Is online news making us dumber?
I’m 33 years old and apparently I’m old-skool. I’ve been told I have a young head on old shoulders. I’ll freely – and instantly – judge your character on your grammar skills. #Sorrynotsorry, it’s what I do.
Look, I can forgive a bad day. I can forgive the occasional spelling error (my worst grade growing up was an “S-” – Satisfactory MINUS – in spelling). I can even forgive a rushed deadline by an underpaid writer with no support staff and/or editor. But when do we as consumers of the news say enough is enough? When will we demand that our news – no matter how it’s presented to us – is delivered in the time-honored tradition of good journalism, good reporting, and good English? I’m not even going into the substance of an article (don’t get me started on clickbait and listicles being “news” nowadays) or its structure or even its essence. I’m talking about the shit I learned in fifth grade. I’m talking about the basic rules of a sentence, basic words misused and misspelled, and basic punctuation. I’m talking about being the example the next generation will follow.
I’m not an avid reader. I don’t have time to scroll through the news for hours a day, criticizing and wringing my hands in despair. I don’t have a daily newspaper delivered to my door (or, indeed, even waiting for me at our local shop up the road in true British fashion). But I do consume information presented to me. I do watch the news. I do read a few chapters of a book before bed. I do have a subscription to the New Yorker magazine, thanks to an on-going birthday present that’s been one of my carryover joys from the United States. And I do take pride in my own language. So when I see mistakes in a very public place, I cringe.
If I have children anytime soon, what will I say when I see a sign selling “apple’s”? What will I tell them when an online news article inserts a number into a word, like “religi1on”? What excuse will I make on the news agency’s behalf when they repeat a word, or skip one entirely? “Oh, honey, they were too busy to double-check their work. It’s okay, it’s only the news.”
It’s been getting worse. There are – to me – blatant errors pinging off the screen, because it’s mostly online we’re talking about here. I understand that life has changed since the Digital Age emerged. I understand consumable news means the next hot thing off the press won’t last more than thirty seconds, perhaps less. In this era of Snapchat and personalized news feeds, if it’s not in the top three items on a smartphone, it’s obsolete. But we still need skilled writers. We still need skilled editors, and copy-editors, and proofreaders. We still need a cooling off period to let the work rest, breathe, and mature. We still need to double-check and allow fresh eyes to look a piece over. Anything less is folly. What happened to pride in an institution? What happened to pride in your work, in your product? In yourself?
Now, more than ever, these morals need to resurface. We need to spend our time online more carefully to assure quality over quantity, once again, becomes the norm. We need to institute a quiet – no, fuck that: LOUD! – revolution in our online world. Demand better writing. Demand to be better educated. Demand error-free news.
(Post-script: To all my lovely readers, full disclosure – before a single post goes live on this very blog, it spends a minimum of 24 hours in the incubator, sitting in limbo offline while it cools its beans. I have consciously implemented this scheme in my work because it’s just me: researcher, writer, editor, copy-editor, proofreader, illustrator, designer, marketer, and photographer. Do I still find mistakes? Yes. Do I correct them when I see them, even if the post has been submitted? Yes. It’s a matter of pride. It’s a matter of showing my character – and my respect for the craft of writing – in public. It’s a matter of principle.)
(Post post-script: Spellcheck caught four spelling errors after I typed this article. I looked up the definition of “principle” to make sure I didn’t confuse it with “principal.” I double-checked “clickbait” was one word, not two. I debated capitalizing “the” in “the New Yorker magazine” and decided against it, rightly or wrongly. I reread my work after a few hours, looking for misused words [their/there/they’re], accidental lapses in thought, and any confusing parts to my piece. And I looked it all over just now before I click “publish.” Because I care.)