Of fake PR, serial commas, and four-letter words

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My co-editor and I recently spent a very productive afternoon griping about press releases sent to the Saipan Tribune office that do not conform to standard formats, composition, rules, etc. That includes non-high-resolution photos that measure less than 1 megabyte (itty-bitty photos that make us go, “Does he intend to see this on a microscopic screen?”), text that appears to be a speech sent in without any rewrites, and what pretends to be a press release but uses a lot of personal pronouns (I, you, me, we, us, etc.).

I am not a class act and all my four-letter words fly thick and fast inside the newsroom when faced with a faux PR. As you can see, we have our self-involved version of fun and stress relief.

It’s not the atrocious grammar or syntax that offends (although that in itself is enough to cause sleepless nights and lingering migraines), but sending in a press release without a passable rewrite is the equivalent of throwing a brick at the paper and expecting the editor to refashion it into acceptable work. That means it piles on to our workload. Yey, more work for me!

Which I keep telling people is a gross misunderstanding of what we do. It’s not my job to check your tenses. Or whether your subject and verb agree. Somebody did point out in a comment that I am not capable of editing the newspaper because English is my second language. Sure, sure.

However, he seemed to take offense when I told him that checking for spelling and grammar is so far down my list of responsibilities that I rely on Google for that.

Checking for grammar and syntax is actually the job of the copy editor, or the proofreader, dearie. A copy editor, as implied by the term, checks for grammar, spelling, style, and how to use commas properly. A proofreader, on the other hand, spots and corrects errors before final publication.

I am the managing editor, and a big part of my job is getting the entire newspaper to the printing press. That includes farming out reporters to get stories and assigning stories to pursue (such as getting updates on the love life of Superman), sorting the stories in order (which story goes on page 1, which goes on page 8, etc.), selecting which photos to use (Should it be Spider-Man or Wonder Woman?), and jousting with an unpredictable public, a mercurial boss if there ever was one.

A big part of my job is unseen, which is about using my judgment (weighing which story would result in more people actually plunking down .50 cents to buy the paper). So, no, I don’t need to know how to parse the words “lie,” “lay,” “lain,” and “lying” in order to do my job. Don’t get me wrong, I do know how to use those words and which one functions as an intransitive verb, but that is not a requirement of the job. At least, you won’t hear me say “I could care less.”

Sometimes, my co-editors think it would be so much easier for everyone if press releases are sent in as bullet points of the five W’s and 1 H (who, what, where, when, why, and how). Easier to read, direct to the point, and much easier to edit. That way, it’s just a matter of copy-pasting stuff and you will have a story for a hole on page 6. Easy-peasy!

And speaking of press releases, two who send in excellent press releases that conform to rules and require minimal editing are Cathy Perry Harris of Integrity Communications and Shirley Sablan of Pacifica Underwriters. Seeing their names on my email inbox means I am already assured of enough material for a page, text that does not make much demands on my talents, and photos that already have captions.

Press releases from the Northern Marianas College are, as expected, professionally written, sent well within deadlines, and with photos that are high-resolution. What is noteworthy is that we get NMC press releases that already conform to the Saipan Tribune style. For example, we use the serial comma (or Oxford comma), and NMC press releases do that too. Also, the Tribune uses a single space after a period; NMC materials do that too. So, sometimes, it’s just a matter of affixing their material on a page without the drama and tears. Or the need for my momma’s prayers for my soul.

Jayvee Vallejera Vallejera
Jayvee Vallejera is a 21-year journalism veteran and has been with Saipan Tribune for 14 years.

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