Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fix It

I keep reading this figure, that a Washington Post story once got "12 touches" and that sounds absurd and it seems to get thrown around as an excuse to do dumb things.

But who are the 12? If it's a complex story that has gone back from assigning editor to assistant managing editor, back to reporter, back to assigning desk, then graphics, layout and then various people on the copy desk, well, that's one thing. But I don't think that's an argument for eliminating copy desks or chiefs, as the Post is busy doing these days, but rather for fixing the system. Or maybe the story was a piece of garbage that merited lots of touches in an attempt to salvage it. We've all seen those stories, haven't we?

I once worked on a 13-part series that was two years in the making that had gone round and round through various editors. It was literally in proof stage on a Friday night, for Sunday edition use, when the executive editor decided it needed a major overhaul and started doing things like pulling the second sidebar for day 3 into the mainbar for day 8 and so on and so on. It was a nightmare. The overtime made me rich. But that is the fault of someone other than the copy desk.

Regardless, Tim McGuire, who has been a supporter of both the American Copy Editors Society and the team concept, makes some important points here. I just don't know if anyone with a finger on the budget will listen.

Given the destruction of newspapers and the many new models for delivery of news, there is room for a redeployment of people's skills, certainly. Smart editors would figure out a way to identify and then best use those skills since people aren't interchangeable parts.

But the wholesale destruction of quality control is absolutely idiotic. Copy editors have been in the forefront of technological changes for as long as I've been in the news business. It is insanity to disregard those skills and ability to adapt by getting rid of them. Over the years, I have periodically encountered senior editors who professed shock at suddenly discovering how rough their reporters' copy is. I think we can see some of what happens without editing when we look at websites where editing is a secondary consideration, at best.

Really, if you don't care about the quality issue, what are you doing in the business? Go do something else. I'm tired of the woe-is-me-I-have-to-cut-my-staff-again attitude. Do something to maintain quality or get the hell out because your product is pretty much so thoroughly devalued that no one wants it.

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