A word about proofreading

A reader called us to task recently for using “taught” when we meant “taut.” We copy editors know the difference, of course. It’s embarrassing to miss a homonym mistake like that. This gives me a chance, though, to write about copy editing and proofreading.

At the first newspaper I worked for, starting in 1976, proofreaders were part of the production process. They read galleys of stories and marked corrections to be made. When computers came into wide use in newspapers, the job of proofreader gradually disappeared. That doesn’t mean, however, that proofreading disappeared.

We don’t have proofreaders at our newspaper. We have copy editors who read proofs in addition to their primary duties of editing copy (for sense, fact, taste, style and grammar) and writing display type (headlines, photo captions, etc.). After the stories, photos and other visuals are electronically placed on pages, page designers send the pages to proof-printers (if there is time before press start) and copy editors who haven’t already read the type on the pages proofread the pages, looking for misspellings, inconsistencies, typographical problems and anything that looks awry in the thousands of words that appear daily in our paper. (They are reading the news content only, not ads, which are the responsibility of the advertising departments.) This is actually better than the process at my first newspaper job because we can see the pages exactly as they will appear to the reader. We get a better look at the big picture.

Sometimes we have a decent amount of time to proofread, and sometimes we don’t. Some copy editors are better at proofreading than others. Regardless, we give proofreading our best shot, and often we catch errors that would be embarrassing if they appeared in print. That is in addition to the problems that writers, editors, copy editors, page designers and visual journalists have already caught during the writing, editing and production process.

We catch a lot. We miss some. We wish we caught everything and that the stories, captions, graphics and other copy that our readers will read were error-free. We appreciate our readers for enlightening us on our shortcomings. And we keep trying.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.