If you forget it, you won't be able to post to the blog. And you have to post to the blog. It's that simple.

A word about templates: I picked the first one that came up. If you want, we can go through the templates and find one we can all live with. Majority rule, or something like that.

After you're signed up, let's get started by posting a link to my faculty page. Open another window. You'll have several open as you go along. Go to this blog, and click on the Blogger logo -- it looks like a white "B" in an orange square with slightly rounded corners. You'll get a prompt that asks you to enter your user name and password. Remember the user name is the same one you signed up with, and it's really a full email address. Click on "Sign In." This will take you to the Blogger dashboard which is where you work on the blog. In the directory under the name comm207fall07, click on "New Post." It will open a field.

Next, type a title in the field that says "Title." Straighforward enough? In the larger field below it, click on the tab that says "Edit Html." There's another tab that says "Compose," but I want you to get used to using HTML code from the very beginning. I want you to get used to pasting in addresses, too, so I'm going to make you look up my faculty page address instead of telling you what it is in the example below.

Type something like: "Here's a link to ..." that introduces the hypertext. The hypertext is just the part you click on that takes you where you want to go. We'll get to it in a minute. But for now, let's focus on the code you put before the hypertext. By typing in an address (URL) and putting a code around it, using angle brackets and letters, you tell your browser to find the indicated address. Confused yet? Let's just do it. The instructions below are more general tips I've copied and pasted from another blog.

How to Post a Link

I like to do this with two windows open, one to the page I'm posting the link to and the other to the "Create" field in Blogspot. Here are the steps:

  1. In the address field in the header, highlight the address (or URL). Copy it.
  2. Go to the "Create" field. Type in Here's a link to <a href="
  3. Paste in the address with no space between the "less than" and the address.
  4. Type "> with no space between the address and the quote mark.
  5. Type in whatever words you want in the link, for example Doc's faculty page.
  6. Immediately after those words, type </a>
  7. Your link should look something like this: Here's a link to <a href="address">Doc's faculty page.</a>
One last step: Be patient. It takes forever to get all the details right, and even then I get little red-and-yellow error messages all the time in Blogger. If you don't yet know what I mean by that, you will very soon!