ACES at a crossroads
The annual American Copy Editors Society conference is under way in a cold and snowy Denver (36 and 2 inches on Thursday, last time I checked). It would be tempting to liken the weather with the state of the news industry, especially since the conference opened even as word was coming down that the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a paper covering that area's active legal community, was eliminating its copy desk.
But that would be too simple -- and inaccurate.
I'm not going to say the mood here is upbeat, but it's less fearful than I remember the Miami conference being last year. At that meeting, there was an urgency to "learn" online because of a sense of the Internet as the Huns at the ramparts. Here, I actually pick up a more hopeful sense that a certain peace has been made with that (reluctant acceptance?) and that it's time to really move forward and figure out how all this is likely to work.
(The resistance now seems to be viewing online as more work, not as a set of tools that also can make us work smarter, which was the focus of my Web 2.0 session yesterday. See David Sullivan's review. Update: Another, later one from Andrew Knapp.)
One hopeful sign, to me at least, was the announced attendance of about 295. Yes, that's down, but in checking, not so much, maybe a couple of dozen I was told by Carol DeMasters, ACES' administrator. And the number of first-time attendees is substantial, judging by the number of hands that went up. (You can spin that however you want -- I suppose you also could say that if the veterans aren't returning, it means something good is not afoot. I prefer to think it means that people coming into the business recognizes ACES has something valuable to provide.)
But ACES also has some tough choices to make, and I'm not sure the leadership gave adequate answers at yesterday's opening session, judging from conversations I had afterward.
The key question is how tightly ACES remains tied to the newspaper -- or even the news -- industry. A person before me asked about broadening the group's scope internationally (that "A" in the name could be a problem there). Then I posed the question -- is it time for ACES, while recognizing that our roots are in the newspaper business, to start embracing the much wider universe of copy editors?
My students are starting to look elsewhere -- one leading financial firm, for instance, recently was advertising for copy editors with salaries at $60,000 -- far above what many newspaper jobs pay. A colleague told me of a woman who works for an international data software company and makes more than that doing the essential tasks of a copy editor (as well as some writing).
Several others came behind me to pose similar questions. The answer was, essentially, yes, as a board we're thinking about it. We'll get back to you. (From talking with some board members, these sound like tumultuous discussions.) You can see the fuller response on the conference blog and decide for yourself whether it's adequate.
We cannot forget our roots in the news industry. But it seems to me the question now is whether, as an organization, ACES stresses the "copy editors" in its name and becomes an advocacy group for all of that craft/profession. If we do that, we may be able to ease some of the wrenching changes members are going through as their jobs are eliminated or bought out (broader membership also means broader potential contacts in a much wider range of industries that value the craft). It can't be denied that more companies and PR agencies are hiring copy editors as they realize that the Internet now also makes them "publishers." Whether you think it's the "dark side" or not, it's a valid question to ask whether ACES at least owes its members a gateway to that broader scope.
Otherwise, let's call it what it really is: the American Journalism Copy Editors Society -- and fight like hell within the limited sphere of journalism to try to establish that copy editing should be a valued part of any publication.
While we were meeting in Denver, Mindy McAdams weighed in on her blog about the idea of more reporters who can edit and fewer editors overall.