Thursday, July 10, 2008

Down memory lane

As I was doing some research tonight, I came across this from an article:
Yet many copy editors sense that managers overlook their contributions when promotions open up.

And that's just one of their frustrations. After years of adapting to pagination and surviving staff restructuring, downsizing, redesigns and tacked-on new-media responsibilities, many copy editors in St. Petersburg concluded that the critical copy-editing function demands reappraisal by, and renewed appreciation from, editors and publishers alike. ...

Yet copy editors suffer an "abysmal lack of respect. ... Now to this perennial problem have been added two huge new ones, newsroom downsizing and pagination, a technological revolution that ironically increased the workload on the copy desk while reducing the newspaper's overall payroll."
And then there was this:
The case for elimination of the copy desk is being argued in newsrooms and in trade journals, and the following are some of the sometimes contradictory points that have been made:

Eliminating the copy desk will not eliminate copyediting. Newspapers might as well eliminate copyeditors because copyeditors no longer have time to edit.

Pagination has spelled the end of copyediting as we know it. Newspapers don't need copyeditors because reporters should be able to provide clean copy.

Copyeditors should be shifted to (take your pick) design desks, originating desks or topic teams, because that's where they belong.
OK, so where did I find those?

The first is from the NAA's Presstime of November 1997. (The quote is from Gene Forman, then deputy editor and vice president of the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

The second? John Russial's important academic study and argument "Goodbye copy desks, hello trouble?" from Newspaper Research Journal in spring 1998.

And now we'd probably look back on those as the halcyon days!

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At 7/10/08, 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a paper on copy editors in pop culture? I'm not a Lou Grant scholar, but I think the only time a copy editor was mentioned on that show, he was a wife-beater. There's just never been any glory in quality control.

At 7/10/08, 8:54 AM, Blogger Dan said...

The irony is that we find that community contributors value copy editing. If they put a spelling or grammatical error in a story which we print without fixing ... they blame US. I guess that's more of a negative appreciation of copy editing. They don't sing editors' praises, but do blame them when problems are overlooked. A similar dynamic exists with paid reporters. Poor copy editors! The just can't win.

At 7/10/08, 9:16 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Cool idea. I'll get right on that as soon as I pop out two or three more on Hatsville Today (just got one finished for NNA, as a matter of fact, that I'll e-mail you; I think you'll find it interesting).

Well, Lou was such a great editor, they didn't need no stinkin' copy editors.

I always remember that line from the first show, where he looks at Rossi, looks at the story, looks at Rossi again and goes: "I'm gonna do you a favor. I'm not going to print this."

Tell John Gogick he needs to use that (or maybe just have it laminated and stuck on his computer). :)

(God, I love Hulu and all the LG episodes.)

Yeah, sad but true. But something else interesting. That paper I just got done doing -- one of the things in looking back was how much respect the cit-j corps has for the big-J folk. When we were starting, we did some conversations around town, and to a person they were, essentially, we don't have to be journalists, do we? They want us to do that job. And they value it (whether they want to pay for it, of course, is another question).

It occurred to me that posting on a site is a lot like public speaking. If we frame it that way -- an we know a fair deal about the psychology surrounding public speaking -- we might better understand motivations, gratifications and uses. (Damn, another research project I don't have time to get to {grin.})

At 7/16/08, 9:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug, have you come across any data or anecdotes about news organizations that have either modestly hired or simply not cut back on the number of copy editors?

The company I am working for seems to be going in the direction of shifting editing and pagination duties to a central location, where the papers are also printed. For example, the copy editors at one of the company's biggest dailies is now editing and paginating that daily paper plus four others that the company owns: one daily and three weeklies. One of those weeklies is a paper in another state (!).

Of course, this retention of copy editors at the central location contrasts to the layoffs of all but one copy editor at these other papers, which were previously produced at their local offices. So copy editors are being laid off, just in a different way.


At 7/17/08, 9:11 AM, Blogger Doug said...


The AP is doing some of the same thing by creating editing centers, starting in Atlanta.

Certainly, some of the smaller papers I know have not cut back -- yet.

But if copy editing is seen largely as a mechanical function (I'm not saying it is, just that that is the perception), then centralization is inevitable.

Of course, that just goes along with the templated design of most papers and the templated design of most Web sites when research shows it is the individuality that attracts people.

As long as we remain stuck to "newspapering," which is an industrial, mechanical process, it is bound to happen. After all, you always seek cheaper and cheaper ways to make widgets. If we define news that way, why would we expect any different?



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