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.

 

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Chicago Tribune death watch

“Lake-efect snow potential late Sunday”

Photo by  bizjournals.com

Photo by bizjournals.com

“Pattern shift suggest temperature downturn late next week”

Both of these come from the paper’s weather-page graphic by WGN-TV, a Chicago Tribune property. Both appear to have been composed by someone for whom English is a second language and then published without the benefit of copy editing.

As every die-hard delivery customer knows, the Chicago Tribune has shriveled in size and deteriorated in quality. Publishers blame shrinking revenues caused by the Internet luring away advertisers. But that explanation doesn’t go deep enough.

Readers and advertisers abandoned newspapers because, like dinosaurs, newspaper publishers couldn’t adapt to a new environment. They clung to an old business model that included spending as little as possible on the newsroom. This worked well enough when times were good. Now that times are bad, they’ve doubled-down on it, starving the newsroom much like conservative Republicans aim to shrivel government by refusing to fund it adequately.

Newspaper publishers (not all of them, but in general) tend to loathe newsrooms, regarding them as nothing but overhead full of employees with bad attitudes who bring in no money but produce plenty of complaints from government officials and chamber-of-commerce types. When revenues began to tank 10 years ago, their first instinct was to cut newsroom budgets, lay off reporters, copy editors and photographers, outsource or centralize editorial functions, hope to get by with lower-paid, less experienced staffers and demand more work from them.

In the last gasps of its death throes, the Chicago Tribune still has produced some outstanding exposes, such as its stories about the ineffectiveness and dangers of a red-light camera program shot through with corruption. Imagine what it could do if it reinvested in its core function of delivering news, redefined its mission as in-depth explanation and analysis and gave up publishing a print edition of “daily” news already outdated by digital sources the day it’s printed.

It even enjoys the advantages of a huge market free from any competing papers and a large pool of unemployed, experienced ex-newsroom staffers.

All it needs is a publisher with imagination and guts.