All The News That’s Fit … Whatever

Now Playing: Little Martha, by the Allman Brothers. How come there are no great instrumentals any more?

Regular Rants ‘n Raves readers – and I’m thrilled, chilled and fulfilled that there are some – know that I love newspapers. I worked in them for 20 years before moving to magazines and loved nearly every minute of it. Who wouldn’t? They’re good hangouts for superheroes like me (and Superman and Spider-Man) and weirdos (like me and too many of my former colleagues to mention).

It hurts me to see what’s happening to the industry as papers downsize to cut expenses. Still, I hate to criticize them publicly, so I don’t write this entry lightly.

But as I was going through The Daily Digest (‘s roundup of the top business and government stories from newspapers around the state) this morning, I ran into stories on the same topic in two different newspapers. Both have terrible holes, holes that I think would have been spotted had the Winston-Salem Journal and High Point Enterprise had experienced copy editors on the job rather than folks who were just passing copy through.

Interlude: Things Going On, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Too many lives they’ve spent across the ocean. Too much money been spent upon the moon. Well, until they make it right, I hope they never sleep at night, They better make some changes, And do it soon.”

Both stories concerned official attendance figures for the High Point spring furniture market. The Journal‘s Richard Craver, who for my money is one of THE best newspaper business writers in the state, led his by saying that the 77,705 people who registered for the market represented the first year-over-year increase since the event’s governing body started releasing attendance numbers in 2006. Here’s the problem: The story never says what the numbers were for the spring 2009 (a quick trip to the market authority’s website provided the answer – 75,537). It gives numbers for the fall 2009, but that’s not a year-over-year comparison.

The High Point story gives the correct numbers for both sessions, but then talks about the “modest gain of about 200 people.” Yikes. My 11-year-old can subtract better than that. Somebody not only passed that one through but wrote a headline based on it.

The point is, an experienced, committed copy editor would have caught both problems and sent the stories back, saving the writers and the papers a ton of embarrassment – and sparing my blood pressure a few points as well.

I love newspapers. I always will. But this is what happens when you cut jobs and send editing duties to central desks and squeeze every penny out of them?

Is this sour grapes because of my own situation? I swear it isn’t. I wasn’t crazy about getting laid off, of course, but I understand the reasons why it happened. And I think the magazine still stands up well – even without my considerable talents (and boy, that hurts to admit).

But I hate what I see happening in some – not all – newspapers. The quality of the writing and editing is sinking – fast – and I’m afraid they’ll get too timid to tackle stories that could offend advertisers.

I hope I’m wrong. It has happened before.

Until next time.

“The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio and television is simply to get out better papers.” _ H.L. Mencken (I know I’ve used this one before, but boy is it relevant today – if you add the Internet to the competition, too.)


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