A story about the new panda cub almost being able to open his eyes grabbed my attention today on ajc.com. This interest, of course, was distracted by repeated patterns of inadequate (or just lazy) AJC copy editing. Unfortunately, this hasn't been my first run-in with such a trend on ajc.com. And to be honest, I am fed up with grammatical errors making me lose concentration and distracting me from the story.
First, I will present the evidence, then I will tell why I think copy editing is extremely important to a publication, especially one trying to stay afloat.
Exhibit A: Verb/tense agreement.
Exhibit B: spelling....I think?
Exhibit C: incomplete series of three.
We'll start with exhibit A. "Storms backs up airport..." Really? If you don't see a problem with this then say it out loud to yourself. Anyone who is an English speaker...rather, a correct English speaker...will stumble on themselves. Storms can back up an airport but, no, sorry, storms cannot backs up an airport. I read that headline and just shook my head. It was on the front page too! You don't even have proper English speakers working on your site who read the front page? I don't even want to read this story! I'm just so ashamed that Georgia's largest newspaper would make such a blatant mistake. Even more, other online outlets could be picking it up like Google, Technorati...it's just *sigh* bad.
On to B. Now, I do not consider myself to be obsessed with the pandas at Zoo Atlanta. But some of my friends may say I'm close. (They're adorable, who could resist? But that's beyond the point.) Nor am I a trained panda zoo keeper. Leon Stafford may be; I don't know that either. However, using the means I do have, I am willing to bet that the not-nearly 50 day-old cub weighs far less than a ton. I'm not saying. I'm just saying. But Stafford should be the expert here -- after all, he is the one who the AJC has assigned to do proper research and to present a copy. If I had to guess, Stafford was trying to say that the cub was "born on Aug. 31". Now that would make sense. But again, I was distracted and felt almost betrayed. What’s the one thing you do to copy before you turn it in, Mr. Stafford? Read it out loud!
Finally, exhibit C. I’m not sure where Stafford went to J-school or even if he did. What I do know, however, is that grammar and writing were seriously beaten into mine and my colleges’ heads during my four years. Thanks to that, I know that in a series of three the first verb, or “set-up word,” has to match the three items in the list. I have diagrammed the screen shot to show you how he flubbed up (twice!) The sentence reads: “In the months to come, the cub will begin getting his teeth, use the bathroom by himself and crawl.” No…seriously…that’s what it says. “The cub will begin getting his teeth.” That’s fine. But the next item is incomplete. “Use the bathroom by himself.” Now if Stafford were intending for that to be one of the things that the cub is beginning, then he needs to re-write the first item to say, “The cub will begin to get his teeth.” That way we know that “begin to” can be applied to the last few items. Ergo the new cub will begin to do these things. The last two items are just simply incomplete. If read like they’re printed, the last item says he will “begin crawl.” I don’t even know what that means. “Begin to crawl” or “begin crawling” would make much more sense.
I know that some of you may be thinking to yourself that I’m just being picky and one-word slips here and there are to be expected. They’re okay. In some cases, yes. A once-in-a-while misspelling is okay. But when your publication is as “prestigious” and widely read as the subject at hand, not only can you not afford to be at the top of your game, but must act as the living example that students and other journalists around the world think you are. COPY EDITING IS A BIG DEAL. Spelling, grammar, organization, flow, all of the things that we tutor students on in the writing center matters in news! And when one-time slips turn into everyday occurrences and happen to be on the front page, then it’s just annoying and distracting. Not only that, but it really affects your publication’s reliability.
I understand that the AJC is subject to an epidemic of cost-cutting that is sweeping the nation right now, but I think that copy editors (or just better writers) should be taken more seriously when planning a staff budget.
The moral of the story is: What is a story if you don’t read it?
The council rests.