Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New York Times, you're one of us now

For some time now, the clincher in any discussion of declining standards of literacy in American newspaper and book publishing has been "I'm even seeing mistakes in the New York Times." Now I can make the same declaration.

Here at my newspaper, I used to play a little game when reading or editing stories from wire services, including the Times' service. Whenever I'd come to a bit of mangled grammar or an ugly, sloppily executed sentence, I'd think, well, this can't be from the Times, and I'd scroll to the top of my computer screen to verify this. Until recently, I was always right.

Then, a few weeks ago, I edited a story by a Times writer who did not know the difference between nominate and appoint. (Think the difference is academic? Not when the story is about presidential nominations subject to Senate confirmation.)

Today there was this, from the Times' Bill Pennington:
"Last weekend he was talked about in entirely different contexts: to note that McIlroy was almost the same age as Woods was when he won his first major..."
In fact, Rory McIllroy, who won golf’s U.S. Open on Sunday, is not almost the same age as Woods was when he won the 1997 Masters, he's 10 months older. Sure, you can figure out what the Times meant, but not so long ago that extra step would have been unnecessary. The Times' reporters knew what they meant and the right words to say it, and if they didn't, its copy editors were good enough or given enough time to fix the mistake. No longer.

The Times is still better written than many newspapers, though it's not as good as the Wall Street Journal or the Economist. It's probably also a better source of news than most, so you won't be clueless if you read it. As for me, though, I'll have to find a new game to play at work.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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39 Comments:

Anonymous Liz V. said...

Sweet.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Gary Corby said...

"Almost" to me in this context means younger, and never older. The "almost" means approaching, but not passed. Since you tell me Masters is the older, that makes the statement factually wrong in my world.

Having said that though, isn't the question when "almost" as a threshold is exceeded? It's a vague term.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Why, thanks, Liz.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, you're exactly right. The writer's point was that McIllroy, age 22, almost duplicated Woods' feat of winning a major golf tournament at age 21.

He was not "almost the same age" as Woods, he was "almost as young as Woods." It's the sort of failure to align the word precisely with the thought that one would not have seen in routine sentences in the Times until very recently.

The main point, of course, is that McIllroy is now -- what else? -- the Celtic Tiger.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous Luise said...

This weekend a map in the Boston Globe noted the Public Gardens (it's singular, always). (I did send a strong e-mail; do they care?) This only confirmed (for the 1000th time) that editing and proofreading are increasingly irrelevant to all publications (they don't guarantee income, which is all that matters, it seems). The NYT joined the crowd long ago, I'm afraid. I've been a copy editor for almost 50 years; it's a struggle to feel relevant. Like you, I persevere -- as I enjoy your blog enormously.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, it only seems fair to mention that the NYT washes its own dirty grammar linen in public every Tuesday in the column After Deadline.

I'm sure you know about it but the latest one is here.

Good fun for those who get turned on by that kind of thing.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

"After Deadline" is a lovely thing. The NYT still rocks.

But Peter, it has occurred to me that writing a blog (and you are a prolific and interesting blogger) must become incredibly difficult when also combined with an insistence on the utmost propriety of the language.

Frankly, I would be terrified. I may become terrified of commenting.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

When I read a New York Times editorial a few months ago and saw the same word spelled two different ways in that piece, I know something -- and not too good at that -- was happening.

There are often different acceptable spellings for certain words but there should be consistency within one piece.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

I.J., on the subject of language, I don't think Peter is what would be called a hanging judge. You're probably safe.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

The reaction I have is to think of how remarkable newspapers are. They are put out at such speed that typos and misleading words are surprisingly rare, when you think of how tired one can get.

(I speak from experience of gallopping round Dublin and then haring into an office to find the editor had gone AWOL. Computers must have made life much easier.)

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Luise has left a new comment ...

This weekend a map in the Boston Globe noted the Public Gardens (it's singular, always).


And who owns the Boston Globe? The New York Times!

You're 100 percent right. Copy-editing and proofreading are quaint holdovers from an earlier era, desirable luxuries in an industry that thinks it can no longer afford them. (And, of course, newsrooms tend to be run by former reporters rather than former copy editors.) A copy editor must find a sense of relevance somewhere other than in the occasional "and thanks to the copy desk for doing a good job" note from management.

Thanks for the comment and for the kind words.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, the guy who writes After Deadline was the news editor at some weekly papers I wrote for years ago. The column is good fun, but his solution fo the obese/smoke question left me scratching my head.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the NYT still rocks, but it rocks in arenas rather than in stadiums, the way it used to. It has a way to go before it does its rocking in small clubs.

