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Deadline pressure yields a "mess" of a World Series column

By Andy Alexander

Fans who went to The Post's Web site Monday to read Tom Boswell’s coverage of Sunday’s World Series game were treated to the same incisive, colorful copy they’ve come to expect from one of the nation’s premier baseball columnists.

But those who read Boswell in Monday morning’s newspaper encountered a mess. By my count, the column contained at least 20 typos, grammatical errors or misspellings.

Readers complained.

“I’d like my 75 cents back, please,” wrote reader Mitch Zeller of Olney, who had purchased a copy of Monday’s Post at the Bethesda Metro station. “There is no excuse for such a shoddy product. It’s completely unprofessional; more errors than one would see in a high school or college newspaper.”

Added Rob Riordan of Alexandria: “Please, rescue Mr. Boswell from the pressure of the midnight deadline. Give him, and your readers, back your copy editors.”

Riordan put his finger on a primary cause: tighter deadlines. It’s the same problem I wrote about last week in explaining why up to 185,000 Post readers were no longer getting late game coverage of the World Series, the Redskins’ Monday night game or the Wizards’ exciting season opening victory in Dallas.

The need to cut costs forced The Post to close its College Park printing facility some months ago and consolidate operations at its other printing plant in Springfield. That, coupled with the need to deliver papers to subscribers who now begin their commutes earlier due to worsening traffic congestion, has resulted in deadlines being moved forward.

Sunday’s thrilling Game 4 in Philadelphia ended shortly before midnight, and Boswell filed his story at 12:07 a.m. Crafted literally as the game was unfolding in the exciting late innings, the story came in rough. And it was longer than the allotted space, leaving editors to try to edit and significantly trim it within about 20 minutes while they also edited and packaged other World Series stories and stats. Editors hit the button on Boswell’s column at 12:25 a.m., just shy of the 12:30 a.m. final copy deadline. They knew it had received only cursory editing, but the alternative was to hold it out of the paper. That would have angered readers who have come to rely on Boswell’s keen insights.

The result was passages like these:

- Extra rest for a pitcher “may be on crucial value” instead of “may be of crucial value.”

- “...the Yankees had reverse the tide” instead of “reversed the tide.”

- “...tactics that may bare on the rest of the sears” instead of “bear on the rest of the series.”

A year ago, Boswell would have experienced the same acute pressure. But instead of trying to make the final edition, he would have been trying to make The Post’s second edition, the so-called “Suburban” that goes to communities beyond the District and its inner suburbs. If his copy couldn’t be edited by that 12:30 a.m. deadline, it would have simply been held out of that edition. Boswell and his editors would have had an extra 45 minutes to polish his story for the final edition, which has the largest press run.

But now, 12:30 a.m. is the final deadline for the last edition. If a story doesn’t make that deadline, it doesn’t get in any papers.

Sports Editor Matt Vita praised his copy desk for “making sure as few mistakes as possible get into the papers under the incredible deadline pressure that they’re facing for every World Series game.”

But he acknowledged that “more mistakes and typos got through on (the Boswell) column than we would have liked.” He added: “Everyone knows that deadlines are not an excuse and we have to do better.”

Once past Monday's final deadline for the newspaper, Boswell and his editors turned to producing a clean, more concise version that ran online. If you're a baseball fan and couldn't wade through the sloppy column in print, the Web version is worth a read.

By Andy Alexander  | November 3, 2009; 2:33 PM ET
 
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Comments

You don't really address the copy-editing issue. As a former newspaper copy editor, I know that an editor can fix and trim a story in 20 minutes--if that's the only job he or she has to do. Does the sports section have fewer copy editors than it did a year ago? Did sports bring in enough copy editors on overtime? Seems that if it's worth getting Boswell's column in the paper it's worth getting the column in right.

Posted by: usemark1 | November 3, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

On any given day it takes me about an hour to read the Post. If I am not in a rush it takes longer. Most of the time I can pick out at least twenty spelling or grammatical errors in the paper. I used to email the ombudsman but what is the use? Its just getting worse.

Posted by: MKadyman | November 3, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I too am a former newspaper copy editor. Clearly the de-emphasis on the copy desk around the country is taking its toll. The bean counters insist that the copy desk is extraneous, and they already have editors to do that job, but copy editors are trained to work quickly and accurately, but my guess is the deadlines were absurdly tight and the desk itself was understaffed.

