The sticklers of the past have been subbed out of the game
This morning I read this interesting piece from the SMH Readers’ Editor about spelling and grammatical errors in copy.
I read it on an iPad on my way to work at news.com.au. These two facts are worth mentioning because they both reveal an important truth: I’m a product of the digital age. In six-and-a-half years as a journalist I’ve never worked at a newspaper. Nor a magazine. I’m a digital journalist and I’ve only ever written for online outlets.
The point is this: we don’t have the backbenches and traditional subs’ desks of old, which did a great job of picking up on mistakes. In the online game being first is everything. We’re all sticklers for clean copy and publishing stories free of errors and typos is paramount. But being first with a yarn is usually paramounter. I know that’s not a word. Just go with it.
We work hard and we work fast. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards. And without being flippant and without making excuses, guess what? We’re going to mistakes. Every single one of us. And I’ve had some howlers.
I once led a national sports site with a cricket story. Except instead of a photo of the Sri Lankan batsman who’d pasted the Aussies, I published a shot of a golfer in spectacularly loud pants. The server went down. It was up for an hour.
This next example’s a doozy: Last year I applied for a sub-editor job, boasting that I have a sharp eye for copy and “loathe slopping errors”. Slopping? New word I guess.
I could have punched a wall when I realised I’d submitted that. I’m so fastidiously anal about making mistakes, yet I let these clangers through like a goalkeeper with oil on his gloves.
The SMH piece was right: we must hold ourselves to higher standards. We work on it every day. Though I doubt anyone could ever mistake the word “birth” for “berth”. Here are four other mistakes you should never, ever make.
Affect/Effect: Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. This rule comes with one caveat: commentators who love the rarely-used verb form of effect. Yes, Ray Warren, you can “effect a tackle on the halfway line”. Or you could just tackle.
There/Their/They’re: It’s really simple. There = a place that’s not here. Their = it’s not yours. They’re = short for “they are”. Next.
Weather/Whether: One concerns rail, hail and shine. One does not. Sort it out.
Apostrophes: Apostro-fails make me cringe with giddy smugness. There are only three important rules: 1) If no plural word exists, the apostrophe goes on the inside; 2) If it’s a collective word ending in the letter ‘s’, it goes on the outside; 3) Stop putting an apostrophe in the word bananas. Just, stop.
Chris Paine has never, ever made a typo on his Twitter account, @christoforpaine.
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