Tommy Mason-Griffin, a University of Oklahoma basketball player, recently spoke through his Facebook page ” like many young people today ” to tell the world he was turning pro.
Here’s what he wrote, as reported by the media: “On a mission. Its a official dat I am leavin skool and enterin draft. “¦ I aint doin anotha yr.”
His spelling caused a stir. I don’t know if Mason-Griffin was writing in “chatspeak” or “textese.” But since he passed the entrance requirements at OU, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he isn’t the next Dexter Manley. You remember the former pro football player who claimed he was functionally illiterate, despite attending Oklahoma State University.
Raw copy can be ugly. Just ask an English teacher or a journalism lab instructor. Mason-Griffin’s communiqué and a lot of the grammar and spelling on the Internet point out the changing face of language, our literacy shortcomings as a society and the value of a good copy editor.
The Internet takes a “publish, then filter” approach to communication, while traditional journalism uses a “filter, then publish” regimen. Because the Internet publishes first, readers are seeing raw copy ad infi-nitum. No one has proofed or edited it. The disregard or disrespect for standard grammar and spelling rules is spilling over into more conventional forms of writing.
Social media communication resembles a first draft: no revision, no proofreader, no second set of eyes. Social media is people talking in text ” casual snippets of conversation revealing all the warts. The only restraint is self-editing, and it appears there’s little of that.
In journalism, the traditional filter is usually a copy editor, the often neglected and too frequently laid-off gatekeeper of the writing process. Copy editors are like English teachers who look over your shoulder, fix your mistakes or suggest how you could correct them and improve what you wrote. After they work their magic and the writing is published, you re-read it and think, “Damn, I’m good!”
Copy editors are the invisible ones, the ones who fix comma splices and run-on sentences. They know how to spell a word, without using spell-check, or they have sense enough to look it up in a dictionary. They know the difference between “affect” and “effect.” They know libel and privacy law. They turn confusing and carelessly written thoughts into something clear and meaningful. They’re the ones who, on the newspaper’s outdoor page, catch the difference between a “black bass” and a “black ass,” and on the farm page, the difference between a “Hereford steer” and a “heifer steer.” Or they’re the ones supposed to make the catch.
Teachers used to tell me every writer needs an editor. One of those teachers, the late Charles Allen, was OSU’s journalism school director back in the Dark Ages. If he were here today, he might break down our written communication ability into a multiple-choice question:
a) Was the writer trying to communicate in textspeak?
b) Was the writer attempting to use standard grammar and spelling rules?
c) Or, was the writing such that you couldn’t tell what he was trying to do?
Willis, a former Muskogee Phoenix managing editor, teaches public affairs reporting at Oklahoma State University.