We editors get a bad rap. Often seen as shrews or egotists who delight in the mistakes of others, we are reviled as small-minded perfectionists who can’t see the forest for the trees (or the beauty of your prose through your typos).
But really, we are your allies. Our purpose, like yours, is communication. And your non sequiturs and misplaced punctuation cause stutter steps for your readers, which carries the risk that they might not bother to read further.
We can’t risk that in our business.
Back in the day
I started in newspapers. When I enrolled in college (go Buckeyes), I thought I would become a reporter. I liked gathering facts and arranging them in readable form. I thought I had some writing flair and a good vocabulary. But my first internship was as a copy editor at The Detroit News, and I loved it.
Back in the glory days, even small newspapers had a staff of copy editors (generally five to 10) who were arrayed around a rim of desks. Each would edit a reporter’s story and write a headline for it, then move on to the next one. The stories went to a slot person, generally the best copy editor, who sat in the center of the rim. He or she would do a final read, tweak and send the stories to the composing room to be set on the page. Then we would proof the pages. This process hardly varied when we went from hard type to computers.
Now, of course, newspapers are struggling, and copy desks were the first to go. There was always a bit of a rivalry, or at least a little tension, between copy editors and reporters, some of whom resented any fiddling with their copy (for many of the reasons cited above). Today, reporters are often in charge of editing their own stories, and anyone who thinks that’s a solution should take a look at their news sites and see the typos and lazy headlines.
As an editor, working as a team is ideal – nothing gets through that net! But most of us work singly now, and we carry the anxiety of knowing that we are the last filter – if an error gets past us, it’s out in the world for someone else to catch. And people who like to point out your mistakes are generally not at all collegial.
I am a writer as well as an editor. I love someone to read my stuff, correct mistakes (yes, I make them too) and offer suggestions. There’s a fellow I turn to here when he’s not too busy. If he can’t, I run it by my husband, who – as a former newspaper editor – has a keen eye. And he never blinks.
I’m not asking you to hug your editor. Just realize that he or she is really working on your behalf. I’ve got a good crew here who always say “thank you.” One even calls me her work mom, which I take as a compliment – because just like a mother, I want you to look your best.