COPY TALK

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					NO. 181                                                                                                                               P.1
 JANUARY 2008                                                      NO.181




                               COPY TALK
                                A       LOOK                   AT            WRITING
                                                                                “Some ministers and bureaucrats will give you very
E-mail: A blessing and a curse for                                          good background information in a PIN that they wouldn't
                                                                            dare give you in a scrum.”
journalists                                                                     But some government contacts have also become adept
    Reporters, including those at The Canadian Press, are
                                                                            at not responding at all or responding too late for deadline.
increasingly gathering information through e-mail and text
                                                                            The replies, when they come, “are generally vapid and
messaging. Often it is the only or most convenient way to
                                                                            devoid of any real information while brimming with spin and
get in touch quickly with a source or contact who has the
                                                                            responses that ignore the question,” says Russo.
information needed for a story. (Copy Talk confession: all of
                                                                                Canadian Press staffers in Ottawa are making repeated
the quotes you will read in this article were provided by e-
                                                                            requests for telephone interviews if the principals won’t
mail.)
                                                                            speak face to face. If only an e-mail response is
    It can also be an excellent way to track down sources,
                                                                            forthcoming, “we are now making it clear to readers and
perhaps through a website, for an interview by phone or in
                                                                            listeners that repeated requests for telephone interviews
person.
                                                                            were denied and an e-mail was the only response
    We have also found that, more and more, people are
                                                                            provided.”
insisting they will only do interviews by e-mail. Sometimes
                                                                                Health reporter Helen Branswell of The Canadian
they will cite the complexity of the subject matter and
                                                                            Press says e-mail has not yet played a major role in her
request questions in writing, with responses only by e-mail.
                                                                            area of journalism. “Scientists are often very concerned to
    This presents potential problems.
                                                                            get a sense of whether you understand what they are saying
    A reporter’s first inclination is to fight such controls – a
                                                                            and will report it accurately,” says Branswell. They want a
live interview, with give and take, will likely provide stronger
                                                                            live exchange to ensure the journalist understands.
quotes and better information. There is also the assurance
                                                                                There is an exception. “Increasingly (under the Harper
that the person you are interviewing is the person who is
                                                                            regime) Health Canada will only provide answers by e-
saying the words, something you can’t count on in e-mail.
                                                                            mail.” In her view this helps control the message and also
    Neil Davidson, sports editor for The Canadian Press
                                                                            produces “dull” quotes.
who also writes about video games, says developers
                                                                                Branswell has used e-mail to track down someone
commonly request e-mail interviews only. He always
                                                                            travelling in a remote part of the world where the phone
declines them.
                                                                            service is spotty or the time difference is an impediment. “If
    “My view is an e-mail interview should be a last resort
                                                                            I don't need much from them and they are willing, I will
and there should be a compelling reason to do it that way,”
                                                                            occasionally pose a question or two by e-mail. I always
says Davidson. “There are obvious concerns. You don't know
                                                                            identify that the person said this in e-mail.
who is replying to you. And the exchange removes any of the
                                                                                “It would be rarer than rare that I'd do this with
spontaneity of a conversation, while giving more control to
                                                                            someone whose work is the subject of my piece.”
the person being interviewed.
                                                                                She’s not worried that the e-mail is being written by
    “E-mail is obviously not taboo – it played a big role in
                                                                            someone other than her interview subject.
our NHL lockout coverage, with key players answering
                                                                                “Fortunately few scientists have publicists. I've never
questions and updating us from the talks. But I see a trend
                                                                            had any concern that the quotes I got were cooked up by a
with others using it to control interviews and the exchange
                                                                            lackey.”
of information. And in a feature situation, if someone won't
spend 10 minutes on the phone with me, I will find someone
who will.”                                                                                          INSIDE
    Rob Russo, chief of the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian
                                                                             page 2 So long to the hyphen and the Stratford
Press, sees some advantages to journalists with the
                                                                                    Festival
proliferation of BlackBerrys in Ottawa.
                                                                             page 3 Taser this: When a proper noun becomes a
    BlackBerrys have made some ministers and their senior
                                                                                    verb
staff more available. Swapping PIN numbers – the personal
                                                                             page 4 Copy Talk gets mail: Laying euphemisms to
identification number issued with each BlackBerry that
                                                                                    rest
bypasses the need to use a regular e-mail address – “is a
competitive sport,” says Russo.
NO. 181                                                                                                                      P.2

