Speaking up for editing: On news websites

I talk about value-added editing as an unfortunate necessity, in which we have to show why editing and care with writing make our products clearer and better — and at a cost worth incurring. But to do this, we have to act — no one will notice, care or act for us. This is no civil rights crusade, but it is a worthy effort toward a better society and a place and appreciation for a set of skills, talents and personalities. Here’s one in what will be a series of instances where we have to stand up for editing:

On news websites:
Copy editing is difficult enough to find in print publications today, even at the largest papers (the Wall Street Journal no longer has a research library, for instance). But online, copy editors are either nonexistent or in the singular, as in: the site’s copy editor.

Still, there’s a sloppiness that’s somehow allowed, as if no one needs to edit headlines or stories before they’re posted — or even after, if staffing/urgency dictates a publish-first, edit-later mentality. This editing needn’t be anything more than general English guidelines; a stylebook is nice, but all we’re looking for is good enough, of something better than ignorance or carelessness.

As any copy editor can tell you, there are times where your mind just won’t work for you. This Salt Lake Tribune article offers a classic example from the traditional print. And, as the comments to that article show, there are a lot of “readers” not worth your time or effort. But, as readers (and maybe content producers) who do have value, we need to speak up.

This should not be acceptable, much less for over an hour as the lead headline on a section front:

Of course, what’s worst is that the article is about a teenager shot 11 times.

The Washington Post has many problems, and the copy-editing staff has been decimated (literally and figuratively, most likely) many times over. But I’m not picking on the Post; I’m picking on the idea that we should let this go.

If you’re not terribly confrontational or it’s something worth noting but not castigating, tweet about it. Facebook it. Maybe include a note saying, “Hey, not sure how this happened …” but show that you noticed, and it did affect you, even if you’re still able to go on with your life. If it’s more serious or you are a bit more, well, forward, write the website — tell them what’s up and why it should be fixed.

Don’t be an ass, and don’t be a dictionary. Show why the error diminishes value and why correcting it has its benefits.

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