I was at the beach when I saw the notice on Romenesko that eight more people would lose their jobs in the consolidated copy desk operation of the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer.
Show me a reporter or editor who says they haven’t had their ass saved by an alert copy editor, and I’ll show you a liar.
I was reading the N&O at the time — $1 a copy, which is pretty stiff — so I started paying more attention to the section I read the closest: sports. (It’s ACC Tournament time, after all.) As it turns out, I didn’t have to pay that close of attention.
Wednesday — Two stories, two different ways of spelling Codi Miller-McIntyre’s name. In addition, one story said that a sick Kennedy Meeks would not play, another story said the decision hadn’t been made. (At many papers, when more than one story is being produced out of an event the stories would be read by the same copy editor to make sure the stories are consistent.
Friday — The Duke-N.C. State score in a box on the front page was transposed indicating that State won, rather than Duke. (In fairness, the front page is pretty clear who won: the correct score is at the top of the page above a headline that reads “Duke’s revenge tour continues.”) Update 1: Madison Taylor, editor of the Times-News in Burlington, quipped on Facebook: “State fans just bought subscriptions.”
Saturday — The lead story in the section said that UNC beat Virginia 69-67. The actual score was 71-67. (Online, it’s now correct, but I have a photo in case you doubt me.)
Maybe these aren’t big deals…but they’re mistakes. And a journalist who doesn’t feel a mistake in his or her gut isn’t worthy of the word journalist. There may be other errors — probably are, given the amount of space the staff is filling under tremendous time constraints. I was
alos also (I need a copy editor!) reading the early edition of the paper so I’m guessing that these mistakes may have been corrected by the time the paper was delivered within Wake County.
Caveat: I don’t mean to pick on the N&O, which is, in my opinion, the best newspaper in the state. And I know a lot of people there and I’m sure they hate these errors more than I do.
No, this point is to tell the overseers at McClatchy that what they continue to do to their editing staffs is killing the greatness of two of their better publications. I’ve worked for business people who have looked at org charts, pointed at copy editors and asked, “Why do we have these people? They don’t produce stories, right?” And copy editors get axed, perhaps more than any other part of a newsroom.
But readers can tell the difference when names are misspelled, when scores are transposed — how embarrassing for both Duke and State — and scores are simply wrong. Readers laugh at the paper’s errors, and they shake their heads and wonder what else in the paper’s report is wrong. It not only makes the paper look stupid, but it hurts their credibility — and a paper’s credibility is its primary — perhaps only — asset.
Perhaps the people at McClatchy are OK with that. Perhaps they have seen the savings they were looking for when they combined the two papers’ copy desks in 2011 and figure they can get a bit more.
But you know why there is no report above for Thursday? We decided we didn’t need the paper that morning. Picking up a copy was too much trouble. (I would have had to get four quarters from somewhere.)
I know how errors happen — they aren’t on purpose, there’s no conspiracy, and editors aren’t stupid. They happen because there aren’t enough people to check a story or chart or headline that was written on deadline while 18 other things are happening all at the same time.
I’m a newspaper lover. If I were a McClatchy shareholder, I’d be thinking that it’s about time to sell because when you start to lose newspaper lovers, you’re in serious trouble.
By the way, here is a fine list of what happens when you pare a copy desk down beyond its limits.
Update 2: In the comments, Andy Bechtel points out this link on the value of copy editing.