Friday, April 11, 2008

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.

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At 4/13/08, 5:43 PM, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

I'm a charter member of ACES but not an ACES activist.

ACES was founded as a journalism organization. If I had read in 1997 about a group forming that would include copy editors from, say, newspapers, public relations and other commercial endeavors, I wouldn't have been the slightest bit interested. That would be like SDX, which is not a legitimate journalism organization because it admits PR types.

I hope the ACES board does not move to change the policy. (I also will assume that it would take a full membership vote to make such a change.) Outsiders have always been welcome to participate in ACES activities and I see no reason to change that. But I don't see what good could possibly come from admitting people as members whose work is often at odds with ours.

I would sadly resign from ACES if that were to happen.

At 4/14/08, 9:53 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Then ACES is misnamed and should be AJCES

I think you're a bit narrow-minded here. I'm no fan of PR and its spinmeisters, but most of the copy editors I know working in the corporate field aren't doing that -- they're doing the same jobs we're doing.

Go look at Copyediting newsletter -- we're talking journal editors, newsletter editors, etc., in most cases. Not the big, bad PR types.

As my post said, if ACES wants to keep the narrow journalism focus, that's fine. But then how about some truth in advertising and get "journalism" in the name?

Otherwise, don't use a name that implicitly claims to corner the market on copy editors or copy-editing skills. It does the members a disservice.

At 4/15/08, 12:53 AM, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

Obviously, the name was chosen for the acronym.

I don't really care what the group called as long as it remains focused on journalism, as the founders intended. We are "journalists" first.

Journal editors, newsletter editors and the like -- even big, bad PR types -- are always welcome to participate in ACES activities. I don't see the problem. I'd be happy to play pickup basketball with the Tar Heels without joining the team.

At 4/15/08, 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Phillip's right - the name was chosen for the acronym.

At 4/15/08, 9:54 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Things change, which means the meaning of names can change. That is what has happened here as newsrooms jettison their editing jobs.

Do I think journalism needs to remain at the core? Yes, I said so at the meeting. But when more of my students are seriously looking at editing jobs outside of trad journalism, it's time to rethink things.

It was good to see some acknowledgment at the conference this year of "other" places these skills can be used. But we don't help ourselves by continuing to make those "others" feel like second-class citizens in the organization.

It's sort of like "journalism" organizations of a few years ago that found online to be "unclean." So the ONA was formed. Now which is the more robust among the groups while the others scramble to try to develop online components?

We'll just have to agree to disagree, I guess.

At 4/16/08, 1:04 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/16/08, 3:42 PM, Blogger Doug said...


Well, then you haven't been listening much to what I've been saying and writing about "my" organization.

You are all over the boards and sites -- always negative on everything, especially designers. I've yet to figure out who shafted you on what, but you need to take a chill pill. You take "disgruntled" to a new level.

I could pay a lot more attention if you weren't so negative -- and would come out from behind that screen name.


At 4/16/08, 4:50 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/16/08, 5:59 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Knilands, look, I know who you are. I have for years. And if you paid attention to what I've written on ACES and copy editing, you'd find a fair amount of it parallels yours (except for some of your gratuitous, patented nastiness).

But when you click on Rknil and it goes to a "profile blocked" on Blogger, that's a screen name - or cowardice. Take your pick.

When I go to your Web site,, and your ID is not clearly apparent (;u=1)
that tells me all I need to know.

When I check your profile on Poynter and it's another empty vessel, it tells me a lot.

You're a troll, my friend. (Perfect example for those who attended the seminar I did last week.) More comment and example:>
Or this
or this
or this (care to issue some empty legal threats to me, too?)

Seems Brass Tacks design has smoked out a bit of your resume. (Kokomo, huh? I'm a former Fort Wayne rat. Now I understand ...)

At least you don't cloak your Whois .

I'm still not sure who stuck the pica pole up your ass or for what, but I'm sure you'll want the last say as you always do, so have at it. As far as I'm concerned, you had some relevant things to say at one time but have become pretty much a clueless broken record.

