Why I still teach editing

“If newspapers are laying off so many copy editors, why do you still teach editing?”

It’s a fair question that I hear on occasion. It is true that many newspapers have downsized or even dismantled their copy desks. In North Carolina, half of the state’s biggest newspapers do not have copy editors and page designers in their newsrooms. Those jobs have gone to “editing hubs” in other cities and states.

Yet I still teach editing because those skills are still a part of journalism — even if the job title “copy editor” is endangered. Story text still needs to be edited and links added. Headlines and captions still need to be written. Facts need checking.

The journalism jobs that are out there require people to have those skills and more. The era of specialization is over.

Here’s an example: Michael Lananna is an editor and writer at Baseball America. His primary task is reporting on college baseball. But Lananna is also using editing skills that he learned and practiced as a student journalist:

Our in-office editorial staff is a relatively small group, so everyone gets their hands dirty when it comes to editing. For the pages you’re assigned, you’re responsible for copy-fitting and writing headlines, subheads, captions and any other required maintenance. And when you’re done with the page, you print it out and hand it off to someone else in the office to proof.

We have our own style guide, so we edit for style as well as content and grammar. Headlines, for the most part, are written in a newspaper style — present tense with a subject and a verb. Our online headlines often differ at least somewhat from those in print for SEO purposes.

As an instructor, I want to serve students on similar career paths. I am aware that few of my students will become full-time copy editors at news organizations. But as long as editing skills are part of their jobs, I’ll keep teaching them.