Now that I have almost reached my BlankZero birthday, I am convinced that one thing has got worse, or at least not improved. I refer to the relative illiteracy and lack of thoroughness of the apparently well-educated.
One way in which this manifests itself in journalism is the inability to get names, aka proper nouns, right. Now I have no prejudice as such against those with degrees (I have two, thanks). However, I have become increasingly old-fart intolerant of the youngish unteachable graduate who knows everything but is cavalier about names. One way to labour the point is to call the sinner Sebastian "Simon" or miscreant Clarissa "Carol" a few times.
Fewer and fewer young hacks now undergo ordeal by grieving family. This scenario involves being sent to cover a local funeral, getting the misspelt name of the deceased into print, and then fielding an irate phone call or being at the wrong end of a face-to-face verbal mauling from the dead person's burly, overwrought brother.
In my relative yoof, I once revise-subbed (a synonym for "fiddled with") a headline on a page lead at the Times and managed to render a French presidential surname, Mitterrand, minus the second R. It did not get into the hands of the readers, having been stopped in time, but the foreign chief sub rightly bollocked me (albeit in front of all my colleagues, following the finest Voltairean tradition of pour encourager les autres).
Now that such open, personal reprimands would probably be deemed bullying or harassment, they either occur in private or not at all. Paradoxically, in this age of electronic transparency, many an organ now hangs its dirty linguistic laundry out to dry online, so to speak.
Regular confessions of shortcomings appear under "corrections", "clarifications" and the like. A surprising number involve getting names wrong. I say "surprising", as many are mistakes that I think ought to have been prevented by proper subediting/copy editing.
Sadly - a frequent theme of my mutterings these days - globally known organisations and titles have decided to cut back on in-depth subbing/copy editing and have thrown nearly everything at producing more and more content. As the computer programming saw has it, "rubbish in, rubbish out". Most naming errors start with writers, but can be finished before the reader sees them by judicious editing.
There now follows a short stroll through the Proper Noun and Associated Adjective Hall of Shame. Giggle and/or wince as the mood takes you.
From the Guardian: "Colombia was misspelled as Columbia in a panel accompanying an article about security lapses involving the US president ('Red faces at White House over intruder failure', 1 October, page 21)."
From the Daily Mail: "A report of the Derby County v Reading match last Tuesday mistakenly referred to Derby player Will Hughes as Lee Hughes."
From the Wall Street Journal: "The first name of Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, was misspelled as Vincente in a Thursday Personal Journal article and accompanying photo caption about diplomats staying at hotels in New York for the UN General Assembly."; and "Belinda Ellis was a consultant with White Lily flour. A Sept. 6 Off Duty article about biscuits incorrectly referred to the brand as Lily White flour."
And another from the WSJ: "A Palladian window was incorrectly identified as a palladium window in a Spaces column on Tuesday."
I suspect, or at least hope, there is a business case to be made that publishing such blunders does reputational damage to established news brands and reduces the credibility gap between them and the start-up upstarts.
It may even mean that ageing pedants like me continue to find gainful employment, continuing to sort out copy and enlightening the younger generations about how to do the same.
But if the old school continues to construct its hall of shame in the palladium style, it could prove a costly mistake.