Good Grammar: Does It Even Matter Anymore?

The more I read the news these days, the more I notice that articles are full of errors. I am not referring to the actual reporting or fact-checking, although that is an extremely important topic, but to errors of grammar. Misspellings. Incorrect punctuation. Words in the wrong place or misused altogether. (Yes, I acknowledge that I just used incomplete sentences rather than serial commas.)

Are these concerns about grammar just one of my own pet peeves while other readers find it forgivable (or worse, in my opinion, even acceptable)? Does anyone else assign trust and quality to a news article in proportion to its grammatical correctness?

Whom cares?

Did that awkward-sounding question catch your attention? I thought I would flip this misuse around and give a little attention to “whom” since the word “who” often trumps it. Anyway, forget the “who” vs. “whom” debate. We, the grammatically correct minority, are sadly losing that battle. Take the example of “Who do you trust?” from George H.W. Bush’s infamous 1992 campaign slogan all the way to dozens of more recent uses, such as IBM Cloud Security. Ironic, isn’t it, that communicating “trust” doesn’t need to start with accurate English usage?

Back in the late 1990s, Apple wanted all of us to “Think Different.” I can certainly think about something that is different. I am also able to think differently. I am still not so sure about “Think Different.” Such highly visible campaigns from major, successful companies create popular permission for poor grammar. They probably wouldn’t see it that way. After all, it’s an ad campaign, not a shareholder report or SEC filing requiring utmost accuracy. It should be edgy or speak in the style of its audience. Back then, Apple’s slogan was so edgy that it sounded flat-out wrong. Apparently, creativity outweighs correctness of language. Maybe.

Language as an Art: Do Journalistic Standards Suffice?

So, what about news coverage? Is it just as acceptable to bend the rules of grammar and punctuation? Or, is a journalist – a professional writer – required to be a good steward of language? I believe the latter, especially given that most major media outlets produce style manuals to guide their own work. They are striving for accuracy and the consistent application of the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. (By the way, did you notice my lack of the Oxford comma? For those who still insist on it, even Oxford University has changed its guidance.)

Those who don’t produce their own guidelines likely follow another’s manual. For example, the Wall Street Journal follows the Associated Press’s guide. Furthermore, several outlets, such as the New York Times, Reuters and the Associated Press, make theirs available to the public to encourage wide usage of their respective determinations of the nuances of proper language.

The Need to Proofread

I am admittedly more of a stickler for grammar than the average person. A former co-worker started calling me “Eagle-Eye Eliseo.” I became the trusted grammarian and proofreader before any marketing brochure or article went to press. Heck, I cannot even read the Sunday New York Times, for my own personal enjoyment, without getting distracted by a typo.

So, imagine my strife when recently reading an article by Steve Peoples and Scott Bauer from the Associated Press, “AP Interview: In pursuit of GOP unity, Ryan endorses Trump.” Outside of the questionable subject matter, it came with FIVE obvious errors:

  1. “… my goal is to make sure that were unified so that we’re at full strength…” – They got “we’re” right a few words later; perhaps they ran out of apostrophes?
  2. “A day earlier, Romney signaled that he’s support a possible third-party candidate…” – Remember that little trick? “He’s support” = “he is support”?
  3. “Ryan himself acknowledged that he continues to have concerns Trumps combative style…” – Can I buy a preposition?
  4. “I feel much more comfortable that he’s in the same page with us.” – At least this one created some curiosity as I thought to ponder its meaning.
  5. “The pair spoke privately in a series of Washington meetings last month and their staffs’ stayed in touch.” – Stop being so overly possessive. It’s not becoming.

Furthermore, this article had two co-authors. Outside of their editors, did they not at least proofread each other?

Is Publishing Broken?

Today’s use of digital platforms and social media has changed our appetite for news and certainly how we consume it. It is no longer acceptable to get today’s breaking stories on the late night news or in tomorrow morning’s newspaper. We require a constant digital feeding tube of new news and the latest, subsequent updates. We also want it as free as possible. At the same time, reduced advertising revenues add less to a media outlet’s bottom line, straining staff resources.

Has our demand for immediate delivery and a churn of updates destroyed the writing and editing process? Has the prevalence of social media, full of all kinds of shortcuts and abbreviations – along with the preference for immediacy outweighing carefulness – made us turn a blind eye to proper grammar in professional writing? Can we trust a news article’s factual accuracy if it’s full of other obvious errors?

A well written, properly spelled and grammatically correct article demonstrates a level of conscientiousness that can reflect the overall quality in the writing of the actual report. I am more likely to have faith in the reporting, fact-gathering and editing if I am not tripping over other errors. Yes, good grammar still very much matters.

Share Your Opinion

Do you think proper grammar still counts? Does it affect how much you trust a news story? Please share your opinion below.

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