   COPY TALK: A LOOK AT WRITING                                  the name of a communications person who no longer
                                                                 worked for the air carrier.
   EDITOR: PATTI TASKO
                                                                     So what’s the bottom line on using e-mail to gather
   Copy Talk is published periodically by The                    material?
   Canadian Press for users of the Canadian Press                   •    It is another tool in the journalist’s box. But it is not
   Stylebook. It is intended as a forum for all sorts of                 a replacement for the one-on-one interview, by
   writing and editing matters. It can also be found                     phone or in person. Push for that when the
   on the Internet at www.thecanadianpress.com.                          interview is the meat of your story.
   Suggestions and questions are welcome.                           •    If the main source for your story refuses to do a
                                                                         personal interview, look around for someone else.
   How to reach Copy Talk                                           •    Don’t omit the detail that the comments came from
                                                                         an e-mail – otherwise you leave the impression that
   The Canadian Press
                                                                         you talked to the source in person or by phone.
   36 King St. E.                                                   •    Never use unsolicitated e-mails without checking
   Toronto, Ont. M5C 2L9                                                 their source.
   patti.tasko@thecanadianpress.com                                ════════════════════════════════
    Sheryl Ubelacker, who also covers health for The
Canadian Press, says occasionally someone asks to do an          What’s in a name? Stratford Festival
interview by e-mail only. “I always push back, saying            puts Shakespeare’s name front and
something like ‘I need to get natural-sounding quotes, I
need quotes for broadcast, I may have supplementary              centre
questions,’ etc.”                                                    The bard’s name adorns a variety of stores, restaurants,
    If this doesn’t work, and e-mail is the only way to get a    inns and tourist attractions in the town of Stratford, Ont.
comment, Ubelacker will agree – “Sometimes you need that         Now William Shakespeare’s name will also be front and
quote!” – but identify it as being provided by e-mail.           centre at the theatre that features his work.
    Another popular manoeuvre is asking journalists to               The Stratford Festival of Canada has changed its name
submit questions via e-mail if they want to ask questions        to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to reflect the
during a press conference. This happened at a Toronto            festival’s commitment to the work of Shakespeare.
news conference featuring Harry Potter author J.K.                   “Shakespeare is central to what we do, so we're making
Rowling.                                                         his name central to ours,” said Antoni Cimolino, the
     “If we did so, we were told, we might be ‘chosen’ to ask    company's general director.
our question at the news conference,” says Entertainment         ═════════════════════════════════
Editor Andrea Baillie.
    “We told the publicist that it was not the practice of The   Here lies the hyphen: Oxford kills
Canadian Press to provide questions in advance. In the end,      thousands of them
however, we were allowed to ask an unscreened question.”
                                                                     The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, published earlier this
    Unsolicited e-mails present their own problems.
                                                                 year, eliminates about 16,000 hyphens from various words.
    Recently The Canadian Press received an e-mail
                                                                     It didn’t drop all hyphens in compounds but did switch
purportedly from the family of a man who had been charged
                                                                 many hyphenated ones to two words (ice cream) or one
with sex crimes in Thailand. There were many signs that it
                                                                 word (crybaby).
was legitimate, but we sought to confirm that. When we felt
                                                                     The move prompted the New York Times to theorize that
we had to go with it before we got confirmation, the story
                                                                 the change could be partly attributed to the computer age
made clear the limitations of our knowledge, calling it
                                                                 and what it called the “sanserification of print” – the
a statement claiming to be from his family and coming from
                                                                 dropping of the little curls, points, curves and lines found in
a web address that reflected that. The story also stated
                                                                 hand lettering and replicated in serif fonts. Thanks to the
outright that the origin of the e-mail could not be
                                                                 computer screen and text messages, said the Times, a
immediately confirmed.
                                                                 simpler sans serif look has become more popular.
     It is advisable to always exercise caution in these
                                                                     Traditionally, new compounds start as two words, spend
situations because fake e-mails are a common tactic for
                                                                 some time hyphenated, then end up as one word. At The
those with agendas. Air Canada was once the victim of such
                                                                 Canadian Press, unlike Oxford, we have not done a full-
a hoax, when an e-mail, masked as an electronic version of
                                                                 scale routing of hyphens – but through the years we have
a release supposedly from Air Canada that had moved on
                                                                 been quick to move from two words or a hyphenated
Canada News Wire, was distributed late on a Friday.
                                                                 compound to one word if it looked as if the language was
    In fact, it was bogus and did not move on CNW. It was
                                                                 headed that way. We figure this approach makes sense for
probably the work of a group opposed to Air Canada
                                                                 editors on busy news desks who do not have a lot of time to
carrying people being deported from this country.
                                                                 think about hyphens. Our general policy is to follow the
    In this case, the release had some odd wording and
                                                                 Canadian Oxford Dictionary with exceptions listed in Caps
elements that should have prompted suspicions, including
                                                                 and Spelling. One hyphen we are currently thinking about
NO. 181                                                                                                                       P.3

