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The Times
  • Frank Mulligan: When words collide

  • The Cub Scouts gathered around the weekly editor’s chair. He sat in front of the computer monitor, fixated, taking in the entire screen with the relentless stare of a hawk hovering over a meadow in search of a chubby field mouse.

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  • The Cub Scouts gathered around the weekly editor’s chair. He sat in front of the computer monitor, fixated, taking in the entire screen with the relentless stare of a hawk hovering over a meadow in search of a chubby field mouse.
    He spoke to the boys without ever taking his eyes off that screen.
    “Boys, what people fail to recognize when they consider the duties involved in weekly editing are the hidden perils. This job is fraught with hidden perils …”
    The boys drew closer.
    “For instance,” the weekly editor continued, “take a look at this story I just downloaded from our news service.” The boys drew even closer, craning their necks to see.
    “Does it look OK?”
    They were at first too intimidated to speak.
    “Take your time, and look very closely. Read the whole story if you’d like.”
    The weekly editor waited several minutes.
    “Well, does it look OK?”
    One boy, a little bolder than his buddies, piped up.
    “It looks OK to me.”
    “Look closer, damn it!” The weekly editor’s sudden vehemence startled the boys.
    He just as quickly mellowed.
    After all, they were only boys.
    “I’m sorry, boys. We take these things very seriously. Look closely at the quotation marks and the apostrophes.”
    “The possessives or the contractions?” asked the bold little boy, already recovered from the weekly editor’s outburst.
    “Both,” said the weekly editor, patting the boy on the head. “Both types of apostrophes. You see, children, they’re straight. Our style is for the quotation marks and the apostrophes – both for possessives and for contractions – is for them to be curly. I’ll have to switch every single one. Only then will this story have been fully edited.”
    The boys exhaled audibly, impressed.
    The weekly editor became very serious.
    “Boys, if there’s just one thing you take away from today’s look at the special world of weekly editing, it’s this – send in press releases clean.”
    He turned around to look at the boys.
    “Say it after me – send in press releases clean.”
    They repeated together: “Send in press releases clean.”
    “Look at this, boys,” the weekly editor said, turning back to the screen and calling up an unedited press release.
    “Look at what they’ve done to this charity yard sale release. They’ve underlined half of it, used different fonts in every other sentence. They’ve italicized, bolded, used different-sized type. For God’s sake, they’ve bolded, and written FREE in capitals, in red, 14-point type and they’ve underlined it, too …”
    Page 2 of 2 - The weekly editor’s voice trailed off. He was briefly overcome with emotion.
    He regained control and pressed on.
    “They’re not bad people, boys. They’re just misguided. All these affectations will have to be removed. Please, boys, just remember – send in press releases clean.”
    “Send in press releases clean,” they repeated.
    “You’re our hope for the future,” the weekly editor sighed, wiping a tear from one eye.
    Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media New England’s Plymouth, Mass., office, and can be reached at fmulligan@wickedlocal.com.
     

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