Saturday, January 19, 2008

Copy-editing jobs

While I was gone, a couple of developments on the future of copy-editing jobs beat:

  • The Allentown Morning Call announced a major restructuring, including further conversion to a universal desk that will also, as I read the memo, have greater responsibilities for posting online. The paper also hopes to install a Tansa spelling- and usage-check system. Tansa is a system sold as several steps above spellcheck, allowing more customization and looking at copy in context to detect problems.
    • The key point from publisher Ardith Hilliard's memo: Tansa would save editing time for the copy desk, allowing us to more effectively operate a universal desk with fewer editors.
    • That brought a quick response from Lucas Grindley: Picture a world rife with budget cuts that obliterate the copy desk by replacing people with computers, and leaving the "hard stuff" for desk editors. (Grindley is operations manager at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.)
    • Tansa President Robert Lanzio quickly responded on Grindley's blog that Tansa has not been "the direct cause of any job losses in the USA." Grindley countered: Regardless of whether you all built Tansa to replace copy editors, don't you agree that if a large copy desk becomes more efficient, then it could be reduced in size?" Leaving Lanzio with the tepid response: " To date, the statement I made is true."
Tansa was discussed back on this blog in November 2005. At the time, those commenting said it was not that great at detecting even some of the harder language problems. I don't know whether it has been improved since then. The danger here is that copy editor jobs are too easily equated with spell-check. If the system really is used to free them from routine so that they can look more closely at the substance of stories in the context of the reader, great.

But the reality may be instead that as copy desks are reduced, line editors are given more of this responsibility. Bad move. Line eds are too busy already. They also are too invested in the stories -- and I want them to be, because they need to be effective salesmen and saleswomen for their reporters. But that makes them exactly the wrong people to stand in for the readers.

As my friend Brian Murley commented on Grindley's blog: Tansa is more likely the victim of the law of unintended consequences. Still, it's easy to see how it could become the "indirect" cause of the loss of copy editing jobs. Heck, if people seem willing to ship such jobs to India, why wouldn't a software system help them achieve that goal?

(The Call also is eliminating a news librarian, another step in a sad trend.)
  • The Miami Herald had a dalliance with outsourcing design and editing of a neighborhood section to India. Fortunately, cooler heads and common sense prevailed. As Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal wrote: "The more we looked at the prospects of editing and layout from outside the newsroom, the more it was clear these skills involving news judgment and experience are not likely to work well from afar." However, ad production and monitoring of Web site comments will continue from overseas.

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At 1/18/11, 2:56 PM, Blogger Dr. Irfan Mansuri said...

At 2/22/11, 11:50 AM, Blogger sonali said...

Very clever old men you seem to be, equating Indians with machines :D


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