January 27, 2008

Time Editors Rejigger Obama Headline

INSTAPUNDIT TRIES -- because he is a kind man -- to label the editorial gaffe below "AN UNFORTUNATE TURN OF PHRASE AT TIME MAGAZINE."

Screen Capture of Yahoo Page as of 11:02 AM PST. Still visible at 1:05 PM with the url "http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/obamasroutrejiggerstherace".

He is too kind by half. It's not "unfortunate," but an outgrowth of the "wordsmithing" culture that pervades the editorial departments of professional magazines and newspapers. This is especially true in large organizations like TIME where an astute associate editor can earn promotion by becoming noted as "good with heads" -- or clever with inserting puns or cultural references into the headline or subhead of a story.

Quite often, in large media organizations, the head and the subhead are all that a would-be editor does to the copy on its way to publication. I've seen this operate for over 30 years in the New York magazine and newspaper culture. I grew to dread the advent of a new catch-phrase, because it meant months of headline torture from every clever and aspiring word-jockey in the business. ( Think "Close Encounters of the ________ Kind," or "Sex, Lies, and __________.")

Yes, word play wins in the magazine biz. As a result, places like Time foster a competitive atmosphere between editors on the lower levels looking to climb a rung or two up. In the past, little word games like that displayed above would raise a snicker or two and then be killed by wiser and older editors higher up on the food chain.

A kindly senior editor, in days of yore, might have said, "Son, I appreciate an inside joke as much as the next man, but I think you're going to have to rejigger that headline, if you know what I mean." A more serious senior editor would simply kill the headline, and then seek to humiliate the junior editor at the next editorial meeting as "a person who is in the crazy place now, and who might want to send his resume off to the David Duke Monthly, where his career prospects would be brighter."

But that was then, when newsmagazines published once a week, and actually had a "news" function to fulfill. Today, news rolls 24/7/365. And if a big story breaks late Saturday evening on the East coast, you can bet that the more senior, and supposedly wiser, editorial staff is either off-duty and out for the evening. Hence, the level of oversight on junior staff who traditionally pull weekend and evening duty is lighter than it might be.

I think that might well be what happened here. Some junior editor got an admirable play on words into his head and just popped it on the copy. As the copy flowed towards the web, there was an absence of senior filtering, and -- like Topsy -- it just growed until somebody just clicked the publish button and, whup -- there it is. And there it stayed until somebody more senior saw it, killed it, and then picked their phone and politely requested that whoever wrote that head have his head delivered to him in a box by Sunday evening.

Live by the quip. Die by the quip.

And that's the way it is.

[HT to the originator of the alert Grand Old Partisan]

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Posted by Vanderleun at January 27, 2008 11:13 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Wordsmithed were sentences until reeled the mind!

Posted by: Jeffrey at January 27, 2008 1:04 PM

Besides, isn't the real story that "America's first black president" reneged on his promise not to play the race card?

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at January 27, 2008 2:20 PM

Given the tendency for this type of wittiness among the 100% Democrat wordsmiths at Time, the Clintons' strategy of casting the South Carolina vote as merely a matter of racial solidarity that requires a response of racial solidarity from white Democrats in future primaries looks more likely to succeed.

Posted by: Mark in Texas at January 27, 2008 5:45 PM

I don't get it. What is wrong with the original headline?

Posted by: pdwalker at January 27, 2008 6:14 PM

I'm surprised this headline didn't pop up when Hillary was on the Today show, saying Obama "hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president."

Posted by: Richard R at January 27, 2008 6:15 PM

Oh come on. This "gaffe" is crap, and this coverage of it is a non-story. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Yeah, the word sounds vaguely like a racial slur. I bet "Huckabee Visits Local Cracker Barrel" would have you guys rolling.

Posted by: Jeeesuz at January 27, 2008 7:25 PM

What is wrong with the headline? Rejigger has nothing to do with race! I am not liking this descent into the dark ages at all. Even the more conservative, libertarian blogs buy into the "sound and feelings" critewria.

Posted by: Doug_S at January 27, 2008 7:26 PM

Hmph. Looks like 'rejigger' is this year's 'niggardly'.

Am I the only one who thinks removing words from the lexicon because they have a syllable in common with an offensive word is completely absurd?

Posted by: rosignol at January 27, 2008 7:45 PM

And what is an "offensive word"? Are you buying into the idea that a thought expressed in reasonable terms should be shut out because someone has a plausable claim that it offends them?

VanDerlune is a cunt. Am I under arrest? Why not?

[Well, if spelling a name that is right in front of your nose was a felony you would be.]

Posted by: Doug_s at January 27, 2008 8:22 PM

I, too, wonder what the real problem is here. To me, the real problem is that people don't understand the English language, and think something is being said that is not. It speaks poorly for us all that an editor should have to think "hmmm... good illiteration... succinct... somebody that is too stupid to read the word might think it's nasty... better kill it."

Of course it's all rather academic to me... I haven't bothered reading TIME in years (print or electronic).

Posted by: MDC at January 27, 2008 9:20 PM

Jigger what? Jigger who?

Posted by: Rich Fader at January 28, 2008 4:52 AM

Here's a blogger who makes a real gaffe.

Posted by: James at January 28, 2008 8:29 AM

See this otherwise irrelevant WaPo article, using "rejiggered".

I suggest another alternative - the writer might have simply thought that was a good word for that kind of temporary change to the dynamics of the primary race - and simply not have had it occur to him that it vaguely sounds and looks like a racial epithet, while having a completely innocent meaning.

It still counts as a gaffe, since a Time headline writer needs to take the easily-offended into consideration, but a minor one, at worst.

Posted by: Sigivald at January 28, 2008 9:45 AM

Instapundit kind? I suppose so, except toward those puppies in his blender.

Posted by: Bleepless at January 28, 2008 3:33 PM

I like it when Time gets all rejiggery with it.

What? Somebody had to say it.

Posted by: Joe at Cold Fury at January 29, 2008 9:05 AM

how about this? today there was a shooting at a strip mall in chicago according to a story on cnn.com. the first line of the article states, "...and the gunman remains at large, police said." underneath that line is a photograph of a Lane Bryant store roped off with yellow tape. is it insensitive or clever to say that someone is "at large" above a photograph of a chain store that provides clothing for large women? it's obviously not intentional, but it's something that someone like me will notice.

Posted by: cameron at February 2, 2008 2:38 PM
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