Brian Sandford: See a proofreading error? Hold us accountable
May 12, 2013
What makes for a good newspaper?
There are numerous one-word answers: thoroughness, insight, passion, creativity, dedication. But boiled down to a word, we endeavor to deliver and embrace one tenet above all others: Intelligence.
Our newsroom has more than 150 combined years of experience, and it shows via the stories we write, the photos we take, the coverage decisions we make and the way we choose to present information both in print and online.
We like to think we’re smart people. But we sometimes make stupid mistakes.
I hear from readers about a range of topics, but proofreading comes up more frequently than anything else. The tone of what I hear ranges from “Hi, I happened to notice that a certain thing was incorrect” to “What is wrong with you? Don’t you people have proofreaders?”
We don’t. I wish we did; my first journalism job was as a proofreader at a small daily newspaper in northeastern Ohio. I probably learned more about journalism and language in my 18 months in that job than in any other 18-month period of my career.
Like many journalists, I catch myself editing billboards, closed captioning in films, road signs, the nutrition information on cereal boxes … pretty much everything. We all develop linguistic pet peeves; two of mine are the all-too-common confusion of “everyday” and “every day” — they mean very different things — and attribution of intent to inanimate objects. A bill doesn’t aim to do something; it’s aimed at doing something.
Fifteen years ago, I was part of a production cycle at a Florida newspaper that included a section editor reviewing a story, followed by a copy editor, a second copy editor and a proofreader. If the story was of particular import, additional editors reviewed it. Often, stories were published many days after they’d been written to ensure time for editing.
That was a different era; all newspapers have different systems now. At the Nevada Appeal, we have two primary editors — our deputy editor, Adam Trumble, and me — and we review all stories. We also proofread the pages on small computer screens at night, after working at least 10 hours during the day. Gone are the days of printing out full-size pages and going over them with a red pen; it’s all done via computer now.
This column is meant to explain our process, not to make excuses. We can’t stand making mistakes, as they undermine our credibility and suggest a lack of intelligence. We have an intelligent staff.
We also have intelligent readers, and I enjoy hearing from them about all topics. When someone points out an error, I thank him or her for it and use it as a teachable moment and a learning experience. I had lunch Friday with two readers who’d pointed out a couple of errors, and I ended up making two friends.
If you see errors, don’t hesitate to point them out to me. One of our key roles is to hold government and other entities accountable, and we need to be held accountable, too.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.