Okay, I admit it. I’m a grammar-and-spelling nut. And I think it’s critically important for journalists to get it right. In my view, “little” mistakes on the air, in print or online matter because they can dent our credibility. After all, if we can’t manage subject-verb agreement, what else might we be getting wrong?
College journalism teachers tell me their students often need remedial help with the basics because they never mastered grammar in high school. Even schools that require a passing grade on a grammar exam for admission to journalism school find they’re up against some deeply ingrained bad habits. And it’s tough to convince students they need to break those bad habits, especially broadcast students. We want them to write conversationally, of course, but we don’t really want them to write the way they would speak to a friend. If we did, we’d be okay with a script that reads, “Her and a friend arrived just before the shooting.”
It doesn’t do much good to suggest that people who speak this way consult a style guide when they write. If they don’t have a clue that what they’re saying is wrong, they probably won’t bother to look anything up.
Practice can help, and there are plenty of online resources available, like Newsroom 101, with free exercises in grammar, usage and style. But if those exercises feel like drudgery, take heart. The funny folks at The Oatmeal have come up with a guide to one of the most misused punctuation marks ever, the apostrophe. Check it out and never confuse it’s and its again.