John McIntyre: Expect first drafts, quickly edited, after Denver Post eliminates copy desk

The Baltimore Sun | Poynter | JimRomenesko.com
The Sun’s John McIntyre writes that he is “deeply skeptical” that the Denver Post will be able to change its newsroom culture so that reporters and assigning editors can successfully take over copy editing. The Post is eliminating its copy desk and spreading the remaining nine editors (from a copy desk of 23) throughout the newsroom.

Reporters tend not to be production-oriented. They want to report and write and take as much time as they can. … Some reporters, as you can see from reading their blogs, cannot even be troubled to run spell-check before publishing.

What you can expect from the copy-editor-free newsroom is a first-draft text from a writer to which someone bearing the title of editor will have made a quick swipe before posting it online. You will notice the typos and lapses in grammar and usage, which stand out. What you may not be so quick to notice is that the reporting is often thin, superficial, uncritical, because no one was there to pose hard questions.

I think McIntyre has identified the problem correctly: It’s a matter of culture, not skills. We’ll have to see whether, as he predicts, the remaining copy editors — renamed “assistant editors” — will be too buried in their work to teach their colleagues how to write clean copy and clean others’. (Speaking of copy editing, John, it’s Poynter.org, not Poynter.com, but I’ll take referral traffic wherever I can get it!)

An embarrassing typo in The Register Citizen — “Sixers tie it up again as series shits to Boston” — would seem to bolster McIntyre’s argument that cutbacks are resulting in shittier shoddier work. But Matt DiRienzo tells Romenesko that the sports staff is the same size as it’s been for at least 10 years and the paper hasn’t cut copy editors or changed its editing process. The Register Citizen, like the Denver Post, is a part of Digital First Media. || Related: Charles Apple weighs in on the “War on Copy Editing

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  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    John McIntyre and his ACES bunch probably don’t have a lot of cred these days. After all, instead of trying to bolster these positions, they were busy figuring out who to exclude from their group and whose names should be on awards.

    In a similar vein, I don’t pay much attention to what an unemployed page designer has to say about a “war” on copy editing, especially when he refers to editors as “visual journalists” and makes quite the pile of mistakes in his own writing. Poynter also would do well to vet its sources for information a little more closely.  

  • http://twitter.com/johntwenzel John Wenzel

    I agree that eliminating copy editors is a terrible idea, and I’ll be sad to see them go for many, many reasons. But I don’t need to point out the double-irony of an error in both the article this piece quoted and the piece itself. Bottom line: We all make mistakes, so blah blah blah about casting the first stone.

    (That said, we’re all likely to make more of them without a solid copy desk and strong editing…)

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @yahoo-2MZ6YULALC4MM5GALVTFM5RKLI:disqus When I wrote this post, I looked it over carefully, well aware of the irony of a typo in a post about copy editing. Alas, both my editor and I missed it. Thanks for pointing it out.
    Steve Myers
    Poynter.org

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2MZ6YULALC4MM5GALVTFM5RKLI Michael Ramberg

    Shouldn’t the last paragraph say “AN embarrassing typo…” ?  Just a thought

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Berman/100000669729095 Dan Berman

    It’s all about skills, not just culture. And if reporters are now editing, won’t that mean fewer stories? This is just the continuation of the dumbing down of the American media. It’s sad that no one understands how importan editing is.

  • John McIntyre

    “Poynter.com” is the sort of thing you get from an easily distracted writer who has no copy editor watching over him. The post has been fixed. I’ll take correction wherever I can get it.