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By Cranberg, Gilbert | Editor & Publisher, October 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

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Cranberg, Gilbert, Editor & Publisher


HELP WANTED: A FEW GOOD PROOFREADERS

Credibility in copy editing comes not with amateurs but with pros, so the solution to the problem industrywide resides in hire power

Editors of at least two newspapers have asked readers to volunteer their services as proofreaders. A trend in the making? Let's hope not.

The managing editor of Florida Today in Melbourne described his paper's proofreading experiment at the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in April.

Then, a month or so later, The Salt Lake Tribune in Utah

announced a similar program. What's next? Newspapers listed among the 100 Neediest Cases?

Florida Today's freeloading is an outgrowth of newspaper worry about credibility. Surveys by ASNE found disturbing levels of public discontent with the press, fueled in considerable part by perceived inaccuracy, including "too many factual errors and spelling or grammar mistakes in newspapers." The remedy: experiments for ASNE undertaken by members in eight cities to narrow the credibility gap.

Enter Florida Today with its volunteer proofreaders and, inevitably, such plugs as "Wanted: Sharp-Eyed Readers to Help Us Eliminate Errors in Stories."

Never mind that pleas for volunteers to spot errors invite a logical -- and embarrassing -- question: If more help can prevent mistakes, why not hire the help?

Bloated newspaper profits make that an especially pertinent question.

Actually, Florida Today experimented with a way to improve copy editing, and thus accuracy, without the implied-poverty downside of reader volunteers.

Unfortunately, at the ASNE meeting, it was the volunteer-reader gimmick that was highlighted, both at a general session and in a video distributed to editors.

The copy-editing experiment given scant notice at the meeting consisted of separating copy-editing chores from paginating -- that is, the electronic makeup of pages. As Florida Today Managing Editor Bob Stover described it in an ASNE report: "Copy editors had been doing half a dozen duties in one night: reading copy, designing pages, writing heads, proofing pages, sizing pictures, paginating. We experimented with separating the duties, so an editor would spend an evening doing nothing but reading copy and writing heads. …

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