Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not Getting What You're Not Paying For

I suppose we risk looking like finger-pointing little children gleefully shouting "Told you so!" when we insist that eliminating copy editors reduces the value of a publication.

Or, conversely, like angry old folks, that things were better, sonny, back in my day!

So be it. You cannot read a newspaper these days without seeing clear signs of decline. Far too often, though not always, stories are increasingly superficial, key facts are missing, typos abound.

We can't completely blame the blogs or people's lack of interest in events, though the fact that slideshows about celebrities who wear pink or the latest sex scandal draw far more attention than do stories about the economic crisis is disturbing and depressing in a society that depends on an informed citizenry to survive with its values intact.

Even the best papers are declining, racing around in a panic, trying anything to make up for their failure to respond more than a decade ago when the Internet began capturing readers' attention.

At least we can use the Internet to document the decline and hope that when something new and better rises in the place of print newspapers, some remembers some lessons: a. you can't give your work away for free (it's too late to do anything about that now)
b. people notice when you keep reducing the quality and quantity of your product and eventually walk away from it.

Here's another citation on the road to decline, from Ken Robertson of the Tri-City Herald:

Why newspapers should love their copy editors
By Ken Robertson, Herald Executive Editor

Reporters sometimes have a hard time believing it, but the best friend they can ever have is a sharp copy editor.

I was reminded of that again Monday when I was reading a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. A couple of folks from George Mason University were arguing for accountability as the federal stimulus money is spent across the nation.

Their article started out this way:

“President Barack Obama has promised a full accounting online of where his $787 stimulus package is spent ....”

That no one at the Wall Street Journal had noticed a key word — billion — was missing shocked me. Yes, I’ve seen both “billion” and “million” go missing in the Herald’s pages, and both of them trade places at times when they shouldn’t.

And yes, much of my job every day is to preach quality control and teach about the ways good copy editing ensures accuracy.

But I’m still shocked when I see such lapses, especially from a national newspaper with a staff of copy editors that must number in the scores.

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