Reducing Errors: It Starts With Reporters
My Sunday column about the increasing number of typos and small errors making their way into The Post prompted a wave of e-mails from eagle-eyed citizen copy editors.
More than a few noted the incorrect date (June 5) on Monday’s front page story about President Obama’s visit to Moscow. Several cited this confusing sentence in Monday’s story on Sarah Palin: “The letter also made it clear that Palin’s growing animosity toward members of the media.”
But quite a few said I was wrong to attribute the increased errors on a reduction in copy editors. Isn’t the blame with the reporters who made the mistakes in the first place, they asked?
Kay Dawson, of Englewood, Ohio, referred to my example of a Post column that said a federal employee had “spitted" (instead of spat) on his boss.
“Why should a copy editor have to change spitted to spat? It shouldn’t have been written in the first place,” she wrote. “Most of the errors you cited in your column... are due to the ignorance of the reporter.”
Several of those who posted comments on my column made similar points.
“What I don't understand is how anyone gets hired as a reporter for a paper of national stature without being able to pass a test of spelling, grammar, and punctuation,” wrote one. “Getting names right and places right is a BASIC of Journalism 101. To blame all the issues on declining numbers of copy editors suggests that your reporters are either not competent at the basics of journalism or too lazy to proofread their own work.”
Another urged placing “the blame where it belongs (on) the people who are writing the stories in the first place. The copy editors can only police what they receive.”
These readers make a valid point. At The Post and most other newspapers struggling to contain costs, reporters will need to do a better job on the front end.
Yes, the reporting ranks have been thinned through staff reductions, and those who remain are under increasing pressure to file more quickly, and more often, to the Web. But the number of copy editors may well continue to shrink at unprofitable newspapers like The Post, making it all the more important that reporters adhere to the “garbage in, garbage out” principle.
Most newspapers do a pretty good job of tracking errors that appear in print or online. Perhaps they should place equal emphasis on tracking reporter errors that are caught by copy editors.
As newspapers increasingly shift online, one advantage of the Internet is that errors can be quickly corrected. At The Post, some online editors use the phrase “Wrong, but not for long.” It would be helpful if reporters kept in mind the exhortation of legendary publisher Joseph Pulitzer: “Accuracy! Accuracy! Accuracy!”
| July 7, 2009; 4:52 PM ET
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