Bad things happen when you jettison those nerdy word technicians, the copy editors. And it’s sadly prevalent, especially – but not only – at dead tree publications. A few days ago, hundreds of employees staged a walkout at The New York Times after the announcement the paper was eliminating the Times stand-alone copy desk. These are the folks whose job it is to catch mistakes, from small to significant, made by the rest of the editorial staff. The proofreaders. The savers of bacon. The Times covers Jersey, though not as well as they used to. It happened at The Record as it was attempting to stave off Gannett, to which it did finally succumb (Gannett would have done it anyway, they’re famous for it). It happened at Star-Ledger.
When nobody’s catching your mistakes, bad things. Sometimes annoyances (‘apostrophe s’ for plural comes to mind), sometimes big stuff, like misquotes or misattributions. Here’s a great example. It’s not New Jersey, but a New Jerseyan has had to deal with it all week. Me.
On July 11th, Clare Foran at The Atlantic wrote about what Bernie Sanders was saying to Trump voters in West Virginia (Trump 68% Clinton 26%), finding common ground with people in a state that will be devastated if Obamacare is dismantled. In Bernie Sanders’ Pitch to Trump Voters, Foran talks to rally attendee Mark Herrmann (all emphasis mine):
“He’s trying to reach out to everybody. You don’t see anybody else doing that,” said Mark Herrmann, a self-described progressive who showed up at the Kentucky rally. When I asked if he was a Democrat, he replied caustically, “Not even remotely anymore. The Democratic Party now is a disaster, an absolute mess. I don’t see a party now that represents me.”
OK, that’s a guy named Mark Herrmann talking – at a Bernie Sanders rally. Now, Fortune’s Donald Brand read that and wrote this the same day: Why Bernie Sanders Isn’t Actually a Socialist, Here’s what he took from Foran’s Atlantic piece:
Bernie Sanders was traveling through Trump country (West Virginia and Kentucky) last weekend in an effort to rally opposition to Republican attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. These efforts notwithstanding, Sanders still refuses to embrace Obamacare. “As soon as we defeat this disastrous bill, I will be introducing a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” he said during the rally. He hasn’t even embraced the Democratic Party, despite his bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee. When asked if he was a Democrat, he responded, “Not even remotely anymore. The Democratic Party now is a disaster, an absolute mess. I don’t see a party now that represents me.
Thus, Fortune attributes a caustic opinion about the Democratic Party to Bernie Sanders. Sanders never said it. And all week, that Fortune misquote has been rolling around the internet. And I love my Hillary friends but they keep sending it to me, saying, See? See how much your guy hates the Democratic Party? And I’m tired of it. And Fortune still hasn’t fixed it 6 days later. And copy editors f*cking rule.
Now, Blue Jersey has no copy editor except me, and I’m fallible as hell. So … How many mistakes have I made in this post?
PS – I was really happy to find this cartoon about copy editors by my friend Rob Tornoe.