Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh, Yes, Copy Editors Were Useful

George Rodrigue, managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, writes the following in a roundup of responses to reader complaints:

Andrea, a reader in Duncanville, writes to ask why she's noticed some improper word choices in the paper lately. "It looks like the DMN is using some automated spell-checker, but that system is weak because it may overwrite with a correctly spelled word but insert one that is wrong for the context," she said.

If ever there were a testimonial to the importance of copy editors, the unsung heroes of newspapering, this is it. We have in fact cut back on copy editors over the past few years, in an effort to keep as many reporters as possible on the street. We've tried hard to keep our very best copy editors, and our team is among the finest in the business. But they're working incredibly fast, trying to write compelling headlines on deadline and to polish stories that are often filed just before deadline. Automatic spell checkers are useful tools, but there's no substitute for human judgment on word choice. My favorite recent example was a story that meant to ask whether a football player was sufficiently "genteel." As printed, the word was "gentile."

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