This also points out another secret of the news biz: without copy editors, a lot of the top columnists and writers around the country would look like idiots a lot more often than they have. Most of them appreciate the work that the desk does to clean up their mess, but that appreciation generally has been lost on the suits in the offices deciding who works and who gets laid off.

Posted by: BSM1202 | November 3, 2009 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Here's my commentary on the copy desk problem:

http://tinyurl.com/yktatfc

Posted by: ChristopherAve | November 3, 2009 11:08 PM | Report abuse

As a soon-to-be former copy editor, I agree with usemark1.
This guy knows he's glossing over the desk's slow bleeding, and he doesn't care. Just look to his final seven words: "The Web version is worth a read."

Posted by: zoibor | November 4, 2009 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Why is Boswell allowed to get away with filing a column full of errors? More importantly, why is he allowed to file a late column that's long? The page would have been (well, should have been) laid out hours ahead of time and after years of doing this, Boswell and his editors should know that he needs to be given a mark to hit and hit it.

Posted by: TBTF | November 4, 2009 3:17 AM | Report abuse

Well, actually, the decline of copy editing isn't simply a matter of deadlines. Editors had plenty of time to catch this gem in the Duke-Virginia football game story (it appeared both in print and on-line):

"Duke picked up the loose ball and made an easy run into the end zone -- thus spurning a mass exodus from Scott Stadium from a season-low crowd that had seen this act before."

I assume he meant "spurring."

Posted by: jammmick | November 4, 2009 4:53 AM | Report abuse

I think the solution is to hire people who aren't merely "punching the cluck."

[C'mon - it had to be said.]

Posted by: diogenes_quixote | November 4, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who has ever read unfiltered Boswell (e.g. in his weekly chats) would know that he can barely write a single sentence without at least one grammatical or typographical error, even when not under deadline pressure. And that's not even mentioning the general incoherence of many of his written thoughts. Any copy editor who is responsible for "cleaning up" a Boswell column ought to be getting hazardous duty pay. As a writer, Boswell is a total fraud, and the Post's cutback in copy editors has exposed him for that.

Posted by: section309 | November 4, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

You want to be a shill for the Post, go ahead. But, if you really want to function as an advocate for the Post's readers, you need to pay attention to what they're saying.

You quote Riordan of Alexandria: "Give him, and your readers, back your copy editors.” You responded, "Riordan put his finger on a primary cause: tighter deadlines."

No, Riordan identified the primary cause as the lack of copyeditors, not deadlines. You further conclude that another culprit is "subscribers who now begin their commutes earlier due to worsening traffic congestion."

Give me a break. Traffic congestion was the root cause for a column going into print unedited?

The primary cause is the lack of copy editors -- and it shows up everywhere in the Post, not just in Boswell's columns.

The problem isn't late baseball games, traffic on the beltway or shuttered printing plants. The problem is the Post doesn't want to pay for the staff it takes to create a competent product.

At some point, reporters are going to bump up against a deadline, whether it's 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. When you write fast, you make mistakes. That's why you pay copyeditors.

I've been thinking for a while of cancelling my Post subscription, because of the removal of the Business and weekly local section. I think your take here has just made that decision easier.

Posted by: mvm2 | November 4, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

So, the news "ends" at 12:30 am, WaPo's press deadline? Why in the world would I pay to read a print newspaper that is several hours behind the news when I can go on the Internet and read what happened less than an hour ago? Who's dumb enough to pay money for yesterday's news?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 4, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to raise and issue with your blogs. what are they? are they columns? are they independent reporting. Most notably: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/11/will_21st_century_skills_weake.html. There is no mention of the other side of the story. I'm glad Mr. Mathews has the ability to copy and paste from a blog, but how about picking up the phone and asking the DOE what the policies will be going forward, rather than taking a blog post from a think tank...

Posted by: doctordowntown | November 4, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

It's now Wednesday afternoon, and the online version of the Monday Boswell column still contains six errors, including a misspelled name. Maybe somebody just doesn't care.

Posted by: mrwuxtry | November 4, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Does it take a sports column, filed on deadline with multi-errors, to draw attention to the lack of copy editors at WaPo? It became famous in the industry when it decided reporters could edit themselves.

