Saturday, March 25

Tough love

What I'm about to do is going to make me sound like a real asshole. But I have to.

Sidelines, what the fuck? It's been more than half a semester that you've been under the leadership of the person who basically sent the old staff packing because they weren't, in her view, good enough.

So why do you suck so hard? Shouldn't you have mastered the most basic grammatical functions and newspaper conventions by now? If you have an experienced adviser and editor — both of whom have worked for "real" (non-student) outlets in the past — calling the shots, why, oh why, does the paper read like it was written by high schoolers? In special ed?

I'm sorry. I scold because I love. Sidelines meant so much to me and was such a formative experience, both in my career and my personal life. I met the career I like and the people I love at Sidelines. Why is Sidelines 2006 fucking up that positive connection for me?

I guess I thought that when Sidelines' new adviser blitzkrieged the staff with an outside "experienced" editor in chief to do her bidding, we would see less of the annoying mistakes the adviser complained so forcefully and persistently about. You know — typos; useless headlines; grammatical faux pas; cliches; yawnorific ledes; played-out columns that say nothing — those sorts of things. I assumed the adviser was going to be in the newsroom on BOTH production nights (ouch — it hurts me to type of such regression), pecking away at a keyboard, helping weed out the embarrassing crap that inexperienced writers manage to pass through inexperienced editors. (Of course, I thought this was a bunch of hooey since I don't endorse advisers or professors or anyone but students doing the actual work of editing or writing the student paper's copy. But I thought that's what the new adviser was set to do. And I honestly have no idea if that's how it has played out.)

I've made an ass of Uma Thurman.

Exhibit A: The story about Gore's speech.

Headline: Gore speaks on global warming

Oh my god, I just fell into a narcoleptic trance. Somebody bash my skull with a crowbar.

The lede: Former Vice President Al Gore spoke to students Monday about drastic changes in the environment in recent years due to human negligence.

I've just completed a REM cycle. Jesus Honeysuckle Christ. At least the reader will know that Gore spoke about the environment. I mean, the headline, the lede, and the cutline all say that Gore spoke about the environment. Can't fuck that up.

Oh, wait.

Third graf:

In his lecture sponsored by Students for Environmental Action, Gore said people have long had the notion that a human's size relative to the planet have translated into an apathy toward the environment and the belief that people can do no harm. Gore said this is not so any longer and people must start to pay attention before reaching a "point of no return-" which he said could be as soon as 10 years.

If you made it to here, I can only guess it's because you skipped over that trainwreck of a first sentence. Someone's verb-conjugator node was all clogged when editing/writing this story. Because it makes no sense.

Gore said people have long had the notion that a human's size relative to the planet have translated into an apathy toward the environment and the belief that people can do no harm.

Gore said people have long had the notion that [whatever] have translated into an apathy.

Gore said [whatever] have translated into an apathy.

I'm gonna be sick.

"Now that we have reach this discontinuity in our relationship with our planet, we no longer have the luxury of sitting on our hands and hoping things will work out on their own, because they won't." Gore said. "We have to take affirmative steps."

Have reach? Won't-period-close-quote-Gore-said? Did this reporter send in this story via text message?

Later in the story:

Gore touch on many of the studies that have been conducted in the past six months that have contributed to the "picture scientists have been painting."

Gore touch? Ew.

If the trends of pollution continue, the thickening of green house gasses in the atmosphere will have a drastic affect on the environment, namely global warming. The occurrence have caused a multitude of problems including the gradual melting of the polar icecaps, sea levels rising and a "scrambling" of the seasons.

I don't have my stylebook with me, though I would bet a box of doughnuts that "greenhouse" is solid. I know with absolute fucking certainty that "drastic affect on the environment" and "The occurrence have caused" are about the dumbest fucking portions of sentences I've read since that last paragraph I quoted. Gah.

I have to move on.

Ah, here's a nice, cushy column to catch my fall.

