Make “Multiple” Go Away!

LOL! This rant is brought to you courtesy of  the academicese in the latest promotion and tenure documents sent over by one of my editorial clients. But the term in question also surfaces in journalese, officese, psychobabblese, bureaucratese, and just about any other -ese you can think of. The endlessly annoying “multiple” has burrowed its way into our language like a hive of multiple goddamn termites. It is a word almost devoid of meaning: it is so vague that you have no idea whether the speaker means “two” or “billions and billions.” Apparently people use it because it engages three Latinate-sounding syllables to say what one can say in one syllable without wasting breath, ink, paper, or bandwidth. Makes them sound brainy and important, eh?

Forgodsake, say what you mean. And never use a word that makes you sound like you’re speaking around a mouthful of marbles!

“Multiple” could mean . . .

  • some
  • lots
  • many
  • a number of
    • a large number of
    • a small number of
    • an infinite number of
    • a limited number of
  • quantities of
    • a large quantity of
    • a small quantity of
  • a lot
  • a few
  • a little
  • a couple
  • several
  • plenty
  • vast numbers of
  • a number that can be divided by another number without a remainder (four is a multiple of two; fifteen and twenty are multiples of five)
  • having several parts, elements, or members (a multiple-occupancy dwelling, a multiple birth)
  • of a disease, injury, or disability: complex, having several elements (a multiple fracture of the femur)
  • of an electrical circuit: one that has several points at which connection can occur
  • more than one
  • two, three, four, five…etc.
  • two or three, three or four, ten or twenty…etc.
  • a dozen (two dozen, three dozen, four dozen, etc.)
  • a half-dozen
  • dozens
  • hundreds
  • thousands
  • tens of thousands
  • millions
  • billions
  • trillions
  • zillions
  • more than we can count

The word “multiple” indeed does have meaning. Its specific meanings are bold-faced here. As for all the other words you think it means: please. Pick the word you mean. Not a piece of brain-numbing jargon.

Lost in Space!

P&S Press’s blog has gone silent for the past several weeks while its proprietor has been dealing with a small tsunami of crises. Of late, my life seems to be an exemplar of the “whatever can go wrong will go wrong” adage.

In the tsunami department, a flood of editorial work has come in, most of it from scientists and mathematicians in China. This copy is challenging to edit: subject matter is arcane and complex, and the English is mightily ESL. It takes hour after hour to read, re-read, and proof it.

Meanwhile, my little dog, Cassie the Corgi, developed a cough and wheezing. Took her to a vet who, despite a negative test result, decided she has Valley fever. Even though I’m not convinced and a second vet is similarly unconvinced, nothing would do but what we had to put her on an antifungal drug that damn near killed her. She was so sick that twice I thought she surely would die within a few hours. Another drug, given concommittently, eased the cough but made her so incontinent she actually would leak in her sleep.

Before long the floors were covered in pee pads, as was anyplace the poor dog would sleep. She refused to eat. I managed to coax her to take a crumb of hamburger at at time, but she wouldn’t eat enough to keep a flea alive.

Finally I decided, unilaterally, to take her off the antifungal. Over the course of some days, she slowly started to recover until she was almost back to normal – except for the wheezing. Took her off the cough suppressant (which contained prednisone) and the last of the incontinence cleared up.

The cough continued to improve, to the point where she could bark exuberantly without hacking and wheezing. Now she coughs mostly when she drinks water…but she’s always done that. Corgis often do that – the other dog does, too.

Today she’s at the vet’s, where she’s supposed to get a full-body ultrasound sound. I almost typed “scam”…which is what I suspect. This is a very fine vet – I think of him as the Mayo Clinic of the Valley’s veterinary profession. And that tells you how wary of everyone and everything I’ve become. Valley fever is a highly lucrative disease to treat – I’ve already spent around a thousand bucks, and if he can prove that’s the dog’s problem and then he can talk me into treating it, we’re looking at expenditures like that going on for at least the next six months, possibly far, far longer. Many dogs are put on Valley fever medicines for the rest of their lives.

“Talk me into treating it” is the operative term. If he believes he can prove the dog has this disease, I may tell him to put her down. She’s 12 years old. I am, as we scribble, broke and cannot afford to pony up thousands and thousands of dollars to keep an elderly dog alive. First I’ll take her back to the other vet; if she agrees that Valley fever is the issue, I’ll probably just have her put to sleep.

Friend of mine has lost four dogs to Valley fever. One of them was on the toxic pills for six years! She told me that her biggest regret with three of them is that she didn’t have them put to sleep sooner.

Nevertheless: in the absence of a positive titer (which will come around in the next few weeks, if that’s really what she has), I remain skeptical.

My own theory is this dog may have a collapsed trachea. This causes exactly the same kind of coughing and wheezing as we’ve seen in Cassie. The condition is not uncommon in corgis, plus at about the age of two, Cassie was injured when she shot off after a cat while she was on one of those dratted extendable leashes. Before I could move, she flew to the end of it and jerked herself into the air – by the neck. It hurt her enough to cause her to scream.

If that didn’t damage her trachea, nothing would have. So the likelihood of a mechanical cause for the coughing and wheezing seems to me to be high enough to give one pause about dosing the dog with a poisonous drug.

Surgery to repair the trachea: about a thousand dollah.

So as you can imagine, this has been a bit of a distraction.

We had a major rainstorm last week, which most of the country has heard about, no doubt. Certainly no Category 4 hurricane, but lots more water than we’ve seen in these parts in a long while.

