Copy Editing: A Dying Art?

I’ve noticed the decline in copy-editing sharpness in my hometown Seattle Times, where the newsroom has been slashed severely in the past two years. The same thing is happening at newspapers everywhere.

Copy EditorWashington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander noted in a January column that the newspaper was getting more complaints from “readers who complain that increased copy-editing errors have become annoying and are damaging The Post’s credibility.”

“If they don’t care about basics like grammar and spelling, how much do they care about factual accuracy?” one reader asked “For me, the errors have become like fingernails on a blackboard,” e-mailed another.

Alexander’s column also noted the increased use of software programs that detect spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and words that can have dual meanings. Future programs are emerging, he writes, that can be customized to reflect style preferences of individual newspapers.

But Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute on media studies in Florida, warns against overreliance on technology. There’s danger in “treating it as something godlike that descends out of the machine and corrects all your mistakes for you.” Clark said.

Hopefully, no software will ever be able to replace a fastidious editor. So if you need one,  click on mikegreenstein.com.

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