The internet has opened up countless opportunities for writers to get their work out in front of readers. From the person creating a blog to share his or her interests with the world, to professional news outlets reporting on current events, the internet is filled with writing.
The proficiency of individual writers differs and it is understandable that a person with no training who is writing for a personal blog, or on Facebook, or Twitter will make varying degrees of grammar mistakes. These individuals should be commended for their efforts, regardless of their writing skills. We live in a society built on free speech, and that means that if I cannot stand to read what you have written, either because of the subject matter or for the grammar mistakes, I can look elsewhere.
On the other side of the coin are the many different professional news outlets. It is unacceptable when these professionals publish content that is painful to read due to grammar mistakes, misspelled or misplaced words, and incomplete thoughts. These are supposed to be trained professionals who have been to school to learn the proper ways to write a news story. Grammar and punctuation should be reviewed and mistakes corrected. Sentence structure should be evaluated. Word choice should be precise and above all, sentences need to express a complete thought.
A couple of nights ago, I was browsing my Facebook feed, and came across a link to a news story posted by one of our local news outlets. It was the most painful reading experience I have endured in months. The article totaled 273 words, (as a reference, this post is 273 words so far) and in that 273 words, without digging hard, I counted fifteen writing mistakes.
The first sentence, “People in the neighborhood where the crime happened, about what they remember that night.” What did the people do? Did they talk about what happened? Did they cry about what happened? Did they laugh about what happened? The writer does not tell the reader. Because the sentence does not express a complete thought, it is actually not even a sentence, but a fragment. The meaning of the end of the sentence is just as imprecise. I am pretty sure they talked to the reporter about what happened the night of the crime, but as written, it could refer to either the night of the crime or the night neighbors talked to the reporter. Perhaps, “People in the neighborhood where the crime happened talked about their memories of that night,” would have been a more accurate sentence.
Other problems with this particular article include:
- Run-on sentences. “But three men followed them here to their home at the time and that was more than 20 years ago.” This really should be broken into two sentences.
- Extra spaces between words in a sentence. This is a minor thing, but still something that proofreading the article would have caught before it was published.
- Use of a hyphen in the middle of a sentence for no reason. “But people who have moved into the neighborhood since the crime-have heard the stories.”
- Incorrect word usage. Just one example is, “getting his just deserts today.” I’m pretty sure that the writer meant desserts, but again that’s not what was published.
- Missing words again, “I would say that he was a fine and the person…” He was a fine what?
As a writer, I know that mistakes happen. Every writer has to review what they have written and revise and edit the piece. There is editing for content, during which the writer has to make sure that they completely convey what it is they are trying to say. There is also grammar editing, which is making sure that you have used correct punctuation and verb tense, etc. No matter how proficient of a writer you are, or how adept your editing skills may be, there will still be times when something slips past a critical examination.
Regardless of who you are, you will be judged for the writing that you put out for the general public to consume. If your writing is filled with mistakes or is hard to read, people will question your intelligence. When you are writing for a professional news outlet, those judgments apply not only to you as the writer, but also to the company you represent. It is a fact of life, and I’m not saying that it is right or wrong, it just is.
There were multiple comments about this particular article that pointed out the need for editing and proofreading. In fact, there were more comments directed towards the need of a proofreader than there were about the content of the story itself. And yet, there was one person who decided it was appropriate to call me a bully for suggesting the need for proofreading and editing.
According to Wikipedia, “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others.” Apparently we now live in a world where constructive criticism is considered bullying by some. What does that say about our society? Nothing good, but that is a subject for a different post on another day.
What about you? Do you think that it is inappropriate to expect a professional news outlet to publish higher quality pieces than the amateur writer? Or does it really not matter? Is it okay that more and more often the amateur writer posting on a blog has superior writing skills than many of those who are paid for their writing? I welcome your comments on the subject.