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 email@example.com, 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/.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
This morning I came across a retweet from one Tom Gara in Abu Dhabi opining, “Outsourcing copy editors and other non-core jobs is inevitable and a good thing for newspapers.” Mr. Gara was referring to a decision by the management of the Toronto Star to eliminate seventy-eight editing positions and outsource its copy editing to Pagemasters North America.
The asininity of proclaiming that editing is not a core function takes one’s breath away.
No one disputes that newspapers, struggling to stay afloat in stormy waters, have to make difficult decisions. Any business that does not manage to keep its costs within its revenues is going to sink, but that does not mean that just anything can be thrown over the side.
We have heard the “non-core” talk even in relatively prosperous times. Of course you can eliminate the library staff. Reporters can just add routine research to their daily workload. Of course you can sack the editorial assistants. The editors can answer the phones all day; and if the reporters are busy, the editors can keyboard datebook copy.
Now, of course, you can jettison the editors and copy editors in favor of some distant corps of editing units who do not know your staff or your area. You will merely multiply embarrassing errors of fact, publish slack writing, and alienate your most loyal customers. Evidence of the first two phenomena will be evident each day on your pages, evidence of the third in the accelerating decline of your circulation.
Unfortunately, difficult decisions are not necessarily good decisions.
*The editor responsible for the Star’s decision is Michael Cooke, former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, a newspaper that has not been a byword for excellence in management.