Sunday, June 3, 2012

Copy Editors: Invisible Word Warriors

Nothing is more embarrassing than making a typo that draws national attention.

Case in point:  A campaign app for presidential candidate Mitt Romney that went viral not because of any sort of candidate popularity, but because “America” was misspelled as “Amercia.”

One word comes to mind. Really?

I’ve ranted on this blog about the dire typographical straits that we now find ourselves in thanks to media downsizing and the increasing apathy with which many people – even writers and journalists – regard the written word.  Thankfully, there are still many who proudly carry the torch for proofreading and fact-checking.

In her article “Why 'Amercia' needs copy editors” posted on, Merrill Perlman discusses the decline of typographical correctness. Readers of newspapers and news sites, she says, are “seeing lots of typos, as well as errors of grammar, fact and logic — many more than they would have seen before news organizations decided that they did not need so many copy editors.”

Perlman says one reason for publications choosing not to employ copy editors is that “reporters can simply ‘proofread’ themselves better. But no one can read something he wrote as well as someone else can.”

Let’s repeat that last sentence.

“No one can read something he wrote as well as someone else can.”

That’s a basic tenet of writing. Always proofread your own work, but then hand it to another capable soul who will find the errors that you missed.

The result of copy editor layoffs, of course, is a plethora of mistakes that make it into print. Publishers and news staff that think readers do not care about typographical errors need only to check the comments section to see firsthand the scorn and ridicule by readers who are weary of typo shenanigans. “How many comments say things like ‘where were the editors?’” asks Perlman.

Credibility becomes another casualty of word wars when the professionals don’t bother to check their work. Perlman cites research that shows “readers view edited news more positively than they view unedited news.” No surprise there.

The bottom line is simply this: Everyone needs a proofreader.

Proofreading and copy editing is not glamorous work. It is behind-the-scenes, tedious work that often goes unheralded. But without good editors, readers are subjected to substandard content that tarnishes a writer’s reputation, as well as that of the company who hired him or her to do the work.

As Perlman notes at the end of her article, “Copy editors are the quality control experts. Let them inspect.”

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