Tag Archives: copy-editing

My Grey Cup screwup

I have, in the past, made light of errors made in various media. In some cases they’re minor and entirely understandable. In some cases there is a fundamental problem with something that has been reported.

And in some cases, it’s technically minor but incredibly embarrassing. I always sympathize with unintentional errors, even when I expose them for all to see.

If this had been any other Montreal media, I’d be posting it here with, I admit, a little bit of childish glee. But it was my paper.

And worse than that, it was me.

Erroneous Grey Cup scoreline in Monday's Gazette

I got an email this morning from Sarah Leavitt at OpenFile asking if I was working last night “when the Grey Cup mess up on the front page happened.” Since I had no idea what she was talking about, I turned on my laptop and looked at the electronic version of the paper (I’m too lazy to walk downstairs for the print version). I read the pointer text I had written, looked at the photo of the players and of the Grey Cup, looked at the page number it pointed to. I looked at the score to make sure it went in right. Yeah, it was 34-23 for the Lions…

Oh crap.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you, the error, which appears downpage on A1 on Monday, is that the name “Hamilton Tiger-Cats” should be “Winnipeg Blue Bombers”. It’s not like I wasn’t aware the Blue Bombers were the ones playing. But for whatever reason it didn’t hit me as I was filling in the rest of the text that Hamilton wasn’t the right team.

And it didn’t strike the other editors who read the front page, who are not big sports fans and had specifically asked me to write this text because they were worried about getting something fundamental wrong.

Naturally, this error did not go unnoticed. Influence Communication saw it and told its 12,000 followers. Mike Finnerty noticed it (and was nice about it, comparing it to one of his own errors). OpenFile has a story on it, by Leavitt, which quotes me trying to explain myself.

But really, there is no excuse. Just a very embarrassing correction in Tuesday’s paper, some teasing by fellow editors on the sports desk, and some reader email questioning our competence, all of which is clearly deserved.

Correction printed in The Gazette on Page A2 on Nov. 29

UPDATE (Nov. 29): I got some good-natured ribbing from my colleagues at work, and the newsroom manager said she got about a dozen phone calls from readers, many of them dripping with sarcasm. (I didn’t see any emails about it, though. Perhaps because the mistake wasn’t repeated online.)

News of the mistake made it to the Hamilton Spectator, which posted a story about it on Monday afternoon and included an image of the error in Tuesday’s paper.

The Gazette correction appeared in Tuesday’s edition on Page A2. I’m hoping my mom doesn’t add it to the scrapbook Too late, apparently. There are also two letters to the editor on the subject.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): Craig Silverman wrote this up for his column in the Toronto Star.

Outsourcing returns to haunt Toronto Star employees

In January 2010, the Toronto Star and its union agreed on a plan that would allow the paper to cut jobs and save money while avoiding some more dramatic cost-cutting plans like outsourcing copy editing to an external company.

Those of us around the country who work in the copy editing field breathed a slight sigh of relief, knowing that somewhere jobs were being saved and would still be done locally. The issue appeared settled: The Toronto Star would still be produced by the Toronto Star.

Less than two years later, we seem to be back to Square One. The Star is offering another round of buyouts to cut staff even further (they won’t say by how much they want to reduce the workforce) and Reuters is reporting a rumour that the Star again wants to outsource layout and editing work.

I hope that’s just a rumour. Layout and editing is an important job in print media, and I’d hate to think that the industry is coming to a consensus that this work can be done by some kid in a third-world country with 20 minutes of training.

Transcontinental centralizes pagination in Maritimes

It’s the craze that’s sweeping the nation: centralized pagination. Instead of having people layout their own newspapers, big newspaper companies (including Quebecor and my employer Canwest) and have editors send stories to a pagination factory where specialists put together the pages for you and send them back.

The presentation is usually the same: The specialists are well-trained, local reporters and editors remain in control and have the final say, this will create “efficiencies” and allow journalists more time to focus on their core function – writing copy.

The hidden reality is that these copy editors tend to be non-unionized and have lower salaries, they have little connection to and may not even be familiar with the communities they serve, and the local journalists don’t have the time to correct all of the things a lazy, overworked copy editor hundreds of kilometres away might have done that they don’t agree with.

And, of course, with efficiencies come layoffs.

Transcontinental Media, which has already done this for its community papers in Quebec, is setting up a pagination shop in Charlottetown to handle layout for its Maritime papers. The number of layoffs isn’t known yet, but there will be some.

It could be worse: They could be outsourcing pagination to Bangalore.

Copy editing: Does outsourcing it make sense?

As newspapers look forward to an increasingly bleak economic future, their managers are beginning to contemplate drastic measures to cut staff and/or expenses while doing their best to avoid cutting their most important jobs: middle managers reporters.

One of the measures that seems to be in vogue recently is the outsourcing or centralization of editorial page production and copy editing. Instead of having staff lay out pages and write headlines, editors ship reporters’ copy to a specialized production house where a team of dedicated personnel put the page together at a lower cost. Canadian Press has become the latest to jump into this field (Canwest and Sun Media are already there), signing a deal with Australia’s Pagemasters to setup a North American production house.

