Why good copy editors matter
Imagine “Mormon” instead of “Moron” in a newspaper headline and that too in New York Times. A Mitt Romney campaign in last year’s US presidential election went viral because it urged people to stand “with Mitt” for “A Better Amercia.” (instead of AMERICA) An easy typo to make but, almost all typos are easy to make.
People are seeing lots of typos, as well as errors of grammar, fact and logic in newspapers— many more than they would have seen before news organizations decided that they did not need so many copy editors.
Copy editors provide a safety net for a publication, catching most of the problematic stuff dropped from above. They are a curious breed: trivia experts, steeped in popular culture (helpful for pun headlines, none of which Google gets), usually voracious readers, often unappreciated.
A copy editor’s work is largely invisible, until he misses something, in which case he takes the blame. For him, it’s a thankless job. However, most important is that a copy editor stands in for the reader, gingerly reshaping, clarifying and correcting things before the reader can see them and post an excoriating comment.
Given the choice between having to give up reporters or give up copy editors, reporters will win nearly every time because they provide “content”. By the way, didn’t we once call it “information”? “Content” sounds so … commercial.
Copy editors “merely” prepare content, some publishers say. And one reason is sometime given for eliminating copy editors is that reporters can simply “proofread” themselves better.
However, it’s a copy editor that saves the face of a newspaper. However rich and insightful the content is, minor goof-up or bloomer in the story spoils everything in the content.
So, a good newspaper must always hunt for competent copy editors.