It's worse than you think

May 25, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

I remarked yesterday on the consequences of newspapers' eagerness to throw their copy editors over the side and the erosion of quality that inevitably follows. You may have imagined that I exaggerate. So let me show you a particularly painful case. 

At The Cincinnati Enquirer,* the editor, Carolyn Washburn, sent out a memo to the staff in January that included these passages: 

Also, it is simply true that there are fewer layers of editing to catch us when we fall. So it is up to each of us to re-read our work with clean copy in mind and ensure each of us passes along copy that can be published right now with all the basic facts, spelling and grammar correct.

So, in the spirit of being helpful -- I really don't mean this to be insulting but helpful -- what would you think about having an English teacher review our paper for a week, identify our most common grammatical sins and come in and give us grammatical refresher for grownups? (actually give us some helpful tools rather than me just ask you to work harder!)**

Let's start with what it says about the professional standards of the paper that the staff cannot be assumed to have grasped the elements of grammar and usage previously taught to schoolchildren. 

Let's then consider what standards of management are suggested when the editor has to send out repeated, apparently futile, memos to the staff pleading with them to run spell-check and the like. 

Let's speculate further on what it says about the management that it is assumed that there is no one on the premises as qualified as a high school English teacher to advise the staff on their grammar and usage. It suggests that the editor doesn't know much about the skills and abilities of her own editors. Even despite Gannett's enthusiastic participation in the Worldwide War on Editing, Ms. Washburn must still employ an editor or two who can hammer a noun and a verb together without committing a felony. (There are, however, fewer of them, particularly copy editors, on hand today than there were in January.)  

This, then, is the melancholy picture of how professional journalism is being conducted these days at a metropolitan daily newspaper.  

*I worked on The Enquirer's copy desk from 1980 to 1986. I do not go out of my way to disparage my former employer, but people send me things. 

**I have this memo by way of an anonymous comment on Gannett Blog. I recognize the hazard that some wag may have impersonated the editor, but my own experience as a Gannettoid is that satire was never quite able to catch up with Gannett. 


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