All posts by Christina

The point is not that I was reading an article about Britney Spears

It’s not my fault. Someone I follow on twitter posted a link to the new, non-airbrushed photos of Britney Spears on the website of UK tabloid the Daily Mail. I had to look.

And while the photos/airbrushing –  and what they reveal about an industry that makes all teenage girls even more full of self-loathing than they would be otherwise – are tough to look at, what’s worse is the writing in the piece.

Exhibit A: The opening sentence

Celebrities and the industry around them is often accused of producing images that affect young people’s body image.

ACK! Celebrities and the industry around them are. ARE! And unless all young people share one body image, images should be plural. Yikes!

Exhibit B: The second sentence (You see where I’m going with this?)

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see one of the world’s most famous pop stars allowing all of their imperfections to be highlighted.

I will forgive the fact that the sentence starts with “which.” This is casual writing, being about celebrities and all, so it’s okay to be a bit chatty. But “their”? We already know the article is about Britney, so the lame excuse of needing a gender-neutral pronoun can’t even be used. Try “her” instead.

Anyway, I can take no more. But the photos are interesting, and if you’re at all intrigued, you can have a peek here.

One comma can really change things

I received an e-mail today with this subject line:

Europe Sale – Up To 25% Off Christina

What this subject line is trying to tell me is that I can get 25% off fares to Europe. But that would look like this:

Europe Sale – Up To 25% Off, Christina

Without the comma, this subject line offers “25% off Christina”… and I don’t recall giving Flight Centre permission to put me on sale.

Is that really what you meant to say?

In news reporting, journalists focus on getting all the most important bits of information into a story’s lead sentence — and even on getting the more interesting or important bits up toward the front of the sentence. They aim to fill this one important  sentence with the answers to all the basic questions — who, what , when, where, why, how.

When using this formula, you can end up with sentences that convey information very effectively, even though they sound quite different from the way people would speak, or how they would write in a non-news format. However, you really need to re-read sentences constructed with this formula to make sure they say what you mean, since treating pieces of information like building blocks that can be move around to fit a formula doesn’t always work. Here’s a recent example from CBC.ca:

Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police Service on Friday released video of nine incidents in which its officers deployed Tasers in response to a CBC freedom of information request.

This fits the formula perfectly — answers to who, when, what, and why are all there — but in this case the “why”  reads like it’s part of the “what” — so it most definitely does *not* say what the writer intended it to mean.

Great correction from the New York Times

Focusing too closely on getting the big facts right can sometimes derail you — it’s the little details that tend to get writers in trouble. Check out this great correction from the New York Times:

An earlier version of this post misquoted Mr. Remnick on his comparison between the book and a New Yorker article he had previously written. He said the book would not be a “pumped up” version of the article; he did not say that it would not be a “pimped out” version of the article.

You can read the article the correction refers to here.

Proofread business tweets, too

Twitter’s format lends itself to strange abbreviations, missing punctuation, and so on. But if you’re trying to build a business brand — or if you’re a reputable news organization — it’s worth taking a few extra seconds to proofread your tweet and make sure it makes sense and contains no errors (other than those you’ve made to adapt to the 140-character limit). Here’s an example of an unproofed tweet gone wrong, from @cbcnewsbc (the British Columbia arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

Today, the Delta, New Westminster and Tsawwassen and Ladner, to finish the day in Richmon

Say what?

Someone on CBC’s end must have realized the mistake, because the tweet quickly disappeared from @cbcnewsbc‘s profile, and a new tweet was sent. Here’s what they actually meant to say:

Today torch hits Delta,New West,Tsawwassen,Ladner+ Richmond.Share thoughts/impressions at The Hub :http://bit.ly/aV2BB7 #van2010 #olympics

But it’s too late — the mangled tweet survives in TweetDeck.

Here’s a tip that may save you from unproofed tweeting: If you use TweetDeck, disable the option to post simply by hitting “Enter.” You’re much more likely to slow down and check what you’ve written if you have to take your hands off the keyboard to click the “post” button.