Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Loss of Quality

The Washington Post's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, writes today about an increase in errors, under the headline "Fewer Copy Editors, More Errors". Most copy editors I know would respond:

Of course
What did you expect?
Told you so
No shit, Sherlock
or offer any number of similar sad and weary answers.

You cut your quality-control experts, disparage their professionalism and talent and, wow, what a suprise. Quality suffers.

The issue, though, to me is this: does quality matter anymore?

I think there's a profound change in expectations and standards in the last few years, deeper than Twitter, citizen journalism or blogs, by which we find or report news.

We're all kind of beta testers now, expected to put up far less than perfection. Just as that little gizmo you bought down at the big-box tech store often doesn't initially work the way it should, or requires hours of effort and frustration with non-supportive support lines, so, too, journalism is less than what it could or should be. Your expectations are lowered and the idea that a store selling you electronic toys or a journalism organization telling you what you need to know should try to deliver quality the first time is simply fading away.

Have you ever spent an hour or more on a tech help line, only to have your concerns blown off? Or have a help desk act as if crappy performance is normal and hint that you're being unreasonable for expecting more? So, too with news. So what if the story fails to answer key questions? Has typos or poor grammar? You get the general idea, right?

As consumers, we have learned to settle for less. And I fear no one cares.

That's a bitter pill for copy editors to swallow.

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