"Companies still spend too much time on their copy-editing processes"

If you had to guess, you might say that this is a newspaper publisher’s quote. Perhaps one of those places outsourcing editing out of state or out of country. Maybe it’s some publisher looking for an excuse to sack a section of people (see latest poster child: Minneapolis Star Tribune).

But you’d be wrong. It’s the managing director for Tansa Systems, a company that offers computerized text-proofing solutions with such clients as The Economist, Canwest and The Associated Press. It’s not just spell-checking, but editing in context, with custom dictionaries, local style and hyphenation, among other offerings. It’s almost like a copy-editor replacement.

Now, as a copy editor, you’re not going to get me to say this is a great thing. But that’s not because of Tansa.
It seems that its services would be beneficial for certain types of publications — at the least, for news wires, press release factories and companies’ internal memos. Certainly, websites that have fluidity of content and editing — and don’t pretend their writing rises much above decipherable — may have use of a cheaper version of the company’s offerings.

Tansa’s motivations are ultimately unclear — its cute illustration of Tansa fitting into the editorial workflow does include a spot for copy editors, hinting that it’s a collaborative tool. And at least it has an appreciation for editing and clean copy that many are tardy in gaining. But its mission statement could be taken any number of ways:

“The vision of Tansa Systems is that documents, printed matter and electronic text ultimately will be totally free of spelling mistakes and typographical errors.”

But beyond Tansa’s motivations and goals, the reason that its product isn’t a great thing is because of the way companies will undoubtedly use it.

Instead of being a complement, an organizational and time-saving option for harried editors, reporters and copy editors (and designers, possibly), media organizations will likely use it (or something like it) as a substitute. There will be few or no layers of human editing. This will save money.

But without at least some kind of human filter, it will have no chance to save publications that make last-minute changes, and it will generate the occasional bizarre copy because of grammar/usage rules to guide multiple reasonable interpretations converted into slavish devotion. When omissions and the limitations of Tansa’s product are discovered, as happens with any product, who will take responsibility?

Will the editor or ombudsman say, “Hey, the machine did it!” Or will that responsibility be unnecessary, as there is no one be left to read it?

Image credit: Jazza