Sunday, October 28, 2007

Industry upheaval

The comments recently by the president of MediaNews again ignited the hand-wringing about the future of copy editors.

But then there's the matter of journalists in general. And there are some other interesting developments:

  • Across the pond, a report by the National Union of Journalists has created a flurry of posts and cross-posts, most of them highly critical. Martin Stabe summarizes the report, and his post has a number of good cross-links, so I won't do a bunch here. The bottom line of the report is that many union shops are facing layoffs ("redundancies" in that lovely Britishism) and there are widespread complaints from inside newsrooms about weird workflows, errors and stories not checked for legal and other issues. (One other set of links, to two posts by Jeff Jarvis on this side of the pond. Follow where he and Stabe link to, and you'll get a good sense of all this.)
    • Well, OK, another couple of links. I've discovered the entire article posted on author Donnacha DeLong's blog, and a rather trenchant analysis of it from David Weinberger, who is pushing his new book, "Everything is Miscellaneous."
  • Then again, if you are a copy editor, you might take some solace from today's column by Manning Pynn, public editor at the Orlando Sentinel: Errors Expose Need for Editing. Pynn notes that errors in the Sentinel are starting to reach levels of serious concern.

  • It's not hard to see where this is headed or why it is happening.

    When the Sentinel tightened its financial belt back in June, it lost a wealth of seasoned veterans, many of them editors. Those journalists not only wrote headlines and captions. They also scrutinized the work of reporters -- correcting spelling, straightening out syntax, double-checking facts -- before publication.

    With fewer people to do that now, less of that important work gets done, and the result is more published errors.

    Every business' success depends on the reliability of its products or services. If their reliability declines, people are less likely to buy them. Newspapers are particularly susceptible to that phenomenon.

    If readers regularly find mistakes, they have every reason to wonder about the accuracy of everything else in the publication. They have no way of knowing which parts of the newspaper have been thoroughly and carefully edited and which have not.

    Corrections -- regardless of how minor the error -- help. They demonstrate a commitment to getting things right, even if after the fact. Nothing, though, beats front-end quality control.

    Information that can't be trusted is not less valuable; it's worthless.

  • I've written on the American Copy Editors Society discussion board how, if you are a copy editor, you might also take dark glee in what's coming down the pike at broadcasters, especially TV anchors. Mogulus allows people to create their own TV channels on the Internet. News At Seven, being created by engineers at Northwestern, substitutes an avatar for a live TV anchor. Interesting thing, that -- it's funded by a National Science Foundation grant, which might prompt some to question whether the federal government should be involved in funding projects that could conceivably costs journalists' jobs. (For my part, I think such entanglements are inevitable given how journalism and technology are becoming more intertwined every day.) Today's "On the Media" has an interesting piece on the project that will give some more insight. Some of the comments, I think, are a bit naive, such as the hope that this would free up journalists from the drudge work so that they can concentrate on the bigger things. Yep, we've all seen that happen, haven't we? Can you say "redundancy" ...
  • And from the Labor Deparment via Forbes via MSNBC, word that journalist will be one of the worst jobs to have in the foreseeable future.
As I've noted before, we are deep into the anger/blaming stage of the Five Stages of Grief.

With things like the National Union of Journalists report and some of the comments around ACES, I'm beginning to see slow movement toward the next stage, bargaining. Expect to see more of that, both formally/organizationally and informally as journalists scramble to keep their jobs while they seek to retrain or find another form of employment. (You're also likely to see it among journalism schools as they go through the gut-wrenching process of redefining themselves and their places behind the ivy-covered walls.)

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