Copy editors, the unsung heroes of the writing world, are finally getting recognition. Unfortunately, it is because they face losing their jobs.
Hundreds of the New York Times employees walked out June 29 to protest the elimination of the Times’ stand-alone copy desk where about 100 copy editors toil away to make the paper readable and accurate. Those folks have been “invited” to apply for 50 copy editing positions that will be available. (For an in depth look, see the Washington Post’s “Why hundreds of New York Times employees staged a walkout.” )
For years I have watched as copy editing positions were eliminated in favor of “streamlining” communication. The result has always been mistakes, confusion, and inaccuracy flooding through (not to mention hideously bad grammar and usage).
Modern communication, especially news, is focused on speed. The faster you can get the information out, the better. Copy editing slows things down. Heck, you can always apologize for getting it wrong later on. We all know how well that works.
Copy editors make sure that what gets out is accurate, clean, and understandable. They can also save a publication’s butt by making sure potentially libelous phrasing and misinformation doesn’t make it out into pubic. (Can you say “Sarah Palin,” NYT?)
How many times has a copy editor saved you from an embarrassing mistake? I have a friend who will call me up to let me know I’ve made an error in this blog. Bless her soul for that! I’m sending out cosmic hugs to all you eagle-eyed folks!
Copy editors know that their best work is invisible. Readers can’t see what was cut, reworked, or fact checked. But, boy, readers sure notice when that work isn’t done!
With accusations of “fake news” being flung all over the place, why would you cut holes in your safety net by laying off copy editors, especially when you’re seen as the newspaper of record in the United States?
The best headline I’ve seen about this is from The Concourse on Deadspin.com: “The New York Times Is Killing Its Soul.”