For those unfamiliar with the term, copy editors are the people hired by newspapers and magazines to make the copy “clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.” According to the Free Dictionary, copy editors should ensure that a story “says what it means, and means what it says.”
Typically, copy editing involves correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology, jargon, and semantics.
A number of us who inexplicably continue to subscribe to the Indianapolis Star have remarked on the increased number of spelling and grammar errors that have escaped a copy editor’s notice over the past couple of years. (As a former High School English teacher, these errors affect me like nails on a blackboard.)
However annoying the obvious reduction in, or absence of, copy editing, that problem pales in importance beside the much more consequential reduction in the reporting of actual news,and especially the absence of government oversight. Coverage of City Hall and the Statehouse are virtually non-existent; the absence of reporters with institutional memory, investigative instincts and the time to do more than superficial reports on such issues as do surface leaves citizens without any reliable way to evaluate the performance of our government officials and agencies.
The most recent example (and by no means the worst) has been the coverage of Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s attribution of mistakes found on multiple voter registration forms to fraud, ostensibly by an organization focused upon registering African-American voters.
I have no idea whether Lawson’s claims are well-founded or politically motivated.(She was, after all, a co-sponsor of Indiana’s Voter ID law, which aimed to solve a nonexistent problem.) What’s worse, however, is the fact that until the third or fourth story about the controversy, I had no idea what she was alleging. The articles were so badly written that I couldn’t make heads or tails of what the issue was–nor could several friends who’d also read it. And when a follow-up story did clarify the nature of the controversy, it was presented as “she said”/”he said.” There was no indication that reporters had made any effort to independently assess the validity of the competing assertions.
If you are wondering what triggered this particular post, it was the Star’s recent announcement that it is once again trimming its editorial staff (i.e. reporters), and moving what is left of its pitifully inadequate copyediting out-of-state. (I wonder how an out-of-state copy editor would make the Lawson story, which depends upon a basic understanding of Indiana law and practice “clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.”)
Ever since Gannett acquired the Star, the quality–and more importantly, the scope– of its reporting has declined. The paper was never a shining beacon of journalism, but it did employ actual reporters, it did cover state and local government, it did report on something other than sports, entertainment and the opening of new bars.
If there’s an entrepreneur out there who wants to find a currently unserved market, Indianapolis could really use a credible newspaper. (Online is fine.)