Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Quality Control Quandary
July 8, 2009 6:20 AM   Subscribe

The Quality-Control Quandary "As newspapers shed copy editors and post more and more unedited stories online, what’s the impact on their content?" [via]
posted by dhruva (23 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
More devastating is newspaper's shedding beat reporters with years of historical knowledge and replacing them with recent college grads. A misspelled word I can overlook but some newb recently graduated from a college 4 states away covering city hall is unforgivable.
posted by photoslob at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's both, really. Copy editors do more than fix typos. They catch incomplete stories, the wrong names of city officials reported by newbs AND the more experienced, unfair stories, lack of context, etc. Newspapers are destroying themselves, even as many of them continue to make money despite the decline in advertising revenue. Google's decision to add real estate listings is another major blow, by the way.
posted by etaoin at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2009


In the SF Chronicle I see stories that would never have run a few years ago. They still have a lot of high quality work, but they also have a lot of weak work they never had before.
posted by cccorlew at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2009


A topic that's near and dear, as a former newspaper reporter turned technical writer/editor/content manager. At my former employer, the department where I worked used to have as many as four different people responsible for reviewing content before it could be published. I was let go in January, two others were let go in June, and the remaining editor on the team is the only one of us who doesn't have a background in publishing/journalism/etc. or a degree in English. That's for a team of about 30 content authors.
posted by emelenjr at 7:20 AM on July 8, 2009


Meta
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:31 AM on July 8, 2009


BP - My guess is that they knew about the manipulations and only pulled them after pressure from the newsroom. The NYT magazine is autonomous from the NYT newsroom from what I understand.
posted by photoslob at 7:44 AM on July 8, 2009


another former newspaper reporter long removed turned technical writer here. i talked to a friend of mine the other day. he's a GREAT local journalist with > 20 years experience. katrina blew him out of the job he'd had for the previous decade. stringing/freelancing kept him going until he was picked up by the advocate ... until may when he got caught up in the layoffs.

it's been almost 20 years since i tried to eke out a living in journalism, and i haven't subscribed to a daily paper in at least 5 years. regardless, i believe in my heart of hearts that the press is the fourth estate and the constant downsizing is bringing about a false sense of security for those who put their money on the bloggers. i'm rather embarassed at what the press has allowed itself to become, but i can pretty much guarantee this will not wendell. not at all.
posted by msconduct at 7:50 AM on July 8, 2009


I'm sure I'll get slammed for clinging to old, outmoded forms of English, but there are, simply, some basic rules (spelling, punctuation, basic grammar) that help us to communicate effectively. Newspapers, at least for a time, backed that up. You could be reasonably sure that when you opened the paper, you'd see "proper" English, of the sort you wouldn't think twice about recommending to advanced ESL students.

I remember being kind of shocked the first couple times I noticed spelling errors and grammar mistakes in the New York Times. Of course, as Blazecock points out, they seem to have some more serious errors. Having newspapers as arbiters of language, keepers of the "here's how you want to say that" of English wasn't a bad thing. Now that we can't trust papers (seriously, recommending the Japan Times to an ESL student is like recommending tying raw meat to yourself and jumping in a lion's den) to be a standard, well, there aren't many standards left.

As I said, I'm sure folks will jump on me over this, but speaking well, writing well, these are never bad things. In a world where newspapers have difficulty stringing together a sentence (let alone the wholesale abandonment of the paragraph), being able to write well will hopefully become a valued skill.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:51 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


and yet even MORE embarrassed that i misspelled embarrassed. :: ~blush~ ::
posted by msconduct at 7:52 AM on July 8, 2009


I don't read the online version of my local paper because, to be honest, not a whole lot happens in this town that can't wait until the next publishing day.

I remain firmly convinced, however, that for the last 9 months or so, having a story published in the paper has been the final project for the University's "Intro to Journalism 101" class.
posted by madajb at 8:09 AM on July 8, 2009


You could be reasonably sure that when you opened the paper, you'd see "proper" English, of the sort you wouldn't think twice about recommending to advanced ESL students.

The increase in colloquialisms and (for lack of a better term) teen-speak that has snuck into articles in my local paper in the past year is quite disheartening.
posted by madajb at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2009


I was let go in January, two others were let go in June, and the remaining editor on the team is the only one of us who doesn't have a background in publishing/journalism/etc. or a degree in English.

A degree in English is not at all necessary for copyediting.
posted by oaf at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2009


The loss of copy editors is detrimental to journalism, but not half as bad as the loss of journalists. I'm a reporter at a small, yet Pulitzer Prize winning, newspaper. We win major journalism awards every year for our investigative work which provides a major community service by keeping government on their toes. In the last year and a half, our newsroom and our one bureau has gone from 10 reporters to four plus an hourly cops reporter with limited responsibilities. We now have no reporters in our bureau and two more reporters have just put in their notice. How on earth can we continue to conduct investigations when the two remaining reporters are supposed to fill six pages of local news every day? The quality of reporting will suffer. There's just no way around it. Copy editors or no.
These losses have been due to attrition, but with declining revenues, the paper cannot afford to hire replacements.