Since my job at The Gazette is a copy editor, and Canwest also uses this kind of centralization (though to another division within Canwest), I’m not exactly a detached observer here. My union is attempting to fight the outsourcing of this work, while at least one manager at a sister paper seems to support the freedom from dealing with “mechanical” and “tedious” pagination.

But with that in mind, I have to be honest with myself, and ask: Does this work? Is this the future? Is employee opposition to this way of functioning just a matter of saving their own jobs? Or is there something inherently better about having your own copy editing staff – something that is worth more than the cost savings of outsourcing?

Some small newspapers and magazines don’t do page layout at all. They don’t have the staff for it. So they leave the layout to the experts. As the budgets crunch, larger papers who have copy editing and design staff are considering moving the work of less important pages at the back of the paper onto these production houses and concentrating their efforts on the section fronts and local news pages that are most important to readers.

Does it cost less to have a page produced by one of these production houses than to have one of your own copy editors put it together? To answer that question, one has to look at where those cost savings come from. The unions would have us believe (and no doubt there is a lot of truth to this) that the savings come mostly from paying workers less in salary and benefits. Instead of veteran, unionized copy editors, the pages would be laid out by inexperienced cheap labour. They would also point out the downside of this: the non-unionized employees are cheap, have no emotional connection to the newspaper, and might make errors because of their lack of familiarity with either the newspaper’s style or local culture. These subtle issues may be dismissed by a bean-counter, but they make a difference to readers. At least, we’d like to think they do. In reality, readers aren’t nearly as observant as we sometimes think they should be.

When rolling out these systems, both the outsourcer and outsourcee make it clear that local editors approve of the layouts and headlines done by the third party. This technically ensures local control, but in practice an editor under time and budget constraints might accept a mediocre job done by an outsourced worker instead of spending the time (and possibly money) to send it back with instructions on how to do it right.

The employers and media empires say the cost savings come mainly from centralization – instead of having a dozen people doing the same thing at a dozen different newspapers, one or two people can do the same job at one central location for all of them. This argument makes sense for things like sports scores and stock listings (which will be mostly the same for different newspapers in the same country). But what about news stories? Each newspaper will lay those out differently depending on what stories they decide to publish, which ones they deem important, and of course what kind of layout they have to work with above the ads. Since no two newspaper pages are the same (copy-and-paste exceptions notwithstanding), it’s hard to see where centralization brings efficiency here for large newspapers who already have staff who are experts in page design.

The other potential problem down the road is that this might encourage newspapers within a similar ownership group to become more like each other (kind of like the Sun papers). If newspapers have the same page dimensions, typefaces and designs, they become easier to duplicate, reducing seemingly redundant work. Centralized workers can simply copy and paste the content from one to the other. And that could lead to newspapers across the country having identical international news pages or national business pages, for example. Eventually the papers could all become identical, save for the front page and a few holes for local news.

On one hand, it sounds bad. On the other hand, it sounds silly for people in different newsrooms at different papers to edit the same wire stories about the same news events. It’s a question of whether readers think that having a local editor editing a non-local wire story is really important enough to dismiss that potential savings.

I don’t have nearly enough facts to make a complete determination of whether this centralization is good or bad in the long term for newspapers (even if I did, the decisions on such subjects are made at a much higher pay grade), and a lot of these issues are still being wrestled with by people on all three sides of this equation.

Only time will tell if this trend will save significant money for major newspaper publishers, or if there will be a backlash from readers. Either way, the problems facing newspapers are much larger than whether the person laying out pages is local or not.

Journal Daily Digest: This is how editing is done

Journal de Montréal picketers

News about the Journal de Montréal is still trickling in, but more slowly than just a few days ago. If this conflict goes on as long as people expect it to, this daily digest could turn into a weekly or even monthly one.

The link of the day is to this story at Rue Frontenac, in which copy editors respond to Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s assertion that their jobs are redundant (because Journal writers always file perfect copy, I guess) by taking part of a story from a Journal manager and re-editing it, showing before and after versions with explanations of the changes.

It sounds similar in idea to this post at Readers Matter (my union’s blog), which points out a problem when you outsource copy editing to a company outside the province.

The rest

  • Journal managing editor George Kalogerakis (funny story: he hired me at the Gazette, but took off for a higher-paying job before I had my first shift) was on CBC Daybreak this week. The audio of the interview is here (in streaming RealAudio format, ugh)
  • Joseph Facal, a regular panelist on Bazzo.tv, was taken to task by fellow panelist Vincent Marissal of La Presse on Thursday for staying with the paper freelance. His reason is the same as the rest: the union does nothing for him, so why should he leave his column for them? Rue Frontenac was there (or, at least, they watched it on TV).
  • Speaking of freelancers, Raymond Gravel writes his final column, in which he says he’s quitting under pressure, not because he wants to. He repeats the argument that the union is doing nothing for him. He says he’s upset that he has to take a side in a conflict that he has nothing to do with.

How many exclamation marks are too many?

Another media-related question that I’ve been thinking about recently has to do with publishing reader opinion gathered from online forums, which some industry snobs have termed “reverse publishing” for reasons that escape me.