There is a reason that doesn't work. Reporters have enough to do getting names and other facts straight without having to worry about such things as grammar and spelling. Reporters specialize in collecting information and writing the report. The copy desk specialized in putting that report into English. (Yes, the past-tense is intentional.)

One day, publishers will lose a big libel suit when a jury doesn't buy the excuse that the reporter labored and erred under the pressure of deadline. Reporters always labor under the pressure of deadline. That's why newspapers used to have copy desks.

Meanwhile, the newspaper industry's credibility will continue to be assaulted as reporters face increased workloads and tighter deadlines. The smart reporters long for the days when the copy desk saved their behinds nightly.

Posted by: WillEdItt | November 4, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

I have to disagree with section309 on Boswell's ability as a columnist. His raw copy may be sloppy, but his columns are among the most deeply reported in any newspaper. He's no thumb-sucker.

Posted by: jammmick | November 5, 2009 5:50 AM | Report abuse

"His raw copy may be sloppy, but his columns used to be among the most deeply reported in any newspaper. Now he's nothing but a thumb-sucker."

Fixed your post.

Posted by: section309 | November 5, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Mr. Alexander, you have become the Excuser-in-Chief.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | November 5, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

What happened to personal responsibility?
I aways hit the perview button befor I hit the submit won.

Posted by: spamsux1 | November 5, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Sports readers, welcome to the WaPo the rest of us have 'enjoyed' for years. If you think these errors are newly appearing in the Post, you haven't been reading the same paper I do. Every one of these errors appears in the Post, somewhere, every single day.

It's not the exception, it' the rule.

Posted by: TeddySanFran | November 6, 2009 2:50 AM | Report abuse

Well, that's the predictable result of the Post laying off so many copy editors. And I'm a bit disappointed that you don't say this clearly, Mr. Alexander. Trying to present the deadline pressure as the sole reason neither helps your collegues nor the readers.

Posted by: Gray62 | November 6, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Btw, did Boswell call the editor a d*** or a c*********? Did any fistfight happen? Was Brauchli forced to intervene in a struggle about what may be the second worst sports story in 43 years? Anyone send home because of this? Curious readers would like to hear more about the inner workings of the newsroom!
:D

Posted by: Gray62 | November 6, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, Andy, crappy writing has been around in the Post for awhile. Take a gander at this piece:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/03/AR2008050301733.html

Here are some quotes:

"Bloggers with names such as the Cruel Secretary, and blogs called What About Our Daughters? and the African American Political Pundit, have railed against groups in the "black-o-sphere," saying they do not understand young black Americans, are behind the times and react too slowly to incidents involving the younger generation."

The phrase "groups in the 'black-o-sphere'" is completely ambiguous.

Or this bon mot:

"'The NAACP's youth-outreach efforts are dysfunctional," Rock said. 'We would have been glad to work with them had they asked. If you're talking about the talented tenth, we are the new talented tenth,' a reference to a concept by Du Bois of a group of exceptional black men."

"a reference to a concept by Du Bois" is absolutely brutal writing.

And another quote:

"Jones called Rucker, a former director of grass-roots mobilization for MoveOn.org whom leaders there praise as 'brilliant.' Jones said that if dozens of white grandmothers had been suffering in the streets, MoveOn would have acted."

"whom leaders there praise as brilliant" is just awful.

Perhaps it ain't all deadlines.

Posted by: sobrien2 | November 6, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse


Dear Anderson Cooper, I have been very disturbed what I have been hearing on another news network about C Street in Washington D.C. I was wondering why CNN has not picked up on this story . The C street residence is a secretive religious group which houses members of our Congressman and Senators. Jeff Sharlet has done extensive research on this group and wrote a book called" The Family" Senator Ensign from Nevada just left the organization for drawing attention to it. This is a good investigative story that we the people need to be informed about. These lawmakers need to be accountable for the laws they cast upon us.Especially when they believe they are above the law. They are Democrats and Republicians that belong to this organization. We need a good journalist to do an extensive investigation on these members.Please don't ignor this story. We also need to know ,they list this house as a church do they receive tax benefits also which is important. What happened to seperation of church and state.

Posted by: jnjkelly48 | November 10, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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