The Compulsive Copyeditor

March 12, 2011

When Copyediting is A Matter of Life and Death

Filed under: language degenerating — amba12 @ 11:54 am

I’ve been shaking my head over CNN’s tsunami coverage.  I know they are working in haste and under pressure (and nobody’s perfect — I just made a bad blooper myself, letting “guerrilla” get by me with one r), but when you’re reporting a disaster, and accurate information is crucial, a wrong or missing word can disappear a thousand people with a non-stroke of the pen.  For example:

Authorities have evacuated people living 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the reactor, according to the prime minister.

That’s nonsense, of course (imagine evacuating a ring of people at a precise distance from the nuclear plant).  All that’s missing is the word “within” (which would also entail changing “from” to “of”).

Even worse is this headline on the front page:

Pump system caused nuclear blast

The full headline on the linked article:

Japanese official says pumping system caused nuclear plant blast

Yes, a small amount of radioactivity was released, and technicians are still racing to cool the fuel rods in several reactors.  Still, space constraints are no excuse for equating a steam explosion with a mushroom cloud.  A better solution would have been

Pumps caused nuke-plant blast

Okay, okay.  No one was hurt by mere misinformation.  But copy editors can work fast and under pressure, too.  Why don’t they have someone sweeping up behind the headline writers and the wire services?

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