As newspapers continue to eliminate reporting and editing jobs — The New York Times and USA Today were among those that announced cuts in the past month or so — it has become fashionable to bash the journalism business, to complain that the papers aren’t what they used to be, that they’re more interested in profits than in serving the communities where they’re located. From time to time, this former newspaperman has been among the critics.
While it’s fair to question the direction the leaders in the industry have chosen to take, we should be mindful of the conditions under which today’s reporters and editors are working. For all the cuts that they have occurred, for all the coworkers they have lost, they must continue to carry out their responsibility to deliver the most important news to their readers. They do more with less, and for their efforts they deserve our appreciation.
“Don’t they have have proofreaders any more?” my wife asked the other day, after seeing a particularly glaring spelling or grammatical error. Well, no, they don’t. Proofreaders disappeared years ago, and copy editors, whose job is to prevent the spelling and grammatical errors made by hurried reporters from ever making their way into print (or from being posted on the web), might as well be declared an endangered species. Reporters — on their way to being reborn as “content creators” in journalism’s new era — are now taking photos and recording video interviews. They have to learn new jobs in order to hang on to their old ones, and they’re working in an environment where new stories are no longer published once a day, but on a 24/7 cycle. The pressure is unrelenting.
I have no doubt that the reporters who remain on the staffs of our newspapers are doing the best they can, I have to wonder whether their best will be enough to enable the news business to survive. The need for news will not disappear, but readers inevitably have less confidence in a product laden with spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that a high school student should not be making. I believe publishers should rethink some of their current cost-cutting strategies. The demise of quality control through reductions in copy editors and proofreaders and the general trend toward cutting corners may serve to counter declining revenue in the short term, but readers see what’s happening, and they don’t like it very much.
Giving your reporters the tools they need to do their work means more than providing the technology that enables them to report, record and photograph almost simultaneously. It also means maintaining the support system that ensures that the finished product is clear, concise and well-written.
Respect your readers, or lose them forever.