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Hang the black crepe in Raleigh

In what has become a monotonously familiar—and depressing—measure, the McClatchy newspapers have decided to eliminate the copy desk and design desk at the News & Observer at Raleigh, transferring the work to the Charlotte Observer.

Winston-Salem lost its copy desk a few months ago. The casualties mount.

The Raleigh paper, like the other papers that have resorted to this shabby expedient, will bolster its profitability while compromising its quality. The papers that have reduced or eliminated their copy desk staffs experience an increase in factual errors and slack writing. In a business that trumpets the importance of its local coverage, the elimination of people who have the local knowledge is particularly self-defeating.

So if you are reading in Raleigh or elsewhere that your local publication has thrown people over the side to improve its service to you, I think you will recognize what you are being fed.

Andy Bechtel is conducting a wake at The Editor’s Desk.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:56 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Comments

A former colleague, extremely talented and committed to her work, is among those being shown the door at the Raleigh paper. Management didn't bother to call her at home to tell her.


Raleigh, Sir Walter, sadly lost his head, and it appears, IMHO, that the McClatchy newspaper 'geniuses' have lost their powers of sound judgement, and I dare say, a bit of their collective soul, in summarily axing the entire copy editing and page design staff in one-fell-swoop, as it were, at Raleigh's venerable News & Observer.

Just another sad reflection on the slow-but-sure qualitative devolution of print media, w/ the major players caught between the proverbial rock-and-hard-place w/ the huge decline in hardcopy readership, and the meteoric ascent of on-line, digital news gathering, and reportage. New paradigms are afoot........ but show me the money$$$.

In a sense, the fine work that the N&O staffers have done day-in-and-day-out, for decades now, has been essentially outsourced around the block to Charlotte. And we all know the various pitfalls of that pass-the-buck-on-the-cheap modality/ mentality. (One saving grace----the work isn't being shipped overseas to Bangalore, or Manilla.)

Sadly, the business side of the news media generally trumps the human value, personnel side. Employees, the drones of commerce, in these especially challenging economic times are often the unwitting casualties, the collateral damage in this on going battle for fiscal survival, belt-tightening, and the desperate scramble for profitability. The N&O debacle being a fresh case in point.

Andy Bechtel's comments on the most recent N&O personnel cuts , in my view, seemed both heartfelt and on target. Unfortunately, this depressing scenario-of-attrition will be played out in newsrooms across this nation w/ greater frequency in the coming months and years.

As a former political cartoonist, I personally rued the day(s), a number of years back, when many of my favorite editorial cartoonists at major U.S. papers began getting their pink slips.

The brilliant, very talented on-staff cartoonist, Michael Ramirez, who had drawn a daily editorial cartoon at our L.A. Times for at least 5-6 years was suddenly given his walking papers about three years back. Ironically, about a year prior to his release by The Times, he had won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for 'best political cartoon' that year. So much for rarified accolades, I guess.

I really appreciated Ramirez's clever, sophisticated drawing style, his native intelligence, satiric wit, and ability to make his point so well in a single panel 'statement', even though his right-of-center politics didn't always jibe w/ my more centrist/ left leaning political bias. When he left The Times in haste, I was thoroughly bummed out, to put it bluntly.

Michael Ramirez was just one of scores of extremely gifted in-house political cartoonists that were tossed to the curb by large, and smallish newspapers across the country.

Now it appears that the various news syndicates supply editorial cartoons to most papers w/o a cartoon staffer on board. But I digress........... as usual.

Prof. McI., nice to back. Looking forward to all the regulars coming back to the fold, (and newbies, of course), refreshed, and likely still a bit peevish, considering the forced 'hiatus', and all.

As the 'Python' gang would say, "SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM!............."

ALEX

Man, they don't even have proper barbecue in Charlotte. Just plain meat with ~~ shudder ~~ "barbecue slaw". Too close to South Carolina, I think; who'd wanna move there?

John:
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost...for want of a messenger the kingdom was lost." No more proofreaders. No more rewrite men. No more copy boys. No more linotype operators. No more...When the publishers brought in the computers, that allowed them to get rid of the printers and give the editors a chance to do double and triple duty. Full pagination continued the trend and the cash cows kept on leaving piles of do-re-mi all across the fields of publisherland. And lo! The internet arrived, and the publishers were troubled. Verily, they began to quake and tremble, as advertisers fled and readers turned their faces away from what the publishers had wrought. As the old proverb says, don't wish too much for something; you may get your wish. The problem is that while the industry suffers and veteran newspaper people continue to fade away, the readers who remain suffer the results of the law of unforeseen consequences. We can't turn back the clock, but when this devolution of journalistic values hits bottom, let's hope that the only way left is up.

Warning: This post may challenge people's assumptions that management is evil and all is lost.

I spent a year working in Louisville, Ky., where I copy edited first the news sections and then the features sections for the papers in Louisville; Asheville, N.C.; and Greenville, S.C. (This was for Gannett, not McClatchy, but I worked for McClatchy as well, earlier on.) Newspaper editions these days are so tiny that it was no problem to slot three papers' features section, often with the assistance of just one copy editor. If the Carolina papers had been able to hold on to two dedicated FTEs just for these tasks, they would have been wasting their money because there was no longer enough work to justify the jobs. If the number of pages somehow returns to what it once was, I could argue for reinstating the dedicated local copy desk, but if I were a publisher in this economy, I'd advocate the centralized copy desk.

Yes, a copy editor's knowledge of local matters is important -- but less so if other staff cuts and space cuts mean that almost all the copy is from the wires anyway.

The loss of the local copy desk is an unfortunate complication of some other tragic maladies, but it is not necessarily a debilitating ailment in itself.

Did the Carolina readers "suffer" because I was in Louisville? I don't think so. I had continuous access to their editors via IM and phone, and I never caused a correction that was related to "local knowledge." (The sources of my three biggest slip-ups during that year were all related to design, not verbal information, and the designers were sitting just yards away.)

From the outside, the loss of the local copy desk may look horrifying, and it's not ideal. But having been there, I can testify that it's far from the most serious problem for newspapers, and the setup still allows high-quality results.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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