I have had many jobs over these oh, so many years, but perhaps the one that has come most naturally to me is that of copy editor. At the copy desks I worked on, everyone did a little bit of everything, from correcting spelling to berating reporters. But to me, copy-editing has always meant just digging into the text and finding the stuff that somebody else screwed up. Things like this, which I read yesterday:
“A 61-year-old Vermont man is facing up to five years in prison after being convicted of assaulting a farmhand who was spreading manure by aiming a .45-caliber pistol at the victim and then firing the weapon into the woods.”
Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with that sentence? Besides the obvious question of whoa, what is in the water up there?!?
Or this headline: “Woman killed after being struck by car.” I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. I’ve seen that one a lot lately; it makes me crazy.
As media has gone social and newsroom staffs have been slashed, the rash of errors in the news I read has gone viral. More and more, I find misplaced modifiers, unforgiveable spelling errors (“there” for “their,” for example), and missing words.
It’s not that writers and editors never made mistakes (or missed them) before the media went 24/7 across all channels. Anyone who’s ever worked on a newspaper has his or her favorites. One of mine was made by a ditzy co-desker who wrote the following headline: “Health care for all not dead yet.” My boss saved that one for me until after I returned from a vacation. It was a thoughtful gift.
Lest I, here in my glass house, be accused of stone-throwing, I will ‘fess up to my own embarrassing mistakes, like the time that, at the end of a long shift, I pulled a photo of the wrong politician and plopped it on a page. Nobody noticed before the press ran.
People think that mistakes in a newspaper are made by the stupid or the lazy. They’re not: they’re made by the human, the understaffed, the overworked, the exhausted. It’s a fast business, never more so than today, and mistakes are inevitable. It’s just that there’s supposed to be someone – besides the computer – checking.
But for those of us who wince when menu items are misspelled, the anxiety is getting higher. It’s the Kwik Kopying of journalism. And it’s depressing as hell.