Wick Communications

Muddling through without copy editors

In Editing on June 29, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Here at the Half Moon Bay Review, we are exceedingly lucky to have a part-time copy editor/proofreader named Julie Gerth. Julie has the patience of a saint as well as a strong backbone. She will not be rushed and she reads every word. Consequently, we have a lot fewer mistakes than many newspapers.

But we still make them, with maddening regularity. And it’s generally because the rest of us get in a hurry.

This week, we screwed up a teaser on the front page. “Horshoe.” That’s not a word. It happened because it was produced at the bitter end, after our second set of eyes had been released for the day. So, we get to see it in display type all week long. I can’t wait till I hear about it from someone outside the building.

We will never eliminate mistakes entirely. It wouldn’t matter whether our copy editor was full time, or if we had a dozen more. We humans are fallible. Perhaps you’ve noticed. But there are some practices that will eliminate many of them in our papers. Here’s a few:

More eyes. We all know that the more people who see page proofs, the better off you are. The eyes don’t have to belong to specially trained copy editors. Ad reps, clerks, other reporters — try to get as many people as possible to read proofs before the pages are sent. Ask them to look for typos, spelling and basic grammar. You don’t necessarily want someone from another department suggesting a new lede to that feature story on deadline. …

Work earlier. A story that comes in eight hours before deadline is much less likely to be botched than one that comes in two minutes before the clock strikes zero. Hurried editors make mistakes. Insist that reporters turn in stories throughout the cycle and not just right on deadline.

Pay attention to display type. Headlines, cutlines, subheads… make these things right. It’s one thing to miss a typo 16 inches into the story; it’s another when it’s in 45-point headline type.

Slow down. Take a break. Don’t try to read 10 stories in a row without getting up from your seat. Give your eyes a rest. Stretch. Go outside. Then sit down to a new story.

Spellcheck. It won’t catch everything. (Which Donald Trump found out last week when a staffer posted a video to Facebook under the headline, “Put our minors back to work.”) But it helps.

Clay

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