As repeated layoffs reduce staffs, this increasingly tiresome phrase seems to be spouted more often by newspaper executives trying to justify irrational cuts. Yes, revenues are down. But the many cuts at the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer have hurt the product and the quality.
The most damaging and unfortunate move eliminated on-site copy desks. There no longer are any copy desks for the two largest newspapers in the Triangle.
Paxton Media Group,which grossly overpaid for the Herald-Sun in 2005, shifted copy editing and design work for the Durham newspaper to Kentucky in 2011. A regional desk at the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer handles all design and copy editing of the Herald-Sun, as well as other Paxton publications.
At least when The N&O moved its desk in 2011, it was to Charlotte. One consolidated desk located at The Charlotte Observer’s offices handles design and copy editing for several McClatchy Company newspapers, including the Rock Hill Herald.
The model in both cases is flawed on so many levels.
You’re forcing more work on copy editors and designers, who are now fewer in number (when you figure the number of desk people per newspaper), to save a little money. They have less time to spend on each task because they are working with multiple newspapers. They are more rushed, and are more likely to make a mistake or miss an obvious error.
An incorrect street or neighborhood name or spelling of a public official might be obvious to a copy editor sitting in a Raleigh or Durham newsroom. An overworked desk person in Owensboro or Charlotte might not even think it looks wrong.
Cutting the number of copy editors makes the bean-counting newspaper executives about as intelligent as the late Marge Schott. Lamenting that she didn’t want to pay people just to watch games, the former Cincinnati Reds owner fired a number of scouts.
Why do they need so many people to read copy?
Fewer scouts probably meant fewer wins. Fewer copy editors, with an overwhelming workload on top of that, probably results in more errors making it to print, and fewer clever headlines or inventive designs.
The N&O tersely told copy editors and designers that they would have to work in Charlotte instead of Raleigh if they wanted to keep their jobs (although some had other options). This, of course, presented financial and emotional hardships, particularly for people with Triangle roots.
It’s obviously a better alternative to being laid off. That was the fate for nearly every member of the Herald-Sun’s former Durham copy desk. One desk person was moved to sports. But most were simply laid off.
The copy editors shipped from Raleigh to Charlotte have to endure a long commute. Either that, or they moved to Charlotte or set up some sort of housing arrangement in Charlotte during your workweek.
This has cost The N&O some of its best copy editors.
I know of two excellent copy editors who were forced to start working in Charlotte. Both have since left the company, one for a magazine and another to become a city editor at a smaller paper, because they were tired of the arrangement. I’m sure there are other examples.
With the current technology, why can’t The N&O have some copy editors work in Raleigh? Would it really cost more? Wouldn’t it be better to have people who actually live in the Triangle copy edit news about the Triangle area?
All of this puts a heavy burden on the hard-working desk folks who remain in Charlotte, and those on the consolidated desk staff in Owensboro. Newspaper executives expect them to catch every mistake. It’s not a realistic expectation given the workload.
The mistakes will be caught … by the readers.