Thursday, March 16, 2017

copy editors for slovenly news wires

Chuang granted a preliminary injunction nationwide basis. (AP)
It's just a small sentence, but it has companions across the news wires that I read each morning and did again today. News organizations seem unwilling to hire copy editors or, failing that, hire copy editors who know how to do their job and pick up the mistakes made by their news writers.

I had a couple of examples in hand, but passed them by this morning as a means of ingesting the news itself. Now, naturally, I can't re-find them. Bleah ... but I know they're out there. That seems to be the arrogance of the burly and surly news agencies that probably excuse themselves for working so hard that a couple of errors won't hurt anything. The number of errors mounts incrementally ... but mounts, leaving excuses in its wake.

Get off your ass, ASSOCIATED PRESS!
Get off your ass, BBC.
Get off your ass, everyone!
[I won't even take aim at the likes of The New York Times or the Boston Globe whose sniffy arrogance in copy and presentation I have long doubted after short experiences with each.]

If you're not going to do a good job, why bother doing it at all? I know, your old grey men want to return to the times when a 20% annual profit was par for the course. To a time when hard-hitting news was something to aspire to instead of getting along so well with the power politicians who help to fill up the increasingly vacuous 24-hour news cycle. To a time when failure was acceptable because failure is part of any successful life.



  1. What breaks my heart is the apparent illiteracy of the press these days. But i suppose half assed journalistic research and half assed word crafting just show the result of fifty years of shrinking the education dollar.

  2. Got to cut costs, make business more "efficient"...

    These days, business "efficiency" seems to be measured primarily through figures on a balance sheet. The end-product may be amateur-quality, but for as long as someone buys it and the balance sheet results in profit, business is "efficient". "Suficient", perhaps, and even then...

    I feel the same in my line of work. Clients rather write text in-house, even when they aren't qualified, and rather do revision, even when they are hardly neutral, qualified or have the necessary time to do a careful revision.

    Worse, when a mistake does go to print, some clients are quick to try to use you as scapegoat and even say they won't pay for the service. Even if I offer revision services (which tend to be declined due to budget constraints) and clearly state that - as a designer - I cannot hold responsibility for text writing/revision, when mistakes do go to print, it is my end-product that suffers and it is my service that gets tarnished.

    It's frustrating.

  3. Just remembered that when I try to convince clients to at least hire someone to revise their texts, I actually use the newspaper industry as an example, where news writers don't revise their own texts...

    That's my argument down the toilet...

  4. A long time ago, I used to do stringing for the New York Daily News, arguably the best edited newspaper around despite its tits-and-ass content. I would send in rewritten stories from a couple of hundred miles away from NYC and get a check for $25. And one day, I asked the typist who was taking my dictation on a story, "What's the difference between the Daily News and the New York Times?" He knew immediately what I meant. We weren't talking about the staid and starchy vs. the readable raunch. "The difference," he replied, "is that the Times trusts its writers; the Daily News trusts its editors."

  5. At least in my experience it seems foolish to trust the author with revising his own writing. Not because "writers can't be trusted" but simply because they are too close to their own work and habits - such as writing vices - and even minor mistakes can be harder to detect by the one that writes them. My guess is that the author's mind is more inclined to revise the content, rather than the actual form.

    It's the same with my own work. Naturally, I revise my own work before presenting to a client or sending it to print, but I'm well aware that - as its author - it takes a tremendous amount of effort to catch my own mistakes. The longer I work on a layout, the harder it feels to detect minor flaws.

    At the magazine house where I began my career doing layouts, the last revision was always done by either the chief editor or another news writer. Surely, some writers were more prone to errors than others and some editors are better than others, but it was extremely rare to get a layout returned without a single editor's mark on it.

  6. I suppose a top professional will tend to have both top content creation and grammar skills but when the choice is between employing either a better storyteller or a better grammarian, my guess is that the choice falls on the first. It's the same with creative designers and artworkers.

  7. Strange, Tiago, but I can remember my mother cussing out my spelling and grammar at the expense of some imaginative thing I had written as a kid. It wasn't that she disdained the imagination, but rather that she was unwilling to short-change either one for the other ... magic, she seemed to say and often proved, was worth piss in a snowbank to someone without grammar or spelling.

  8. I guess you were lucky Adam.

    My guess at a preference being given these days to imagination is not a bias, just a hunch. In design at least, universities hardly prepare graduates to be technically fluent, especially with techonology evolving so fast, so it's really not the kind of skill you're expected to be proficient and instead evolve over time wirh experience.

    Depending on the agency, you may never even evolve to a proficient level, since some agencies have artworkers, usually less creative roles but more experienced and technical professionals, whose job is mostly to finish a concept and prepare for print, like editors in newspaper or even book publishing do with writing, I suppose.

    I often hear a similar comparison between architects and engineers, the former being more conceptual and the later more technical. Architects moan about engineers changing concepts and engineers about architects creating concepts that wouldn't stand to the test of time.

    Probably a right-brain, left-brain thing. Only a few evolve both to a similar standard, while most end up specialising on one or the other.

    Your mother seems to have been wiser and understand the benefits of evolving an "ambidextrous brain".

  9. Agencies at least will tend to give preference to conceptual designers. Magic is what enchants clients, sells better and earns prizes, especially in a world where attention to detail is not only not a big issue but can even be unwelcomed, for as long as it doesn't become a big issue. Indeed, sometimes, a tiny detail can result in a big fuss. Attention to detail takes time and it's not so uncommon these days to hear the "better done than perfect" mantra in the fast-paced understaffed corporate world.

  10. Last year, my main client changed their corporate identity, which envolved changing all the stationary. The agency they used for the job mistyped the phone number in one material and - apparently - copied and pasted the mistake pretty much on all the materials produced.

    The whole job was done from start to finish in a faster-than-wise deadline. Everyone was rushing and overworked and no one paid attention, so in the end they had to pay up to reprint a lot of the materials.

    This is more and more common... Clients and managers in corporate environments are constantly stretching further the deadline rope - everything is urgent -, while agencies and employees, afraid of saying "no", being labelled as 'difficult' and losing the job, end up strangled on the rope and being replaced for the next agency or job candidate waiting in line.

  11. This cartoon sums it up quite nicely.

    It reads "I don't understand... We've maximised employee reduction and still... we have more and more difficulty in advancing..."

  12. And when attorney's and lawmakers flunk english...

  13. 70 million for a comma. Ouch. Lockheed could have hired an army of grammarians and mathematicians for that.

  14. Tiago makes me tired.