Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The readers are laughing

Editor Ben Hansen has posted one of his occasional columns on his pseudoblog page, in which he describes himself as "a pit bull about spelling, grammar and usage" whose "staff often accuses me of being too manic about grammar and usage." Pity he can't even seem to proof his own column successfully. Perhaps that explains why the paper is daily so riddled with errors.

It's always good to start a speech with a joke, it gets the audience in the mood. He probably learned that at Toastmasters.

What he really wants to tell us is that the commenters on the paper are a bunch of ungrammatical, spelling-challenged boobs, and that he's a hero for getting it right on their behalf. He describes how he edits "an average of 200 online comments every day," "And, thanks to some recent changes in media law governing the web, we have the option of editing for spelling and grammar."

I don't know what Ben could be reading in law that allows him to imagine such extraordinary license, but just for the record, no. Just as it is unethical to alter a quote in print, it is unethical to edit a letter or comment posted by anyone who did not specifically submit it for editing. If it has a person's name on it, the reader should be able to trust that it's what the person wrote.

Rather than attending to his real responsibilities for coverage and quality of the paper, Ben is frittering away his time managing reader comments, a job that should go no higher than an editorial intern. For Ben this is the fun work, and it's really about power. In it he is exercising his long-held claim that he can change anything that comes to the paper in any way that suits him, and he gets to exert control over his critics in the bargain. In the past this has gone as far as altering the substance of columns by nationally syndicated writers to say the opposite of what the writer intended. That sort of practice and attitude, centered on controlling the message for political and personal reasons, is one of the primary reasons for this blog and at the heart of what's most wrong with our local daily.

The ordinary reader sees the spelling and grammatical errors that plague every page, left there by this "pit bull about spelling, grammar and usage." The subtler and more serious problem is control of the message and spin on the events that he stentoriously claims as his right, and it's for this that Sam Steiger long ago dubbed our paper The Daily Disappointment.

Update, 2:30pm: The column is no longer available under his blog title. How odd. The link above still works.

Update, Thursday 3:30pm: The piece is reposted in the proper place. I've relinked it above. I wonder whether my prodding had anything to do with it.


Stephen Courtright said...

"I became a pit bull about spelling, grammar and usage"

"my sister went on to get two advance degrees"


Birther T. Bagur said...

I've noticed in the past where comments that I sent in were edited and the resulting grammar made no sense. I've also had comment simply not show up, including one yesterday. Try writing one about who owns the Courier and their far-right agenda and see what happens.