Back to basics

I started working before the word processor as we know it today and the graphical desktop became mainstream. In fact, in my first few weeks on the job, I used a typewriter.

When I joined The Freeman, a Cebu City-based community newspaper, in 1996, its newsroom was using networked PCs running DOS. It took me a while to get used to writing using a “word processor.” I was scared at sitting in front of those green monitors and their menacing command prompts.

Back then, when reporters sat in front of the computers it was to write stories. The writing program occupied the entire screen and you could not multi-task. There were no games in our newsroom PCs and the Internet could only be accessed on one computer.

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Blast from the past: a comment I posted in 1997

What’s your oldest online posting that is still accessible? Mine was written in 1997. It’s a guest book entry in The Slot, a site that contains a lot of tips for copy editors. I wrote the guestbook entry when I was still with The Freeman. The entry is so old I even signed it as “Max Sherwin Limpag.” Bill Walsh started The Slot in 1995. He now updates his blog more often than he writes new tips for The Slot.

Improving your writing skills: Lessons learned online

The best way to improve your weblog is to improve your writing. No amount of search engine optimization and membership in blog rings can make people regularly read your site if the articles are poorly written. A newspaper editor once said: the easiest thing for the reader to do is to quit reading.

Some people are born with a gift for writing but for most of us, improving our writing skills is a tedious but rewarding process of continuous learning and rewriting.

Fortunately for us, there are a lot of good websites that offer tips on how to improve our writing skills. Here are some of the sites that I frequent. I hope a few bloggers find the list useful. If you know of other sites, leave the URL in the comments field.

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Media doesn’t, media don’t

I changed the title of the post immediately preceding this from “Why mainstream media doesn’t get it” to “Why mainstream media don’t get it.” The word media, according to the Columbia Journalism Review’s (CJR) language corner, is plural.

CJR, however, concedes that examples of the use of the word as singular are “practically infinite” and that those holding out for “media” as a plural will be overrun someday. CJR says the word media already has a “useful” singular form medium. If you check news sites, however, you’d see usage of media both as singular and plural.

I distinctly remember being told in the newsroom that media should be used as a plural but sleepiness and three glasses of wine made me push the publish button before a second line-reading of the post. Bad idea. As you can see from the URL of the article and the trackbacks sent to sites I referred to in the post, the word I used was doesn’t and not don’t.

“Ing” weakening verbs

Apparently it does. See how stronger the headline would be if you say: Ing weakens verbs. Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark writes in his 51st writing tool “Too Many ‘ings’“:

Let me offer reasons why ‘ing’ might weaken a verb.

1. When I add an ‘ing,’ I add a syllable to the word. This does not happen, in most cases, when I add an ‘s’ or an ‘ed.’ Let’s take the verb “to trick.” First, I’ll add an ‘s,’ giving me ‘tricks’; next, I’ll try an ‘ed,’ giving me ‘tricked.’ Neither move alters the root effect of the verb. But ‘tricking,’ with its extra syllable, seems like a different word.

2. Verbs with ‘ing’ begin to resemble each other. Walking and running and cycling and swimming are all good forms of exercise, but I prefer to point out that Kelly likes to walk, run, cycle, and swim.

Clark’s tips are a great help to writers. I’m midway into it. You can read the writing tools by clicking here.

Perfectly timed death

In crime news reports, you’d hear or read victims being brought to hospitals and declared “dead on arrival.” It seem such a perfectly timed death – victims dying on arrival.

Of course, what is meant by the phrase is that they were declared dead by doctors when their bodies were brought to the hospital.

“Dead on arrival or DOA is a notation that a patient was brought to a hospital and immediately pronounced dead by a physician. The term arises because first responders such as emergency medical technicians (a.k.a. paramedics or ambulance drivers) do not have the authority to pronounce a patient dead (in the U.S. at least), and they are obliged, in the absence of a do not resuscitate order, to attempt resuscitation if there is any possibility of life and to continue resuscitation until the patient has been examined by a physician, which usually occurs only after the patient has been brought to a hospital.”