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Double threat to quality journalism: Tighter deadlines, fewer copy editors

Double threat to quality journalism: Tighter deadlines, fewer copy editors

Readers who have come to rely on sports journalist Tom Boswell's quality baseball coverage for the Washington Post, might not have been quite so impressed with Monday's offering: His column, covering Sunday's World Series game, was sent to the printers awash with typos, grammatical errors and misspellings; generating a number of complaints.

Some readers asked for full 75 cents refund, whilst one reader hit the nail on the head, writing: "Please, rescue Mr. Boswell from the pressure of the midnight deadline. Give him, and your readers, back your copy editors." Another added: "There is no excuse for such a shoddy product. It's completely unprofessional; more errors than one would see in a high school or college newspaper."

Inexcusable such mistakes may be, but what are the direct causes of such a piece being sent to print?

It would appear that Boswell's typo-strewn column is symptomatic of the Post's various attempts to curb spending. Having recently closed its College Park printing facility and consolidated operations with its other printing plant in Springfield, the paper has been forced to inch deadlines forward in order to ensure the paper reaches commuters setting off earlier and earlier due to worsening traffic, as well as doing away with many copy editors.

Sunday's big game wound up just before midnight, and by 12:25 am - a mere five minutes before the 12:30 am final deadline - the story was written and ready for publication - or so it seemed. The piece had been crafted throughout the game and though editors were aware of the fact that it had only received minimal editing, the only other option would have been to hold it out of the paper, disappointing the large number of fans who follow Boswell's column.

That's not to say that the pressure to meet deadlines hasnt always existed- of course it has - and forms part of the very nature of journalism. It's just that a year ago, had Boswell not met the first deadline he could have still made the publication's more widely circulated second edition, giving him a further 45 minutes to play with. With Monday's deadline met - more or less, Boswell then set about producing a fine tuned version that ran online.

Media analysts and publishers alike have long debated the role of copy editors (sub -editors) in today's struggling industry. Indeed, the Guardian's Roy Greenslade deemed them "a layer in the publishing industry, which can be "eliminated"." Various models have been implemented, reducing the traditional three step article writing process to just two, and thus doing away with subs entirely. Whilst the financial benefits are apparent, it does beggar the question (which Boswell's column no doubt answers) as to the effects of such a move on the actual quality of journalism - which coupled with increasingly tighter deadlines, surely makes for a significant double threat ... and something's got to give.

Source: The Washington Post



Helena Humphrey


2009-11-04 12:50

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