Why you're seeing more copy-editing errors in The Post
By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, January 17, 2010
WaPo Ombudsman Andrew Alexander freely admits that judging by the volume of e-mail he gets from the Grammar Police and Spelling Nazis, the quality of the proof-reading (and yes I know that is different from copy-editing) is declining precipitously. He passes on some of the better howlers.
The errors are typically small but unremitting. A story about an Arlington National Cemetery burial described a soldier wearing "shiny black boats" (instead of boots). An item about an auto accident involving NBC newsman Tom Brokaw said he had "slammed on the breaks" (brakes). A listing of unemployment rates in foreign countries included "Cypress" (Cyprus). In a Sports story, the "principles" (principals) attended a dinner celebrating the hiring of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.He explains that part of the reason is that not only has the number of copy-writers been halved, their duties have been expanded. They are also in charge of pumping articles full of keywords so that search engines will find these articles online.
Separate online headlines must be written in a way that attracts attention on the Web. Links must be found, vetted and inserted into online stories, and so-called "keywords" must be highlighted. All of this is designed to make it easier to find Post content on the Internet and more likely for the Post to win the intense media competition to show up at the top of results lists when readers use search engines such as Google and Yahoo. And when readers click on those stories, it takes them back to The Post. That increases traffic to its Web site, which can boost online advertising.But he says there is light at the end of the tunnel. WaPo is going to make writers create their own SEO copy.
This week, The Post will begin search-engine optimization training for the entire newsroom. Front-end help from reporters and other staff should ease the burden on copy editors.He also blames over-reliance on spell-checkers that can't catch homonyms. But it all comes down to competence on the front line.
In the end, nothing can replace the experienced, fastidious copy editor. And nothing can help them more than reporters getting it right in the first place.Or is that "getting it write the first thyme"?