This from Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's Ombudsman, titled "Why you're seeing more copy-editing errors in The Post":

Why the increased errors [in the Washington Post]? Clearly, reduced staffing plays some role. A decade ago, at its peak, The Post's newsroom had more than 900 FTES (full-time equivalent employees)... Today, the now-integrated print and online staffs total about 650 FTEs...

The answer may be less about staffing levels and more about the changing duties of copy editors. Gone are the days when they primarily detected errors and smoothed prose for the next day's newspaper. Now they must also operate in an online environment where "search-engine optimization" is a key goal. That requires new skills and time-consuming additional duties. Separate online headlines must be written in a way that attracts attention on the Web.
Some relief may be coming for beleaguered copy editors. This week, The Post will begin search-engine optimization training for the entire newsroom. Front-end help from reporters and other staff should ease the burden on copy editors. [emboldened emphasis mine]

I don't know about you, but I'm not happy to hear that journalists are writing for the computers to the exclusion of their human readers. I realize there has always been a pressure on writing to the technology. I've done a review of newspapers from the 18th century, and realize the way that length was constrained by the sheets you could afford to print and sell, or how headline lengths are influenced by column and font size, and how inserting pictures are exceptionally difficult. I've seen papers run out of a font and start printing in, eg, italics to finish up a page to save time. I know that content is influenced by technology directly.

Still, what the Washington Post is doing marks a significant change for the press. Now, people are writing content for, say, Google News rather than to point out the most newsworthy events of the day. Like a gamer figuring out the secrets of the algorithm for Mike Tyson's Punch Out ("When he makes the noise, dodge right, and then upppercut"), newspaper reporters, the front line folk, are being asked to learn, anticipate, and integrate the algorithms of the news search engines ("When we're talking about someone in the movies, try to tie Angelina Jolie in there somehow" or "Make sure 'failed Obamacare' is in the title of three of today's stories somehow").

I've noticed the WaPo's declining editorial attention. To redefine what "editing" meanings is to take the lazy fellow's way out. What's happening isn't that you're doing a more complicated job. It's that you're no longer doing your old job. We're more worried about hits than grammar. And what bothers me the most is the degree to which an American institution is pushing onto the front ranks of the free press the onus for making our news match whatever Google's programmers feel is newsworthy.

In the briefest terms, then, I'm exceptionally disappointed that Google's programmers have become the editors of the Washington Post.

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