I don't know the author of this column — or the author of the aforementioned Gore story — so I hope neither author takes any of what I'm about to say or have said personally (when and if they ever find or are directed to my criticism. And if they or any of their friends or relatives or bodyguards or handlers or advisers ever stumble upon this humble blog spot, I would like to assure them all that I was on the receiving end of Sidelines scorn for a good four years, so I'm plenty accustomed to the acid commentary dished out by disgruntled readers. And I have to say, I'm a better writer and editor for it. It at least taught me what kind of people I'm comfortable ignoring, so feel free to ignore anything I say here. Take comfort. I wrote some stupid shit back in the day, and let the most ridiculous things get onto the news pages. We all wrote stupid shit and bad headlines and put cartoon hamburgers and bowls of chili and bad Photoshop cutouts on the page. And we heard the masses barf collectively, loud and clear. So take it with a grain of salt, but at least consider it and pay attention to the shit you put in the paper. Despite what you might think, people are actually paying attention! This criticism should be especially valuable now, in light of the recent shifting of staff in order to institute some sort of quality control, or so I was led to believe. How little of an apparent effect that has had on the paper's quality. As far as I can tell, Sidelines hasn't gotten any better; it just prints one less day a week, and therefore the vortex of purported suck must be weakened just in terms of volume. I'm curious to hear any explanations for why Sidelines, now that it's completely under the adviser's thumb, isn't sparkling and shiny and perfect and professional and readable like it should be)*.

So, back to this column.

No. Wait. I have to take a little detour first.

Almost the entire time I was at Sidelines, older white men with uniformly bad breath would always, always, always grumble about the fact that we even allowed kids to write opinion columns at all. Sure, the opinion page was probably the widest-read page of the paper, and it generated more letters than any of the other seven or nine pages of the paper. But these grizzled old men with their hard noses and lifelong bitter streaks were convinced that kids needed to, at the very least, be reporters for a year before they could get their own opinion columns. And they were probably right on that count. But have you ever tried to get a reporter to stick around at a student paper for an entire year? I mean, sure, the $7 per story we would pay them was pretty enticing, but it just wasn't enough to get kids at MTSU, many of whom have to hold down nearly full-time jobs, excited about doing the dirty work of reporting for a year just to be rewarded with their own column. Besides, if you stuck around for a whole year, you were totally going to be an editor anyway, and could get a column if you wanted. But, hey, wouldn'tchaknow, these prickly old men didn't want editors writing columns either.

So just about anyone who could write and have 500 words in the editor's e-mail inbox by a certain time every week was given a column. There were semesters when we were able to be a bit choosier than other semesters. Some columnists sucked shit. Others were consistently decent. Or at least relevant and well-written. Some had a cult following. Others were too stupid to turn in their tax forms and would disappear after one column, never to answer their phone again.

I'm getting off track. The point is, good, consistent opinion columns in student papers are, god yes, hard to find. But they're out there. I've witnessed a few in my time. But this column on scientology helps stoke the anti-student-columnist fire.

Let's take the inanity of the topic as a given. The primary problem with this column (which is indicative of Sidelines' problem at large) is sloppy writing**.

Celebrities swear by it. Some even go as far to claim that by believing in and practicing it made their careers. But is that really the case?

Right out of the gate, we've got a randomly abandoned prepositional phrase. First fucking sentence! If you can't get your first sentence to make sense, just throw yourself down some stairs and into traffic. It's hopeless!

Celebrities are flocking to Scientology by the dozens. Hollywood "A-listers" such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Jenna Elfman and Kristie Allie all swear by this so-called religion whose main goal is to find meaning in the world.

Yes, Kristie Allie and her amazing flock of ... dozens.

(I have to make an aside here and say that one of my biggest fucking pet peeves is when writers don't take the time to look up the spelling of celebrities. My second biggest pet peeve is when editors don't do it for them! Celebrities are by definition NOT OBSCURE. Many of them have names that are used as household words. Many readers might not be able to tell you what the First Amendment means, but they will know instantly if you have misspelled some giggling starlet's name. Also, why would you ever EVER not look up the spelling of Kirstie Alley's name? You can fuck up both parts with very little effort; why not avoid making yourself look even dumber than the sum of your words could ever allow?)

