Monday, January 3, 2011

When 10 is Really 13

December was stressful enough without blogging, tweeting, facebooking -- but again back to business.

One of my three local papers, in its Entertainment tab for the New Year's weekend, picked up a USA Today story on the 10 best movies of the year. As it ran in USA, critic Claudia Puig also included three honorable mentions, running them under the subhead "Noteworthy runners-up."

Fine and dandy, except by the time it was moved into the local paper's entertainment section, the "Runners-up" line had disappeared. So the headline said "10 best movies," the lead said "10 best movies," and there were 13 best movies with no clear explanation.

Honestly, we expect people to pay for this? As Frank Drebin might say, trust us, we know what we're doing?

The thing is, you can't blame this on the collapse of copy editing in the last few years. For most of the time I have lived in South Jersey, the other local paper had a policy of knocking datelines off the "people in the news" items -- but then either no one thought to, or thought they had time to, write the location back into the text, so items would always say "here" and you had no idea where "here" was.

I find it amusing when newspapers write about how they're going to make all these cutbacks but "the really big stories, the projects and major investigations, will still get multiple layers of editing." That's great, but that's not what readers read every day. It reflects the newspaper's sense of what it considers important, but doesn't speak to the reader's experience of the newspaper. A reader may not know firsthand anything that contradicts your six-months-in-the-making, four-part series. The reader knows that 10 best movies should have 10 items. And this has nothing to do with print -- stupidity on any platform is stupidity.

Mistakes will happen, and this is just a mistake. But newspapers are not going to succeed any better on iPads if they continue to take the approach that their job is to present professionally to the reader the one or two things they really cared about that day, and then a bunch of stuff to fill up the space. There needs to be a culture of "we care about what we do," not a culture of "we care about what we care about."


Anonymous said...

Well, according to a comment by a union president who was discussing the privatization of the state liquor stores on WITF, the reason the Philadelphia Inquirer went into bankruptcy is that they weren't getting enough money from liquor ads. They don't have a transcript, so I don't know if I misheard, but the comment is 40 or 45 minutes into the show:

Davisull said...

i work there, and i have never heard that.