Anyone got a tourniquet?

The first newsroom I entered in 1995 had one computer with Internet access. There was no thought of reporters taking pictures and shooting video with their phone. Word people worked with words and picture people did their thing.

Stories, even for an entity where turnaround needed to be lightning-quick, went through one set of eyes — minimum — before going out over a wire, being set for print or posted to that vast new online world.

The game has changed, indeed. You cannot stop technology or progress. In all cases, it must be embraced without fear whether you’re fresh out of Mizzou or Syracuse or Northwestern, or if you’ve been chained to a desk for decades.

Not sure how this happened, but my 30’s gave way to the 40’s and now the early 50’s. I don’t consider myself too long in the tooth. If genetics hold true, I could very well be walking the earth for another 35 to 40 years.

But back to the state of industry, and it’s not good. Teresa Schmedding (@tschmedding) is leaving a 25-year-career in legacy journalism to become managing editor at Rotary international in Evanston, Ill. An article by her titled “The news industry can’t cut its way to quality” was posted on Poynter.org today. She gets it.

“He (James Robinson, Managing Editor for Content, Bay Area News Group) includes a serious warning that clearly states the value copy editors bring. Unfortunately, it’s not valued enough to pay for. Is this a tectonic shift in copy editing? No. The tectonic shift took place some years ago.

"According to the American Society of News Editors, copy editors have been bearing the brunt of legacy media job losses. Newspapers are now being produced by half the copy editors they were in 2007. More than 7,000 copy editing jobs were cut by 2015. And more current numbers, when available, will be more stark. 

"What this is is another nail in the coffin of legacy media. The industry is hemorrhaging revenue and readers. And all the cuts over the past nine years haven’t stanched the bleeding. 

The reason is simple: You cannot make a case that your stories are worth paying for by delivering crappy content.” 

Amen, sister. 

When reading an article online. there is one thing that drives me up a wall. It’s seeing errors get by, such the Twins playing in Target Center rather than Target Field, and Columbia as a country in South America instead of a university or a shade of blue. And those are just two examples that leap to mind. And it's not just me who feels this way. Look at comments on social media when one of these mistakes crop up. It's pitchforks and kindling time.

Why do things like this make me and other readers cringe and suck in a deep, dismissive breath? Quality — which includes accuracy — in story, headline and deck is everything in my industry. Plain and simple. Non-negotiable. Presentation is nice, but facts are indisputable.

Too many news organizations, though, have decided the middle layer, people who have to be experts at everything and in many cases have been reporters at one time, is an expendable underbelly. Problem is not every reporter or writer has the makeup or desire to be an editor as it's definitely not a glamorous job.

Asking and, in some cases, telling a reporter to keep their story to 17 inches because there is a finite space in print shouldn’t be met with “I need more room.” If you’re blowing the lid off something, sure, but 99 times out of 100, that’s not the case, and the writers know that.

Anyone can write long. Writing concisely without losing any meaning is a skill. If you can write it in 800 words, you should be able to do it in 500. If the reporter cannot do it, that’s where the desk is needed, be it New York, L.A. or Natchitoches.

There also needs to be an understanding between news organizations and veteran “desk folk,”  referred to in some places as the Island of Misfit Toys.

News organizations must, and I cannot stress that enough, understand the desk will invariably save the paper from embarrassment several times over. Each and every week.

I have also been in newsrooms where the old copy-editing guard still thinks it’s 1996. Or 1986. Or 1976. You get the idea.

To management, don’t strip resources that provide incredible value in so many ways. To the desk folk, learn to post stories and embrace technology and become indispensable. Readers are not always waiting for the slap of the paper at the front door.

It’s a start. If anyone has better ideas, serve ‘em up.

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