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Watch the copy editor fumble

By John E. McIntyre

The Baltimore Sun

10:09 AM EST, December 14, 2012

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On Monday, as I was working on the word of the week, coruscating, I was called away from the keyboard. Returning, having forgotten that I had not spell-checked the post, and pressed to move on to something else, I published it with two or three typographical errors intact. A little later, I got a message from Chris Dinsmore, a colleague at The Sun, saying that he had noticed the errors and fixed them, bless his heart.*

I lead with this prosaic little episode not because it is in any way remarkable, but because it is entirely typical. This is the way we write now.

When I sit at the news desk and look at the incoming copy, I see the misspellings, wrong words, and errors of fact in the online fields and realize with weary resignation that it is all already up on the website. In time, the corrections will take hold there, but the errors are already cached somewhere.

This happens for two reasons. The first is our Web-first haste. Get it written. Get it posted. We're like AP, UPI, and Reuters battling to be first by seconds. Clean it up later. The second is the widespread determination to shortchange the editing. "Reduce the touches" (i.e., slash the costs) has been the cry of the sharp-pencil people throughout journalism and publishing for the past several years.

So those of us who write are increasingly on our own, and those of us who are copy editors understand the Augustinian insight that we are all mortal and deeply inclined to error. "Writers are not the best proofreaders and copyeditors of their own work," Carol Saller says. Even sweet old Homer nods, Horace advised us,** and we ain't Homer.

I think how much better this blog would be if I had an editor. Not just someone to catch the typos, though that would be a great help. But someone to spot the slack writing, to point out a word that would be more to the point than the one I had chosen, to suggest that the point in the sixth paragraph would be a better opening than the first. Someone to tell me not to post it now, but to think about it a little more, and revise.

That kind of help is what those of us in the remnant are still trying to provide to our writers, with volume and pace working against us.

But you, dear reader, are not always going to get the best work, and you, dear writer, you're probably going to be left to your own devices and resources most of the time. Sorry about that.

 

Addendum: Writing about the coruscating post, Jan Freeman observes at Throw Grammar from the Train that the word is gradually taking on a meaning far removed from "glittering" or "brilliant." People are using it as a pejorative in the sense of "corrosive" or "savage," perhaps confusing it with excoriate.

 

 

*Had it not been Mr. Dinsmore, one of you good people would surely have written. Some of you prefer the discreet private message, and some go in for the public nyah-nyah, but I accept both gratefully.

**Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.