Friday, January 16, 2015

The Breakdown of Journalism Standards in an Online World

Today news flows so fast we need computers to keep up with it. Reports, blogs, news articles and more are available as events occur or soon thereafter. But has this helped? I'm a single blogger editing my own material, and it's sad to say that my articles have better grammar and spelling than the big news organizations.

Daily, I consume a barrage of feeds - from professional and semi-professional organizations (think NPR, Mobile Nations, local news from WXYZ the ABC affiliate, and more).  And daily, I am hit by constant misspellings, word exclusions, improper word usage, and more - enough to give an English teacher a heart attack.  In fact, I don't think I've read a single article, no matter how short, in years that didn't have at least one issue.

But let's take things into perspective.  Throughout the what, 1300+ year history of the modern English language (and any language for that matter), the language was fluid not just from generation to generation, but from day to day.  As people became literate, there were many different ways to spell (and pronounce) the same word, depending on whom they were addressing in the letter.  It was only as dictionaries were invented, and then computers, when the modern concept of "proper" spelling came along.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, American "dictionaryists" became enamored (enamoured) with reworking spellings to be more consistent, and reduce nonsensical letter combinations with single letters (like tung instead of tongue).  Some caught on, some didn't.  We don't send people to gaol, we incarcerate them in jail.  We don't colour our paper, we color it.  But tung never caught on.

Of course, when computers came of age, the concept of "correct" spelling and grammar were firmly entrenched - because computers LOVE consistency.  Spelling and grammar rules can be programmed, and enforced.

So, we have English that grew up with its rules on spelling - then we have American English (after the efforts of good old Webster to simplify the spellings) who has a bastardized set of rules, let alone a mishmash of words from other languages and cultures mixed in.  For some reason that I cannot explain, my brain has grasped the language, and the nuances and expressions thereof.  But for many others, I know it is difficult to pass (let alone excel) in an English class (American or the Queen's).

And still, I had grown up with a firm sense of that consistency as "right."  The right way to write, the right way to spell.  And, I had thought that journalism as an industry was the epitome of this.  Of course, in my time, newspapers, books and magazines were the only way to get your printed readings.  Now, there are thousands of sources, and mostly digital.  The pace has picked up - and the quality has suffered tremendously.

Why is the written language so important?  As we all know, Human communication is difficult enough by default.  Typos, grammatical errors, exclusions and word rearrangements (common in todays online publications) can lead to misunderstandings, or even mangled meanings.

Now, as annoying as the "correctness" of the written language, what also bothers me about the state of journalism in the digital age, is the immediate, rawness of it all.  Even though much of the professional publications are "edited" and "vetted" before publication, truly I argue that the quality of the editing is sadly inadequate to yesteryears' standards.  I would imagine editors of times past would be quitting on principle if they saw the quality of material produced in copious quantities today.  As they used to say in the show Farscape, what a bunch of dren.

Am I the only one this bothers?  Am I going to be rolling in my grave with nobody else but Andy Rooney (think the episode with him and - booyakasha - Ali G)?

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