Domain Name..........
Creation Date........ 2005-09-28
Registration Date.... 2005-09-28
Expiry Date.......... 2008-09-28
Organisation Name.... Robert Knilands
Organisation Address. 211 S. Maple St.
Organisation Address.
Organisation Address. Piper City
Organisation Address. 60959
Organisation Address. IL
Organisation Address. UNITED STATES

Admin Name........... Robert Knilands
Admin Address........ 211 S. Maple St.
Admin Address........
Admin Address........ Piper City
Admin Address........ 60959
Admin Address........ IL
Admin Address........ UNITED STATES
Admin Email..........
Admin Phone.......... +1.2178418690

At 4/16/08, 6:10 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/17/08, 2:48 PM, Blogger Pam Robinson said...

There is a myth that magazine and other kinds of copy editors were not welcome or given full status when ACES first formed.

That simply isn't true, even though that claim was perpetuated by a handful of people who took offense at our membership category definitions which attempted to draw a line between the journalism of say, Time magazine and that of "Hardwood Floors Quarterly."

We had magazine people at our first conference and have at every subsequent conference and have had magazine reps on the board. The issue was never, ever about magazine people but rather, the other kinds of jobs that were around or being created in the 1990s and later.

Many of us did indeed--and, specifically, I-- thought it important, in 1997, to keep ACES focused on journalism as much as possible, to keep from looking like some of the organizations that wind up being led by public-relations people and thus lose their credibility on journalism issues. Those of us who worked in recruiting or participated in other organizations were pretty clear on what we'd seen elsewhere and didn't want. The fact that, in the early days of the organization, every dime of support was coming from newspaper companies and not other kinds of publishing operations, was not a decisive factor, even though we had other kinds of members in various leadership positions.

Some of us, more than others, were also were concerned that the organization not reach too, too far into other kinds of editing jobs since some positions, particularly those at trade publications or some online operations, carried editor titles but in fact were little more than production-technicians. We had discussions about whether editors for "Goat Herd Weekly" would qualify as full members and, as I recall, we agreed to wait until someone from that publication showed up before deciding. I, in fact, was working for a trade publication by 1997 that was considered journalism but there were people, frankly, that I worked with at the time who had editor titles but whose work consisted of writing code and pulling page proofs, writing stories dictated by the advertising department. By no stretch of the imagination would most ACES members have thought of their work as journalism. That is not to denigrate their work or professionalism. It simply didn't constitute journalism. One of the early membership questions involved online editors; they were welcomed in but soon formed their own organization because they had different issues and interests.

I came up with the name ACES--it was drawn in part from ASNE and APME (the latter also a pure-newspaper group that does not include "journalism" or "newspapers" in its name) and yes, we wanted to have an easily recognizable acronym. But the name didn't define the group. We also have had international members over the years, despite the "American" in the name. We didn't feel we needed "journalism" in the title because it seemed clear, from its roots, its support, its leadership and its activities, what kind of organization it was, though we did, at the time, define it as a "professional journalism organization." (After a couple of years, we also heard from some assistant city editors who wanted us to give up the name, and, oh yeah, help them get their ACES organization going. We declined.)

Now, if ACES wants to stretch its membership, it may be time, I don't know. I would be concerned about changing its organization makeup too much for precisely the reason Phil mentions above--PR and journalism are often at odds, or should be. I do know that its focus, goals and training would most likely change and for newsroom copy editors who already receive so little support or training, this would be damaging.

Its credibility as a voice of newsroom copy editors may be diminished--I don't know, given the way newspapers are changing maybe it won't be altered by different kinds of members.

That may be inevitable, both because of the nature of our work and for membership-sustainability questions.
Doug, I like your observations on ACES and other members--interesting mix of semi-insider and outsider perspective. I do feel that I have to weigh in every now and then, here and elsewhere, to clarify what really happened in the old days. Can't speak about things in more recent years since Teenager owns my life.

At 4/17/08, 3:11 PM, Blogger Doug said...

And, Pam, your insight to the founding days is always welcome.

As you said, I don't think ACES made itself inhospitable to magazine or other types of editors. But perception is more than 50% of the game -- and I think, wrongly, that perception is out there.

Looking at it from my students' perspective -- they want to be editors, but they are not tied to "newspapers." So they look at ACES and are unclear what it really offers them: Is it a "newspaper/journalism" group, or is it a group for editors

I've been trying to make the case for some time that "editing" is such a wonderful profession because the skills transcend so many things (rough translation, you get to stick your fingers in as many pies as you'd like).