dropping is the one in e-mail – Oxford already uses email.        argue, has no judgmental connotations beyond its basic
Feedback on this bold move is welcome.                            meaning, unlike slang terms such as whore and hooker.
═════════════════════════════════                                     That does not mean we will not also use the phrase “sex
                                                                  trade worker” when appropriate, such as when it is used in
Don’t stun readers with awkward                                   a quote. But this phrase does have the disadvantage of not
verbs                                                             being particularly precise – it could describe a variety of
                                                                  activities.
    Tasers – hand-held weapons that deliver a jolt of
                                                                      However, always keep in mind in stories on young girls
electricity that stuns the target’s neuro-muscular system
                                                                  who are forced into prostitution by circumstance that slang
and usually causes the person to fall from severe pain and
                                                                  terms (such as teen hookers) may present the wrong tone
muscle contractions – are shooting their way into news
                                                                  in the story and be regarded as insensitive to the realities of
stories more and more.
                                                                  their lives.
    Taser is actually a trade name for a type of stun gun, or
                                                                  ═════════════════════════════════
what police call a “conductive energy device.” But since
Taser International of Arizona makes almost all such guns,        Copy Talk gets mail
including the ones used by Canadian police forces, it is a
                                                                        “Is it my imagination or have we banished the words
good bet that if a stun gun were being used it would be a
                                                                  ‘dead’ and ‘killed’ from the wire?” asks John Ward of the
Taser.
                                                                  Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press.
    Since it is a trade name – it was inspired by the Thomas
                                                                       “The euphemism ‘fallen’ has become a fixture of the
A. Swift Electric Rifle from the Tom Swift books – it is
                                                                  report. Fallen soldiers did not fall. They were killed. They
capped. However, the noun is increasingly being turned into
                                                                  are dead.
a verb.
                                                                       “I seem to remember reading somewhere that the word
    We should cap it as a verb (Tasered, Tased, Tasering) as
                                                                  ‘fallen’ as a euphemism for ‘killed’ came into wide use
well. (This is also our style for Googling.) However,
                                                                  during and after the First World War when the sheer
whenever possible opt for a more descriptive verb such as
                                                                  numbers of dead numbed people.
"shocked" or “stunned”: Police shocked the suspect with a
                                                                       “I think it's a namby-pamby evasion of a hard truth.
Taser gun.
                                                                  Can't we report what it is?”
═════════════════════════════════
                                                                       The Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists “killed in war” as
Playing with time elements                                        the third and last meaning for fallen. Copy Talk was unable
     QuickHits – stories intended for use in one way or           to confirm Ward’s recollection that this use of the word
another on all of our platforms – have been an effective          came out of the slaughter of the First World War. However,
innovation on the Canadian Press wire. They ensure that all       there is no doubt that it is a euphemism that softens reality.
our clients, from print to broadcast to online, are quickly       Other euphemisms for the grim business of death are also
updated on news developments.                                     appearing regularly on the wire, including “laid to rest”
     But they are not without their writing challenges, given     instead of “buried” and “passed” or “passed away” instead
that they are supposed to work for all three forms of             of “died.” There’s no need for news copy to sound like it was
communication.                                                    written by an undertaker. Let’s put these expressions to
     One element we struggle with is how to handle time           rest.
references as broadcasters prefer “today” and print
customers prefer the day of the week named. Here’s the                                       *****
best plan: avoid mention of a time element if possible (“a            Are those tufted balls that make regular appearances at
judge has ruled,” for instance.) If the item needs a “today” in   sporting events called pom-poms, pompoms or pompons?
it to make sense, use it. But name the day rather than using      James Bisson of the Toronto sports department points out
yesterday and tomorrow. If you find you need to use today,        that he sees pom-pom on the wire regularly, even though
then please do a Writethru as soon as possible, putting the       some dictionaries list pompon.
day of the week in, for our newspaper clients.                        We follow Oxford, which opts for pompom (no hyphen)
═════════════════════════════════                                 as its first choice.

Protesting against use of the word                                                           *****
‘prostitute’                                                           The Alberta Liberal Party has asked The Canadian Press
                                                                  if we could begin referring to their MLAs as Alberta Liberals
    The Canadian Press has received more than one request
                                                                  on first reference, rather than just Liberal.
that we avoid the word “prostitute.” Police representatives
                                                                       “This is because they have no relationship with the
and advocates for those who work in the sex trade have told
                                                                  federal party and want to make that clearer to readers and
us they consider the word pejorative and have asked that we
                                                                  listeners, especially with the possibility of a federal election
use the phrase sex-trade worker instead.
                                                                  or provincial election or both in coming months,” says
    However, we have defended, and will continue to defend,
                                                                  Prairies news editor Lorraine Turchansky.
the use of the word for a woman or man who engages in
                                                                       The Canadian Press will go along with the request since
sexual activity for payment. The word has the distinct
                                                                  it is important for readers to understand that the provincial
advantage of being well-understood and, Copy Talk would
NO. 181                                                                                                                      P.4

party has distanced itself from the federal party. However, it   Conservative plan to require those accused of gun crimes to
might be helpful to explain the reference instead of just        prove they should be released on bail.
saying "Alberta Liberal" and expecting people to understand         “As a reader, I'm giving up after para 1,” said Beeby.
the subtle difference. So a reference like "the Alberta          Copy Talk is thinking about how likely it is to find a leaf on a
Liberals, who have distanced themselves from the federal         laundry list!
Liberal party” or something similar, is in order for a while.    ═════════════════════════════════

