Betty Ireland, the Charleston Republican who served as West Virginia’s secretary of state from 2005 to 2009, took a pet peeve of hers public a few days ago, with a Facebook post that began “I love newspapers.”
In addition to the newspaper she has delivered at home, she reads papers online, visits TV and radio stations’ websites for news and gets a national newsfeed through Twitter.
And almost across the board, Ireland sees problems – prompting her to deliver some advice for editors. “Please get better copy editors,” the former teacher wrote. “Your papers are full of spelling errors, grammar mistakes, references to non-existent places ….”
She also reports seeing stories that neglect to properly introduce a source with a full name and title upon first reference. Instead, suddenly, midway through a tale, a quote will pop up from, say, “Bond” … and she’s left to puzzle over the identity of the reporter’s source.
Most distressing of all, says Ireland, sloppier and sloppier copy seems to be the trend. “Getting worse all the time,” she concluded.
As we read papers and pore over news online, we spot many of the same things that Ireland’s lamenting, along with stories that are poorly organized and longer than they need to be but still lack basic information, have homonym mixups (“there” instead of “their”), soundalike words (“affect” and “effect”), missing words, misspelled names, reporters brains that have gone on autopilot (“Fortunately, there were no survivors”), and more – but I wouldn’t say the problem is the need for “better” copy editors.
The trouble isn’t the quality of the copy editors, but how few of them still are employed to tackle this mostly thankless work. As newspaper revenues have declined, hordes of the industry’s capable, hard-working copy editors have been shown the door, and no one outside the newsroom notices until mistakes start showing up in print and flabby stories and dull headlines become the norm.
At the Spirit, mistakes do make their way into print, but we’re constantly working to do a better job. We know how much it drives readers crazy to see bad writing, poor grammar and the like. We feel the same way.
You don’t have to pick up the Spirit; you choose to, and we’re determined not to let you down.
– Robert Snyder