Thursday, May 24, 2012

As usual, McIntyre nails it on the vanishing copy editor

John McIntyre has once again nailed it when it comes to commenting on the vanishing copy editor.

I have become so tired of things that I just kind of shrugged with Digital First announced it was effectively doing away with copy editors at the Denver Post and Bay Area News Group. The cuts took effect yesterday, and here are a few of John's comments from his perch atop the copy editing and production process inside the Baltimore Sun:

When explanations of these and similar changes are made, there is talk of moving away from "assembly-line editing" and "outmoded nineteenth-century industrial processes" to some bold, modern, fresh, immediate journalism that removes all those unnecessary "touches" between the writer and the reader.
This is, of course, cant. The brutal facts are these: Terrified by declines in revenue, newspapers are shedding employees to save money. They are attempting to keep as many reporters as possible to generate content, and they are gambling that you will tolerate shoddier work.

To make this new era work effectively, with the editing/production tasks shifted upstream to the writing/editing level, will require some cultural changes about which I am deeply skeptical.
Reporters tend not to be production-oriented. They want to report and write and take as much time as they can. The question I've most frequently heard from reporters over the past thirty-plus years is "What's my deadline?" (And from assigning editors, too.) Some reporters, as you can see from reading their blogs, cannot even be troubled to run spell-check before publishing.
What you can expect from the copy-editor-free newsroom is a first-draft text from a writer to which someone bearing the title of editor will have made a quick swipe before posting it online. You will notice the typos and lapses in grammar and usage, which stand out. What you may not be so quick to notice is that the reporting is often thin, superficial, uncritical, because no one was there to pose hard questions.

Mr. Brady is right that the old model is passing away or already gone, not to return. Mr. Moore and other editors are right to explore new models, to see what can best serve the needs of the organization and the readers. Editors, people like me and the dwindling band of survivors of the purges, are right to focus on what is most essential for accuracy and clarity. There never was much of what you might call bespoke editing at newspapers, and there's going to be much less now.
If we are smart enough, and lucky enough, we will discover the balance between those feet on the street and those eyes on the desk.

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