Journalism is the only line of defense between total, unbridled public corruption and the taxpayers' pocketbook. At least it is in our market. No blogger, who doesn't even have to use their real name, is going to replace that.

I hope there are smarter people than me out there working to take journalism into the next phase. Godspeed. If journalism standards die in the online takeover, we're all screwed.
posted by I could but I won't at 8:51 AM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Zalgo stuff does not belong in this thread. It belongs in its own thread, and on MetaTalk, where memes and silliness can run wild. MeFiBlue is not as stoic and serious as AskMeGreen, but I'd like to believe we can have somewhat serious discussions without people purposely threadshitting.

There's a time and a place for that sort of behavior, and that place is college4Chan.
posted by explosion at 9:46 AM on July 8, 2009


Wah, wah. My point is that a lack of editorial supervision will lead to journalism that is basically incomprehensible and useless junk. Because, really, that's what 90% of the blogosphere IS. And yes, that does spell ruin, just as surely as...that guy.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2009


One thing that I found interesting was how many of the people quoted in the article stressed the need for credibility, and tied this in to quality control. And yet, Americans in general assign relatively low credibility ratings to all news sources (look at the 2nd box on the linked page for time comparison). What's even more perplexing, to me anyway, is that while the consumption of online news has grown pretty substantially, online-only news sources are viewed as the least credible. Why do people use sources that they don't trust?

Maybe because:
Many news consumers feel that the news media are largely undifferentiated: More than four-in-ten (43%) say that all the news media are pretty much the same. Slightly more than half (54%) disagree, saying that there are a few news sources that they trust more than others. There has been little change in these views since 2004.*
I've been watching these trends for several years, and all I can conclude is that there is a disconnect between what journalists think they are providing to the public and what the public actually thinks it wants/needs. I certainly see this anecdotally with my students, who generally view the idea of the Fourth Estate as strange and outmoded, sad to say.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:13 AM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


oaf, you're right. Obviously, English degrees aren't required. However, in all of my previous writing/editing gigs, they've been common among the other editors who worked with me. In the case of that previous job, three of us had degrees in English, plus prior experience as either an educator or in the publishing industry. Not to mention an overall desire to work with words. My original point had more to do with cutting costs at the expense of quality, which I think has become a legitimate worry as far as my old employer is concerned.

And for the record, my grapes aren't so sour. Although it's been a long six months of unemployment, I'm on my way back into the field as a consultant with a new employer.
posted by emelenjr at 10:37 AM on July 8, 2009


We're doomed.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2009


I've been watching these trends for several years, and all I can conclude is that there is a disconnect between what journalists think they are providing to the public and what the public actually thinks it wants/needs.
Indeed. What if the market's correcting itself? What if all the value-added in credibility which newspapers and journalists have been providing has been unwanted and we're only just discovering this?

A modern-day newspaper is a tool for understanding the world, but maybe the market never cared to use this tool, or never cared for a tool made to the current high standards.

It's possible the "news" the market perceives it is consuming has in reality not been polished, accurate reporting by experienced professionals. It's possible this "news" has actually been to them a product which may or may not be true, consumed in the absence of standards for accuracy, professionalism, or quality. Now that polish, accuracy, experience, professionalism and all the good things are declining maybe the truth is most people never knew about or expected those things anyways. These things occur to me when people complain about biased reporting in the New York Times and yet turn out to be referring to items from the opinion section. It's possible.
posted by halonine at 11:12 AM on July 8, 2009


It's been rather irrelevent whether or not people wanted journalism, they benefited from it when they bought a paper for something else they did want, like job ads. However, most people ultimately do want to live in a society that has a strong democracy where power is held to account.

It's the same problem as the other things threatened by the net: people want good music to be made, but the payment system is broken. The news is little different.

That competition from the net is the ultimate problem is one of the things that makes cutbacks in copy editing so bizarre to me. Quality was one of the remaining differentiators papers had to sell to those people who *do* want journalism, but now they're cutting the people who ensure that quality, so the product is getting worse and the competition's looking better. It's as if an MP3 player company responded to Apple launching the iPod by cutting its R&D team.

(oh, and I don't know about their US counterparts, but British sub-editors are very much journalists. You can send a kid to the courts, if you've got an amazing sub waiting to fix their copy)
posted by fightorflight at 6:34 PM on July 8, 2009


[few comments removed - ease off the zalgo please]
posted by jessamyn at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2009


"Journalism is the only line of defense between total, unbridled public corruption and the taxpayers' pocketbook."

And journalism failed us, absolutely and completely, in the lead up to the occupation of Iraq.

I should feel sad why, exactly, that old print media is dying off?
posted by bardic at 8:54 PM on July 8, 2009


1. It was already the beginning of the end by then, outsiders just didn't know it yet.

2. Want lots more of that stuff, at all areas and levels of society? If not, that's why you should care.
posted by fightorflight at 3:21 AM on July 9, 2009


« Older Rosalie Kunert, the inspiration behind the iconic ...  |  Fifty-Two Stories - one short ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments