Conscious Language resources for copy editors

This week I’m speaking at the virtual Fall National College Media Convention about using conscious language. It’s a topic I bring up often in my editing classes and one I was thinking about while I was still working daily as a news copy editor.

Using conscious language isn’t about having a list of banned words, and it’s not about being politically correct (a term that many use as derogatory). It’s about being fair, accurate and inclusive. And it’s about understanding your audience, a good thing to all around.

I put together a 20-minute presentation in 2020 about conscious language as a way of introducing the topic to high school journalism students. In the past year and a half, I’ve updated it with new examples (and some examples that aren’t exactly new, but that I didn’t previously have in the presentation.)

Many of those examples are based on things I’ve felt more strongly about since reading articles about them. Others are just things I’ve personality been keen on (look for my comments on terms for people over a certain age in a previous blog post, Words Matter, So I Need a New One.

So I thought it would be a great idea to share some of those articles, and some of the resources I use, with all of you.

Style guides that help when making conscious language choices

Style guides:

A few interesting articles to read

Reclaiming the ‘F’ Word: It’s For the Children, HuffPost, 08/14/2013

Elderly No More, New York Times, 4/19/2012

Covering Poverty: What to Avoid and How to Get It Right , Conscious Style Guide, 12/10/18 

Associated Press Stylebook blogMaking a Case for the Singular TheyThe Decision to Capitalize Black

Finding new language for space missions that fly without humans, Planetary Society, 10/5/15

On “Person-First Language”: It’s Time to Actually Put the Person First, the Radical Copy Editor, 7/3/2017

Changing the terminology to ‘people with obesity’ won’t reduce stigma against fat people, The Conversation, 10/14/2019

You can find more great articles on the subject linked on the Conscious Style Guide website.

Coding for journalists

This semester, I’ve started teaching a new class at KU, Tech Tools: Web Coding, which is essentially coding for journalists. (Although there are nonjournalism students in the class.)

aI did all the initial prep work for starting this class as part of the William Allen White School’s move to make 3 hours of Tech Tools classes part of the journalism core. Students take a couple of 5-week-long 1 credit. hour classes in things like video editing, graphic design, coding, etc.

The idea behind my class is that journalists benefit from having some knowledge of coding and also how the backend of a common CMS works — although the class is just an introduction. I tell students that they won’t be able to take my class and then site down and code a website the next weekend.

But I also know that I benefited at the newspapers I worked at from understanding the computer system and being able to troubleshoot bad code on the website. Having an interest in that lead to at least one promotion.

My students are doing their coding work in one of two code learning/testing sites, either JSFiddle or Codepen. While I’m showing them how to set up a project correctly (with a nested folder system, and index file, and a regular text editor), they’re not really coding a site and these “playground” sites work well for them.

They’re using their WordPress portfolio websites (our students have to create online portfolios) to display some of their work using the custom HTML block and some custom CSS.

I wanted to post some examples here, but my version of WordPress won’t allow the custom HTML (I’m not paying for bells and whistles). But the class blog will, and we’ll be posting some of the student work there.

https://jour725.blog.ku.edu

Another test for my class (or learning about digital tools for journalism)

In my Digital Media class the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about multimedia graphics and maps. Today, we were making annotated maps with Google Maps and we wanted to test putting in a walking map without signing in to my maps on Google.

So here it is. It’s a map to walk from the Journalism School at KU to Fraser Hall.

A second, more detailed map

And here’s a map of campus that I annotated on Google Maps with three walks, from Stauffer-Flint Hall to Fraser Hall, from Wescoe Hall to the Kansas Union and from Wescoe Hall to the DeBruce Center.

I made this map after signing in. The custom icons all have additional information not in this text. (Check out the video on the Stauffer-Flint icon.)

If you click on the links and markers, you’ll find photos, info about the buildings, a video, distances of the walks and other information.

The purpose of this test was to show the class that you can easily (and cheaply) do an interactive map that can be embedded almost anywhere. If you click on the second map, and click on any icon, you’ll see additional information and graphics/photos. So you can put background in the map, in an easily accessible way, without having to put it in the story.

If I was working on a story on a major campus construction, say, I’d prepare a map like this and put a lot of the information on sidewalk closing, news buildings, rehab plans, etc. in the map, and keep the main story to the construction plan information.