In the middle of this, my rooftop AC/heating unit went cattywampus. I thought it was the Nest thermostat, a complicated bit of arcana that my son gave me. After hours of farting around on the phone with the Nest tech, I finally called my AC guy – over the Nest guy’s objections, as though they owned the damn thing.

Understand, I took that thing offline because I highly resent the prospect of Google (which owns Nest now) tracking every effing deep breath I take when I’m in my house and knowing whenever I leave my house. Since most people don’t think about that – i.e., these “smart” devices invade your privacy in a Big way – he probably figures Google does own my thermostat.

AC guy takes the thing off the wall and behind it finds…WET WIRING.

Holy shit.

Climbs on the roof and discovers the roof is not, after all, leaking. Exactly. The wiring the AC guys have run down through the roof to connect to the thermostat is so badly sun-rotted that water is seeping down through the route and making its way down to the thermostat by capillary action.

He replaces all the wiring ande rewires the device. Now it’s working. Now Nest is still arguing with me about that. And I’ve had about as much of that as I care to think about.

Moving on, the other day coming back from delivering a vial of pee to the Other Vet, by way of determining whether Cassie has a urinary tract infection (surprise! she does!), I crashed my car.

Not exactly a crash: more like a fender bender. Trying to change lanes at the height of bumper-to-bumper rush hour, I clipped the back end of a flatbed being towed behind a pickup.

The other driver didn’t stop – he didn’t even slow down. I did…and found the plastic “bumper” on the front of the car bent, ripped, and flapping in the wind.


Car was running fine, though, so I was able to get home. Insurance broker (always buy insurance through a broker, not direct from some compan’s agent) reported that because I’d bought the premium plan, I had a 0-dollar deductible and also a one-accident-forgiveness. So repairing the car wasn’t going to cost me anything but still more hours of my time. And, of course, my driving record…

He recommended getting it fixed on my own, if I could possibly afford it.

My son, who also is in the insurance industry, recommended taking it to the most expensive body shop in town and getting it fixed – right.

Meanwhile, by way of making sure the car was safe to drive at all, I took it over to my mechanic’s shop. They inspected the thing and found no damage under the hood, no bent struts, no serious damage except the bunged-up fender.

Then they started to play with it, and darned if they didn’t bend that fender back into place, secure it with the car’s clips and some bolts, and leave it looking no worse than if I’d scraped the side of some planter bed.

They did find, however, a gouge in the tire’s sidewall. They recommended changing it out. Since the last time I’d taken the car in for servicing, they remarked that all four tires (which are the cheap junk provided by Toyota) would soon need replacing.

So it was off to Costco, where I figured to drop around a grand for four new Michelin tires. God help me!

On top of almost a thousand bucks I’ve paid out to vets!

And the $10,000 I need to pony up to replaster the pool!!!

But lo! One good thing happened. Count it: 1. The Costco tire shop foreman inspected the thing, said “you don’t need to replace any of these tires. The tread is fine on all of them, and this ding on the sidewall isn’t going to do any harm.” Only thing that needed to be fixed was the walloped tire’s air valve, which was bent beyond usability. New air valve: sixty bucks.

It was the first non-nightmarish thing that’s happened in three weeks.

Meanwhile, I volunteered to do receptionist duty down at our church. This occupies one afternoon a week, which is normally OK…when there are no complications. It’s very quiet here (whereinat I’m writing this), so I can do editorial work or, in its absence, write blog copy. Except…

This morning I had to schlep the dog to the vet for the proposed fishing trip full-body scan. In the rush hour – when we can’t turn east out of my neighborhood because of the city’s peculiarly stupid idea of traffic control – it took FIFTY MINUTES to reach his office.

To give you an idea of what this means, getting back home took twenty minutes.

Then I forgot to stop at a grocery to pick up the dog food we ran out of. So I had to schlep back down the fancy store that carries their food, but didn’t have time to turn around and drive home, drop the stuff in the fridge, and then get back down here to the church on time. So now the dog food is stashed in the church kitchen’s refrigerator and I’m stuck here until 4 p.m., at which time I will have to make another fifty-minute drive to the vet’s office.

Rather than going home and then turning around and retracing my steps, I believe I’ll just go direct to the vet’s from here – cutting about ten or fifteen minutes off the schlep, I hope – and then just sit in his waiting room and work on the emanation that just this minute came in from the current client. They close at 6:00; I’ll get there around 4:45, so that may give me another hour and 15 minutes to translate the copy to English.

And since that just flew into the email in-box, it’s time to quit this and earn some (about to be much needed!) cash.

Watch this space…sooner or later I’ll get back to posting Ella, Asked, and The Complete Writer.

Make “Impact” Go Away!

The word impact is endlessly and annoyingly overused, in academic writing as well as journalism, to the point where it no longer has much meaning. It is jargon. Indeed, it is one of the most tedious pieces of jargon to afflict the English language in our time. Say what you mean: think about what your “impact” means and select a clearer term.



DOG: Better rescued, or better from a breeder? If You’d Asked Me… *FREE READS*

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Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

5. Which do you prefer: Adopting/rescuing a dog or buying from a breeder?

I’m pretty sure that in the future, the dogs that move into the Funny Farm with me will be rescues rather than expensively bred walking vet bills.

With two exceptions — a German shepherd who came to live with us after her humans divorced and a Labrador retriever rejected by her human (an accomplished hunter) because she could not bear to harm her feathered friends, — I’ve bought dogs from breeders hoping to find animals whose personality and appearance are true to type.