The word scientology itself comes from the Latin word "scio" and the Greek word "logos." When translated the word itself means "from the truth."

I don't understand how a person can follow this religion since it was made up by a person. Basically Hubbard sat down and made up a religion that he thought others would be intrigued by. He made up the rules and he wrote all the books that followers are expected to live by. He may have had good intentions but I think the basis of his religion is non-sense, especially since part of the religion is based on aliens.

Now, I'm neither a Latin scholar nor an expert in etymology, so I can't quibble with her translation of "scientology" as "from the truth," though I will just say that a Google search of scientology+"from the truth" comes up with a lot more "nothing could be further from the truth" than "scientology, when translated, means 'from the truth'". Just saying.

What I really will quibble with here is that last paragraph there. The whole thing. First, just to get it out of the way: NON-SENSE? I'm going to chalk this up to a typesetting error. A manual hyphen inserted to make a cleaner break. Yeah, that's what it is.

As for the rest of the paragraph: I don't understand how a person can follow this religion since it was made up by a person.

As opposed to all those other thousands of religions that were made up by God himself.

He made up the rules and he wrote all the books that followers are expected to live by.

Unlike all those other religions, where the books wrote themselves in a frenzy of holy kinetic activity.

He may have had good intentions but I think the basis of his religion is non-sense, especially since part of the religion is based on aliens.

Yes, it's the reliance on extraterrestrial beings that makes Scientology truly outlandish. Not like all those other religions with their virgin births and water walkers and flute-playing goat boys and multi-armed elephant gods.

To me it seems Hubbard was playing God or maybe he just wanted to have the power that God has by followers. Whether or not you are a religious person, I do not feel that is a good idea to be something that you are not. A person should not get praise for making up a religion off the top of their heads.

I think a person should get praise simply for making it through the day if he or she is able to do so with multiple heads. And if this person's heads can make up religions, then holy shit, sign me up to do PR for the new prophet!

There are more than 15,000 pages of scripture that followers live their life by. In order to be an active follower of scientology, one must participate in trainings; I personally believe this is just a way to make money. To me this religion seems like a cult or maybe it only appeals to the people that have thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on their religions.

Scientology followers are so closely knit that they share one life, apparently. And they are so far gone that we don't even have to apply personal pronouns like "who" to them anymore.

I hope you're noticing the author's annoying habit of using unnecessary qualifications: I think, I do not feel, personally, to me, etc. This is a sure sign that someone isn't paying much attention to what she's writing. And that someone's not paying much attention to what he's editing.

I am all about a person supporting their religion and each person has the right and freedom to decide what religion they want to follow and practice. I personally think, however, that Scientology has gotten out of hand. Celebrities are going crazy over this religion. To a point , Scientology seems to be turning the celebrity followers even wilder than they previously were. Think Tom Cruise, need I say more?

Yes, the most recent Xenic Inquisition killed thousands, and the rioting in the streets of L.A. has turned Beverly Hills into a dangerous no-man's land of ideological treachery.

Let's get to the clincher, the deal-sealer, the denouement:

Some of the beliefs that are held by Scientologists aren't so out there. For example, they believe that man is basically good, not evil. This seems normal enough to me, but it's when they start believing in aliens that I tend to question the reliability of this religion.

I guess the old saying, "Each to their own," is definitely true, especially when dealing with religion.

Jesus Daddy and the Spook! I feel like GOB just punched me in the gut as soon as I finally got over that fucking wall. All that, all those sloppy, loose words, for a "whatever floats your boat" ending? There is no justice in this world.

Well, I guess I can't harp on the columnist either, since I don't have a point. Here you are at the end of what I've written and what have we learned? Not a goddamn thing, except that these writers need better editors and Sidelines needs more help than their crappy adviser can apparently offer.

