Wednesday, July 6, 2011

War of Words: NYT v. WSJ in Copy-Editing

Journal Wins by Early-Round K.O.

Media Bistro ran a story today about a spat between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal over The Journal running a story and not crediting The Times for breaking it.  Bistro Writer, Chris O'Shea calls that and other disputes between the print-journalism behemoths, "meaningless."  I'm not too sure about that.  Scoops still mean something to the folks digging them up, as well they should.  Maybe someone should start looking at the big boys' copy-editing.

It's easy to kick back and pick on The Times for oversights in editing and proofreading as I have recently.  I'm not the one battling high-pressure deadlines every day.  I recently ran into a copy of The Journal, though, and while reading about a half-dozen or more articles in it, I did not come across any
noteworthy copy-editing mistakes or even a typo.  The only thing I did notice was a not-really-necessary coma before the word, "in" in a very long sentence in the middle of a piece about congressional staffers who continue to earn income from previous employers while working on Capitol Hill.  I'm inclined to think Journal editors just tossed it in there because the sentence was so long, but the truth is, it was so properly structured, it would have been just fine without it.  But then again, I noticed the same thing somewhere else in that day's edition.   It's possible that, technically, a comma is necessary before the word "in," but was abandoned in practice long ago, which would mean WSJ is really keeping it old school, which I applaud.  Nevertheless, my final opinion is that according to grammar logic ("Grammar Logic!!"--who will be first to steal that one?), including a comma in that situation is incorrect.

I'm going to stop covering specific copy-editing mistakes in The Times because, quite frankly, they're all too common.  Sorry, guys--WSJ wins hands down in a copy-editing/proofreading comparison.

I do want to clarify something, though.  When I cited the following NYT example in a recent post, I didn't make it clear that I see ways to fix the poorly structured sentence.  The simplest solution being eliminating "that climate change." 
In Britain, reducing carbon dioxide emissions was one of the few policies supported by political parties of both the right and left, which both accepted that climate change was a serious problem and saw clean technology investment as a growth opportunity rather than an onerous obligation.
Wow--the more I read it, the more I see how bad the sentence is in various ways.  The best solution would probably be to make it two sentences, which reminds me: I recently re-read "Media Coverage of Hidden Brain Damage Mounts," which I was pretty happy with at first.  Enough time elapsed since I'd last read it, though, to make it clear this time around that it's plagued by a handful of painfully long sentences--a couple of which are even confusing--that could have easily been divided into two or even three separate sentences.  This illustrates the value of at least a second person reading a piece before publishing.  The piece is a bit complex.  I'm only one person.

There ya have it.


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