Working without a net

I have been blogging off and on (shut up! about the off) for a couple years now. I like it, when I actually get around to it. It scratches an itch. I appreciate it, too. I admire those who do it regularly and do it well.

This stuff is not easy, you know. It’s a lot more than simply sitting down and mind-spewing.

The thing that I find most difficult about blogging, besides the actual writing part — and, yeah, the keeping it up part (shut up!) — is that there are no editors reading behind me before it goes out to my tens of tens of readers. This is raw stuff, and no amount of spellchecker or Grammarly and no third backread by me after a second or third writethru (we’re talking journalism now) is going to catch every mistake.

The typos, the misspellings, the keyboard mangling, though, I can live with. I’m used to that. I’m a gawdawful typist — keyboardist, whatever — and I know it. Have been since I learned to type, or didn’t, in college.

(It’s kind of a wreck watching me do this, as I’ve been told by many people. I have, as one of my co-workers who tired of hearing me assaulting a keyboard once said, a strangely intimate and painful relationship with my backspace/delete key.)

Anyway, typos slipping past me don’t bug me that much. They’re embarrassing, sure. But embarrassment and I, we go way back.

It’s the other mistakes that barge through — the repeated words and phrases, the redundant ideas, the faulty logic, the fuzzy thinking, the incomplete thoughts, the repeated words and phrases — that kind of make me cringe. That’s when another pair of eyes always helps. Another two pair (s?) would help even more.

And that’s where copy editors, bless their nerdy little reading glasses and green eyeshades, come in.

About a month ago, hundreds of employees at The New York Times — you know a place is important if the “The” in its title is capitalized — staged a protest in downtown Manhattan. The beef: Proposed cuts to the copy-editing staff.

These pros know. They know that copy editors, in all their non-glory, keep them from looking like fools. Every. Single. Day.

The protesters, as protesters everywhere should (and especially at The New York Times), carried signs:

“Without us, it’s the New Yrok Times”

“Copy editors save our buts”

The business of journalism, as I’ve touched on more than a few times in this blog, is hurting. According to that Times article linked above, more than 412,000 people worked for newspapers in 2001. In 2016, it was just 174,000. Newspapers have shrunk by more than half in just 15 years.

It’s been going on longer than that. When I first walked into the newsroom at The Cincinnati Post in 1989 — damn right, we were capitalized, too — the circulation was better than 100,000. When I left, at the end of 1995, it was somewhere around 40,000.

I am not taking the fall for that.

The reasons for sinking circulation numbers and other problems that affect the entire news business are many and complicated. Cheap, mostly free online news has killed printed products — who wants to pay for a newspaper or magazine when you can get news, or sports scores, or recipes more quickly online? —  and advertisers have fled. Young people don’t watch TV news or read newspapers or magazines.

We have a president who has carefully, maliciously ginned up public sentiment against the media, for his own self-serving purposes and despite the damage it does to the public’s right to know and the threat it poses to democracy.

And we have a news-gathering system that has been so hard-headed with hubris that it didn’t see the changes coming soon enough. And it still hasn’t acted appropriately. Some people are still so full of themselves, so believing that a free press can do no wrong, so slanted in their views, that they constantly make the case for critics.

The solution to all this is not clear. There may be no saving newspapers at all, not as we know them. Journalism as a whole will live on, I have to believe, but it may never be the same.

Example No. 1: The New York Freaking Times is scrambling for a way to streamline its own checks and balances. The Times is looking for a shortcut. That says it all.

Whatever the answers might be, canning copy editors is not one of them. Like good reporters, good editors and good publishers, copy editors are vital to getting the written word out. Anyone who’s ever written knows that. Without good editors, accuracy suffers. With inaccuracies, the bond of trust between writer and reader is tested.

Working without a net is dangerous and scary, for everyone involved. For readers and writers, for those who seek the truth and for those who aim to tell it. Heck, it’s even dangerous for little ol’ bloggers.

Even I know that. And this, if you hadn’t noticed, is not The New Yrok Times.

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