Glazed and confused

Photo from veryveganrecipes.com

Photo from veryveganrecipes.com

Margaret Holt, standards editor at the Chicago Tribune, kindly responded yesterday to questions about why errors recently have plagued the paper’s weather page.

“The weather page is produced for the Chicago Tribune through a collaborative effort with the WGN-TV news department,” she wrote in an email. The Chicago Tribune owns WGN. “I asked the producer who coordinates the project for WGN about these errors.”

That person, she wrote, “explained that WGN editors had some recent schedule shifts and production issues that, in combination, reduced the amount of editing time on deadline. As a result of these problems, he says, a new deadline schedule has been implemented and he has been working with Tribune editors to give the desk more time on the print product.”

It will be gratifying to see the Chicago Tribune’s weather page meeting professional standards again, but it won’t be as much fun. Each day of reading it was like panning through the usual drab verbiage for gold, and these are the latest nuggets:

On 1/31: “Some lake effect flurries early the mixed sun and clouds.”

On 2/5: “High peak in the middle 30s then slide into the 20s as wind shift into the north and increase to 15-25 mph.”

On 2/6: “Some glazing late and overnight as temps slowly fall below freezing” and “Drizzle and light rain will develop this weekend, resulting in some glazing…”

It’s probably tough on weather-page wordsmiths to confine their writing to the repetitive phrases of forecasting. Boredom must tempt them to liven up the page with an occasional flourish such as “glazing,” which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as, “The action, process or trade of fitting windows with glass.” Not mentioned is this commonly understood meaning: “The process of adding a delicious, sugary coating on doughnuts.”

Readers aren’t likely to think that rain and falling temperatures will cause windows or sugar coating to appear on the landscape. But to eliminate any possible question about the substance, the word “iciness” would do nicely.

 

Chicago Tribune standards editor elevated to mystery job

Today’s weather page in the Chicago Tribune looked free of errors for the first time in days, until I got to the forecast for Monday, Feb. 2: “Light southerly winds strengthen and become more SE at”

On today’s business page, the paper announced that “Margaret Holt, 63, will be elevated to recognize her role as standards editor for the newspaper.” This brief clause in one sentence is the only mention of Holt in the article, a lengthy description about five senior editors and their new jobs at the paper. The other four editors got a lot of attention: detailed descriptions of their past experience, explanations of their new jobs, compliments from upper management and quotes from the newly promoted editors about how they view their jobs.

How curious that Holt got none of this treatment. The article didn’t mention what her “elevated” role is to be, whether it will include her current duties or if the role of standards editor itself is being elevated.

Her Tribune bio says that as standards editor, she “works closely with reporters and editors about issues of accuracy, fairness and ethics.”

Too bad that the announcement of her promotion didn’t, in all fairness, give readers the same thorough reporting about her as about the other four. Perhaps an insult was unintentional, but an oversight of this size smacks of a put-down. Of course, someone whose job is to wield a critical red pencil and a sharp eye for mistakes is handicapped in any popularity contest. Or, perhaps she is held responsible for the frequency of errors and the paper didn’t want to raise that question in any description of past performance or future duties.

At a 2005 conference called “Editing the Future: Helping Copy Desks Meet the Challenge of Changing Media,” Holt described how the Tribune in 1995 began focusing on eliminating errors. It carefully tracked mistakes, categorized them and devised staff training to prevent them. Judging from its track record lately (and not just on the weather page), the Trib appears to have lost that focus.

The prevalence of typos, spelling errors and mangled syntax could be a result of the Trib’s squeeze-the-newsroom business model, rather than deficiencies in individual staffers, who probably feel frustrated and discouraged. These kinds of errors are characteristic of a business whose standards have slipped far enough to damage credibility with its readers and its industry.

As Holt wrote in a “Focus on accuracy” essay for that 2005 conference website, “We can never take these basics for granted. They jeopardize our business.”