Every week or so, I’ll hear from a reader of The Times Leader who takes us to task for a spelling or grammatical mistake.
And while there’s no defense for our errors, there’s at least an explanation.
Back in the good ol’ days — I’m looking at you, 2002! — newsrooms produced one product with one deadline: the daily newspaper. A reporter would write a story, which would be read by two editors. From there, it’d go to the copy desk, where another editor or two would read it. Then a copy of the page would be printed for a proofreader to look at it.
Now, as soon as news breaks, we write it, edit it and publish it. From there, it appears on timesleader.com, our mobile and tablet apps, Facebook, Twitter and the newspaper.
How do we do that while maintaining our original standard where each story got three to five edits before appearing in print?
Quite honestly, we don’t.
Because so many people immerse themselves in our journalism so many different ways, our audience is larger than it’s ever been. The downside is that our attention has been split three ways, as has our audience: print (the newspaper), digital (website, mobile apps) and social (Facebook and Twitter). Ever try doing three things at once? Despite your best efforts, mistakes will crop up. And when one of those three things is producing a daily printed product with millions of words in each issue, we’re bound to get a few of them wrong.
That’s the bad news. The good news? We are producing so much more local content.
Each weekday, our website is filled with updates aimed at making your life easier — news about weather, school closings, commuting delays. Throughout the day and night, we’re interacting with our readers on Facebook and Twitter. Just as our print readers demand a well-edited newspaper, our digital and social readers demand immediacy. If there’s a fire or car accident, we usually have information reported within minutes. If we were to hold back that information until three to five editors have had a chance to look at it, we’d be negligent in our responsibility to keep our readers informed.
One of the biggest challenges facing editors is striking that balance. As with all things in life, how journalists are deployed is an exercise in compromise. I can have a reporter working early-morning hours updating thousands of readers about weather and traffic updates, or I can have a copy editor giving our journalism a third or fourth edit. I can have editors interacting with our readers on social networks — mining those conversations for tips that will bolster our journalism — or have them poring over page proofs.
That’s a long-winded way of saying: Yes, we’ll continue to inadvertently let mistakes into the paper. We do the best job we can with our attention split three ways.
The reality is that leading a newsroom is no different from any other facet of life. At the end of the day, you compromise where you have to. You make the best choices you can based on the best information you have. And you hope that your decisions are the right ones.