12 November 2010

...my kingdom for a copy editor!

Capital Community News produces three monthly magazines, the Hill Rag, MidCityDC (formerly known as DC North), and East of the River. They're essentially community newspapers, focusing on a compact geographic area, covering everything from obituaries to restaurant openings to school plays. They do a decent job of reporting news, but could use a lot of work when it comes to copy editing.

I mentioned this at the end of September, and promised some more examples. After marking up every copy of the August, September, October, and November issues of the Hill Rag and MidCityDC, I came to the conclusion that there are just too many mistakes to share. It would take days to write about them all.

But, my need to curmudge knows no few bounds, so I figured I should share some of them with you!

First up is the name of MidCityDC. I'm not certain that's the proper style. It's "MIDCITY DC" on the website, "MidCity DC" in the masthead (PDF), and "Midcity DC" in the footer on each page. It would seem that the switch from DC North to a new name came with some confusion about what that name really is.

The second thing that vexes me is the geographic breakdown of the monthly columns in MidCityDC. There are regular columns each month dedicated to telling stories and reporting news about Bloomingdale, Logan Circle, Shaw, and 14th and U Streets. The problem is that each month, most of the Logan Circle column is about 14th and U, which the author has inexplicably coined "U/14." I have never heard a living soul in this city use that moniker, and I'm curious if he's attempting to start a trend, or merely finds it funny. I realize, of course, that drawing a sharp line between the Logan Circle and 14th and U neighborhoods is difficult (see TBD's reporting on the naming of the Arts District in that part of the city). Perhaps the author of the 14th and U column (U Street Girl's Catherine Finn) could cover the whole Logan Circle/14th and U area, solving this toponymic disaster.

One more MidCityDC note is worth a chuckle. Richard Layman pointed this one out to me a last week. The cover of the August edition of the magazine is pictured to the left. Take note of the highlighted word on the cover. That's an example of where a little airbrushing might be acceptable, don't you think?

Finally, there's the Hill Rag. The ratio of advertising to content is about 5 to 1 (I didn't check this precisely, but it sure feels that way), but the content is usually worth reading. News that may have slipped through the cracks from the monthly ward 6 ANC meetings gets a full recount in this paper. Unfortunately, it's riddled with so many typographical errors and run-on sentences that it makes me cringe. Submitted for your approval, here are nine problems I found on one page this month. This isn't a large or unusual number.

1) The gentleman's name is Ron Rob, not Rom, Amos. Double-checking the spelling of proper nouns is always a good idea.

2) Rogue number.

3) It appears that the author wrote "used to," then changed her mind to say "used for," and never deleted "to."

4) This paragraph should be indented, as it's part of the bullet point above.

5) An indefinite article ("a") should be put in front of "City Council" here.

6) Extra comma. The Hill Rag doesn't appear to have a standard for dealing with commas. Sometimes they use an Oxford comma, sometimes they do not. Unnecessary commas appear in places where they are not needed, creating awkward pauses that make for difficult reading.

7) AMI is not defined anywhere in this article. When using jargon and acronyms, it's a good idea to provide definitions for those who might be unfamiliar with the term.

8) Missing comma. That extra comma in number 6 could float down here and fix two problems.

9) Number 8 is actually part of a much bigger problem. This paragraph is one run-on sentence. It hurts to read it, and I dare someone to diagram it! Here it is, reprinted it its terrible glory:

Alex Nyhan, representing Forest City Washington, the Yards developer had presented an overview of the project at the September meeting, and returned to seek approval of the Zoning Commission, including a variance needed because the project is included in the Southeast Federal Center Zoning Overlay, and will be taller than the 90' height requirement that the Overlay specifies, and others to enable a curb cut for a loading dock, and balconies on the apartment building.

Don't get me wrong, the Capital Community News stable of community newspapers are a valuable resource. It's just difficult to read without developing a small headache if you're an editor.


  1. Veteran of the community news wars here: I too am incredibly frustrated with the quality of writing and copy editing in most community newspapers (believe me, DC has no monopoly on this). However, the fault is not entirely with the perpetrators: they are not paid enough to cover their electric bill.

    It's a serious problem: These are people who will be presenting important, complex issues to communities that will be much affected by them, and their bosses, in the course of protecting their 20% margins, can't pay them and train them sufficiently to do it well. And they wonder why they're having their lunch eaten ...

  2. OK, I'll bite.
    I know nothing about these publications, but if they are small community papers as you point out, they may not even have a single dedicated copy editor.
    Do you have any idea or any interest in what kind of staffing they have and what the workload is like, or are you just interested in cheap and easy criticism?
    I'm guessing the folks there would love to have half the time for actual copy editing and proofreading that you spent going through and finding these "errors" – most of which are the tiniest of nitpicks and some of which aren't even errors.
    A missing comma? An extra comma? A paragraph indent? Seriously? If these things bother you so much, maybe you should volunteer to go in and help proof read copy on deadline instead of finding every little nitpick you can afterward, at your own convenience and pace, and then posting them publicly.
    Or if you're going to level a complaint, maybe it should be about ownership not being willing to invest copy editing instead of trying to embarrass what is probably an overworked staff.
    There's absolutely nothing constructive to what you're doing.
    Again, I know nothing about this publication or the people who work there. But I do know what it's like to work at a small community publication. And I have great respect for the important craft of copy editing, I think it's the hardest job in journalism.
    What I don't have respect for is people who spend their free time searching for nitpick errors in other people's work and posting it publicly so that they can feel better about themselves.

  3. Paul: Thank you for your interest.

  4. There's no excuse for Photoshopping anything in a newspaper!

    Perhaps it could've been cropped, shot better, etc., but if those weren't options, they were right to leave it alone.

  5. Si: You win the Internet today. Egg on my face!

  6. Hill Rag has been godawful riddled with mistakes for years (decades, even). I've just come to accept it, but sometimes it irritates me to the point that I have to quit reading so I don't come across another.

  7. Paul: To follow up, your statement that there is absolutely nothing constructive about pointing out errors is false. It's instructive, to start with. I've had contact with writers at the publication to get a feel for the process there.

    I fully understand and appreciate the work done at community newspapers. I don't believe that gives them a free pass when it comes to accuracy or quality.

  8. Did you miss out on getting a copy editing job at the Capital Community News, is that what this is about? Good idea from a poster above, why don't you volunteer some of your time to help them. In this economy, it's tough to have copy editors and proofreaders just dedicated to that work. Over there, the assignment editors are writing, taking photos, editing and probably proofreading. It's a small publication. Maybe you should help and stop your nitpicking.

    I was an editor of a small pub too. Yes, it was tough and we had freelance editors help us out.

  9. Anonymous: Nope, never applied. Copy editing text isn't really my ideal career. Frankly, whether it's a small or large publication, it's a commercial enterprise. If they want better editing, they probably need to pay for it. I could see volunteering for a community newsletter, or an ANC committee, but they could take some money from the innumerable advertisements they run to pay someone, if they value their accuracy.


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?