Where are the editors?

posted in: Publishing, Serendipity, Writing | 4

Because I was out of town over the weekend, I’ve been catching up on the newspapers as I read the ones that continue to arrive in the gutter, occasionally making their way as far as the edge of the driveway.

I wonder why I continue to subscribe to our major local paper. This paper is owned by one of the national chains, is published in a
city of about 120,000, and is the largest paper in a county of about
250,000.

One reason is that it contains Lynn Johnston‘s "For Better or For Worse." Although I can pick up the comic strip online, I was raised reading the funnies in the newspaper and I still like to find them there. "For Better or For Worse" is essentially a very extended narrative work, almost a graphic novel presented in four-panel daily installments and longer Sunday supplements. It’s great storytelling, with every word and image carefully chosen and rendered.

Another is that I learn just enough local news to make the subscription worthwhile (even though, for reasons noted below, I take that news with a grain of salt). I don’t watch or listen to television news, but I also don’t depend on the local paper for coverage of national or international events. It doesn’t offer much.

Because of this catch-up reading, or actually skimming, I’m impelled to comment on something that makes me wonder yet again about the quality of the information I’m getting from the paper.

Here’s a sentence from a photo caption from Sunday’s paper, added link mine:

  • "Julian Kley, 12, rests his head in his hands for a moment’s reprise from the pressure of the PSD Chess Tournament on Saturday at Colorado State University."

I suspect that whoever wrote this meant  respite or, perhaps, reprieve.

And here’s a caption from today’s paper, two days later, again with my added link:

  • "Kimberly Auer, 20, left, from Austin, Texas, and instructor Laura Jean Martin prepare to repel off Potato Chip cliff at Vedauwoo Recreation Area, east of Laramie, Wyo., in August."

They’re probably going to rappel off the rock. With as much climbing as folks do in this state, that error seems even harder to understand than the first.

If the writers and editors can’t get these words right, how can they handle more complex news stories?

It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t gotten to R in the vocabulary flash cards, except that not all of the similar problems I notice in this paper, which is the one I read most often, involve that section of the alphabet.

We do have alternative sources of local news, including a biweekly independent small-format newspaper and some websites. (I’m not discussing broadcast sources because we don’t have cable, and without cable there’s not much TV reception in this part of the world. We get about four semi-fuzzy channels with the rabbit ears attached to our 13-inch television—just enough signal access to let us watch occasional PBS shows and for my daughter to get hooked on Lost).

I relax my editorial standards for this blog (or I’d get about two posts up each year), but I spend a lot of time working to make sure that the words I put down, or other people’s words that I’m responsible for shepherding into print, communicate as clearly as possible. Total clarity is not possible, of course, but we can at least care enough to try.

In the news and everywhere else, words matter.

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P.S. Like every other writer, I’m likely to find odd words in my drafts—homonyms, transposed letters, almost-right words—because my thoughts go faster than my fingers, which do their typing or scribbling best to keep up. Writing and editing are different processes, although the closer you can get to the correct word while writing the better the final result. Nonetheless, that’s why this post is called "Where are the editors?" Editing’s where these glitches get fixed, whether you’re reviewing your own words or someone else’s.

P.P.S. If I were really editing this blog, you wouldn’t be seeing such things as straight quotes in the display, either. I manually code the em dashes and a few other things, but then I move on to my real to-do list. . . .

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4 Responses

  1. The editors are probably 1. On a break 2. Screaming at a staff meeting 3. Accusing everyone but themselves of “computer operator error.”

  2. I tell my students this over and over. I collected the first paper today, and gave my “I’m-not-your-copy-editor” speech, in which I explain that I will only yell about patterns and about things that disrupt my reading. Still, there are plenty of those…

    My mom asked if I needed anything for my birthday, and I said “The Chicago Manual of Style.” She said I was boring, but got it for me anyway. 🙂 I’m amassing a small collection of editing and writing manuals.

  3. Corey, your mother may think you are boring, but I think you are not at all. Now, if you’d asked for the APA style manual, which makes me nuts, I’d wonder about you. . . .

  4. I agree with you. The world needs more competent editors. I like the ones who are efficient, kind, and don’t edit “for their health,” but do catch misspelled words, homonyms, and other reasonable errors. Oh, and when I gave up on our bad local paper, I got an email subscription via yahoo to For Better or Worse online. I read it every day!

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