Experience suggests this is a bad idea. Why? Well…

  1. When a breed becomes popular, everybody and his little brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and long-lost room-mate takes to peddling that breed. Dog breeding, done right, is not an especially lucrative enterprise, and so it soon gets done wrong. The business of producing of a very popular breed quickly becomes corrupted with questionable practices by questionable people. Some of these entrepreneurial breeders are dishonest; some are just none too bright. In either event, the result is the same: overall the breed is weakened and its representatives take on inbred physical ailments and psychological quirks that will cost you money, will make the resulting animals’ lives short and miserable, and can put people at risk. And that is to say nothing of the grief you will experience in dealing with a dog that is unsound.
  2. Because dog breeding is not especially profitable, people charge ridiculous amounts for the offspring of a pair of dogs for which they themselves paid way too much. A thousand bucks for an allegedly pure-bred puppy? That is effin’ CRAZY! It’s also typical. And it’s also just the start, because many pure-bred dogs are actually inbred and overbred, the result being that they are walking vet bills. While there’s no guarantee that a Heinz-57 pooch will not run up some handsome vet bills, too, your chances of getting a pure-bred dog that will remain healthy for most of its natural lifespan drop dramatically in lock-step with the popularity of the breed.
  3. A dog is…well, a dog. Doesn’t matter what kind of dog it is. It’s a dog. Why should you go off the deep end to acquire a dog whose genes have been artificially manipulated to make it look this way or that way? Is that even a moral thing to do? One could argue, fairly convincingly, that it is not.
  4. Some so-called breeders are not really breeders in the sense of ethical people who are in the business of producing a small number of the best and healthiest dogs possible. Some are actually in the puppy-mill business, cranking out pups as fast as the dam and sire can produce them. Many times these puppies are the offspring of a parent bred back to a grandparent or a cousin, a practice guaranteed to pass health and temperament faults forward.

Personally, I have had a series of experiences with breeders who indulged in various minor dishonesties and larcenies. With just one exception, most of them misrepresented their practices in one way or another. One woman actually told my son that his monorchid dog’s testicles would descend when the pup was about six months old. (Look it up: it’s not hard to get to the bottom of that…uhm…misapprehension.) Fortunately he was able to force her to pay the bill for the VERY expensive surgery required to remove the wandering balls, but only because we had pushed her into a sales contract that guaranteed she’d cover expenses having to do with inbred unsoundness.

That same dog is so neurotic it can not be carried in an automobile, because it will work itself into such a tizzy that it becomes hyperthermic. Just driving the dog across town to the vet can put the animal’s life at risk.

Between the time I snagged my first corgi from the dog pound and the time I decided to get a second one, the breed suddenly got “noticed.” The pup that I bought, while a nice enough little dog and healthy enough (so far), is the most neurotic critter I’ve had this side of my mother’s wacky Chihuahua. Neurotic dogs can, in some circumstances, be cute…but they are invariably a challenge to train and manage. More to the point, though: the difference between a typical representative of the breed from BEFORE it became popular and one from AFTER popularity is striking.

That alone, even without the other three issues enumerated above, is a good reason to avoid buying from a breeder.

My next dog is coming from the dog pound.

Ella…in progress. Dogged out!

So it’s after 8 p.m. and here I am, still fiddling with the current effort in Ella’s Story. This past couple weeks have been a conflation of conspiracies against the scheme to write Ella installment by installment.

Last week’s excuse was a vast tsunami of paying work (if you can imagine!). Our client journal’s senior editor sent us an entire issue’s worth of content, including four 30-page scholarly articles plus the usual bottomless editorial statement. Meanwhile, our various Chinese mathematicians have been pouring out copy, one project after another headed for publication (“…and can you please return this in two days, when I need to submit it?” 😀 ).

Can’t complain about this: it is after all paying work, which we much appreciate.

This week’s excuse? My little dog, Cassie the Corgi, has been banging at Death’s Door. So far Death refuses to let her in. Though I must admit that on Saturday I truly did not think she would make it through the day.

She’s come down with Valley fever, as just about any mammal that lives in the Southwest’s low desert eventually does. In fact, almost everybody here has it, and carries some degree of immunity to it. But when you get old, when you get sick, it can pounce on you. In a big way. Cassie is 12 years old, near the end of her life in doggy years. She’s never been sick in her doggy life, at least not since she came to my house. But she’s very, very sick now. Very sick, indeed.

In the past, a dog that developed symptomatic Valley fever simply died. The drugs we had did little to change that. But these days we have a set of four drugs that do actually work, if the disease is not too far advanced. If it’s only in the lungs and hasn’t yet become entrenched in the lungs, you have a pretty good shot of beating it back. It probably will recur, but if so, you may have another shot at stopping its progress. If the disease has disseminated through other parts of the body…well…

On Saturday, I thought that she was going to die, she was that sick. She went into a closet (she never goes into closets!) and hid herself away in a corner: clearly Mother Nature trying to tell us something. The vet emitted vialsful of drugs. One of them, which contains prednisone, had the effect of suppressing the scariest of the symptoms. If we can keep her alive until the fungicidal medication kicks in, then she may have a shot.

Heh. Trouble is…the manufacturer of the prednisone-laced drug specifically states you should not use the stuff in an animal with a fungal infection.

Which, of course, is what Valley fever is…

So I do not know if my pretty little sidekick will live or die. Just now things are looking better — possibly even pretty good. But we will not really know for some weeks. In the meantime, this crisis atop the mountains of brain-numbing paid work create quite the distraction from the creative writing project.

