As an English and journalism major in college, I used to test my proofreading skills by trying to find a typo — any typo — as I read The Washington Post. Things have changed a lot since then, and errors in the most prestigious newspaper in the nation’s capital are all too common.
The photo above is from the front page of the Post‘s sports section on Sept. 13. I know the reporters and editors of the sports section know that the Mets play baseball, and the Nets play basketball. The story got it right, but the prominent subhead got it wrong.
Grammar and spelling standards are in sharp decline, for a number of reasons. In the newspaper industry, tight budgets have led to cuts in both reporting and editing positions, meaning that fewer people are churning out content, and fewer people are reviewing that content and correcting errors. This is not a new problem; several years ago, former Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton addressed this problem in a blog post: “I don’t mean to pile on, but copy editing mistakes are among the most frequent complaints to the ombudsman.” He quoted a reader who had written to him: “The quality of copy editing at the paper is abysmal….Is anybody reading what goes on up on the Web site or in the paper?…It diminishes the overall reputation of the paper.”
The quality of newspapers has declined, but the biggest impact on poor grammar is social media, which gives everyone the ability to be a publisher. The same things that make social media so powerful — its immediacy and access — also contributes to lots of bad grammar and spelling.
Which raises the question, does it even matter if people use correct spelling and grammar? Several studies say yes — that your company’s use of language directly affects your reputation. In a July 2013 study, Disruptive Communications found that the use of poor spelling and grammar is the mistake most likely to damage their opinion of a company on social media. Read “What Customers Hate About Social Brands.”
A friend who knows me too well once gave me a book called I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. It turns out I’m not the only one.