John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Monday, July 6, 2009
We told you so
You may recall some of the claptrap leading up to this New Media Age — that employing copy editors for multiple checks of stories was an outmoded industrial process, that without copy editors reporters would become more accurate because they would be more responsible. Now you are beginning to perceive one of the realties of the New Media Age — a proliferation of errors in text, some of them minor, some of them egregious, all of them irritating to readers. (Mr. Alexander takes their calls.)
What may be a less readily apparent is a deeper degradation of quality. With the reduction of the number of “touches” by originating editors and copy editors, articles are not getting the attention they need. Stories that lack clear focus or betray slipshod structure are getting through to the reader because they are not being adequately challenged by editors.
It would not be surprising to register increases throughout the business in plagiarism and fabrication as well, because some of that used to be caught by editors whose functions went beyond mere spell-checking and formatting.
Mr. Alexander’s explanation is commendably candid: The Post, like virtually every other metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States, is suffering financially and has reduced costs by cutting employees. He doesn’t pretend, in the cant spooned out by apologists, that eliminating those “touches” in editing will somehow improve the quality of the product.
He quotes Chris Wienandt, president of the American Copy Editors Society: “If readers can't rely on our accuracy, why should they even pick up the paper?” That is the problem that haunts the industry, which is asking its customers to buy a product with reduced scope and reduced reliability. I have no better idea than the people who still have offices how journalism will proceed, but I don’t think that what comes next will be worth much if it continues to devalue editing.