Watch this space. Eventually a new chapter will surface! Really…

Law, Conscience, and the Writer: The Complete Writer *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part VI. Ethics and Legality: Rights, Obligations, and Risks

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Rights and Contracts

Insured or no, writers and publishers rightly try to avoid accusations of libel.

The Associated Press Libel Manual defines libel as “injury to reputation.” It says, “Words, pictures, or cartoons that expose a person to public hatred, shame, disgrace, or ridicule, or induce an ill opinion of a person are libelous.” As the same guide points out, this extends beyond the obvious: the New York Times, for example, was threatened with a lawsuit over its matrimonial column after practical jokers announced the engagement of two people who hated each other.

Omitting the name of a person you are defaming may not protect you. If a story’s details identify, say, a rumored drug dealer who has not been arrested and charged, that person may have a case against the writer. Quoting someone else’s defamatory remarks accurately is also not protected.

There are two main defenses against libel:

  1. Provable truth. To succeed with this defense, you must show that the defamatory statement is substantially correct.
  2. This legal concept holds that some people, under some circumstances, may make false, malicious, or damaging statements without fear of prosecution.

There are two kinds of privilege:

  1. Absolute privilege. It applies to legislative, legal, and official proceedings, and to the contents of most public records. A legislator, for example, may make a statement on the Congressional floor that outside those halls would be libelous. A criminal prosecutor may accuse a defendant of acts and motives in court and may phrase the accusation in terms that would be actionable if they were uttered outside the courtroom. The theory behind absolute privilege holds that airing certain statements and accusations serves the public interest.
  2. Qualified privilege. This covers the press. It means you can report a speaker’s statements made under absolute privilege—if your report is fair and accurate, and if the statements really are privileged.

Remember, however, that public officials enjoy absolute privilege only when they are speaking in official proceedings. Statements made before a public gathering of a private group, such as the Rotary Club or Soroptimists, are not privileged. Also, legal briefs, complaints, or other papers are unprotected until they are filed in court.

You can lose qualified privilege by inaccurate reporting or by publishing statements with malice or reckless disregard of their truth or falsehood. Errors in reporting privileged statements may be taken as evidence of malice.

Fair Comment

Commentary and criticism on matters of public interest, such as art exhibits, literary works, performances, architecture, athletic events, and the like, are protected by the defense of fair comment. Even severe criticism, as long as it is not written maliciously, is acceptable. Any facts stated must be accurate, and commentary must be pertinent. You may blast an actor’s inept stage depiction of a philandering husband, for example, but you may not observe that his performance is disappointing compared to his fabled off- stage exploits.

Ethical Behavior

Ethics has to do with how we treat the people we write about and the people we work with. Ethical behavior extends beyond mere good will or malice; it also takes in vaguer issues of propriety and intent. Sometimes it concerns the way things seem as much as the way they really are.

To behave in an ethical manner means to conduct oneself in a way that never compromises one’s own or one’s employer’s honesty or credibility. If you have taken many journalism courses, you have undoubtedly heard several lectures on ethics. But it is such an urgent subject—one too often underplayed—that we should take some time here to review the industry’s standards.

Codes of ethics

The Society of Professional Journalists

Let’s begin with the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. SPJ is the premier trade group for journalists, whether they work for newspapers or magazines. This version, which appears to be the most recent, is posted at the SPJ website.

Under the First Amendment, the document is not legally enforceable; it’s intended as a set of guidelines. Where I have anything to add, I will enter my comments in italic type.


Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

Seek Truth and Report It

Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

This should go without saying. In Chapter 17, we touched on the importance of checking and double-checking facts. If any statement or claim appears incendiary, outrageous, or in any way questionable, you should check it with another, independent source.

Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.

Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.

Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

Attributions to “informed sources” and the like are highly suspect, and many editors will not accept them.

Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

Assume that a person who will speak only off the record is giving you questionable and probably unreliable information. Some states do not provide immunity for reporters; in any event, an arrest or lawsuit based on something you printed that was said by an anonymous source puts you at risk of huge legal fees and even imprisonment. Newspaper reporters work for organizations that retain lawyers specializing in media issues, but their services do not extent to freelancers, who are not regarded as employees. As a freelance writer, reporter, or blogger, NEVER promise a source anonymity! If you can’t get the story without using material from a source who refuses to identify him- or herself, drop it. To do otherwise is the height of folly.

Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

When repeating any allegation about an individual, you are expected to interview that person and ask for a response to the claim. If you can’t reach the person, you should state, in your story, what you tried to do to reach him or her and the results of your effort. For example, “Repeated telephone calls to Oliver Boxankle were not returned.”

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

Again, as a freelancer you have no legal protection if you engage in tactics like this. Do not—repeat, DO NOT—gather information “undercover” as a freelance writer or blogger.

Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.

Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.

Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.

Label advocacy and commentary.

Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

This should go without saying, but it doesn’t always seem to register with reporters (or, apparently, with the wives of presidential candidates).

Never copy any passage from any print, video, audio, or online source without placing it in quotation marks and attributing it to its source. To do so violates the owner’s copyright (and so is illegal) and compromises your employer’s ethics as well as your own.

A form of plagiarism common among journalists consists of lifting quotes. The theory goes that a spoken word cannot be copyrighted. Therefore the parts of a story within quotation marks—i.e., the things a subject said aloud—are fair game.

Even if this rationalization were correct—which it is not—the practice smells. It’s lazy journalism. It’s stealing someone else’s work. By placing the speaker’s words in a new context, it may misrepresent what was said. And it often repeats misquotations.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.

Another precept too often honored in the breach. A friend of mine once jumped a wall into the backyard of a private home to photograph a dead child who had drowned in a swimming pool. This behavior is a large contributing factor to the low regard that journalists enjoy in American culture. Do unto others . . .

Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

Reporters have a power way out of proportion to their numbers and wealth. A writer who has the public’s ear can ruin a person’s reputation, business, or private life with a single remark—whether or not that remark is true. To compound the danger, it is easy for writers particularly those who cover politics or crime, to grow self-righteous and arrogant.

Keep in mind that the subjects of your stories are not one-dimensional caricatures, not good guys and bad guys, not the great unwashed, but human beings. They have mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, children and grandparents. They must keep their jobs in order to live. When you prick them, they bleed.

Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.

“Privacy” varies according to circumstances. The Associated Press Libel Manual has noted that the right of privacy is “based on the idea that a person has the right to be let alone, to live a private life free from publicity.” Then it adds, “When a person becomes involved in a news event, voluntarily or involuntarily, he forfeits the right to privacy. Similarly, a person somehow involved in a matter of legitimate public interest, even if not a bona fide spot news event, normally can be written about with safety.”

A woman in Steele County, Minnesota, witnessed an assault near her isolated rural home. Later the victim was found dead of stab wounds. Before a suspect was arrested, the Owatonna People’s Press reported the witness’s name, despite her request for anonymity. She protested to the Minnesota News Council that her life could have been endangered when the newspaper identified her while the killer was at large.

The majority of the council agreed that the woman’s fears were well founded and that, given the circumstances, the newspaper should have respected her privacy.

However, they added, reporters and editors are by no means bound to honor all witnesses’ requests for anonymity.

In a more obvious breach of compassion and taste, the Sacramento Bee interviewed eighteen-year-old Peter Vanos after his brother, pro basketball player Nick Vanos, died in an airplane crash. The young man’s college basketball coaches had asked that he be left alone while he was still in a state of grief and shock. But when Vanos was asked directly if he objected to an interview, he said no, so a reporter went ahead. During the exchange, the youth broke into tears. Family members and coaches complained that the newspaper had caused further anguish that affected the freshman student’s ability to cope with his loss. An ombudsman agreed that the interview invaded Vanos’s privacy.

Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.

Restrain yourself from reporting a detective’s detailed comments on a murdered woman’s life as a prostitute, for example. To illustrate a story on drug addicts who ignore the risk of acquiring AIDS through dirty needles, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a page one photo of a man shooting up. Readers called the lurid picture unduly graphic.

Morbid curiosity extends beyond crime and immorality. Any unnecessarily detailed look at misfortune that does not add to the reader’s understanding may be taken as bad taste. The Ann Arbor News once reported that firefighters found a dead man sitting on the toilet. Rescue workers at a building collapse in Bridgeport, Connecticut, had to hold up a blanket to shield a dead body from newspaper photographers; survivors complained that coverage of the story was ghoulish.

Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

Act Independently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.

Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

Be Accountable and Transparent

Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.

Journalists should:

Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.

Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.

Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Bloggers’ codes of conduct

Several have been promulgated. None of them seems very good. In 2007 Tim O’Reilly proposed seven principles of blogging ethics.[1]

Though he elaborates on his points, it’s pretty minimalist. Wikipedia summarizes them succinctly:

  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Don’t feed the trolls.
  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
  7. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.

I strongly recommend that, as a blog writer, you follow the SPJ code of conduct. A blogger engages in a kind of journalism, and so faces the same liabilities and should follow the same guidelines for common decency and ethical behavior.

And please: always keep in mind that as a freelance writer or an independent blogger, you do not enjoy the benefits provided for an employee of a corporation that has insurance, a corps of lawyers, and deep pockets.

This leaves you highly vulnerable to lawsuits and prosecution. Never forget that.

[1] Tim O’Reilly, “Call for a Blogger’s Code of Conduct,” March 31, 2007, O’Reilly Radar.

Own a Doberman Pinscher? If You’d Asked Me… *FREE READS*

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

4. What are Doberman Pinschers like to own?

They’re good dogs if you’re fairly affluent and have some skill at training. I loved my dobe: he was quiet, patient, and loving.

It’s worth knowing that these dogs can be walking vet bills. Like all breeds that have gone through periods of popularity (they’re coveted as supposed “guard dogs” and among gang members for dog-fighting or simply to project a macho image), they are overbred and so suffer a number of genetic problems. Ask the breeder about hip problems, eye problems, and skin problems. To give you an idea, one resource considers hip dysplasia, osteosarcoma, von Willebrand’s disease, and gastric torsion to be “minor”(!) problems. Major problems include Wobbler’s syndrome, cervical vertebral instability (CVI), and cardiomyopathy. These are expensive, often painful, and ultimately likely to be fatal diseases. Find out if the breeder has had genetic tests done on the parent dogs . . . and good luck with that. . . .

To maintain health and avoid behavioral issues, dobermans need daily physical exercise.

Please: even if you are in the US, do not have your pup’s ears cropped and do not let the breeder do it for you. Your breeder will tell you poo-poo, ’tis nothing. But that is not true. It’s a cruel procedure that can take weeks to months for the pup to recover from and whose only purpose is a foolish idea of cosmetic beauty. In some countries it’s illegal, as it should be in the United States.

Ella’s Story: Chapter 31

Augh! Still trying to get caught up and stay caught up with Ella’s Story. The editorial bidness is a classic drought and flood affair: months go by with hardly any paying work, and then a tsunami comes pouring in. I just moved the fourth full-length math paper off the desk, when an entire issue of our client journal flew in through the transom. Working seven days a week is barely enough to keep up. And so…here’s a bit of a stopgap in the Ella tale.

