Copy Editor


Everything I had ever learned or been trained to do came into use in this job. I was expected to use my critical judgment as well as my copy editing skills to spot possible libel, gaps in information, factual errors, inconsistencies, and unnecessary redundancy -- not only inside the Metro section but above the fold on Page One -- in the center of a big-city newsroom, with all the clamor and excitement that entails.


The Post did not have a universal copy desk. The National, Foreign, Metro, Business, and Style section each had their own copy desk. Copy editing for other sections, such as Health and Travel, was done by one of the major desks or by a dedicated copy editor, depending on the section.

Metro had 10 or 12 full-time copy editors of its own (of whom I was one), plus a number of part-time freelancers who filled in as necessary. The Metro desk was responsible for copy editing all stories in the Metro section, all those that ran on Page One and that were written by the Metro staff, and all copy for the zoned weekly sections (about 10 sections).


Page design and dummying for Metro and Page One were done by the news desk. Copy editors coded all stories for typesetting according to dummies and wrote all headlines and cutlines, and pull-out quotes as needed. For special layouts, copy editors also wrote subheads and longer, descriptive captions.

Each story was handled by a single copy editor who, when finished, transmitted it to the Metro slot, where the copy chief or one of her deputies checked it. Copy aides delivered page proofs after the early edition went to press. Copy editors read the proofs, made corrections in a new online file, and transmitted the revised copy to the slot in time for the late edition. A final edition went to press about midnight, when the slot usually had gone home and one "late man" was left to handle any late-breaking stories from the night cops reporter.

Copy Editor's Responsibilities

Post copy editors were responsible for some fact-checking (e.g. dates, place names, names of elected officials) as well as the regular spelling, grammar, punctuation, hyphenation, and house style. They were also responsible for fitting the story, which could require substantial cutting. With a few stories, substantive editing might also be required. Copy editors wrote all headlines and cutlines.


Metro copy editors worked five days (37.5 hours) a week, including weekends and holidays. Shifts ranged from 3 - 11:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. - 2 a.m., with the usual shift being 4 p.m. to midnight. (The Post is an a.m. daily.)

I will always feel very fortunate to have worked in The Post's newsroom. Apart from being one of the top daily newspapers in the United States, The Post had a very collegial atmosphere (or at least it always seemed that way on the Metro Desk). Deadline pressure often caused anxiety and tension, but the high quality of my co-workers usually compensated.