Technology and the decline of copy editing

On The Media had a good interview this weekend with John McIntyre, a former newspaper copy editor, and one of many who have lost their jobs recently due to budget cuts. He talks about the increase in errors and reader complaints at newspapers as a result of the layoffs.

One reason they're are among the first to go is that their work is less visible than that of, say, reporters. Another reason is that, on the Internet, readers just "don't expect things to be accurate or very well done and therefore they are used to tolerating a much higher level of shoddy work and a much greater volume of errors, and therefore you can sacrifice quality on the web and it doesn't mean that much." McIntyre points out that the work of copy editors is much more than just fixing typos, though, and has caught cases of plagiarism, falsification, and libel.

Link: Newspaper Leighoffs (On The Media)

A related article by the ombudsman at the Washington Post: Declining Editing Staff Leads to Rise in Errors.

John McIntyre's new blog: You Don't Say.

Dispatches journal – free copy

I've got a spare copy of the latest issue of Dispatches that I will mail to anyone interested (just email me your address — US only, please). This is volume 1, issue 4 with the theme "out of poverty" (table of contents).

Dispatches is a quarterly political/cultural journal with long-form articles that launched last year with headlines like "Dispatches magazine prefers print over Internet" (see previous post). That was enough to warm luddite hearts like mine, so I gave them a try and bought a subscription. I read the first issue all the way through and I liked it, but I'm probably not going to renew. I appreciate what they're trying to do, but it's pricey at $100/year and they seem to have big distribution problems (issue 2 didn't get sent to some or all subscribers, including me, and everybody apparently got two copies of issue 4, thus the giveaway). I also just have way too much other print piling up to read.

My wavering support notwithstanding, I do like that there are magazines like Dispatches and Lapham's Quarterly keeping high quality nonfiction alive in print magazine form (if only barely).

Twitter, Books and Reading

A few interesting items I spotted in the cyberstreams today related to twitter, books, and reading:

Seth Finkelstein has a nice post summing up what Twitter is all about (in short, ego): Twitter — I'm not getting suckered again.

Nicholas Carr wrote a very funny piece (Tim Writes a Book) about Tim O'Reilly's new simplified book for the twitter set called The Twitter Book. O'Reilly has said it "reinvents the book in the age of the web" by omitting such troubling things as "a sustained narrative." This book does sound silly and a bit pointless, but to his credit, O'Reilly has also published Steve Talbott's thoughtful critiques of technology (and they're nothing if not sustained narratives), so maybe it balances out.

Meanwhile, in that alternate reality where people still read complicated works of fiction, Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas puts out a call not just for more readers but for new, active "readers of talent":

"In the flames of this dream of mortgages and the golden calf of the
gothic novel, the stupid legend of the passive reader was forged. This
monster’s fall is giving way to the reappearance of the reader of
talent, and the terms of the moral contract between author and the
public are being reframed. Those writers breathe once more who are
desperate for an active reader, for a reader open enough to permit into
her mind the figure of a conscience radically different from her own."

Link: Vila-Matas Calls for Readers of Talent (Conversational Reading)

If you read Spanish (I don't) you can follow that link to the whole column. Two of Vila-Matas's books are available in English and I highly recommend them. I liked Bartleby & Co. so much I accidentally bought it twice.

Book Notes

UnpluggingPhilco Jim Knipfel's Unplugging Philco
is a great little Vonnegut-esque scifi novel set in an America where surveillance technology and terrorism paranoia have reached extremes following an event referred to as "The Horribleness." The protagonist is Wally Philco who starts to rebel against the technology of the system and ends up working with a gang of "Unpluggers" who quote Ned Ludd and plan a revolution. The humor is a bit cheesy so don't expect high art, but it's still worth your time.

Novelist Mark Helprin wrote a provocative op-ed two years ago in the New York Times called A Great Idea Lives Forever, Shouldn't Its Copyright? (An inaccurate title, for which he blames the Times editors, as he says he never endorsed the idea of perpetual copyright.) That article provoked "three quarters of a million nasty comments" and he has now published a book called Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto that is sure to provoke plenty more. NPR featured a short interview with him today as well as a response by Lawrence Lessig: 'Digital Barbarism' wages Online Copyright Battle. I just picked the book up so I don't yet have an opinion on it… I'm sympathetic to the basic argument, I think (that copyright is important but it shouldn't be forever, and that "free culture" is problematic).