Roughly a year ago, The New York Times made a big change in its newsroom organization. The paper eliminated the copy-editor position and folded its traditional duties -- checking articles for spelling, grammar, clarity, and stylistic and logical consistency; basic fact-checking; writing headlines -- into a new, all-purpose editing position to which its then roughly 100 copy editors were invited to apply. The upshot was that about half of them left the paper.
In The Fourth Estate, Showtime’s recently released documentary about the Times, Executive Editor Dean Baquet defends the cuts: “The only way I can keep hiring reporters is if I have less of something else. We had too many editors. … “
Or did they? I can’t really tell you the answer to that question. That’s because the Times is transparent but not quite so transparent as it makes itself out to be.
I’ve recently had the impression that there are indeed more mistakes in the paper. To check this out, I of course first looked online at its archive of published corrections. Before I say what I found there, I will make my first transparency complaint. The Times print edition used to publish corrections prominently, in the same real estate every day on Page A2. But a couple of years ago, the paper redesigned Pages A2 and A3 and now puts a whole bunch of stuff there. That includes articles about the paper’s workings, Twitter exchanges between its reporters, fluffy “news you can use,” like advice on how to pose for a photograph -- but not corrections, which are now buried in a different section every day.
On the frequency matter, there were an average of 9.8 a day between June 4 and June 13. I would have liked to compare that to the number last year, before the editing shake-up, but I can’t: the online corrections archive goes back only to June 4, 2018.
In that Page A2 how-we-do-what-we do feature, the paper recently published a piece by the corrections editor, Rogene Jacquette. And by the way, on the transparency issue, no email address is given for her (I think she’s a her), nor is she on Twitter. In any case, she quotes the paper’s style guide: “The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper.”
The style guide needs an update: As noted, the “prominent reserved space” is no more.
Jacquette goes on:
“Whether an error occurs in a print article, a digital graphic, a video, a tweet or a news alert, readers should expect us to correct it. There is no five-second rule. It does not matter if it was online for seconds or minutes or hours.”
When you parse what she’s written, questions emerge. Her list of places where errors can occur sounds complete, but it interestingly leaves out online articles. I wonder if the Times follows a five-second rule there. (For those who don’t get the reference, it refers to the idea that if you drop some food on the floor, it’s OK to eat if you pick it up in five seconds or less.) Also missing from the list is headlines. The Times made a whopper last week:
The article is about Bryan Collangelo, who was fired as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, not the coach. So far, the blunder has not been corrected by the Times (the online version of the article has and possibly always had a different and correct headline).
And the style guide’s list of mistakes that require acknowledgement and correction leaves out grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors. To the extent they’re corrected, it’s silently (no five-second rule needed). And it’s my impression that they’ve been on the rise since the elimination of copy editors. Here are just a few I’ve noticed in the last week or so.
The “does” should be “do.”
The “shrunk” should be “shrank.”
I checked, and “Underway” is consistent with Times style now. But any reasonable person would agree that it should really be “Under Way.”
The next one isn’t a mistake, exactly, but I find it hard to believe that an experienced Times copy editor would allow the Southern colloquialism “visit with” in this headline. What, are they sitting in rocking chairs on the porch and whittlin’?
If you find the mistake I’ve deliberately inserted in this post (or one that escaped my and my editors’ attention), please say so in the comments and The Chronicle will acknowledge and correct it. No five-second rule here.
Update: It is an immutable rule. Whenever one writes about mistakes, one makes mistakes. Thanks to the sharp-eyed readers who corrected the ones I made in this post, beyond deliberately misspelling Bryan Colangelo’s name as “Collangelo.”
I should also say that while overworked Chronicle editors give Lingua Franca posts a once-over, it is a blog, and as such any and all mistakes are the writer’s -- that is, my -- responsibility.
Of course, the general tendency of errors to go forth and multiply bolsters the point I was trying to make in the post -- that copy editors are important, especially in the paper of record, The New York Times.
I should also correct and clarify some things I said about the Times’ corrections policy. The corrections editor, Rogene Jacquette, is indeed on Twitter (@rogene), though neither her handle nor her bio includes her last name, which makes her deucedly hard to find. In her gracious Twitter responses to my post, she agreed with my sense that there are more typos and misspellings in the paper these days.
She also informed me that the Times did correct its Colangelo headline -- though, once again, the correction is deucedly hard to find online. If I understand it correctly (never a sure thing), there are two separate corrections streams at nytimes.com -- one for the digital edition, one for the print. They are not well labeled, they are hard to locate and navigate, and they confirm my initial sense that a lot more transparency is in order.