Saturday, September 08, 2007


The Times it is a-changin'

Last week, The Ridger quoted the New York Times in an “its/it’s” error (emphases added in the quotes here):

The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median household income rose 0.7 percent last year — it’s second annual increase in a row— to $48,201.
In yesterday’s Times we see another incorrect homophone:
Military recruiters are frequently given free reign in New York City public schools and allowed into classes in violation of the school system’s regulations, according to a report released yesterday by the Manhattan borough president and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
That should be “free rein”, as with a horse that’s allowed to go anywhere it pleases.

The Times used to be better than that. Time was, it was rare to catch them in an error. Now it’s common, and only gets a head shake; the errors above would be unremarkable if I hadn’t decided to write a blog entry about it.

The deterioration at the Times is reflective of falling writing standards in general. These errors appear to result from reliance on spelling checkers rather than proofreading. Spelling checkers are cheaper than human editors, and they ought to prevent, say, our cafeteria from offering “straberry precerves” for your morning toast (our cafeteria, it seems, uses neither editors nor spelling checkers, but I digress). But proofreading and manual editing are still necessary — a spelling checker can’t catch the errors noted above — and what passes for editing these days is often quite sorry.

These pages, those of this blog, constitute an informal thing, and perhaps errors should be tolerated, ignored entirely, considered insignificant. Yet my process for writing an entry is this:

  1. Make a note of an idea and put a little text with it.
  2. Fill out the text, ending with a complete entry.
  3. Read it quickly, making corrections and changes as I go.
  4. Read it carefully, looking for errors or things that are worded unclearly and making corrections and changes as needed.
  5. Repeat step 4 until I have made no changes.
  6. Post the entry (this might happen hours or days after step 5) and preview it, reading it carefully again and making final changes.
  7. Publish it, refresh the blog, and read it again, checking the formatting on the published blog. Edit and correct it if necessary.

I suppose it’s easy for me to go through that: I’m not paying anyone to do it, I have far fewer words to get through than the Times does, and I have no deadlines. Of course, I don’t have someone else proofread it before I publish it, and errors do occasionally slip in. Still....

While we’re here, some headline silliness. This isn’t an error, nor any real confusion, just an amusement in a New York Times headline: Judge Gives New Jersey a Week to Fix Voting Machines. Given that “fix” can have multiple conflicting meetings in this context, one might think it an unfortunate choice of words... or maybe it’s intentional.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I still find myself editing blog entries that are several years old from time to time.