Saturday, March 26, 2016

Why need we editros

So what's new in the delegate selection process today, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

The Associated Press on Saturday declared Sen. Bernie Sanders the winner of the Alaska and Washington Democratic presidential caucuss.

Erm ... both of it?

With 73 percent of Alsaka precints reporting, Sanders was leading front-runner Hillary Clinton 73 percent 79 percentt to 83 percent.

We always tell students that "spellcheck" isn't the same as "editing." But even the oldest-school among you will admit it's better than nothing.

"We knew things were going to improve as we headed West," Sanders said at a rally in Madison, Wis. "We are making significant inroads in ... Clinton's lead. ... We have a path toward victory."

Not even a guess here. Somebody had an advance transcript and didn't fill in the blanks? Reporter couldn't hear and didn't want to go with "argle-bargle"? Did he actually say it?

The Vermont senator is looking for big wins in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington’s caucuses, trying to cut into Clinton’s sizable lead and kick-off a Western swing that he can ride to the July nominating convention.

The biggest prize will be Washington, in which 101 delegates are up for grabs.

Hold that thought, kids:

Sanders hopes the win in Alaska along with ones in Washington and Hawaii, which offer 16 and 25 pledged delegates respectively, will ignite his campaign after a rough trip across the South, and lead to wins in Oregon and California, which offers 546 delegates.

Pretty much unchanged from an update around 5 p.m., suggesting that the graf was resutured for the first results without much attention to its content: "Alaska" was moved up in the edit, but the vote counts for the two smaller states just stayed where they were. That sort of edit is called "leaving the scalpel in the patient," and it looks equally bad on the X-rays. 

True it is that we are all prone to typos, and anybody can slip up in a hurry, and kids got no respect for the law today. That is why we have "editors." Editors stand athwart progress yelling "do the arithmetic" and "where's Alsaka?" and "what did the candidate say?" And, yes, "spellcheck or die."

They do that not because the split infinitive is a sign manifest of Satan on earth, or because they want to throttle your last drop of creativity,* or because they want you to miss deadline, or because they had terrible childhoods and don't think you've suffered enough. They do it because it makes the product look competent and professional. No, really. Spending a few minutes combing out the kinks in the sort of stuff that news outlets throw online because everybody's in a hurry  has a positive and statistically significant effect on whether Real People think it's well-written, professional and worth paying for. (Come to Portland next week and hang around with a bunch of people who agree!)

My favorite part of that study -- OK, favorite except for the bits about what's worth paying for -- involves a variable called "media distance." It takes participants' rating of their own politics on a left-right scale and compares that with how they rate the politics of "the media," yielding an index of whether they see the media as off to their left, off to their right, or sort of in the same place. The only place where editing doesn't make a difference in perceptions of quality and value is that chunk in the middle. Whether you think the media are a left-wing plot or a tool of the corporate right, you can tell whether somebody inspected the product as it left the assembly line.

Should Fox News want a takeaway point (worth every cent they paid for it, by the way), I suggest this: Ideological purity will only get you so far. Readers who are involved enough to move the needle off center on that scale expect some quality for their buck, and simply reciting the party line isn't going to cut it.

* OK, maybe just a little bit on this one.

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