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story


In the morning . . . ah, but she loved a morning on Varnis, a real morning, not artificial lights sliding from dim to bright enough to roust you out of bed. She needed no alarm to get her up to greet the day. Its strangeness never stopped fascinating: that golden sun sharply defined, most days, through the unnaturally clear air that faded from deep violet, sometimes through red or pink, and finally lit the sky to topaz. A few low clouds glowed orange in gold in this dawn’s rising light.

She lingered on the walkway outside the servants’ quarters and gazed out over the waking pastures, the fields and distant forest copses, as she always did for a few minutes before launching into another day.

“Good morning!” A bright greeting interrupted her quiet moment.

“Sigi. Good morning, dear.” The carpenter girl had a towel tossed over her shoulder, on her way to wash up for first meal.

“Wow! It’s really pretty today!”

“Mm hmmm.” Born and raised on Varnis, Sigi surely wouldn’t see the sky here, with its almost coppery blue-green clarity, as quite so exotic as Ella herself did. Pretty might not be the word she’d choose. Beautiful, maybe, though inadequate. Incandescent, if she thought that hard. But strange was the word that would first come to hand. If she were asked.

“You finished up the job in Cinorra,” Ella remarked, redundantly, by way of making conversation.

“Just about. Thank goodness.” The job had dragged on a ten-day and a half too long. “I’ll need to go back this afternoon or tomorrow to check on the clean-up. But otherwise I think we’re done.”

“Good. So, are you ready to start working on the clinic thing?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what I wanted to talk with you about.”

Thought so. “All right…”

“May I get a couple of strong backs to help set up the room Dorin wants to build out for this project? There’s stuff stored in there that we’ll need to find new homes for. And I’d like to get it scrubbed down before we start measuring and painting and things.”

“Darl seems to be well enough to start planning what needs to go in there.”

“Give me a day or so to shovel the place out.”

“We should get started thinking about this project, Sigi. Even if you’re not ready to begin drawing plans, you ought to take some time to talk with him.”

“Needs something to take his mind off his troubles, does he?”

“No doubt.” Sigi had a way of seeing through to the point. And Ella thought Darl should be occupied – very soon now – with as many plans, tasks, and physical jobs as he could tolerate, increasing in number and demand as he recovered strength.

As it developed, Ella didn’t have to get her way this time: Dorin was already seeing to it. After the morning wake-up, feed, and rush, he summoned Sigi and Darl to meet with the two overseers in his quarters. So Ella was sipping the obligatory morning tea, served up from Dorin’s desk steeping pot, when first one of them and then the other showed up

Darl was settled, stiffly, into a chair near Dorin’s desk. He would, she thought, not be a bad-looking man, once he recovered his bearings and his chopped-off hair grew back enough to brush smooth. Well fed yet fit, even slender, dark of hair and eye, he carried himself with understated but unmistakable grace: very upper-class. He came from a slice of Samdelan society that Ella had never seen, at least not up close, and never would have seen had she been left in the life.

“I’m not sure I understand…” he began—and then was cut short when Sigi bounded in. Bounding, Ella reflected, was Sigi’s default mode of locomotion. Did she ever slow down?

“Hello,” she said to the new guy, evincing not the slightest bit of deference. And why should she, Ella thought…they were both slaves now, no matter what this Darl had been before he landed here. On his tush. “You must be Darl. The doctor?”

He smiled tentatively. Ella thought he looked nonplussed, but he spoke up with humble enough self-possession: “I am. Yes.”

“I’m Sigi. The carpenter. I’ll be building out the space you need to work in.” She offered her left hand, palm up, and, to Ella’s mild surprise, he laid his own hand, palm down, on hers. She slipped into the chair that Dorin had set out for her.

“So, brother. Are you ready to get started?”

“I…well, don’t know. There are some things I don’t understand altogether.”

“Like what?” Dorin responded. “Ask away.”

“So…you want me to operate a clinic here for…the slaves on this estate, do I have that right?”

“Yeah. For us and the people around here.”

“Even though I’m not allowed to practice medicine now.”

“The kaïna has already canceled that out of your terms. The way it reads now,…” Dorin pressed a few links and brought up the official record that described Darl, his crime or crimes, what he was cleared to do, and what he was prohibited from doing. He ran his eye down a long stream of text written in an avalanche of Varn symbols. “You are allowed to dispense and direct healthcare services to people in service, to the landless in the care of the state, and to local residents, as long as you’re doing it in the employ of your owner. Rysha Delamona, Kaïna leh Varnisiel ch’Molendi Hededalla.”


“Because she said so. Circular, hm?”

“All right. Then…how many people are we talking about?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Oddly, Dorin seemed not to have considered that question. “We have about sixty adults here at Skyhill, plus another fifteen children. Various contract workers come and go, who I suppose could get hurt or sick while they’re on the grounds.

“She has in mind you’re going to be available for staff on the estates around here – north of E’o Cinnora. There’s over a dozen of those. And Skyhill isn’t the largest. Not by a long shot.”

“The kaïna doesn’t own the largest estate on Varnis?”

“Hardly. The House of Delamona was never given to unnecessary…showiness. Historically, it was not the biggest hereditary property when the first of the line took power. And it still isn’t.”

“So twelve or fifteen times about sixty people?”

“More like about seventy or eighty, on average. Maybe 850 to 950 all told. Give or take. Plus the people who live in the villages.”


“There are several of them in the north district, mostly attached to the estates. And the only medical carers they have are lay healers. And midwives. The midwives are mostly trained in Cinorra.

