Copy editing

Actual catches made as a copy editor or proofer on copy about to go to press:

Racial sensitivity:

In a 2009 story about a festival in a predominantly white suburb during which several disorderly conduct arrests were made, police were quoted in the lead sentence as blaming the fights on “rap music” and on “young people from outside the community.”  A few paragraphs down, police reported that of the 40 youths arrested, none were from the suburb.  Finally, we had a top police official saying the rap music has "brought in an element that we certainly don't want to see at Jansen Fest."

I immediately recognized that many readers would assume that those arrested were people of color and that the comments from police officials sounded racist.   But at that point, we didn’t know the color of those attending or arrested.

Not until nearly the end of the story did the reader see comments that offered another view: the spokeswoman for the group that organized the event said that rap music had caused no problems at the festival in the previous two years and that she had observed this year’s music being enjoyed by youths from the suburb and their parents. 

I got the news editor to agree to move her comments to the third paragraph, for the sake of balance.  The next day, we learned that police had, in fact, arrested several  residents of the suburb in question, and that nearly all of the arrested individuals were white.

An AP story and accompanying graphic having to do with a Centers for Disease Control study on STDs in teen girls broke out statistics by race, and went on to list "black, white and Mexican-American.

I consulted our news editor about this unusual singling out of a specific nationality of Hispanics, and neither he nor I could find any previous CDC reports online that said "Mexican-American" vs. "Hispanic."  Recognizing that this could be construed as singling out Mexicans, we deleted the references in both the story and the graphic.  Because the story did not provide any reason for the unusual category, we could not defend its use should readers ask or complain about it.  Later, the news editor told me he noticed that the New York Times, which ran the same wire story, also deleted the reference to Mexican-Americans, which makes us think editors there reached the same conclusion.


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