Copy editors are storytellers too

Pam Robinson at Words at Work has taken note of yet another article about the future of newspapers. This piece, posted on The Moderate Voice, mentions some ill-considered advice from an editor at a New Jersey newspaper:

Restructure the newsroom. Half of the journalists are involved in the “processing” of news — copy editing, writing captions, laying out pages — as opposed to the generation of journalism. Concentrate on journalism that matters. And focus on good writing. Tales well told.

Robinson smacks down this argument, pointing out the valuable rewriting and fact checking that copy editors do. (It’s a point also made in a widely discussed column by the Washington Post’s ombudsman.) Robinson also mentions the necessity of production — copy editors and page designers are the ones who put the pieces together for print media. If they don’t do that, who will?

I’d like to build on Robinson’s response and suggest that copy editors are journalists, or “storytellers.” Here’s how:

  • Copy editors write captions. Most photographs need explanation and detail that connect them to the text they go with. In standalone photos in print and in slideshows online, the captions and images must work together to tell a story. Either way, copy editors make that connection.
  • Copy editors are experts on story structures. That makes us essential in deciding what form best matches the stories we are trying to tell.
  • Copy editors write headlines, which both reflect the story text they accompany and tell stories on their own. Indeed, many headlines are just as memorable as the stories themselves, if not more so.

These are just three ways that copy editors are storytellers. We are journalists, just like the reporters, photographers and page designers in any newsroom. We believe in the importance of “tales well told” as much as our colleagues do.

In short, we generate plenty of journalism. Is that so hard to see?