Your turn: Everyone makes mistakes. Am I making too big of a deal here or is this justifiably be seen as another chink in conventional media's armor?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Big boo boos
The older I got, the more critical I became. I wouldn't just read the paper: I'd pick it apart, critiquing the articles, photos and layout. All the while, I'd marvel that an unseen team of journalists and production wizards could produce this monumentally complex literary jigsaw puzzle each and every day. And as soon as they were done with one, they'd start over on the next edition. It was amazing then, and even today, in the age of the Internet, it remains so.
I'd also marvel at how clean the end result always seemed to be. Finding a typo or some other kind of error was a rarity - if I stumbled across more than one over a two- or three-month span, they were having a bad run. They obviously had editors who pored over the content at every phase of production, sweating the little things so readers would never have to contend with anything less than readable, relevant copy.
I wish I could say this is still the case. Sadly, it's a rare day that I don't find some laughable mistake in the paper. It's a pervasive enough occurrence that I often wonder who's doing the editing, and if he/she fully appreciates the personal and professional accountability associated with putting out a sellable product. Some days, it seems there's no one editing at all.
To wit, today's paper. Not only does Canada's lone female astronaut "mavel" at the current state of the International Space Station, but automotive columnist Joe Duarte apparently had his name changed to "Columnist Name". These aren't errors in body copy or mistakes buried in something they grabbed off the wire. They're headlines, and I noticed them from half a room away. That no one's minding the store is painfully obvious, and it saddens me.
I get that newspapers are hurting as the economy transitions online and advertising-based businesses try to adapt on the fly. I appreciate that relentless budget cuts have decimated the newsroom and reduced the multiple layers of editors to perhaps one or two overworked souls who are fearful for their jobs. I can put two and two together and conclude that the error rate will increase as a result.
But as newspaper publishers and editors-in-chief spill endless ink explaining how they've embraced the new economy and are rapidly evolving their product to continue to add value, I can't help but think how inexcusable boners like this are ultimately perceived by readers and advertisers alike. (Short answer: not very well.) It smacks of disrespect to the paper's stakeholders, that its people can't be bothered to finish the job, and don't care enough about their constituents to pull out every last stop to put out a quality piece of work. It suggests laziness in an era when other, better produced vehicles will happily go the extra mile to meet the community's needs.
I'd like to be part of the solution, but I doubt this entry will be read by anyone in an editor's office. Workflow and process in an Internet-enabled newsroom can go a long way toward fixing mistakes like this - mistakes that continue to drive readers away and reinforce to advertisers that the vehicle needs fixing. I remain optimistic that someday soon I'll actually be able to have this conversation with an editor or publisher who wants to do something about it.