Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tribute to a copy editor

This blog is called sports writing AND editing, and that's why we were glad to see this Patrick Reusse tribute to Star-Tribune copy editor Bud Armstrong, who retired last night after 43 years there.

These are the kind of people that the business is losing -- at least Bud made it to the end on his terms -- and it's going to continue to diminish the quality of the daily paper ( for however long those are around).


rknil said...

You really need to pick an approach and stick with it.

When we're talking about improving the editing, you reduce the field to "fixing typos" and then promptly claim "NO ONE" has the time to do this.

When you're talking about the concept of catching mistakes -- not just typos -- at, you accuse everyone else of being a smart aleck.

Yet in this case, you cue up the "He's a good guy" mantra and claim another good editor has been lost forever.

You exhibit the same symptoms of others who can't make points or arguments. Whenever you feel challenged, you simply redefine terms. People who can make points make responses. People who can't do so parse words and redefine terms. You fall squarely into the second category.

So answer this: Are sports sections today perfect? And if not, what quality level are they at? If your answer is anything above "far below average," then provide proof.

And if they are far below average (which they are), where does the blame lie? Solely with management, as you and your cohorts at sj want to claim? Are you really trying to say that today's sportswriters can do NOTHING to improve?

Help me out. Because so far you seem to imply nothing can be done to improve sports sections, and anyone who believes otherwise is a smart aleck or malcontent who should be run out of the business. That seems to be a very immature, unprofessional, and sophomoric approach. Eight-year-olds go running out of the room when they don't want to hear criticism or do their work. Adult males should be able to do better than this.


Boy, a lot in there -- and much of it, from where I sit, a misrepresentation of both what I've said and how I feel about things. It almost makes me wonder, frankly, if you're connecting the right person here with the correct handle.

Here's what I know: About 25 years ago, when newspapers were certainly in a golden age, a study was done of a major American newspaper and it was discovered and documented that the average six columns of editorial newsprint -- each full page, sans ads -- contained an average of eight errors. That was presumably when copy desks were staffed at their highest levels, there were a lot of veteran editors who took their jobs extremely seriously and who not only "fixed typos" but checked facts meticulously and, for the best of them, improved each and every story they read in some large or small way.

That's the era I started in, and it's the approach I believe in. And yet, those people allowed an average of eight mistakes into every page.

You see, we were dealing with human beings on pressurized deadlines, trucks waiting the loading dock, on a daily basis.

So, to begin with: I'm not really sure why you think I blame management for sports sections' shortcomings. I actually believe there are still a lot of good editors in supervisory positions. If there's management blame to hand out, it's to those who have let the financial situation get to where it is, necessitating the gutting of editing operations across the country. And that, in turn, means quality is sliding. It certainly is in my local paper, which is a shadow of its former self.

What I will cop to is that I find it ridiculous when somebody starts an entire message board thread because some publication has made a typo or used the wrong spelling of a homophone.

Of course we still should be trying to do things right, and of course every editor and writer should strive to get it right every time.

But we've never gotten it 100 percent right in this business, even in the best of times, and we're certainly not going to get it 100 percent right now, with more to do and fewer people to do it.

Why you think I believe we shouldn't try is a mystery to me. And why you think my belief that typos and errors are simply part of doing business in this profession is one, too.

rknil said...

The only way to resolve this continuing claim you make is for me to go back through pages of posts, and I simply have no intention of doing that. I know what I read, and I know who signed it.

Your last post, while intriguing, conveniently ignores the biggest problems in today's dysfunctional newsrooms -- the lack of focus; the hiring of utter, complete morons; the allowance of complete screwing off at multiple levels; discrimination under the guise of diversity; and this list could go on and on. All of these things combine to make today's newspapers far less than what they could and should be.

Today's readers do not give a crap about the struggles of today's sports journalists, despite the writers' insistence to the contrary. Daily citations of conspiracies, as we get from the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey, do nothing to attract and keep readers.

The problems in today's dysfunctional sports sections could be resolved, but likely that would require a complete shift of focus and priorities. People don't want to do that, so they find other places to point the finger.

Also, not to sound ignorant, but I really don't give a rat's ass about error counts from 25 years ago. The problems are in today's dysfunctional newsrooms with today's underperforming employees. The only thing beneficial about looking back to 25 years ago is the writing was far better. But again, none of today's underperforming employees want to hear that. They don't want to change.

rknil said...

"This kind of thing happens, and it has happened, in our business for years and years and years."

There you go again. (And you knew I'd be back.)


Well, here's the thing. Yes, I knew you'd be back.

But what goes unanswered, or you kind of answer it with a yeah, but ... are you saying these kinds of things have NOT happened in all media since, well, whenever?

If you're arguing that strained copy desks are making more mistakes than they used to, I can't disagree.

If you're saying this kind of thing didn't happen before design-driven journalism, then I must disagree, for reasons I stated above.

rknil said...

Yes, I am arguing that more mistakes are appearing.

Copy desks may be strained. But they allow their misplaced priorities to justify many more mistakes than they should.

You do the same thing.

rknil said...

Speaking of misplaced priorities, I see more threads where people are claiming a few newspapers are "doomed" because some designers have been laid off.

All that tells me is there are still cuts to be made. A lot of people have little concept of writing and editing, and they don't belong in newsrooms. Never have, never will.