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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What our newspapers can learn from The New York Times

How often do we find grammatically incorrect sentences, misspelled words, and wrongly used punctuation marks in our newspapers?

How often do we readers bother to complain?

And how often do our newspapers respond to readers' complaints?

Perhaps our dailies should study how seriously The New York Times, one of the world's greatest newspapers, views errors. And, perhaps, we readers should also emulate NYT readers and take our newspapers to task when necessary.

These thoughts came to mind on reading a recent "After Deadline" blog post on the NYT website by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, who is also in charge of the newspaper's style manual. Titled The Reader's Lament and based on a memo Corbett received from a colleague who oversees the NYT's copy desks, this post is, from an Indian newspaper's viewpoint, an extraordinary mea culpa.

Look at the opening salvo:

Times readers expect nothing but the best in our writing and editing. Too often, they’re disappointed.

We then get to sample some complaints from irate readers:

“As a 35-year subscriber to The Times, I continue to be disappointed in the number of typos that have become chronic and, sorry to say, expected on a daily basis,” one reader wrote recently. “Where are the proofreaders and editors? Where are the standards for punctuation and grammar? The Times used to be the gold standard.”

The memo continues with a plausible explanation for the increase in errors:

This era of news publishing has put a greater emphasis on speed, across multiple formats and platforms. Thanks to blogging and continuous updates, more people in the newsroom find themselves in the role of publishing live material. The same forces have increased the workload and distractions faced by reporters, backfield editors, copy editors and producers.

There is also an explanation of the newspaper's working guidelines:

Our policy is for every article to get at least two reads, preferably one of them by an experienced copy editor, before publication. And then you should check your work again, or have someone else check it.

The memo then provides "some proofreading tips culled from years of journalism tip sheets" and offers this succinct conclusion:

Last of all, think of our readers — and care what they think of us.

Both journalists and media students (and, of course, newspaper readers) will benefit greatly from reading this post in its entirety: "The Reader's Lament".
  • Thank you, Rohita Rambabu, for alerting me to this post.
  • "After Deadline" offers a highly instructive contemplation of issues regarding "grammar, usage and style encountered by writers and editors of The Times". Want to know when to use "who" and when to use "whom"? Check out "Too Many Whoms." Want to be cheered by some sparkling writing? Read "Bright Passages". Unsure of when to use commas? This post has some helpful advice: "Commas? Sure, throw a few in".