Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Fact Checking & Proofreading ...

This week's The Stranger is all about year-end regrets and the chance to make things right before 2004. "But at The Stranger, just like at every newspaper in the world (hello, New York Times), fuckups happen. The mark of a mature newsgathering operation is its willingness to correct those fuckups in print. So this week we offer, with much regret, all the corrections we should have published throughout the year but--due to various production and editorial errors, of course--didn't."

Most fun for me is the "Dept. of Bad Gramatical Things," by Scott McGeath, who is copy editor for the weekly: "Typos and misspellings and factual errors are almost impossible to avoid in any piece of writing: It's my job to catch them all and make sure they don't get into the paper. But get into the paper they do."
Probably the most insidious mistakes are typos and misspellings in text (phrases like "Huge House" instead of "Hugo House," from the July 31 Nightstand; sentences like "Are your local feminist correct?" from the Nov 20 Savage Love), but even more frustrating is recognizing an error and then... not... quite... fixing it. Upon reading the subheadline "Reports Show Cops Flaunt Immigrant Policy" ("Bending the Law," Jan 30), I quickly verified the second definition of "flaunt" in my American Heritage--"to show contempt for, scorn"--and then completely missed the usage note just beneath it, which states, "This usage is still widely seen as erroneous and is best avoided." Thank you for that!
It's amazing how easy it is for misspellings, bad grammar choices, and complete and utter cockups to slip past an editor. Every time I look at an issue -- during edits, on screen during layout, on page when checking lasers, on page after the thing is printed and mailed -- I find things that could have been phrased better or where some letters have been transposed or a missing or extraneous standing head or who knows what. Some are funny, such as forgetting the h in "shift key;" others aren't, like when an organization’s position in favor of project was changed to opposition.

Anytime you're trying to shovel a ton of copy on a tight deadline (particularly in a small office that is short on staff), things like this will happen. Especially when you are trying to figure out things like the best way to write the name of the Belarusian pubcaster (house style prefers using Nacyianalnaja Dziaržaŭnaja Tzleradyjokampanija, a transliteration of Нацыянальная дзяржаўная тэлерадыёкампанія, rather than the official English translation, National Sate Teleradio Company) or are trying to add in the name of a certain minister of communications when the author only gave the person's title.

We print a correction (or just try to pretend that h was there), try to pay more attention next time, and move on.

Also among The Stranger's list of regrets:
The Stranger regrets that public schools across this country--in defiance of reams of incontrovertible evidence from language acquisition studies--still refuse to start teaching children a foreign language until they reach middle school. That's just dumb.

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