Writing a blog is not terrifying, just time-consuming.

Terrified of commenting? Oh, my computer is littered with the quivering remains of commenters I've scolded for bad usage.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you're right. That's the sort of thing that any editor should have caught.

June 21, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Have you ever been corrected, Peter?

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tales from the Birch Wood. has left a new comment ...

The reaction I have is to think of how remarkable newspapers are. They are put out at such speed that typos and misleading words are surprisingly rare, when you think of how tired one can get.


And copy editors are getting more and more tired these days.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I am a hanging judge, but only where such sternness is called for. It's not called for in a forum like this one.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Of course I have, I.J., both here and at work. I also sometimes find and correct mistakes on this blog days, months or even years after the fact. (The advent of electronic editions now gives newspapers this luxury as well.)

I am apprehensive about making errors on this blog, but I have a ready answer for anyone who complains: Of course mistakes get into this blog. It appears just the way the writer writes it. It has no copy editor, in other words.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just as you're picky about copy editor standards, a psychology professor friend of mine used to find herself probing my rationale for the slightest thing, and when I'd go to a restaurant, I'd be calculating how much money they were making that night! :)

We all take our work home with us!

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, jeez, I'd hate to be around a psychologist as fussy about motivation as I am about grammar.

The last time this issue came up, I said that I'm not the way I am because I became a copy editor, but rather I became a copy editor because I'm the way I am.

June 21, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

She was sweet, though; not annoying at all.
I used to make fun of it every time she launched into it, and she took it well.
I did all the calculating in my head, though, so I wasn't really bothering anybody
Not even the waiters! :)

June 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

While you figured out how much money the restaurant was making, I'd be finding typos on the menu, and your friend would be wondering what made us do what we were doing.

June 22, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Peter, her diagnosis would be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She'd also take note of any excessive washing of hands by either of you.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I engage in no more hand-washing than normal, so I'd be all right.

I have corrected spelling and other mistakes on public signs, though, But that's not obsessive, that's normal, damn it.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Jenni Wiltz said...

The general lack of attention to proofreading and/or editing drives me nuts. I used to live in Arkansas and saw it all the time. I spotted this sign in Little Rock, telling drivers about an ongoing road improvement project: "Little Rock...Making Improvements for It's Citizens."

The kicker is that someone wrote it incorrectly, then someone else made a mock-up of the sign, and someone else proofed that mock-up before the sign was produced and planted in a median.

It is *not* okay that none of these people caught the error. It means none of them can read, spell, or operate a computer well enough to use a basic grammar check. These are the people in charge of an entire city, the people Little Rock citizens trust with their general welfare on a daily basis.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The illiterate sign that I photographed and wrote about here (and may write about again soon) was outside the headquarters of the Philadelphia School District.

Insist on correctness of usage, grammar, and punctuation, and one learns pretty quickly that Nobody. Effing. Cares.

June 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, I proofread as I read and I'm not even trying to do that. And sometimes I wish I didn't do that.

I just purchased a copy of Camilleri's The Snack Thief and when I got home and looked at the cover closely, I noticed that Montalbano was misspelled on the back cover. (It was spelled correctly and incorrectly on that back cover.)

Horrors! I would think that while the text could be a bit overlooked, that surely someone in the production process would have caught an error on the cover/back cover.

I wish that I did not notice these things.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a bad mistake to make. Which edition of the book do you have?

June 22, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Was that the same article where they called Holywood, County Down "a blue collar town"?

Cos, you know, it isn't.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know if that was the article; I didn't read the whole thing. I think I'll consult the Time Web site now to find out.

I probably read it when scrolling the wire, which will just the top of each story.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nope, couldn't find it.

June 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

The Snack Thief, Penguin Books, paperback, published 2004.

Great book though.

June 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, the back cover that appears with Amazon's listing for the book spells the name correctly, I think.

But yes, a fine book. Someone sent me a copy of the Italian edition of the book, which I may try to ready in tandem with the English translation, a chapter at a time in each.

June 23, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

PEter


Its here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/20/sports/golf/mcilroy-wins-us-open-and-fans-with-disarming-dominance.html?

I left a comment disputing the blue collar nature of Holywood but it seems to have been moderated out, which is odd because it was brief and written in temperate language.

June 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Times reacts to criticism of itself the way the Guardian does, apparently.

June 23, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

dThere's also a humourous side to the subject.

I went into a local shop once to say that "beer" was written as "bier" in the window.

It was a Dutch bier...

A Freudian would have fun with that one.

June 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or a temperance activist.

June 23, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Or a repressed Jungian...

June 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or a 12-stepper with a sense of humor.

June 23, 2011  

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