Sunday, July 05, 2009

Newspaper copyediting problems recall 1980s book "Trading Secrets" by Foster Winans


Today, July 5, 2009, Andrew Alexander, ombudsman for The Washington Post, wrote (on p A17) a confessional about the typos in the print and online versions of the newspaper due to the cutbacks in the number of copyeditors. Newspapers are very dependent on accuracy and perfection for credibility, and economic competition (maybe some of it from bloggers) has eroded their ability to maintain that standard. The link is here.

An older book “Trading Secrets: An Insider's Account of the Scandal at The Wall Street Journal” had covered this issue well as newspaper technology was back in the1980s. The book is by R. Foster Winans, and tells the story of how a young reported, whose career first started in Trenton, got caught up in the 1980s scandals of insider trading while writing the WSJ “Heard on the Street” column. An early chapter in the book describes the technology of the time, the process of gathering stories throughout the day (often starting with hotel breakfast meetings) and the need for typing perfect stories (without misspelling company names or especially stock symbols) by a certain deadline in a certain format and within certain length parameters. It was very exacting work.

The book then gets into the temptations of the time, that would lead to the scandals of the 1980s, a predecessor of our problems today. Of course, journalistic integrity was at issue, and Winans is eventually fired for “conflict of interest.” The description of how he first got called in and how the investigations went are harrowing.

Less convincing is his own account of his personal life as a gay man, and he is somewhat dismissive of the community service efforts in the community at the time as a result of the AIDS crisis.

Amazon shows only one copy, a Macmillian UK copy, but it is on Google book, for example here.

The publication date for the book was 1986, and the original publisher was St. Martins Press; the ISBN was 0312812272.

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