*I'm not sure, but this could be the longest parenthetical I've ever used on T&G. It's certainly the longest quasi-mea culpa to an imaginary reader I've ever written.

**Going back in this author's archives, it seems as though she was a reporter for at least a couple of semesters before starting her column. So a reporter does not automatically a columnist make, despite the sage wisdom of journalistic dinosaurs.


Blogger TVonthefritz said...

This is the longest blog post I've seen in my life.

Sat Mar 25, 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the old school, the Gore lede would be considered editorializing and rewritten.
Word verification: UZEGOD
and I love it when youse smite the wrongdoers.

Sat Mar 25, 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger mike said...

Wow, one righteous fisking, theogeo. You can guest-blog over at H-B any day.

Sun Mar 26, 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I'm commenting as I go, and I must say, the whole part about making it that far because you skipped the trainwreck of a first sentence?

I actually SKIPPED reading the excerpt and went straight to the comment.

Are you watching me?

I agree - I can't even pick up the paper. Here's what did it for me: That headline that read "New opinions editor has new ideas."

"Redundant headline repeats the same thing with the same word"

Mon Mar 27, 03:26:00 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Your instinct is superb: Greenhouse is one word.

How to be a copy editor:
1) Get style book.
2) Style book = Bible.
3) Assume writer knows nothing and everything must be wrong. Look up accordingly.

Mon Mar 27, 03:29:00 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Actually, "scio" translates to "I know." "Logos," as we are aware, pops up all over the place and generally denotes study, although it's various translation pretty much point to the same thing: though, speech, reason, principle, religion (fancy that), word, etc.

Just throwin' that out there.

Mon Mar 27, 03:39:00 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

OK, really, you're making it impossible for me not to comment:)

I remember one of the many style lessons back in the day: Since denotes time, because does not.

I can't sleep because I've been awake since 1 p.m.

Oh, and just because Jack said it in class one day, "If there was a God, if He had half a brain, He wouldn't give us a book."

Mon Mar 27, 03:43:00 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

"I think..."

"It seems to me..."

No shit! It's your column. The whole byline thing on the opinions page is pretty much an understood "I think" precursor to every sentence.

Check out the word: faxjuhat

Mon Mar 27, 03:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Jesus Daddy and the Spook! I feel like GOB just punched me in the gut as soon as I finally got over that fucking wall." SWC and AD references in a single breath. jon tranvolta would be proud.

Mon Mar 27, 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

I wouldn't know about the Gore article because I never read Sidelines anymore.

Breezed right past it on my way to class this morning. It's a waste of paper.

Tue Mar 28, 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Colby said...

I feel like I just walked into an Arkansas trailer park after an early-spring twister.

I now fear the wrath of one Lindsey Turner. And I shall fear it always.

Tue Mar 28, 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

OK, all in one fell swoop:

TV, no way! I could have sworn my diatribes about porn were WAY longer, but I lack the energy to check.

Anonymous No. 1, smiting the wrongdoers is what keeps me going.

Mike, you are the premier CA fisker, so a compliment from you about my fisking abilities is high praise indeed! Thanks!

Wendy, yes, I'm watching, but I never judge. :) That opinions editor headline read like an inside joke to me, but I fear it was not. The since/because rule remains one of my pet peeves as well, though I probably don't follow it to the letter in my own writing. Please feel free to lash me every time you notice it here.

Anonymous No. 2, I feel that most of my emotions are best expressed through references to TV shows.

Kara, I hate to think of it as a waste of paper because I'm clinging to the hope that Sidelines has not quite outlived its usefulness and that it just needs some proper guidance and a return to the days when the people on staff were loyal and appreciated and paid. Maybe it's cyclical and Sidelines will rise to greatness again shortly. Saying that makes me very arrogant, I know, since "greatness" is probably not something you should ever ascribe to Sidelines, even when it was readable.

Colby dear, you are wise beyond your years.

Wed Mar 29, 01:15:00 AM  

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