                          *****                                  The words, they are a changing
    "Had an interesting style question come up last night,"         At a party to honour employees who have worked at The
writes Gwen Dambrofsky of the Edmonton bureau of The             Canadian Press for 25 years, guests were amused by Tony
Canadian Press. "I was … quoting from a kid's blog. The          DiPaolo’s speech honouring his colleague Paul Vitta, in
original quote used u instead of you, and didn't use any         which he rounded up examples of how language has
punctuation."                                                    changed in the IT department since Vitta joined it in 1982.
    National Desk slot Shawn Waddell advised it should be        We’ve reproduced a few here for your amusement:
corrected for clarity, much as we might correct an                  Remember when:
inadvertent grammatical slip by a speaker.                           • a window was something you hated to clean;
    The rules for quoting from the new world of blogs are            • RAM was the father of a goat;
the same as for spoken quotations. Those guidelines have             • a keyboard was a piano;
remain mostly unchanged in the Canadian Press Stylebook              • byte was what a mosquito does; megabyte was
for decades. We don’t routinely use abnormal spellings and               what a black fly does;
grammar. However, they can – and should – be used if the             • a cursor used profanity;
unusual spelling adds colour and character. In this case, it         • memory was something that you lost with age;
didn’t.                                                              • if you unzipped anything in public you'd be in jail for
                                                                         a while;
                          *****                                      • hard drive was a long trip on the road;
     “Almost no one gets this word right,” says Prairies             • a mouse pad was where a mouse lived.
bureau chief Heather Boyd about “fulsome.” She’s right.          ═════════════════════════════════
People often use it to mean full or complete and in fact the     Comedians provide fodder for Oxford
dictionary lists “abundant” as a second meaning. But its
more common meaning is “offensive to the taste or                English Dictionary Online
excessively lavish in an offensive way.” Be careful that you          Although the Oxford English Dictionary Online adds
say what you really mean. Boyd also points out that
                                                                 thousands of words to its database each year, only rarely
“nonplussed” presents similar pitfalls. It can mean              can they be traced back to a specific individual.
perplexed and also (in North American usage) unfazed. As             But Canadian actor Mike Myers has made the cut with
Boyd says, “these two meanings render it pretty much
                                                                 “shagadelic,” an expression he made famous in the Austin
useless to us.”                                                  Powers movies.
                                                                     It is defined as “sexy, esp. in a psychedelic or retro way.”
                          *****                                      Other new additions to the database, a history of English
    The Canadian Press can count on hearing from readers
                                                                 words since 1150, include putz as a verb, flip phone,
when we get references to the Queen and Governor General         webmistress, life partner and helicopter parent.
incorrect. The most common mistake is referring to the               For new editions, "the number of times you can actually
Queen as the “British” monarch – she is Canada’s Queen
                                                                 say, ‘This was coined by so-and-so,' is actually very small,"
and our head of state. So it follows that the Governor           says Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large for the dictionary.
General is not the representative of the British monarchy,           Another expression invented by a comedian was also
as we have mistakenly reported on occasion, but the              included. "Truthiness," popularized by Stephen Colbert on
Queen’s representative in Canada. The Governor General’s         his TV show The Colbert Report, is also in the latest online
website uses the description “Canada's de facto head of          version.
state.”                                                          ═════════════════════════════════
                          *****                                  Time to update your style library?
    Ottawa deputy bureau chief Dean Beeby is particularly            Since the last issue of Copy Talk, The Canadian Press
incensed these days with “useless, hackneyed metaphors           has published new editions of both the Canadian Press
that sound absolutely ridiculous when mixed.”                    Stylebook and Caps and Spelling. The stylebook is up to its
    Sadly, there is no shortage of examples he could have        14th edition; Caps is at No. 18.
sent us. He did provide a particularly potent one, however:          If your copies are looking ragged and you can’t find
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion tried to turn over a new            current references such as podcast and YouTube, both
tough-on-crime leaf Wednesday as he unveiled a laundry           books can be ordered from our website at
list of law-and-order measures and pledged to support a          www.thecanadianpress.com.
                                                                 ═════════════════════════════════

				
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