weekly reading: salon’s 2009 glenn beck exposé

As Glenn Beck presided over his “Restoring Honor” rally in D.C. this weekend, all I could think about was this tidbit: When he was a morning DJ in Phoenix, Beck called up his rival’s wife on air and ridiculed her for the miscarriage she’d suffered just days before.

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commonly misspelled names

I had an epiphany last month while we were closing M: Most of the misspelled names I catch while proofing are seemingly easy ones.

It makes sense if you think about it. I reviewed 30 Rock actress Jane Krakowski’s album, and you better believe I double-checked her last name before turning it in. But when Sara Bareilles mentioned her first producer, Eric Rosse, during our recent interview, it didn’t occur to me until my last read-through to verify his spelling. I heard “Ross,” so I wrote that without a second thought. (Meanwhile, every time my eyes scanned over “Bareilles,” I was making sure I hadn’t transposed the e and the i.)

I find more last names misspelled, but oddly enough they’re often ones also used as first names: Elliott/Elliot, Philip/Phillip, Stacy/Stacey, Damon/Damen, and of course, my personal peeve, Neal/Neil. Since “creative” spellings are becoming a trend in baby naming, I predict even more headaches for copy editors in the years to come.

So, the takeaway: Check every name during proofing, no matter how obvious. And give those deceptively simple names a little extra attention.

rein vs. reign

Like a lot of commonly confused words, reign and rein actually have similar meanings as well as spellings. Reign refers to having authority or rule; rein alludes to the straps used to guide horses, therefore also implying control.

It’s easy, then, to mix up expressions that use these words. “Free reign” makes sense to me, but the correct use of the phrase according to Webster’s (and AP) is “free rein.” Likewise, if someone is exerting control, or holding back, they’re “reining it in,” and someone seizing control is “taking the reins.”

“Reign” tends to be used less often, but you need it when referencing the time someone was in power or highly influential (i.e. the reigning champion). It can also denote a prevailing emotion: “Fear reigned in the aftermath of 9/11.”

tips to beat writer’s block

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook: How do you get creatively unblocked? She was working on a design project and was having trouble getting inspired. I found the responses — which ranged from a long walk to booze to sex — fascinating. I’ve just finished a fiction writing class that focused on pre-writing and nurturing ideas, which taught me some new tricks. Here are three ways I beat writer’s block.

1. “Go for a drive. Works for me every time.” This was the tip I gave my FB friend, and it’s my favorite for a couple reasons. First, it works even if you’re on deadline, because you can’t always sleep on something but you can almost always spare 30 minutes. I never understood why this worked so well until my fiction teacher explained that when your brain is engaged in a fairly mindless task, it frees up other parts of your brain. Taking a shower, doing dishes or working out have all worked for me too, for the same reason. Do something you don’t have to concentrate much on, and let your mind wander.

2. Just write something. Nothing psyches you out more than a blank page. Put something, anything, on it. Often the way I start on a story is by typing up the quotes I think I’m going to use, and arranging them in the order they will likely appear. Then in the spaces between, I make notes about what I think needs to be said. (i.e. “People are turning to gardening to save money. Also, they’re nervous about food recalls.”) If I do that, take a break and come back, I can usually work quickly to expand and finesse those bare-bones thoughts.

3. Compile a creative music mix. An amazing tip I got from class: Choose a few songs and then play them whenever you need to get in the mood to write. It’s another way you can snap your brain into focus. This works especially well if you have a long-term project (like a novel) or standing assignment. Listening to the same music every time you work on can help quickly get you in the zone. Even better: Listen to it while doing your mindless task. I keep my novel playlist on a CD in my car, on my computer and on my iPhone so I can hear it anytime.

How do you barrel through a creative block?

columbine and phoebe price

One of the best books I read last year was Columbine by journalist Dave Cullen. It eviscerates much of the conventional wisdom about the school shooting — that the killers were outcasts, that the massacre was a means of settling the score for a lifetime of bullying — and paints a much more nuanced picture of what motivated Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Most compelling is the argument that Harris was a psychopath, and the implication that as an adult he might have done worse.

I thought of this book a lot while reading a great piece posted on Slate yesterday: Emily Bazelon’s investigation into teenager Phoebe Price’s suicide, for which six of her classmates have been indicted. Bazelon, who has been reporting from the Massachusetts town for much of the year, raises a lot of questions about the rush to lay blame, and whether the bullying of Price was severe enough to warrant criminal prosecution.

It’s a delicate subject, and it’s disturbing that we seem to have less of a handle on bullying now than we did 11 years ago, thanks to technology. But we also haven’t seemed to learn that these meta-narratives we construct following a tragedy often obscure the real issues. ‘The untouchable Mean Girls’ sure makes a grabby headline, but does it really contribute to the dialogue — or just stand in its way?

journalism in the age of twitter

It was inevitable — a journalist has been fired thanks to Twitter. Specifically, CNN’s Octavia Nasr, a 20-year reporter, lost her job over these 140 characters: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

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the daily show’s snarky response to jezebel

Recently, Jezebel’s Irin Carmon wrote a thought-provoking piece about the lack of women on The Daily Show. I thought it relied a bit heavily on an interview with disgruntled former correspondent Lauren Weedman, but overall the story was balanced, with several former female employees defending Stewart. Frankly, the numbers speak for themselves.

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