There are a number of ways that a newspaper can establish credibility with its readers, but perhaps the most baseline of these ways is through having excellent grammar, spelling and streamlined style guidelines. The Cavalier Daily has its own style guide and trains its staff extensively in how to pursue these, but the paper and the Copy section should be more diligent in not letting simple mistakes slip through the cracks.
The paper published a news article in March about the University Guide Service and a specialized history tour the organization gave regarding building names on Grounds. The article included great content and addressed a question with which the University is struggling about how to reconcile its past injustices. However, the article missed the mark on basic grammar, spelling and style rules.
One example of this was how the article used quotes from its main source Sophia McCrimmon, historian for the University Guide Service and a second-year College student. It did not format the quotes in a way that made reading easy on the audience.
People generally don’t speak how they write — we tend to speak in run-ons, especially when we are answering questions and conveying our thoughts. Part of the writers’ and the copy section’s responsibility is to make these thoughts read well on paper and on the screen.
For example, in the U-Guides article, one of the sources spoke on the importance of naming buildings, and the question of the significance of renaming buildings. This quote conveyed important information but the writer, editors and the Copy section could have modified certain sections to make it more readable —
“‘It obviously stands out from the rest of these dorms and academic buildings because it's named after a formerly enslaved couple,’ McCrimmon said. ‘I think that there has been a lot of appreciation of that move but also some criticism because, you know, to what extent does naming one dorm after a couple actively kind of repair, or do anything against this, like I said, overwhelming pattern of another kind of demographic, when you look at who buildings are being named after.’”
It is natural for sources to include fillers in their language. The writer, editors and Copy section’s jobs, however, are to make it easy on the reader by editing down quotes to make them more readable. For example, they could have cut out fillers such as “like I said,” “you know”, and instead use ellipses. These tools could get a more concise quote that gets to the point and does not sacrifice any of the meaning of what the source was saying.
There were other small but noticeable grammar and style mistakes throughout the piece. The article mentioned the acronym “IRC” without spelling out “International Residence College” upon first mention. The piece also wrote that the Guide Service would be giving tours “everyday” rather than “every day” — “everyday” is an adjective meant to describe something one does on the daily. For example, drinking my morning cup of coffee is an everyday task.
Another error was how the U-Guides organization was mentioned — according to The Cavalier Daily style guide, the organization should be referred to as the “University Guide Service” on first mention then as “U-Guides” for every mention thereafter. Instead, it used different phrasings like “UGuides” and “guides service,” forgoing the style guidelines.
Basic grammar and spelling — along with streamlined style guidelines — are a necessary baseline for the newspaper to continue having credibility with its readership. Even if the content is great, the reader will automatically doubt the expertise and integrity of the publication and its editing chain.
The News and Copy sections already undertake extensive training and multiple sets of eyes look at articles before they go live. However, editors, copy associates, copy senior associates and the Managing Board should be more adamant about going line-by-line and ensuring the text is grammatically correct. The editing chain for news articles currently begins with news editors reading over an article and making changes, then sending it to the Copy section which does fact-checking, grammar and spelling checking and makes edits for Cavalier Daily style. In the copy section, a copy staffer looks over it first before a senior associate copy editor. Then, the Managing Editor looks at news articles before sending them to the Editor-in-Chief.
Such a long editing chain is necessary as sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks and are caught later by more experienced editors. Regardless, the entire paper’s staff should be far more stringent in enforcing basic rules in order to maintain its respectability among its readership.
Anna Higgins is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.