Q&A with R.L. Bynum, editor and proofreader at AICPA

R.L. Bynum is a former newspaper editor who now works at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Durham, N.C. Before joining AICPA in 2010, Bynum was a copy editor and page designer at the Daily Press newspaper in Virginia, and he also worked in sports departments at several newspapers in North Carolina, including the Herald-Sun in Durham. In this interview, conducted by email, Bynum discusses his job, the transition from newspapers and his use of social media.

Q. Describe your job with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. What do you do on a typical day?

A. I proofread all material produced by the Graphic Design team at the AICPA. That includes all sorts of publications such as annual reports, white papers, brochures, conference programs, conference signs and application kits. Some of these can be as small as 2 or 3 pages and others can be 30 or 40 pages.

I copy edit all manuscripts before they go to the designer, proof the PDFs before they go to the clients and review any client changes before they go to the designer. I also proof/copy edit dues letters and various other sorts of small jobs.

I’m the only proofreader on a team that includes a copy writer and five designers. There is a freelance proofreader who helps with certain jobs and when the work load is excessive.

It can get fairly busy, but there is nothing approaching the deadline pressure that was routine during my years in newspapers. At a newspaper, a rush could mean turning around a breaking story in minutes. On my team, a rush job may mean that it needs to be done in two days.

Q. Before this job, you worked in newspapers for more than 20 years. What has that transition been like?

A. While there usually are more hours to my workweek (most weeks at least 45), the distribution of those hours is a pleasant change. I definitely don’t miss working nights, weekends (although I do occasionally have work to do on a weekend) and holidays.

Working 8 a.m. to around 5:30 p.m. gives me a lot more time with my family as well. I had the entire week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day for the first time in 29 years. The pace of work is quite different, but it was an easy adjustment.

There’s no doubt that I miss many aspects of working at a newspaper and the rush of working the desk when news is breaking. I miss being a journalist. The job security certainly makes up for that, and it’s nice not bracing for the next round of layoffs. There were six in five years that I survived before finally being laid off by the Tribune newspaper in Newport News, Va., along with nearly all desk people.

When I accepted the job at the AICPA, I canceled an interview with a Mid-Atlantic Gannett newspaper for a copy editing job that would have paid better. I had just been laid off and was very paranoid about joining another chain, particularly that one. A few months later, I found out that the person who would have interviewed me had been laid off.

Q. You are critic of sports media, including the News & Observer’s sports section and ESPN. What do you see as their shortcomings and areas for improvement?

A. On the surface, it probably appears that my criticism of the N&O and other newspapers is directed at the copy editors and designers. But I’m really more upset with the newspaper executives who seem to think that that fewer, younger desk people with double the workload can produce quality newspapers. It obviously can only cause problems, and we’re seeing that many days in the pages of the N&O, particularly in sports.

Combining two bad ideas — universal desks and regional desks — produces bad results. Certainly the copy editors and designers could produce cleaner sections, but mistakes are bound to happen when you’re putting out multiple newspapers every night.

The content, for the most part, is good. It’s just the packaging that often is irritating. The way to fix it is to have more copy editors and a more experienced desk, but we know that McClatchy isn’t going to do that. Even if it did that, it wouldn’t reclaim all of the institutional knowledge that was let go.

A lot of little mistakes frequently happen that shouldn’t. Stories routinely are jumped in the middle of a word (which is very irritating for readers). I’ve seen scoreboard pages in which the sport header is at the BOTTOM of one column, which obviously is a brutal break.

The N&O is far from the only media outlet that makes silly mistakes. I tweet examples from NBC News and ESPN on a fairly regular basis.

Mistakes happen, and I certainly made my share over the years working at newspapers. But there definitely seem to be many more in the N&O since it lost the Raleigh copy desk.

Q. You describe yourself as a “reformed newspaper man.” Any advice for those going through a similar change?

A. Experienced newspaper people, particularly those with a mixture of reporting and desk experience, have skills that are marketable outside of newspapers. It’s not easy to find those jobs, but they are out there.

Networking really is more productive in that pursuit than checking job listings. My advice is to work your professional network as much as possible as you try to find the opening that helps you escape from insanity that the newspaper business has become.

Follow R.L. Bynum on Twitter and check out his blog.