Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Who needs copy editors?: I get the distinctive feeling...

The photograph below and its accompanying caption appeared this evening in the Christian Science Monitor's newsletter. Is the, er, distinction between distinct and distinctive breaking down, or has the Christian Science Monitor decided that literate copy editing is too legacy for online news?


Masters green jacket and other distinct(sic) uniforms: Take our colorful sports fashion quiz



(Read more Who needs copy editors?)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

Will you be my copy editor? I cannot see the forest for the trees.

April 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bless your heart, and the answer is yes. No writer -- including me, when I write -- can see the forest for the trees. That's what copy editors are for, or were, at too many publishing outlets large and small.

April 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Although one might argue that copy editors trim the trees for writers who are too busy taking in the forest.

April 10, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I don't understand what the trend away from copyediting is about, exactly. But I suppose it has something to do with people thinking that the job their computers do is good enough. Not good, but good enough.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In newspapers, at least, it's many things. Literacy matters less than it used to. The idiotic rebellion in our culture against gatekeepers. That newsrooms tend to be run by former reporters rather than by former copy editors. And, perhaps most important, the belief on the part of anyone who has ever tried to write that he or she can do it.

A reporter will occasionally thank me for catching a mistake in his or her story, but none has ever thanked me for making a sentence better. Nor, with one brief and passing exception, has any top-level editor suggested in public that the quality of the writing could be better.

Copy editors at newspapers may be recognized for fixing a mistake now and then or writing a clever headline, but there never has been any recognition of copy editors for the bulk of what they do: improving reporters' writing and performing tasks that other people should do.

Copy editors must pass a weeklong tryout on the copy desk before being hired--or at least they once had to. I doubt very much we will ever hire another copy editor. How do reporters have to prove themselves before being hired? Presumably by showing published clips--which have been edited by copy editors, of course.

In retrospect, copy editing had a brief history, from the time copy desks were havens for burned-out reporters into professional operations, until now. Dust to dust, you know.

I'm much less familiar with book publishing, but authors I know have complained that they are not getting the editing they did years ago or that they are forced to pay for editing that publishers once would have paid for. And smaller publishers tend not to put proofreading high on the list of things they want to pay for.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Here are some questions that have little relevance to copy editing, but they may have some relevance to forests and trees.

Where have all the bloggers gone? Where have all the commenting visitors gone? What is the future of blogging?

I have noticed that the blogs I regularly visit seem to be visited by fewer people than in the past. I have also noticed that formerly dedicated bloggers are less committed to daily postings. Some blogs--like mine--have disappeared from the Internet. Does all of this mean the blogging is rapidly becoming an 8-track tape medium? Does this mean that Twitter--that world of short attention spans--is now the new medium? Where will critics and readers go for something more substantial than 140 characters?

Hey, I'm just wondering. Maybe blogging is going the way of copy editing, Betamax, and bell-bottom trousers. Yikes!

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...



You could well be right. The last burst of navel-gazing about blogs that I remember took place a few years ago, when social media started to his in a big way. One would see declarations that social media had usurped blogs' original function of instant communication. One such declaration came from a person who said he would henceforth reserve his blog for "long-form"(sic) writing.

I would hate to think that something as short as a good blog post was considered "long" (forget the superfluous form), especially since I have long said, with slight exaggeration, that there is no such thing as blogging. Rather, I would say, what I do is write, in this case online rather than on paper.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Peter, you have obviously thought about the decline of copyediting a lot. But it's still hard to understand why people care less about copyediting than they once did. It seems like the great majority of people never did really care all that much, but the ones who thought it mattered still had the reins. Now that situation has been reversed.

On the other hand, when I was a kid and we moved to the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle had a terrible reputation for its copy. My dad was always picking out the choicest bloopers to read aloud. But it wasn't just him, it had that reputation.

RT, I don't know the answer to that blogging question and in some sense don't really want to know. I think people tend to come in and out of the blogging world, partly because it can be a lot of work to keep up with both reading and especially writing blogs, and it may be more than you realized when you started. But I still find that as far as social media goes, it's the only form I have any long range interest in. I suppose it will depend on whether providers like Google and Wordpress continue as to whether blogs will go extinct. As Peter and I both know from our dying industries, there is a long way between dying and extinct.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In newspapers, at least, a good part of the explanation is economic. Or rather, economic reasons for the decline of editing are inextricable from other reasons. I can't, for example, say that my newspaper has made the wrong decisions about copy editing. Who knows? If I were running a newspaper that was bleeding money, I might cut or eliminate copy editing, too.

In larger terms, the quality of what it being communicated takes a very distant second place to the speed with which it is communicated.

I wonder if we are retreating in some ways to that era before the standardization of spelling. Some would call this a good thing.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogging is also the only form of "social media" I have any real interest in as well. I joined Twitter to promote this blog and its contents, and that is still my predominant reason for using it.

That makes me typical, I suppose. In some dystopian future, though it could easily be a dystopian present or even a dystopian recent past, everyone in the world will be employed touting the benefits of social media in promoting the products of one's employment, which consist mainly of touting the benefits of social media.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"On the other hand, when I was a kid and we moved to the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle had a terrible reputation for its copy. My dad was always picking out the choicest bloopers to read aloud. But it wasn't just him, it had that reputation."

That may coincide with a time just before my newspaper turned into a good paper in the 1970s. Perhaps my paper is not unique in the chronology of its rise and fall of copy editing.

Copy editing, and the things to which it is devoted, are niche interests these days. That's one reason I can't stand the idea of Bear Eats Shoots and Leaves to Grammar Grrrrrrrl. Literacy becomes just one more commodity to be marketed under a cutesy, attention-getting label.

April 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, maybe. But the Chron was noticeable for its bad copyediting, which means that there was some good copyediting to compare with. Although actually now I think about it, it may really have been more a problem of bad typesetting.

April 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder how newspapers would have looked in an alternative universe where copy editing in the old-fashioned days of paste-up, composing rooms, and typesetting. You'd have the potential of columns of type slapped down on the page any which way, and no copy editors to proofread the result. That might have bene fun.

Bad typsetting? That reminded me of a possible omen of my future career that I have rarely, if ever, thought about until now. Many years ago, when I was still in elementary school, my class went on a field trip to one of Montreal's newspapers. As souvenirs, each of us received a block of metal type of his or her name. Mine had a typo in it: ePter Rozovsky

April 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here, in the spirit of this post's subject, is a corrected version of this comment:

I wonder how newspapers would have looked in an alternative universe where copy editing died out in the old-fashioned days of paste-up, composing rooms, and typesetting. You'd have the potential of columns of type slapped down on the page any which way, and no copy editors to proofread the result. That might have been fun.

Bad typsetting? That reminded me of a possible omen of my future career that I have rarely, if ever, thought about until now. Many years ago, when I was still in elementary school, my class went on a field trip to one of Montreal's newspapers. As souvenirs, each of us received a block of metal type of his or her name. Mine had a typo in it: ePter Rozovsky

April 12, 2013  
Blogger Simona said...

Your "who needs a copy editor" posts always bring a smile on my face, Peter. For the record, I am working on a short piece about Venice and in it, I happen to use the word mentioned - in the right way :) I subscribe to the NY Times After Deadline posts and usually learn something or at a minimum I test my knowledge.

April 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’d be more impressed with the New York Times if it knew how to use chutzpah and pedophile correctly.

You probably know “After Deadline” better than I do. To my mind, it’s valuable when it points up issues that are open to debate or mistakes that writers and editors make frequently. Mea culpas about obvious errors do nothing but enhance the Times’ sense of virtue about itself.

April 12, 2013  

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