Friday, March 09, 2007

Good grammar and spelling still count

By Frank Phillips

Memo to self: Keep hammering away at basics in the newsroom.
Friday, March 9, 2007 9:26 AM CST

“Don't reporters and editors proofread their papers any more?”

The question came at the end of a talk I was asked to give at a Terre Haute Exchange Club meeting Tuesday.

My assigned topic was, “Challenges of being a small town newspaper editor.”

Bob Kulow, Brazil, had invited me to speak.

I told the group I was far from an expert on anything, but more like the definition of a spurt - a drip under pressure.

The pressure comes from deadlines and involves staff and community teamwork.

The man who asked the question is not a regular reader of The Brazil Times (I don't think.) During the discussion that followed, he was commenting on newspapers in general.

I agreed with him - too many errors of grammar and spelling do slip through. As an editor, I am responsible for that, but I'm not the only cause.

There is a difference between being responsible and causing a problem, as the latest government problem, the debacle at Walter Reed Army Hospital indicates. Heads rolled, but those people, alone, were not the cause of the problem, they were just responsible.

The questioner's point was again driven home Thursday as I helped judge another state's newspapers for the Hoosier State Press Association. That state's press association will judge Indiana newspapers, including entries from The Brazil Times later this year.

I saw articles with misspelled words, even missing words. Yes, you can catch those errors in this paper, too, unfortunately, but these were contest entries.

The reporters hoped to be recognized and receive awards for the articles they submitted.

The top five entries in the two categories I judged - spot news and best news reporting - were crafted with care, not just thrown together and then thrown at an editor so the reporter could get on to the next story or go home.

One losing entry read like a rather poorly written press release. Some entries had entire paragraphs that were not understandable.

During a break, I was told about a small town newspaper front page photo that was obviously taken during a meeting. A group of people were sitting around a table, talking. Not a good picture by any standard. But the photo stood out because in the background of the photo appeared to be a bandaged body laying in a coffin. And there was no explanation. The reporter had attended a meeting and he (or she) had taken a photo of the board, wrote about the meeting, and no one thought to ask about the body in the picture!

Frank Phillips is The Times editor. He also has a Web blog at

He can be reached at