Doing Less With Less

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5 August 2009

This piece on NPR’s “On the Media” about the shrinkage of copyediting staff at major newspapers rings true with me; I’ve been noticing more and more error-age in print.  
I first wondered about this when I was reading a paperback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which I found no fewer than 15 typos.  This was not long after candidates Barack Obama and John McCain had both named it as one of their favorite novels of all time.  I thought, sales of this book must be up, you’d think the publisher would go back and give it a proofread?

Then I read this article in the NY Times business section, about a book called Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell, in which Ruppel Shell argues “that our national obsession with bargains has lowered our standard of living and hurt the environment and the quality of American products.”  The book was published by Penguin, and the reviewer’s critique included the following:

Cheap isn’t perfect. Ms. Ruppel Shell makes some glaring errors. She refers to the convicted fraudster Bernard Madoff as “Michael Madoff” (who she says has contributed to consumer cynicism) and at one point refers to the former Wal-Mart C.E.O. Lee Scott as “Lee Jones.”

Really?  At least three people must have read this manuscript: the author, the editor, and the copyeditor.  No one caught “Michael Madoff”?   Uy.

“The Wire” creator David Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, has had a lot to say about the death of print journalism, including, “No one does more with less.  You do less with less.”    

Speaking of the Baltimore Sun, John E. McIntyre, who was 23 years at the Sun‘s copy desk until this past April — interviewed in the above-mentioned “On the Media” piece — blogs about copyediting and language here.  Fun stuff: I can just imagine him (prior to April) riffing with reporters in the newsroom, a la “The Wire” Season 5,  on the proper use of “evacuate” — You don’t evacuate people, as in “100 people were evacuated”; you evacuate buildings.  To evacuate a person would be to give the person an enema.  Lovely, lovely.

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