“The one that’s closest to us – that’s Skyhill Village – has…uhm…about a six or eight hundred people living there. I guess. Wouldn’t you say?” He cocked an eye in Ella’s direction.

“That’s probably about right.”

“Most of the great ones’ manors have a village associated with them, little places that have grown up around the estates.”

“And they’re all about the same size as this Skyhill town.”

“More or less.”

“Twelve or fifteen times eight hundred people…ninety-six hundred to twelve thousand villagers? Plus another nine hundred retainers in service?”

“I’d guess that’s about right.”

Darl looked at him in disbelief. “That’s ten to thirteen thousand potential patients. I’ve never had a population of more than about two thousand. That’s about as many as any one doctor can handle. And then some.”

“Well. They don’t all get sick at once.”

“Sure. Never rains but it pours, you know.”

Dorin laughed softly. “You won’t be the only one providing care. If that were so, we’d all have been dead before you got here. Besides, there’s not fifteen villages. It’s more like eight or ten.”

A doubtful smile ghosted over Darl’s face, briefly.

“Look. Most people in a place like this are pretty healthy. We get plenty to eat and we get a pan-immunization that keeps us from getting sick. So what we’re talking about here is an occasional accident. And…well, we have a pregnant mother just now – it would be nice not to have to drag her to a midwife or call one in every few weeks.”

“And most people will go to a village healer before they travel to town for a doctor,” Ella added. “Unless they’re really sick, they get over it first. About nine-tenths of the midwives live in the villages, and they take care of the women there. And sometimes our women.”

“So…then what would I be needed for?”

“This is the kaïna’s idea,” Dorin replied. “I don’t second-guess her. I just do what she says.”

“No, c’mon Dor’,” Ella interrupted. “It’s reasonable, brother. We don’t have a real medically trained doctor, one who does science, anywhere on this side of Cinorra. To find someone who isn’t just practicing folk medicine, you have to travel into the city. Like Dorin says, most people don’t get very sick. But when they do – and when they get hurt – it would be a lot better to have someone like you here.”

“Well. I guess we’ll see, then.”

“Let’s go see the space Dorin wants to turn into an office for you,” Sigi proposed.

“It’ll have to be quite a place to accommodate 13,000 patients.”

Writers’ and Publishers’ Rights and Contracts: The Complete Writer *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part VI. Ethics and Legality: Rights, Obligations, and Risks

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Rights and Contracts

The question beginning writers most often ask is “how do I copyright my work?”

Just put it on paper. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, your rights in a work take effect the minute you write it. You do not have to publish it or register it with the Copyright Office to receive protection. A work written after 1978 is protected for its author’s lifetime plus 50 years. A work written anonymously or under a pen name is protected for 100 years after the work’s creation or 75 years after publication, whichever is shorter. Works done for hire (about which we will say more below) receive the same 100-year protection, except the publisher, not the writer, owns the copyright.

What is “copyright”?

Copyright is a legal concept that gives you the right to reproduce your work; to prepare derivative works based on it; to sell, rent, lease, or lend the work; and to perform or display it publicly. Copyright permits you to recover damages from other people who do any of these without your permission.

A writer owns many kinds of rights to a work and may choose to sell part of the ownership, to lease the right to use the work, or to sell all the rights to it. The law’s purpose is to let you say how your work will be used and to guarantee that you will be paid for your efforts.

To be eligible for copyright, the work must be fixed in a tangible form: copiable with a machine or other device. Literary works; musical, dramatic, pantomime, and choreographic works that have been notated or recorded; pictures, photographs, and sculptures; motion pictures, videotapes, or other audiovisual works; and sound recordings are protected.

Intangible works, such as improvised speeches, dances, or performances not written or recorded, are not covered by copyright. Nor are ideas, titles, names, short phrases, slogans, lists, and the like.

Note that copyright covers the creation, not its physical form. In other words, someone could buy a famous writer’s manuscript for its value to collectors, but owning the paper and ink would not confer the right to reproduce the story.

Although you don’t have to register your work to receive protection, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office does give you some advantages. Your work must be officially registered before you can sue someone for infringement, and if you registered the work after the offense took place, you can sue only for actual damages—that is, for the income or other benefits you lost as a result of the theft. If you had already registered your copyright, you would be permitted to sue for statutory damages (a punitive award) or recover the costs of attorneys’ fees. There is, however, a ninety-day grace period following the date of publication. If you register within this period, you can sue for statutory damages, actual damages, and attorneys’ fees, even if the infringement took place before the registration.

As a practical matter, it’s not worth registering every magazine article you send out. Normally, you have a contract or letter of agreement that spells out the rights you are selling before you present a work to a publisher. But if you have some good reason to believe someone might steal your work, register it. Fill out a form (available at reduced cost online) from the Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559 or at the copyright office’s website:

If you wish to retain copyright to an article that is to be published in an uncopyrighted collective work (such as, for example, a club’s cookbook), insist that your copyright notice be printed on the article’s opening page. A copyright notice consists of the symbol ©, the word “copyright, or the abbreviation “copr.,” followed by the year the work was written and the owner’s name. This notice must appear on works that you send to the copyright office for registration, and anything that is printed or distributed in an unrestricted way should have a copyright notice on it.

Magazines and newspapers normally take the responsibility for registering all the work that appears in each issue. The copyright notice appears with each number, usually near the front of the publication.

The United States is a signatory to the Berne Copyright Convention, a multinational treaty that covers copyright questions. According to this international law, you don’t have to put a notice on your published work for it to be protected in the countries that have signed the treaty. However, because under U.S. law you may not collect statutory damages and attorneys’ fees unless the notice was on the work, you should be sure a copyright notice appears with all your published works.

