Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Too Many Errors

In a question and answer style article “Talk to the Newsroom” published in The New York Times their deputy news editor, Philip Corbett, faces the question of why there seems to be so many more errors in The New York Times these days.

One such question was about the attention to grammar:

What’s with all the grammatical errors in The Times?...over the past couple years I’ve gotten the impression that many of your writers must not even have graduated from high school! Particularly striking is the number of errors relating to agreement between noun and verb.

Corbett responded by noting that the question seemed to have that everything-was-better-long-ago theme and that while many readers believe that there were fewer factual errors, typos, and grammatical lapses in The Times back in the old days he honestly doesn’t know if that is true. It’s that perception that worries him though. While he notes that it is possible that there are really more mistakes not than there were 20 or 30 years ago:

I truly don’t believe it’s because today’s writers or editors are less talented or conscientious than our predecessors. But I do think The Times today tries to do more than it did years ago. There is more late-breaking news, more variety of sections, topics and stories – and now...there’s the Web site, with constant updating of news and a whole new range of may be that our effort to give readers more means that we fall short of perfection even more than we once did.

Another question dealt with copy editing in the Internet era:

Are there any copy editing errors or concerns that occur exclusively in the online version of The New York Times? Anything you didn’t have to think about back in the all-print-only-print days?

Corbett believes that the biggest challenges for copy editors posses by the Web site involve time and volume. Newspaper editors have always worked under tight deadlines but with the Web the deadlines is always here because of constant updates. The Web site also included a huge amount of material, far beyond what appears in the paper. Corbett noted that:

Our Web editors are always balancing the desire to be fast with the need to maintain our high standards of editing. Generally, I think we do a good job with the balancing act, though there are times when an error will slip through that makes us wish we had taken a few extra minutes.

While such errors happen in print too the difference is that it’s the final edition we have to live with the goof for 24 hours until it can be corrected. At least on the Web, errors can be fixed as soon as they’re spotted. One place for such errors are our blogs, which raise special issues for editors:

Like everything on, blogs are held to the same standards of accuracy and fairness that we apply to news articles. But the tone and writing style can be very different...Editors have to be able to allow a blogger’s voice and style to come through, while still maintaining Times standards.

I agree with Corbett in that while there may be more errors in the times it is definitely is not due to slacking editors. News organizations offer so much more to their readers then they did in the past, they have to. Readers demand up to date information and they want ways to interact and find their own news. It is because of this that newspapers are doing so many more things then ever imaginable in the past and I would much rather have many different news tools to pick from and interact with then one that is edited perfectly.

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