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How Poor Editing and Proofreading Can Make Stories Look Like “Fake News”

I was always the girl who proofread the menu. Who noticed the errors in the church bulletin. But I didn’t expect, years ago, to find many errors in published content. In the professional world, collateral was carefully edited and proofread prior to publication. People lost their jobs for errors appearing in print. Clients would lose confidence.

Proofreading was not a particularly bankable profession, but I could do it in my sleep. Most companies cared how they presented themselves to the world, and how they were perceived.

If you make a mistake, all they will notice is the mistake

Hey, it was true for me. I noticed errors everywhere. I even remember finding a typesetting error in the Bible when I was a teenager. I circled it in red ink (without knowing that was how editors did it). I’m aware this puts me in a special category of annoying person. But haven’t we all had a client who is also that annoying person who will find the error? Can your business afford to skip this step?

The rise and fall of news editing

I worked for my college paper in the 1980s, and we put out four papers a week. We were up through the night to ensure the paper was clean before putting it to bed. Sure, the students made their own errors in the personal ads, but our articles were carefully reviewed because we wanted to be taken seriously.

Over the years, the news cycle has only become faster, and there is less time to review copy prior to publication (in print or online). But many writers in the past were used to someone else doing the editing, double-checking facts, and looking at the details, such as making sure the page number being referenced for the rest of the article was correct. Everyone had to become a one-man band, and shortcuts were taken. Research steps were skipped, and everyone knew you won’t find your own errors – that someone else needs to review the copy.

How can I tell if it’s ‘fake news’ or legit?

Well, I have my own ways of discerning some telltale signs of fake news, and I’ll keep my opinion to myself. But real news wants to be taken seriously, and used to have the care taken with the written word to ensure errors don’t provide distraction, confusion or take away legitimacy. Fake news of yore, like a poorly made counterfeit bill, may look like the real deal from a distance, but displays telltale signs of deception up close. There will be outright misspellings as well as typos, continuity and consistency issues, a lack of provenance, and other clues.

But what caused me to write this post was the plethora of errors I’ve seen in all forms of news in the past month or so. I’m a voracious reader, and include sources I like along with those I don’t. Most of these sources are established publications that admittedly have very little time to get this hot off the presses news onto many platforms. And just as I warn above, I’m finding that I question the professionalism and legitimacy of such poorly written and unedited copy. I’m distracted by the errors that make the author appear careless and/or uninformed. And I find I’m spending more time doing my own research because I don’t trust copy that is so sloppy.

If it’s just me, I’ll find another line of work…

…but I don’t think that’s the case. Surely the care taken to finish a written piece is worth something to both author and reader. To business and client. To you and me. Remember the carpenters’ motto: Measure twice, cut once. I think they’re on to something; if I cannot find work as an editor, perhaps I’ll find a carpentry apprenticeship.

Eileen Martin