A Lack of Overt Praise Isn't a Sign of Failure
Errors highlighted in this space often concern homophones or quirks of grammar that are difficult to keep straight. But some of the worst errors are errors of logic; those give a good copyeditor a real chance to shine.
Abraham Hyatt made at least a couple of logical errors in a blog entry yesterday when he counseled against the hiring of a copyeditor for a newsmagazine website. He said he hired copyeditors for the tech website ReadWrite and that the results were disastrous. He said copyeditors “slowed the publishing process to a screeching near-halt. And, even more importantly: No. One. Cared.”
To counter Hyatt's anecdotal evidence based on eight months of never receiving a thank-you card, Fred Vultee of Wayne State University wrote a blog entry about research that shows that people actually do care about copyediting on the Web, though not necessarily at ReadWrite. Vultee and his peers will present the latest research on copyediting at the conference of the American Copy Editors Society next month in Las Vegas. (Vultee and I both serve on the ACES board.)
Hyatt wrote on his blog:
During the eight-or-so months they worked for us no one had ever commented on our clean copy. No one told us they came to our site because we had fewer typos than TechCruch. I saw the difference. It’s not that readers didn’t, they just didn’t care.
Hyatt’s argument is that because improving the quality of writing did not bring praise from the ReadWrite readership, no one cared about the improvement. But copyediting is largely a zero-sum game. I’m trying very hard to think of a time a reader praised my copyediting. It has happened. Perhaps one or twice out of tens of thousands of pieces edited.
Perhaps readers didn’t care enough about ReadWrite itself to bother praising the editing. Perhaps eight months isn’t nearly enough time to build up respect. Perhaps readers don’t feel the need to go out of their way to praise someone for doing his or her job.
If you register a URL and claim to be a news source, readers will start with certain expectations, including that your site will explain things to them clearly and honestly with a minimum of careless mistakes. If you succeed at this, you will hear nothing.
Over time, perhaps, readers will come to you because they have grown to respect you. They will even think of your website as their own. And then they will voice their opinions about quality, but almost always in the negative. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear praise for the copy desk.
But don’t make the false assumption that a lack of feedback means people don’t care.