Guest post: Outsourcing hits the copy desk

Students in my Advanced Editing course are contributors to The Editor’s Desk this semester. They are free to write about whatever they wish, provided that the topic fits the theme for this blog: “thoughts on editing for print and online media.”

This is the 10th of these guest posts. Katie Rumbaugh is a senior journalism major from Durham, N.C. Her parents brought her up a Duke fan, but she saw the error of her ways the moment she arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill four years ago. She enjoys writing and talking about politics, and she hopes to end up working in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, the Sun-Times Media Group, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times and 58 other newspapers, filed for bankruptcy. In case you weren’t aware, the outlook for print newspapers is pretty bleak these days.

Because of the Sun-Times claiming Chapter 11, you might have missed Gannett announcing on the same day that it is centralizing its news and sports copy desks into one regional desk to serve four of the six papers the company owns in New Jersey.

This comes in the wake of the four Texas papers, all owned by E.W. Scripps, consolidating their copy desks last week, as noted by my colleague, Dominic Ruiz-Esparza. At the four New Jersey papers, Gannett will eliminate all copy and sports desk management positions, replacing them with 16 regional editorships.

The problem in cases like these is that creating a satellite editing desk that serves multiple papers removes several degrees of accountability from the position of copy editor. Sure, an editor can call or e-mail a reporter for questions on a story, but successful copy editing requires a rapport between editors and writers. I imagine maintaining that rapport will be a lot more difficult when newspapers in East Brunswick, N.J., are outsourcing their copy editing to Neptune (the city, not the planet).

And copy editors working for a specific newspaper develop a certain level of expertise on the material they edit. Making a regional copy desk where editors handle stories from around the state dulls that specialization.

But if this trend continues — and in light of the economy and declining readership and ad sales, it likely will — maybe next we’ll outsource our copy editing overseas along with the information technology sector.

3 thoughts on “Guest post: Outsourcing hits the copy desk

  1. I work in the B2B magazine sector in the UK, and my company has been merging production desks across unrelated titles. That means sub editors (copy editors) will be expected to have knowledge of at least two specialist/technical areas. That’s quite a big ask.

    We’ve also had the outsourcing rumours flying around – not least that production could be outsourced to India. The time difference might make things a bit tricky, though.

  2. First, greetings from the other Carolina!! I really like this post because it is relevant and sadly, a big issue facing journalism.

    “Sure, an editor can call or e-mail a reporter for questions on a story, but successful copy editing requires a rapport between editors and writers. I imagine maintaining that rapport will be a lot more difficult when newspapers in East Brunswick, N.J., are outsourcing their copy editing to Neptune (the city, not the planet).”

    This was great! I totally agree that calling or e-mailing an reporter is no way for an editor to establish rapport with a reporter. I am in the print journalism “senior semester” at USC (we produce The Carolina Reporter, which you can find here: http://www.datelinecarolina.org) and we switch from being an editor to reporter, and I know first hand that working closely with an editor is a MUST. It produces better quality writing and frankly, a better quality newsroom. Who wants to work in a place without an open atmosphere where you can walk up to a reporter and ask them questions and work with them to produce great work?

    Additionally, your outsourcing comment was very witty and funny. I respect the journalism program at UNC and am thinking about grad school there in medical journalism! GOOD LUCK TO YOU.

    – Cheryl Matheson
    University of South Carolina

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