As the owner of a copyright, you can sell certain parts of your rights to a work. Let’s consider a few.

First serial rights. The word “serial” here refers to periodicals—works that come out “serially” or in a continuing manner. That is, the term means “magazines or newspapers,” not “installments.”

When you sell “first serial rights,” you offer a magazine the right to be the first periodical to publish your article, poem, or story. The remaining rights belong to you. You retain the right to sell the same, unaltered work to another periodical after the story appears in the first publication, and to be paid should the original buyer reprint it.

Logically enough, then, you may also sell second serial or reprint rights. This allows a publisher to reprint a piece that has already appeared somewhere else.

Sale of one-time rights promises nothing about whether the buyer is the first to publish your work. It simply grants permission to publish the piece once.

First North American rights guarantee that the buyer is the first in North America to publish the work. First U.S. rights are restricted to the United States.

Foreign serial rights cover periodicals published in countries outside the United States. If you have sold only first U.S. rights, you are free to resell your story abroad.

Simultaneous rights allow two or more periodicals to publish something at once. The term is used by writers who self-syndicate articles by sending the same work to many different newspapers across the country at once. Make sure your editor understands this by typing “simultaneous submission” in an upper corner of your first manuscript page.

Syndication rights permit syndicators to sell works to several publications at once, taking a commission on sales and passing the rest to the author.

Subsidiary rights are additional rights, usually listed in book contracts. They include dramatic, motion picture, translation, foreign, and various serial rights.

Are Internet sites copyrighted?

You bet. Just because the reproducible medium in which the work is published happens to be digital does not negate the author’s rights in the work.

What is the reference to “Creative Commons” seen on Wikipedia? Doesn’t that give anyone the right to use the work as they please?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enlarging the range of creative works that people can build upon and share. Through Creative Commons, writers and artists can obtain any of several licenses that specify what rights they waive and what rights they retain. A notice of a Creative Commons license does not mean others can grab the work and do anything they please with it; you must examine the license and discover what rights are available before reusing the author’s or artist’s work.

What is public domain?

“Public domain” means the work is not covered by copyright. This may occur because the copyright has expired (see above), because its author has explicitly placed it in the public domain, or because it was produced by a government entity. Works in the public domain may be reproduced without permission.


An experienced editor, freelancing between jobs, took a job as a consulting editor to start up a regional magazine. Once the magazine was running, he hired a permanent editor and managing editor and then stepped into the background.

Shortly afterward, the new editor called and explained that a story had fallen through and he needed 2,000 words to fill the hole—fast.

Promised a healthy fee, the consultant raced around the city tracking down and interviewing people, spent a weekend cranking out the desired 2,000 words, and dropped the piece on the editor’s desk Monday morning.

A week later, he had heard not so much as “thanks, we’ll be in touch.” So he called and asked after the story.

It was all right, said the young editor. But it was more copy than they needed, and so they had to cut it to fit their space. And by the way, since they couldn’t use the 2,000 words they had asked for, they would pay him only for what they could use, at an arbitrary per-word rate.

“I should have had a contract,” mourned the freelance, “but my god! I’m the consulting editor!”

There is no such thing as a gentleman’s agreement in this business.

You should always have a contract before you write a story, because it protects you as well as the publisher. It spells out what is expected of you and what you can expect from the publisher, says how much you will be paid and when, and establishes your rights in the work. If a magazine folds before it pays you, a contract establishes you as one of its creditors.

A contract should cover these items:

  • The title and length of the story
  • A brief description of its content and approach

  • The deadline
  • The rights you are selling
  • The fee you will receive
  • The kill fee you will receive if the magazine cannot publish the article through no fault of yours (usually about one-third of the total fee)
  • Whether you will be paid on acceptance or on publication
  • Whether you will be reimbursed for routine expenses
  • A guarantee that your work is original and, to the best of your ability, accurate and free of libel

In addition to the work-for-hire clauses discussed above, you should watch for these pitfalls:


Some contracts include a sentence saying the author indemnifies the publisher against any claims for libel, invasion of privacy, defamation, or anything else for which someone might choose to sue or demand redress. Never sign a contract that contains such a clause.

Unless you are a lawyer, you have no way of second-guessing the reasons litigious individuals threaten to file suit. Nor is it your job to purge the story of all actionable material. It is the editor’s responsibility to recognize passages that may be defamatory, libelous, or invasive. If any such statement makes its way into print, the magazine is as guilty as the writer. Nevertheless, publishers have been known to buy off people who claimed they were wronged and then bill the writer for the cost.

If the clause is modified with words that say the article does not libel or defame to the best of the writer’s knowledge, it is acceptable.

Payment on publication vs. payment on acceptance

Too often, agreements to pay a writer when an article is published mean “pay never.” Magazine copy usually sees print months after it is accepted. Should the editors decide, for whatever reason, not to run your article, you get no pay for your contracted work. If the magazine folds before the story runs, a bankruptcy court will not number writers with payment-on-publication contracts among the magazine’s creditors.

For fulltime freelance writers, payment on publication makes it impossible to budget living expenses, because they never know how much they will be paid in a given period. One month $5,000 may come in; the next month, the take is $89. For this reason, established professionals hold out for payment on acceptance of the piece. If the editor will not agree to this, the writer declines the assignment.

A beginner may have to take payment on publication to establish some credits. Always ask to be paid on acceptance. As you gain experience, seek out publishers who will treat you fairly, and avoid pay-on-publication markets.