Guest post: Why copy editors still matter

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of these posts. Kammie Daniels is a senior News Editorial major who plans to graduate this May. She has worked at The Daily Tar Heel as an Arts Desk staff writer and also as a reporter with UNC’s news broadcast Carolina Week.

With all the layoffs, consolidation and other depressing things going on in the newspaper industry, I think we are all forgetting how important copy editors really are.

Up to this point in my education, I have never thought to include the title of “copy editor” to my list of practiced skills. Yes, a semester here and there of editing courses has fairly broadened my knowledge of the profession. However, it has taken until now to have the opportunity to truly practice and more importantly, appreciate, the art of accomplished copy editing.

Day to day, I witness the hard work and talent my fellow classmates offer when editing another’s copy. And although I have never worked with a professional copy editor, through this new experience I can say they strike me as having the most under-appreciated job in the newsroom.

In the face of the “print is dead” belief, no newsroom group has been more affected than copy editors. According to a 2009 survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, more papers have reported cutting copy editors than photographers, assignment reporters, or graphic artists. Shrinking newsrooms could justify these cuts if content quantity followed in suit. However, this survey continues to explain that while staff is shrinking, the average number of stories being published is actually increasing. So this means we have more headlines and content to be edited and an insufficient copy desk — that is a problem.

Another publication that has recently made (perhaps un-copy edited) headlines for targeting copy editors is the Star Tribune in Minnesota. Of the 27 staffers that were cut from the paper, 18 were from copy desk positions.

As newsrooms are shrinking all together, it seems the popular belief that copy editors should be the first to get the boot. New York Times writer Lawrence Downes even goes so far as to say “if newspaper copy editors vanish from the earth, no one is going to notice.”


Whether it is motivation by the dollar or one’s indifferent ignorance, copy editors are no longer getting the recognition they deserve. Today’s copy editors are multitaskers who design, choose stories and configure them online — all in addition to the customary duties of content editing and writing headlines. When a newspaper like the Tribune loses a copy editor, it is in turn losing valuable expertise in every one of these areas.

Singer/songwriter Christopher Ave wrote “Copy Editor’s Lament (The Layoff Song)” to comment on the newspaper industry’s woes and to celebrate copy editors. Like Ave, I wish to argue this same point. Of course, the public does care about headlines and correct grammar. They just don’t really know it. Through my writing — once copy edited, of course — my message will hopefully be clear: Copy editors DO still matter.


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