Thursday, January 7, 2010

Turn out the lights

When a notable actor expires, they dim the lights on Broadway in a brief tribute.

It was confirmed yesterday that Media General will consolidate the copy editing of its newspapers in Tampa, Richmond, and Winston-Salem — the chain’s three largest papers. You may be sure that this does not mean an enlargement of the copy editing staff, but a reduction in both the staff and the quality of editing.

To his credit, Ken Otterbourg, the managing editor at Winston-Salem, resigned. One reason was his disagreement over this measure.

Also yesterday, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis announced that it is reducing the news staff by thirty positions, more than half of them from the ranks of copy editors. The memo says that the paper will not sacrifice quality. Uh-huh.

These are the false economies by which publishers are steadily degrading the quality of what they offer readers, by destroying a craft.

In sympathy with colleagues incontinently turned out of their jobs, and in sorrow over the devastation of the craft of editing, You Don’t Say will go dark for twenty-four hours.

Posting and approval of comments will resume tomorrow.


  1. In keeping with your theme ...


  2. Most interesting from the Strib editor's memo, of course, is this:

    "This will also require more individual responsibility: Reporters cannot turn in stories without running a basic spell check. Editors should have reporters read over every story they have edited. Photographers must turn in accurate cutlines that adhere to AP style. More staffers will need to be flexible about the work they do, meaning some reporters might serve a shift as a copy editor or line editor in any given week."

    I hope they sell tickets. Promises to be great entertainment.

  3. I think publications believe they can do without a fully staffed copy desk because most people--and I'm referring to most educated people--are clueless when it comes to the written word. If a passage reads "right," i.e, it sounds like something you'd hear in everyday conversations, these people believe it's grammatical. Example: "The difference between John Doe and I is significant." I would argue that most people don't see anything amiss with this passage. However, we copyeditors cringe, knowing that the objective case, not the subjective case, pronoun is called for after a preposition. But this phenomenon, in my opinion, is indicative of what I think is happening in the society in general, i.e., quality and knowledge are not as important as appearance and faux intelligence. As Dennis Miller used to say, "But that's just my opinion; I could be wrong.

  4. The dictate to "take responsibility" is code for "someone to blame." As copy editors disappear, management wants to know who to chew out when something wrong gets onto the website or, God forbid, into print. Professional production gives way to fear and corrections. Great formula all around.