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Cutting your way to quality

by: Eric B.

Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 11:22:01 AM EST

The copy editor, in the media business today, no longer exists. Used to, and used to do more than just read stories for grammar and style. Used to be that a copy editor would fact check and ask questions unanswered in the story. Then, profit margin went into a freefall, and quality control was the first thing sacrificed. The copy editors went away, replaced by community engagement specialists and content producers; and so did any reporter with a tenure long enough to command a decent salary. Paper owners and management have since insisted that it was all worth it. Each time cuts were made, readers and consumers were promised that the latest round of cuts would only make things better. I'm not sure if anyone believed it, and that includes the people who you are supposed to rely on to tell you the truth.

One of the things that media companies started to do was increasingly farm out the heavy lifting of reporting to untrained, unqualified, unsupervised people under the guise that these were citizen journalists. They'd write stories, the paper would look them over for obvious libel issues, and then post them to the Internet (this is the cousin to articles that consist mostly of aggregated comments from the unnamed and usually unhinged people who appear to have so much time on their hands they can spend it crawling media websites and shouting at each other). Anyway, this shouldn't surprise anyone.

Oakland Press editors "will fully investigate" an error-marred article by a clergyman who has contributed free articles for four years on religion and social service topics.

Tuesday coverage of the final worship service at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Royal Oak says "Tom and Mary Jo Hurley of Madison Heights listened" to the mass, which brought a comment under the article from their son:

"Unless resurrected for the last service, my parents have been deceased for years," posted Tim Hurley of Royal Oak, a former altar boy at the church and student for eight years at its school. His mom passed away in 1991 and his dad died six years later.

To be sure, these sorts of errors always occasionally took place. No matter how many quality control steps you build, something will eventually, always slip through. I once sent a Sunday paper out with the weekday price.

The problem is that errors like this kill an outlet's credibility, no matter who is ultimately responsible. People don't read a paper they don't believe, because there's no point to it. People read information they trust to be good. When your error is bad enough to create headlines on its own, you've really fucked up (he says, speaking from experience).

It's not that an error got made, it's the process that failed to catch it. Somewhere the process broke down, and the good reverend who wrote the article says it was heavily edited. I've never met an editor who liked to heavily edit things that are concise and clear, because it means doing more work than is necessary. So, my guess is that if the good reverend who wrote this is right in saying the error was edited into the story, it's probable that the story wasn't any good to begin. That's an expected outcome of handing off the job of writing to people who aren't trained or skilled in how to do it.

We're beyond the point where an honest examination of what really went wrong ought to take place. What really happened is that years ago, media companies decided that keeping aloft unrealistic profit margins were more important than turning out a quality product. So, they got rid of everything that wasn't bolted down and even some things were. They replaced them with unpaid volunteers, and they got exactly what they paid for.

Eric B. :: Cutting your way to quality
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Maybe I'm being far too speculative, but:
Is it me or do a few of those quotes read as highly unlikely to be spoken by the attributed sources? They are full of timeline facts and are similarly constructed, despite purportedly coming from different people.

I bet the service was lovely, though.

I'm glad Guardian Angels in Clawson remains open; it holds a special place in our family's history and there are a lot of memories there.

Great Lakes, Great Times.

Interesting point
It does read as if someone turned a paraphrased paragraph into a quote.

Among the Trees

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