Student guest post: Are hubs the next wave or the death knell of copy editors?

by andybechtel

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Miranda Murray is a junior majoring in editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She will work for Media General in Richmond, Va., this summer.

When I first got the phone call to hear that I had been offered an internship position this summer copy editing, I was so excited that it didn’t occur to me that there was no Tribune or Daily or Journal at the end of the company’s title — I just said yes. But after the initial rush, I looked up the company online to realize that I had been placed at an editing hub, a relatively new concept now being turned to as a solution as newspapers downsize and technology expands.

Like many other changes in the newspaper world, the advent of hubs has been greeted by both bitterness and hope. The entire point is to consolidate editing and design to be more cost-effective, with more emphasis placed on reporters’ abilities to turn in relatively clean copy that doesn’t require much reworking. This consolidation equals taking copy and design desks out of newsrooms, a move that several large media companies including Gannett, Media General and Tribune have been steadily pushing.

Here in the Triangle, the newspaper community felt these changes in 2011 when The News & Observer, one of the area’s largest newspapers, decided to move its design and editing desks from Raleigh to Charlotte. In fact, this blog was one of the loudest voices against this decision.

Succinctly, some of the criticism I could find of what seems to be the future of copy editing at the moment includes the loss of local knowledge, more miscommunication between the newsroom and the editing desks, and creating more responsibilities for an already thinly stretched staff.

But in the interest of fairness, several bloggers also fired back at the criticism, including Brian Throckmorton, who commented on a blog post by John McIntyre about his experience working at a hub. He wrote that taking a copy desk out of the newsroom won’t necessarily translate to a loss of local knowledge thanks to the ease of electronic communication. He also brought up the point that newspapers are dwindling in size and that there is not enough work to justify so many copy positions. Other bloggers simply took the mindset that people needed to cut their losses and adapt to this newer form of copy editing.

I personally find this tremendous discussion on the good and evil of copy-editing hubs intriguing, considering that I will spend my summer experiencing firsthand how the process works. Since I have no real experience working day-in and day-out on a copy desk housed within a newspaper, I have no prior expectations of what this internship will bring – but in the end, if this is the path I need to take to one day become a copy editor, I plan to take it.

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