Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Down and out some more

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The blogosphere is starting to talk about the cuts at the Sentinel, although we’re clearly not getting the same ink as, say, the Chronicle or the Merc. Besides the fact that we’re obviously not as reputable a paper, the number of layoffs is also lower, though equivalent percentage-wise. And, layoffs in the realm of Dean Singleton hardly come as a surprise anymore.
You’ve seen me write a couple of times that I thought the copy desk was understaffed here. There’s no copy editor in the Watsonville bureau. We send everything to the main office, which makes sense. The one time I visited the Santa Cruz office (I only start there next week), one day around 6 p.m., I only saw a news editor and two or three copy editors. I don’t know, maybe it’s normal, and we’re just spoiled at the Missourian to have 5 or 6 editors for an 8-page paper. (I’m feeling more and more spoiled at the Missourian every day I’m away from it, minus the pay issue.) I think it’s understaffed not only based on the body count, but also on simply reading the paper. Misspells aren’t too common, thanks to Apple+I, but I find discrepancies in local style and second references.
Then I read this, and I’m not surprised anymore. John Bowman, who resigned as executive editor of the San Mateo County Times in protest over budget cuts and was the one to tell Grade the News about the Merc cuts, is blasting MediaNews and Singleton. I’ll let you read all the details, but what he has to say about the copy desk is particularly interesting (read, appalling).

He showed the front page of the April 23 Times. The centerpiece story was about an event in Pacifica, but the headline placed it miles south, in Half Moon Bay. On the same front page a story about the salary gap between men and women claimed to continue on page 6, but copy editors forgot to put the rest of the story in the paper. The day before, the local front page contained a story about a San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting, but the headline attributed the action to Redwood City.

“These mistakes are not made by reporters and editors,” he fumes, “but every member of the public thinks we don’t know the difference between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.”

“The copy editors are just as dedicated and serious about doing journalism as I am,” Mr. Bowman explains. “They simply don’t have the time or resources to do the job.”

The copy desks of five papers in his area, including the SMCT, were merged into one central desk (with plenty job cuts) to save money. Of course, that means a copy editor can’t simply walk up to the city editor or reporter for clarification, and they have to edit stories about communities they don’t know.
The Sentinel still has its own copy desk, but if that’s how important MediaNews considers copy editors, it helps explain a few things. And doesn’t bode too well for the future.

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Sunday, 10 June, 2007 at 20:51

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