As corporate consolidation continues apace at American newspapers, one common tactic among cost-conscious executives has been to outsource copy editing jobs to regional production hubs and cut local copy editing jobs.
That has spurred concerns about additional errors sneaking into the newspaper. But a forthcoming article from Journalism Studies, an academic journal, shows that that’s not necessarily the case, according to the American Press Institute.
Justin Martin, a professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, and his student Ralph Martins, compared errors at five newspapers a year before before and after they outsourced copy editing. The result? The rate of error depends on the newspaper.
At the Newport News Daily Press, corrections declined after copy editing was outsourced. At the Raleigh News & Observer, the number of printed corrections increased. At the three other papers, there were no differences before and after the transition. These findings suggest that the effects of outsourcing aren’t uniformly bad — at least not in terms of the number of corrections printed.
The mistakes made and corrected stayed the same regardless of whether in-house or out-of-town copy editors were reading the stories, per API:
Across all the newspapers, there was very little change in the types of corrections before and after the switch to external copy editing. For example, there were 312 errors of quantification or mathematical errors with in-house copy editors and 259 with outside copy editors. Corrections involving the wrong time or date increased from 151 to 178.
The scope of the findings are necessarily limited, since only five newspapers were studied, the report’s authors acknowledge. But at minimum, it might allay concerns among reporters worried about sloppy copy — and inflame fears on local copy desks throughout the United States.