Catching up

You would think during the whole coronavirus shut down, I would have a lot of time to blog. But running my journalism and editing classes online since mid-March has actually taken more time than usual.

Every minute I gain from cutting out my commute and throwing on a Zoom worthy wardrobe (so who cares if you’re still wearing pajama pants?), I used revamping previously in-person lessons.

OK, there was a bit of ennui in there now. And a couple of special projects.

Here’s one project I did in preparation for teaching in the fall, where I’ll be doing hybrid in-person/distance learning. One thing you’ll see from this presentation, is that I’m a tools geek who likes to try a lot of new tech.
https://spark.adobe.com/page-embed.jsBeyond presentation

I did this presentation for J-School Tech at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Fact-checking Beyond the News

Today I talked about fact-checking at the Editorial Freelancers Association. I got a lot of questions, and I went long … so I might not have gotten to everything.

If you were there, you can find a web-friendly version of the slides here.

My point: Fact-checking is important for all types of editing (books and nonfiction included) and you need a system to determine whether the sources your are using are credible.

For those students interested in the “Be Credible” textbook by Peter Bobkowski and Karna Younger, it’s open-source through this link.

Checking facts when facts change

During my days as a newspaper copy editor, I did a lot of fact checking. Is this name spelled right? Is that the right phone number? Is so-and-so really CEO or is she CFO?

I don’t spend my time in a newsroom anymore, but I still do a lot of fact checking — for presentations, lectures, freelance projects, etc. In fact, I think one of my biggest fact-checking projects ever was for a textbook I edited.

In that project, I was presented with an interesting fact-checking problem. The book is part of the open source textbook effort, and as such, it exists only online or as a PDF (unless you want to print it out yourself).

So when something is out there online, how do you account for the fact that facts can change? For instance, at one point the textbook discussed the number of search results returned on Google for an unusual event. It was low (around 6) on the day the author wrote the chapter. By the time I did the editing, it was well into the double figures.

And I figure by this time next year, it will be higher.

In the old days, it was clear that the facts in a book were based on life on the day of publication. But in an online-only book, do we need to be constantly updating information as part of the fact-checking process? That would get rather tedious after a while.

In the case of this book, I asked the author to add an “as of XXX date” before the information. When you read the book online, you don’t see a clear date anywhere, so adding that seemed vital, especially when it is so easy for the reader to check.

In other spots on the internet, there may be a date stamp that helps out. But it’s worth thinking about this before you edit something that has a long shelf life. Facts do change. How do we keep fact checking from being an never ending process?

For your consideration: What my editing class sees in the future

I teach editing at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communication. So I’m often discussing unfamiliar “rules” with students.

For instance, in discussing use of comprised and composed, 100 percent of the students in the summer 2019 class said “comprised of” is correct and “compose of” is wrong. After we discussed why that’s not the case, one student asked me if I think that distinction will go away.

I’m not sure on this one. But I had already told them I think “whom” will be jettisoned from everyday language at some point. It’s part of my “Language is Living” lecture.

Right about the time we discussed the definition of decimated (in my days as an editing students, I would have gotten a red X for using it in any way except “reduced by 10 percent”), I asked what they’d like to see change.

Here’s part of the list:

Composed/comprised

Who/Whom

Affect/effect (I told them not to expect this to happen soon)

Beginning a sentence with a conjunction (I told them they can do this now, but apparently some of their liberal arts professors don’t agree.)

It/they (They’d like to see “they” as the collective pronoun.)

What do you think?

 

Is this resource reliable 2.0

Today I’m presenting a session about fact checking and verification at the ACES national conference in Providence, Rhode Island.

The 2.0 means it’s a continuation of a session from 2018, which was checking reliability for standard online information. 2.0 looks at things like photos, video, tweets and user-generated content.

As part of my “save a tree” stand, I’m presenting the handout here digitally. So if you’re there, don’t bother writing down those URLs.

It’s National Grammar Day!

After 35 years of editing and teaching editing, I can definitely tell you that grammar is important.

But I’m not sure I can say it any better than the National Council of Teachers of English has, so for National Grammar Day 2019, I’ll repeat what they’ve said.

“Why is grammar important?” The National Council of Teachers of English has a good answer:

“Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children — we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences — that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity,” according to the NCTE.

“People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”

(And I say repeat, because I also shared this on this blog for National Grammar Day 2015.)