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 jemcintyre@gmail.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/.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Turn your head forward


“The word of the day is jeremiad*,” writes Kevin Earl Dayhoff, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, and a fellow Tribunista who writes for Patuxent Publishing newspapers.

His brief statement on Facebook doesn’t indicate why that is his word of the day, but in looking at it I realized that it has been my word of the day for the past year.

With reason. It has been hard to see so many colleagues lose their jobs, to watch the decline in quality in so many publications, to be on the losing side in the War on Editing. But justifiable as jeremiads have been, they must have grown tedious to you, and they no longer serve the best purpose for me.

Today is my fourth day back at work at The Sun — still grappling with NewsGate, the creation of fiendish Danes — and it is time to determine what possibilities remain open. That is: What can I do myself to uphold and even elevate standards of accuracy and clarity in The Sun’s electronic and print publications? How can I uphold and assist my colleagues as they strive to improve accuracy and clarity? We are not editing with the forces we want, but with the forces we have. How can we deploy them more effectively?

We must cope with the realities. Editors throughout print and electronic media are editing less, and with fewer people. Editing operations are being consolidated at central locations or outsourced. More editing is being done by freelancers than by permanent employees. So the choice for an editor is to look for some other line of work or to discover how to function better within these circumstances.

I would like to think that over time, if we are thoughtful and energetic, we will discover how to edit more efficiently — to zero in on the most critical elements in texts rather than be distracted by minutiae, to master available technologies instead of being steamrollered by them. I would also like to think that over time those of us who still edit will demonstrate our worth to the people who decide where to deploy resources. It is not enough to do good work; it is essential to show that we do good work and that it has value.

I have been given a second chance. I intend to make the most of it.



*Like boycott, an eponym, deriving from the name of the prophet Jeremiah, whose bitter laments went largely unheeded.