English Standards in Newspapers

  Bingalau 11:19 28 Aug 06

Is it my imagination? I think the standard of "Proof Reading" in newspapers of today is rapidly going downhill. With expressions such as "Fed up of". Spelling mistakes galore in the national newspapers as well as the locals. Don't they employ proof readers now? I know my English isn't anywhere near perfect, but it annoys me to see the standards dropping. ..Bingalau..

  Kate B 11:28 28 Aug 06

No, they don't employ proof readers and haven't done so for some 20 years. Proof readers were part of the hot-metal infrastructure.

I've worked in national newspapers for nearly 20 years and there are certainly fewer subs than there used to be and I'd also venture to say that the young reporters taken on often can't write as well as you might expect. This is due to several factors, I think. The first is that training in journalism is much less formalised than it used to be. It used to be very rare for a young person to go straight into a reporting job on a national; now, it's common. That means they've missed out on learning the job on local papers where ancient grizzled subs kick style and reporting procedure into them.

The second is that daily newspapers are hard work - there simply isn't the time to spend with a young inexperienced reporter patiently going through a poorly written piece saying things like "you must check the spelling of names, you must learn the difference between its and it's, this is an ugly sentence, this is a lovely paragraph".

I've flung pages together in a couple of hours flat plenty of times and I know there were things that were not up to standard on it: poor headlines, an ugly widow, a spelling error that I didn't catch. Generally as the night goes on and things slow down, mistakes will be caught and corrected so the nearer you live to London, the later the edition you get and the more tidying-up will have been done.

That's a long way of saying that most newspapers don't employ enough journalists.

  g0slp 11:31 28 Aug 06

Ugly widow? I'm not familiar with that phrase; at least in a journalistic context...

(No cracks about paper bags ;) )

  spuds 11:35 28 Aug 06

About twelve months ago, our local daily newspaper had about a month or more of spelling mistakes. This was dealt with, but again, over the last week or so the mistakes are creeping back in again. Don't think Proof Readers are used much these days, more like software spell checkers (if used!).

  Kate B 11:39 28 Aug 06

g0slp - sorry, a widow is a typographical term. It's a line of text at the top of a column of text that doesn't justify right to the end of the column. They are usually reasonably easily fixed with a bit of tweaking but it's a slightly time-consuming process and if you're being yelled at by the production editor to send a page to the print site, you don't bother to spend the time fixing it. So it's a mark of a rushed page if you see them.

  g0slp 11:51 28 Aug 06

Thanks Kate, all noted & well understood.

This site is SOOOO informative...

Best regards, Mark

  Bingalau 11:58 28 Aug 06

Kate B. Now I am beginning to understand why it happens so often. Thanks for that. By the way I think I probably spot some of these errors (rats) because I trained as a compositor (hand) many years ago. I was never employed by newspapers, or even a large printing firm. We “Comps” used to read each others' work to spot errors. A system which wasn't perfect, but was better than the system our local paper uses. I still haven't cracked the correct use of apostrophes though. ..Bingalau..

  Forum Editor 12:01 28 Aug 06

"fed up of" and other, similar atrocities, but we're in a minority, I fear.

I don't have to meet daily deadlines, and have never done so, but I have written a lot for monthly magazines, and I know how, sometimes, things get hectic as copy day approaches. It's easy to miss a typo here, and a badly constructed sentence there.

All in all I agree that standards - in the national dailies at least - have fallen, and it's a great shame. A newspaper is in a sense an indicator of the state of a nation - what appears in print reflects the tastes and interests of both reader and publisher - and it's a pity to see us slipping so badly.

When I'm in America I read the New York Times, and I can't remember the last time an error leapt out at me. That happens in a UK paper on a daily basis.

  Bingalau 12:13 28 Aug 06

FE. Do you think there is anything we can do about it? Perhaps if enough of us took up the cudgels it might get through to somebody. ..Bingalau..

  Kate B 12:21 28 Aug 06

US newspapers are staffed very differently - they have battalions of fact-checkers and several layers of process that we just don't have here. I think, though, that our papers are much livelier and have much more personality than the American papers, which is a good thing, and I can live with the odd ugly sentence if it's the price to pay for papers with opinions and a worldview.

  johndere 12:25 28 Aug 06

Proof reading is sometimes now done by a scanner set up to a certain dialect. Seems it is faster & more relable than the mark1 human and cheaper.

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