Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why 'Amercia' needs copy editors

Posting to Autocat

This article has some hilarious examples of typos, but the more important aspect is that copy editors are being laid off, being considered less important than the "content" or they hold everything up too long. This seems to me to be similar to the attitudes toward catalogers. A few quotes from the article:
"A copy editor's work is largely invisible, until she misses something, in which case she takes the blame. But most important is that a copy editor stands in for the reader, gingerly reshaping, clarifying and correcting things before the reader can see them and post an excoriating comment.
But more and more publications are laying off their copy editors, replacing them with Web designers or more reporters, or with nothing. Or they're consolidating copy editors (and designers) in "hubs" far away from their audiences, where they can't catch a reporter who misspells Dan Smyth's name as Smith."
"So why are so many news organizations giving up on copy editors? Money, of course. Given the choice between having to give up reporters or give up copy editors, reporters will win nearly every time because they provide "content.""
"Copy editors "merely" prepare content, some publishers say, and don't we have Web editors to do that? Yes, but many don't have the training or inclination -- or time -- to pay attention to the content. Their main role is to drive traffic to the site, even if the content is bad."
"One reason given for eliminating copy editors is that reporters can simply "proofread" themselves better. But no one can read something he wrote as well as someone else can. Anyone who's sent off an email beginning "Dead Bob ..." knows that. And many reporters simply rely on spell check, witch wont ketch wards spilled rite, butt knot yews wright."
To me, this seems to be similar to the attitudes I have seen toward catalogers. I remember at one talk, somebody mentioned the results of a poll where they asked people what they wanted most from a library catalog. Everyone laughed when they reported that the catalogers said that number one was "no typos". But I said that I think such an attitude is vital since catalogers create metadata, which is a replacement for the resource. While a copy editor may miss a typo one time in an article, there may be other places where that typo is corrected so a full-text search may still work, but in a catalog record, that typo is probably in there one time. If a cataloger messes up the title, it's normally in there one time. Therefore, it is messed up and can't be found. (Now there is the possibility of fuzzy searching, but this has both good and bad consequences)

Still, if there is a serious shortage of money, embattled administrators have to make a choice. Very few will decide to give up their own jobs(!) and anyway: why shouldn't creators create their own metadata? Catalogers know why, but it is difficult to argue the case.

The article goes on to say:
"Few publications that are laying off editors are training their remaining staffers to edit themselves better. And proofreading is perhaps the least important purpose of copy editing."
Once again, sounds a lot like cataloging.


  1. I agree entirely about the synergy between copy editors and cataloguers, not least in that the value they add to the "content" isn't often recognised.
    However, you could take the argument a step further and reflect that accuracy in the content is what makes its users regard it as reliable and trustworthy. Who is going to trust the judgement of the journalist whose article is riddled with typos and infelicities? And who is going to respect the library whose catalogue is full of errors and inconsistencies? After all, one of the first ways we all recognise spam is in its grammatical and spelling mistakes.

    1. Absolutely. When I would do copy cataloging and I would see more-or-less elementary mistakes, typos and so forth, it made me much more suspicious of the more difficult areas: did this person really check the authority file? Is this subject really the best you can do?

      I think there are so many ways that libraries could supply the public with what they want and need. I mean by this libraries as a whole and not only catalogs and cataloging.