Collegian to improve editing

MARC ALLAN | | Public Editor

No one likes making mistakes, whether it’s a basketball player bricking foul shots or a newspaper reporter getting facts wrong.

But mistakes happen.

As I pointed out in last week’s column, The Collegian’s Sept. 10 story about former Butler President Bobby Fong’s death had some factual errors. Editor-in-Chief Marais Jacon-Duffy was upset that those mistakes got into print. (The errors were amended online and noted in a correction box in last week’s paper.)

“It stings when it happens and it is very embarrassing,” she told me. “Obviously, we don’t want it to happen, and we’re taking measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The Collegian already had a good editing system in place.

Most stories are due at 5 p.m. Sunday. Section editors and top editors (the editor in chief and managing editor) read the stories sometime between Sunday night and Monday night, when the initial production of the paper begins.

Section editors look primarily at content issues—Is the story newsworthy? Are there any holes? Is it missing any sources needed to tell the story fairly? They will fix spelling, grammar and punctuation errors they catch, but their biggest concern is the quality of the overall story.

Once the initial edits are finished, the story goes to the copy desk, which is run by sophomore accounting major Justina Kaiser. Copy editors check for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and they also look for factual mistakes.

Copy editors have perhaps the toughest task at the newspaper: Catch the errors before they get into print. I asked Kaiser to estimate how many errors the desk catches in an average week. She declined, modestly—the way copy editors tend to do.

Typically, copy editors get none of the credit when something goes right and much of the blame when something goes wrong. As readers, we never know when a copy editor has saved a reporter or section editor from embarrassment. But we do know when the copy editor fails to catch an error.

The errors in the Fong story occurred in the reporting phase of the story and made it through the editing process without being caught—proving that even a good editing system isn’t foolproof.

The Collegian’s editing system is similar to what you would have found at professional newspapers until recently. (Some newspapers have eliminated their copy desks as a cost-cutting measure. They would rather save money than face.)

But beginning last week, The Collegian instituted a more-thorough system.

Now, as part of the editing process, all proper nouns, dates and facts that need to be checked will be highlighted in the computer system and verified by an editor before the story gets into print.

This won’t eliminate every error, but it shows that the students running The Collegian take their work as seriously as they should.