Monday, February 13, 2012

Copy editing: Has the job really changed?

I was a bit confused by the pronouncement by a Gatehouse VP in a recent story announcing that Gatehouse was following the rest of the traditional "print" and wire service universe in setting up editing hubs in Rockford, Ill., and Framingham, Mass.

Declared David Arkin, vice president of content and audience: "The role of the copy editor today is to move copy as they get it."

Maybe I missed all those languid days by the copy desk pool, with the slot lazily sipping pina coladas while the rim rats worked on their tans. I never did get the good schedules.

What exactly does Arkin think a copy desk does or ever did?

And that might be the problem here -- a continuing view that somehow copy editors and the copy desk are a pain in the neck, out to sabotage, well, sabotage what exactly?

Sabotage the ability of pesky lawyers and plaintiffs to sue the paper for those oh-so-minor mistakes? (Hey, no problem. We can correct them online - yeah, after they've been spidered and are already in the search engine universe?)

Sabotage the ability to get a 10-second beat on a story by asking a simple question: How, exactly, do we know this? (How'd that work out in the Joe Paterno death story, eh?)

My local paper recently ran an entire story on how much candidates spent during the GOP primary here, not once citing any source for the information. (An accompanying graphic says the source is "Smart Media" - quick quiz: do you, dear reader, know what that is? Is it this ... or this, which has GOP ties? Frankly, I don't pay for the paper so I can end up doing the research.) Earlier, it crowed how the drop in the state's month-to-month unemployment rate was dramatic, without ever mentioning what the previous month's rate was.

Sabotage the ability to keep some credibility (and maybe circulation or page views) by getting the facts right and not misspelling a person's name so he or she - and all his or her relatives - badmouth your operation?

I understand fully that editors' jobs have changed in the digital era. That's why I'm training students to quick file and quick edit (not always with their full enjoyment and appreciation - grin).

But statements like Arkin's make me think that many managers and executives remain clueless about what editors do - and do even more of more quickly and more professionally - in the digital age.

Color me confused.

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At 2/15/12, 12:14 AM, Blogger WordzGuy said...

I work in technical editing, but it's basically the same story. What seems to escape those who don't get editing is that the editor is in effect standing in for the reader and asking -- now, before the actual reader actually has to ask -- things like why and how and who and, all too often, "huh"?

At 2/22/12, 12:26 AM, Anonymous Lauren @ Pure Text said...

That's an amazing way to put it, WordzGuy!

At 4/20/12, 3:26 PM, Anonymous Courtney West said...

The description of sitting by the "copy desk pool" sipping pina coladas made me laugh. I really liked this post-- I think that it's great and important to move journalism fully into the digital era, but what is the point if what goes online isn't edited properly?
I agree with your statement that managers and execs are pretty clueless about what editors actually do.


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