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First lesson: nobody cares

The Baltimore Sun

The Cincinnati Enquirer expunged its copy desk, and now the editor says in a memo to the staff that, mirabile dictu, readers are complaining that the paper is full of sloppy errors.

Someone leaked the memo to Romenesko.com, and there has been much comment, none of it kind. I don’t intend to join in, having thoroughly bashed the paper when the asinine plan to eliminate copy editors was first announced. “I told you so” is a tiresome statement.

But I do want to consider a comment on a private Facebook site by a current Enquirer staff member, to the effect that these are just errors, that people make mistakes, that we’re working very hard, and we care.

I understand that. It is hard for writers, even professionals to spot their own mistakes, as those of you who have been kind enough to point out my typos and other lapses will recognize. You don’t need to tell me that there is a lot of pressure in the paragraph game these days and that everyone is working full tilt, that everyone means well.

But here’s the thing, a hard lesson for my students, and evidently a hard lesson for grown-up journalists as well:

The reader doesn’t care how hard you worked, what pressures you are under, or how good your intentions are. The reader sees the product, online or in print; if the product looks sloppy and substandard, the reader will form, and likely express, a low opinion of it. And the reader is under no obligation whatsoever to be kind. That’s how it is, and that’s how it has always been, in saecula saeculorum.

You have, of course, my sympathy for your plight, striving to meet impossible demands in an ill-managed operation. But my sympathy, as they say, butters no beans, and the reader has none.

You also have my hunch that this is not headed in a good direction.


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