In the field of copy editing, wearing the mantel of leadership means pouring over news stories for problems that are anything but obvious. I thought I was a shoe-in for the job, because I actually love such stuff, but it takes a real trooper to do the work day in, day out.
For example, can you find the four errors in the paragraph above? Spell-check won’t help. The grammar is all good; the punctuation all proper. No, it’s not the clichés on parade, although a good writer wouldn’t wedge four or more into one paragraph – much less the first paragraph – of any piece.
My colleagues on the IB Copy Desk could catch the mistakes. In fact, they have seen them all at one time or another. Maybe most readers wouldn’t notice or care, but the most educated, discerning ones would. Keeping your credibility intact to protect your brand is the business of our copy editors.
Here are the keys to the four flubs above:
- A mantel is the ornamental facing around a fireplace.
- A mantle is a cape or sleeveless cloak.
- To pour means to cause something, usually a liquid, to flow in a steady stream.
- To pore means to gaze intently or steadily.
- A shoe-in is – actually, I’m not sure there is such a thing. If there were, it would have something to do with footwear.
- A shoo-in is a sure thing, as in, “Shoo! Get in there!”
- A trooper is a police officer or a member of a cavalry unit.
- A trouper is a member of a troupe, a group of actors, singers or dancers – the kind of person who believes the show must go – so trouper is the appropriate word in this case.
For a wealth of other easily confused words, check out sites like Grammarist, which I particularly enjoy because it’s helpful and civil and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Attention to detail counts a lot in journalism. It’s about accuracy, and nothing is more important. Why should people trust you with complicated news stories if you can’t get straight the simple stuff like spelling?
Matters of clarity and consistency are not always quite so objective. In fact, most normal people would probably be amazed at the time and energy we spend on our monthly conference calls, arguing over such subtle issues as whether “homeless” is really the best word for someone whose house has just burned down – or does that term connote someone who lives on the street due to poverty, mental illness or other chronic condition?
What’s the difference between a scam and a scheme? (It’s mostly a matter of scale, but schemes aren’t necessarily crimes; scams almost always are.)
How about the difference between a hyphen and a dash? (Hyphens link things; dashes separate them. I’m a liberal user of dashes, but a minimalist when it comes to hyphens – yet I know they can be important. A small business convention could be a not-very-big gathering involving businesses of all sizes. A small-business convention involves only small businesses, but could be a really big event.)
Can the pronoun “they” ever refer to a family? How about to an individual whose gender isn’t known? This could easily be its own column, so don’t even get me started.
I could go on – and on – but this is already too long. I need a copy editor.
In fact, everyone does, and editors are scarce these days in too many newsrooms. A “publish first, correct later” mentality can compromise your credibility. Nobody can afford that. Our advice: Lift the burden of “proof” from journalists and make sure your brand is protected by skilled and experienced copy editors. That leaves local journalists free to focus on local coverage.
Want to talk about it? Email me: email@example.com. Better yet, call me: 651-365-4205. On the phone, spelling doesn’t count.