As newspapers and other media have opened up their websites to comments, some have in turn used those comments to supplement their reporting. For example, this piece which recently appeared in The Gazette about the Hockey Night in Canada theme issue, which has elicited a tonne of opinion just about everywhere it’s mentioned.

Despite my concerns about how much people have to sign their lives away to participate in media websites, publishing people’s opinions in the paper makes sense, if only because it replaces the tedious task of having a reporter go out in the street and convince people walking by to give their name and two cents on an issue they might have never heard of. (It’s gotten so bad in some cases that reporters have resorted to granting requests for anonymity in exchange for man-on-the-street views.)

Then again, I despite streeters with every essence of my being, and think random people’s opinions shouldn’t be published unless they’re interesting in some way.

My ethical dilemma, though, has to do with the process rather than the planning: How much should copy editors edit these comments before publishing them?

On the one hand, comments like “I hope RDS gets it. :))))” seem to be excessive with their use of punctuation for no good reason (what’s the difference between four smiley faces and three?). Typos, one would think, should also be corrected so the newspaper doesn’t look stupid. And if the comments are going to be edited anyway for space, they might as well be edited for style.

On the other hand, there’s always the possibility of introducing error or subtly changing the meaning of a comment by fixing its language. And people can just as easily check the source themselves and notice that their words have been altered. Instead of a direct quote, it becomes an interpretation, a translation of what the person is saying into “proper” English.

So what do you think? Should editors just cut and paste from forums when they quote from them, or should some editing be allowed? And if so, how much? Typos? Grammatical errors? Punctuation? Clarity? Style?

No more erorrs in the Gazzete

The Gazette’s Andrew Phillips asks on his blog about whether errors — factual, style, grammatical, spelling — are more prevalent in the paper now than they used to be. He points to a blog post at The Guardian, which argues that spelling particularly was much worse back in the days before spellcheck and desktop publishing.

I can’t really offer an opinion on whether the quality has gone up or down over the long term, since (a) I’m only in my 20s and (b) I work as a copy editor and my opinion is necessarily biased.

But as a copy editor, I’ll note that, unfortunately, proofreading is the least important of our functions. Pages must be laid out, headlines, decks, cutlines and other “display type” must be written, and photos must be inserted. But if the page is mostly wire copy (which has been thoroughly edited by the wire service), sometimes it might get typeset (at least for the first edition) without getting properly proofread. An editor might ask another to just look at headlines and large type because there’s no time for a full readthrough (this is especially true in sports, where a game will finish at 10pm, the article has to be written by 10:20pm and the page must be typeset by 10:40pm, a seemingly impossible task that’s done on a near-daily basis).

With the recent round of buyouts cutting staff in every section, one of the copy editing positions eliminated was specifically responsible for checking pages for obvious mistakes before they were typeset. Now that job falls on the editor who laid out the page, or the managing night editor. And it works, most of the time.

Was that a mistake? Should a dedicated proofreader be hired? Should there be more copy editors to double-check each other’s work? And if so, what positions should be cut to make room in the budget for new staff?

Or, put another way, would you be willing to pay a dollar or two more a month for your subscription if it meant half the number of typos you see now?

Tell Andrew what you think.


From Barry Wilson’s CTV News Postscript blog:


Ad hominem attacks on language issues are always best done with blatant grammatical errors in your mother tongue.

Headline fun

You know, the job of a copy editor can seem unfulfilling at times. You work during prime-time, you don’t get your name in the paper, and the only creative thing you can do is write headlines.

But every now and then you get to write a headline you particularly enjoy. Like this one, over a story about a study showing computers in schools can actually be counter-productive to learning.

This is about all the fun we get. Well, that and the occasional impromptu pun-off.

On the importance of online copy-editing

Came upon this article at Macleans.ca about online gambling in Kahnawake, and noticed what appeared to be a strange typo in the headline:

Maclean’s encoding error

As of this writing, it’s still not corrected, which I guess means that nobody at Maclean’s checks articles once they’ve gone online.

Here’s how the end of that headline appears in the HTML code:

Even if it means starting a fight.

So it’s not my browser. It explicitly says “lowercase i with umlaut, mathematical negation symbol, and non-existent character with code #129.” My browser just did what it was told.

But why did this happen? For that we have to delve into two technical subjects I’ll do my best to explain: Unicode and ligatures.

Continue reading

Crackerjacks at the Gazette

I know I’m going to get shot by some of my former colleagues for this one, so I’ll be keeping my head low. But I couldn’t resist this one:

Mike Boone, today on A6:

“…it is easier to throw a pork chop past a wolf than it is to slip an error or ambiguity past the crackerjack Gazette copy desk.”

From another article on that same page about burials resuming:

“The 129 gravediggers and maintenance staff, members of the Confdration (sic*) des syndicats nationaux, have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2003. The workers’ last contract expired on Dec. 31, 2003.”

And in today’s corrections box:

“An Agence France-Presse story in Friday’s paper said former U.S. president Richard Nixon was impeached. In fact, Nixon resigned before the impeachment resolutions could be heard by the full House. The Gazette regrets the error.”

* The Gazette still doesn’t know how to upload articles with accents to its website.