When newsrooms cut editorial staff–as so many have in the past couple of years–are typos and grammatical errors the inevitable result? The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andy Alexander, admits there are more errors in the print paper and “clearly reduced staffing plays some role.”
But a bigger reason for the increasing number of mistakes, he asserts, is the changing role of copy editors.
Gone are the days when they primarily detected errors and smoothed prose for the next day’s newspaper. Now they must also operate in an online environment where “search-engine optimization” is a key goal. That requires new skills and time-consuming additional duties.
As a regular reader of the dead-tree edition of the Post, I can vouch for the fact that errors are up and it doesn’t take a retired high school English teacher to catch them. As Alexander notes in his column, a story about an car wreck involving retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said he had “slammed on the breaks” (brakes). Good grief!
Readers complain the errors aren’t just annoying, they’re damaging the paper’s credibility. “If they don’t care about basics like grammar and spelling, how much do they care about factual accuracy?” one reader wrote. Good question.
But the real question is: Who doesn’t care? To me, what’s happening at the Post and other newspapers reflects a workplace culture that has long tolerated sloppy copy from reporters on the understanding that editors would catch mistakes and fix them. With fewer copy editors on staff being required to shoulder more responsibilities, the cracks these errors can slip through have become chasms.
What these newsrooms need are reporters who understand that it’s their job to get it right before they turn in their copy and who care enough to take responsibility for all of their work, from fact-checking to spelling and grammar. Yes, it takes a little more time to double-check for accuracy but with trust in the news media at an all-time low, don’t you think all journalists should do whatever they can to try to restore it?