I'm not suggesting a gutting of ACES -- but rather a thinking through of how we can better help the "editors" who are the members and whose futures in "journalism" may be uncertain. I think we at least owe them that. It may mean "opening up" the organization in some way, in perception as much as anything else.

At 4/17/08, 5:16 PM, Blogger rknil said...

I think ACES should be gutted. This entire discussion illustrates why. As newspapers contemplate blowing up their copy desks, Doug and Pam debate semantics.

It's yet another example as to why this group has long outlived its usefulness. Short of giving people awards in the names of people whose names shouldn't be on awards and looking bad at karaoke, the group has little to no purpose.

At 4/17/08, 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three points:

1. Determining the scope of an organization and the nature of its membership hardly seems to be a mere semantic exercise.

2. As to the usefulness of the organization, I think that there are several hundred people who might dispute Mr. Knilands' contentions -- having participated in the organization and attended its conferences, they can speak from direct experience.

3. The vilification of Ms. Robinson and Mr. Fisher is not the behavior of a gentleman.

John McIntyre

At 4/17/08, 11:09 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/18/08, 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

see: Axis II, Cluster B
see also: STFU

At 4/18/08, 4:14 AM, Blogger villette1 said...

Robert, go back to hiding underneath your rock. You are the reason why most management think copy editors are useless. The more you and your types complain, the more waste they see. Change is the only constant in the universe. You're old enough to know that by now.

At 4/18/08, 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally thought we looked prety good at karaoke.

At 4/18/08, 10:13 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/25/08, 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy doesn't take well to facts. If you point out facts to a journalist, he or she will take time to process and assess those facts.

If you do the same to this guy, well if those facts are not convenient to him ... you're a pathetic pissant. If only all journalists would react to facts this way. Or you're subject to blatant, near-libelous hypocrisy, such as the thousands of times a day he posts profanity-laced falsehoods under false names all over the Internet, and THEN will turn around and chastise anyone who uses anonymous handles to talk about him.

And (here comes those facts again) he's misspelled more than a few words in doing so. If copy editors did that, we'd call them incompetent.

That's not journalism. He doesn't care for facts. He doesn't care for discussion (he'll tell you himself that he doesn't play that.) He's not interested in the betterment of the industry. He's not interested in seeing editors succeed.

He's not a journalist. If he were sourced in our stories, we'd have to edit him out because he has no credibility. Period.

At 4/25/08, 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me see if I got this straight ...

The above poster articulated a laundry list of links to times you embarrassed yourself on other sites, all of which raise the question, "Why should anybody listen to a thing you say?"

And your only response is that all those other people are morons?


Very credible.

At 4/25/08, 2:36 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/26/08, 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"That link contains about 500 examples of errors--some of them major--appearing on front pages. It took surprisingly little effort to find these. One can only wonder how many more appear on inside pages and/or smaller papers.

"These indicate there's not a great deal of copy editing occurring in the clutch."

... You call out and chastise editing mistakes by the collective group of editors in existence.


"Feel free to point out those misspelled words. (Typos don't count; I freely admit to a few of those.)"

We're told to look past your editing mistakes.

Some journalism 101: Good editors are consistent. They don't simply look for what is convenient to them and toss aside the rest.

While trying to attack others' credibility, it's a good idea to at least try to maintain some of your own.

At 4/26/08, 12:45 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/27/08, 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh ... YOU'RE anonymous too. Your name is not rknil, so whoever you are, you clearly majored in irony when you should have been in a journalism class or two.

Just because you don't like a point does not mean it wasn't cited. The point was clear: You are not a good journalist because you tell people to overlook your mistakes in the same post as you're chastising others for theirs.

A specific example was cited, in the form of a direct, copied and pasted quote from you (whoever you are).

And even if you could refute that quality of journalism point, this is not refutable: No credible journalists or editors would tell people to look past their own editing mistakes. Therefore you are not credible.

Point: Clear. Example: Cited.

You've neither made a point nor cited an example, other than that spelling thing, which only tells me that you may or may not have once worked for an editor who was not able to recognize his or her own answer key. (Everyone aces tests; nobody loses track of their own answer key. So, congrats on working for that editor, I guess.)

At 4/27/08, 12:37 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/27/08, 12:41 PM, Blogger rknil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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