Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“Yolk”: The Decline of Content Reaches the White House

The White House drew an unwanted form of attention last week when it issued a statement opposing “the yolk of authoritarianism.” This phrase was a simple misspelling. The writer meant “yoke” rather than “yolk.” Such a writing error is to be expected, but the staff at the White House didn’t have time to correct the error either before release or after. Some readers suggested that the presence of such a glaring error meant that the White House doesn’t take human rights as seriously as other issues, or that it is more understaffed than it appears.

I see the White House “yolk” as part of a trend. This kind of mistake started to appear in newspapers in the 1990s when publishers realized they could no longer afford to pay reporters and editors a professional salary. By 2000, content had declined so much that similar errors were appearing in books and on television. Again, the economic story was that workers were no longer being paid enough to produce consistently high-quality content. When fewer workers working at lower wages create more content, the quality of the content can only go down. More of the content you see is being produced by students and interns. Now it seems this trend has reached official White House statements, albeit ones coming from a White House that seems to be in perpetual crisis.

In the near term the best hope for better content is better technology. Just as new cameras are easier to control, new spell-checkers catch more misspellings. Ultimately, though, there is no substitute for human attention in the creation of good content, and attention is exactly the area where everyone, it seems, is looking for a shortcut.