Doesnt anybody even glance at these articles before they print them? asked a caller last Thursday. Its a question I hear fairly often.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
This reader was calling to point out a copy editing error in that days Business section. In an Associated Press story about expected premium increases under the Affordable Care Act, the second paragraph quoted a person identified only as Bertolini.
Is Bertolini a name were supposed to just recognize without any first name or other identifying information? asked my caller. Surely something got cut out or left out in that sentence.
I found the full version of the story on the wires, and the culprit was what Id first suspected. The original copy was slightly longer than what ran in The Kansas City Star, and its second paragraph had been cut. Thats where Bertolini was identified as Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna Inc. A correction ran the next day.
Another caller that morning pointed out the Bertolini omission, and also drew my attention to a phrase in the front-page story about newly elected Pope Francis. It read, his gracious manner is already sewing the seeds of concern.
I hope I dont have to tell you why thats wrong, said the reader. I hope (The Stars) copy editors know the difference between sow with an o and sew with an e.
Time and again, readers call my attention to turns of phrase that may seem minor on first glance but that are actually meaningfully unclear, incomplete or inaccurate. And while theyre still relatively infrequent considering the amounts of copy The Star publishes, I think its clear theyve become more frequent in recent years.
Its no secret that almost all publishers operate today with much smaller staffs than they did six or seven years ago. The Star is no different. And copy editors have been among the groups hardest hit by the industrys contraction.
Readers also contact me when they find things that arent phrased clearly. Several readers noted such an example in an editorial from the March 9 Opinion section.
In discussing a lawmaker who had said human beings exhaled the pollutant carbon dioxide while bicycling, the editorial read, but CO2 is only a pollutant when it originates from fossil fuels.
There is no reason to believe CO2 is any less injurious to the planet when emitted by a human than when emitted by a power plant, wrote emailer Mark McDowell. Where did this loopy idea come from?
The editorials point is that human beings exhaled CO2 does not contribute significantly to pollution levels something that is true and that the lawmaker himself conceded. Simply rephrasing the sentence would have eliminated the confusion and thats something careful copy editing would have accomplished.
I wouldnt bring these little things up if I didnt think they mattered, said a recent caller who pointed out a layout error that cut off parts of two puzzles in the comics pages on March 7.
I learned to read with The Star, and I taught my daughter to read with it, she said. Ive always thought it had high standards, and those shouldnt be dropped just because everyone else in the world is texting and tweeting and everything else where the good, old-fashioned rules dont matter.
If you want me to come down there at night and read through everything before it goes to the presses, Ill do it, she said.
I think she was joking. But her underlying point was completely serious.
I dont think the frequency of copy editing mistakes has risen to the level where it threatens The Stars credibility. But its undeniable that journalists, like everyone in the media world, are first and foremost in the business of communication. Readers judge them sometimes harshly on the mechanics as well as the content of their words.