I read about a publishing house of technical literature that conducted a grammar test of all its prospective employees, whether they were involved in the editing side or handling the accounts, or manning the front desk … it did not matter what job they did, they had to pass the grammar test first or no job. If they confused their, there and they’re, or your and you’re, it’s and its, then they were shown the door. It is a strict condition of employment, and one that I wish mainstream media applied in Australia, as standards seem to have gone out the window, with news reporters on newspapers clueless on some of the basics of grammar, yet they have graduated with a degree supposedly qualifying them to be journalists.
I think the process of disintegration began in schools decades ago. English grammar was forgotten, to be replaced with the attitude that as long as the story was okay, spelling and grammar rules didn’t matter. I recall when I did my three years for my degree that the university (actually then called a college of advanced education) was forced to introduce some training in grammar rules as students were coming out of school without that knowledge. Of course, the lecturers and tutors could not suitably make up for all those years that grammar had been neglected, and cadets on newspapers and on television and radio news teams were ill prepared. You cannot blame the new journalists themselves, as the system had failed to emphasise the importance of grammar in communicating the right message in their news reporting.
Thus began the downward slide through the ranks. Young reporters were promoted to sub-editing positions. They had the smarts to pin down a great news story but the expression was lacking. Then, as editors, they failed to pick up all the errors that appeared, and newspapers and captions on TV news showed more and more silly mistakes. What has made it worse is that news groups adopted differing styles for spelling of some words, for example, some adopting upper case to describe names of things while others went for lower case, or hyphenation verses no hyphenation (co-ordinate or coordinate). Reporters began to “leave it to the editors” but not all the editors were much better than the reporters.
I can only speak for regional newspapers in Australia, but I have also noticed glaring errors in captioning on TV news. To their credit, news groups such as the one that employs me have made some effort to address these shortcomings through training sessions, but it is all too little, too late, for many. And, I’m afraid, the rot now has reached the editor level (as in the person who leads the newsroom) … the person with the capital ‘E’ editor who should have impeccable grammar skills.
I know that no person can be perfect in their English expression, and we all make mistakes from time to time, but when the basics are forgotten or confused, then it contributes to the whole dumbing down of the population. So, getting back to the original thought that spurred this post, perhaps media, especially newspapers (and that includes online content providers) should require all its cadets to undertake a grammar test before being employed. Then, just maybe, we can stop the slide.