We all make typos while entering our stories, some of us more than others. But newsroom standard operating procedures aid in catching and correcting most of our typos, misspellings, poor sentence structure and awkward headlines. If individual spell checks don’t catch the mistakes, and self-editing misses the errors, a copy editor usually comes to the rescue to make corrections. Systems are in place, or are they?
The procedures for taking content prepared for print and posting it online, or for repurposing news broadcast copy for inclusion on a station’s website, have weak points. I tend to spot at least one error each morning while scanning the news from a handful of news sites, and I’m not really looking for mistakes. Here are a few examples I noticed over the past weekend:
Morning of May 27
CNN headline (fixed within 35 minutes):
Town split over school desegration
NBC News website:
TOKYO — An engine fire broke out on a Korean Air jet about to take off from a Tokyo on Friday, authorities said.
Morning of May 28
Florida boat collision: One dead, 2 injured
(CNN) Two boats collided outside a Coast Guard station in Florida, killing person and injuring two others, authorities said.
Morning of May 29
ABC News (headline):
Suspect Arrested After Georgia Deputy Shot During in Face
Web posting adds challenges
During the early days of news websites I found that adding the new task of posting stories to the company website added a few additional challenges never experienced before. In our hurry to break a news story on our site, we would occasionally take fresh copy and paste it onto our content management system quickly, skipping a few steps in the editing process. For a newspaper, for instance, the proofreading phase went out the door.
Preparing broadcast copy for publication on a news site adds a few extra challenges as well. For instance, anchors can usually figure out misspellings and pronounce the correct words when reading copy from a teleprompter during a broadcast. The viewers would never know whether or not the broadcast copy had any typos or not. But in repositioning the copy for publishing online, that same copy not only requires a bit of rewording along with some additional sentences for viewer reading, but any typos have to be corrected in the process. Let’s face it, most news organizations are not going to spring for a new position with the role of digital copy editor, so an extra pair of eyes to check the updated copy is probably rare.
In addition, I noticed most of the errors I have come across on newspaper websites occur when breaking news reports are published over the weekend. This leads me to believe the weekend staff in these cases consists of a skeleton crew, possibly without additional copy editors available to double check the text for online posting.
Although most established news organizations have had websites since the mid-1990s, and have been posting news and commentary on social media for about 10 years, the problems remain. It’s an ongoing dilemma: The publication of content to more locations and more forms of media (video/multimedia reporting, visual journalism, for example) in a time when news organizations are still reducing staff really stretches the ability of the staff to contribute quality work in all areas expected. Journalists have a greater workload and a different set of challenges these days. Many reporters are required or encouraged to keep and update their own professional news blogs and social media accounts, adding to their workload.
Emphasize digital-first editing
One solution is simply addressing the state of modern news dissemination. Push ahead with the digital-first angle. Newspapers, for instance, can report and edit for the web and social media platforms first, then use the standard procedures to select and edit news stories form the online stories and prepare them for print publication. The editing process takes place for online first, then less has to be done when content is selected and prepared for print.
Let’s face it, online viewing will continue to grow until something new comes along connecting viewers more quickly and efficiently. The audience consisting of consumers of digital news will grow infinitely and greatly surpass conventional forms of news delivery. It only makes sense that quality control be emphasized first and foremost at the digital step in the process.