Sunday, January 17, 2010

Newspaper staff cuts lead to more errors; Post ombudsman weighs in: newspaper staff has to deal with new media, just like bloggers!

Along the lines of the troubles of “establishment journalism”, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander has an interesting column Sunday, Jan. 17 on p A21, “Is Post editing sloppier?” The online title of the story is “Why you’re seeing more copy-editing errors in the Post”, link here.

Yes, words get mixed up (“principal” v. “principle” – a good mixup not mentioned is “comprised” which is usually correct in active voice instead of “is comprised of”). Little details get misreported.

Alexander explains the problem partly in economy-driven staff reductions, but also in terms of the writing style and technical skills required for effective presentation of the stories (including this one) on the Web. Newspapers really do follow search engine optimization and “cost per click” and other advertising efficiency measures. Because they have to make a profit and make a payroll partly with this revenue, it’s a much bigger issue for them than it is for “citizen journalists” (yesterday’s post), although it raises an “existential” question, what if all bloggers had to prove they could actually make money with their writing to support other people?

The care and attention to detail required in professional journalism is quite remarkable. Foster Winans related all of this in his 1989 book “Trading Secrets” (St. Martin’s) about his career at the Wall Street Journal in the 1980s, with older technology. I've noticed in the past ten years or so that little typos have become more common in "trade" (or "regularly") published books, also. I had my share in my self-published book in 1997.

Update: Jan. 18

Check The New York Times, p B6, Richard Perez-Pena, "As Shrinking Newsrooms Use Upstarts' Content, Vetting Questions Arise," link here.

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