Every journalist is a copy editor (or needs to be)

As print/online newsrooms evolve, the role of copyediting (and the people who copyedit) is changing. Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media at Journal Register Co., just wrote a long blog post about this. There’s useful information there for students, journalism educators, reporters and bloggers.

Journalists who have treated the copy desk as a safety net need to take more responsibility for the quality of their own work. And journalists who have specialized in copy editing will play multiple roles in a Digital First newsroom.

I’ve been preaching the “no safety net” sermon to students for many years. It’s one of the reasons to require long-term (at least a full semester) blogging — if a potential employer finds your blog and it’s full of grammatical and other errors, you are toast. So writing a blog is good practice for the real world.

I really like how Steve divided his post into two sections: “Advice for copy editors” and “Copy editing tips for all journalists.” I worked as a copy editor for 11 years, and I appreciated the advice in both lists.

Copy editors should be teaching their colleagues and community bloggers the skills they have learned (and are learning). Lead a workshop in self-editing or in writing SEO headlines. That may seem counter-intuitive, like you are trying to help the newsroom get along without your copy-editing skills. But training demonstrates your value and underscores your expertise.

(Hat tip to my Florida colleague Ron Rodgers for the link to Steve’s post.)

4 Comments on “Every journalist is a copy editor (or needs to be)

  1. Great post! I’m a student, and I once sent in a story to be published, and I was disappointed because the editor didn’t catch my mistakes, but I couldn’t really blame them. Now, I realize the importance of being my own copy editor. We can’t always depend on someone else to clean up our work because ultimately, we will be accountable for it.

  2. Mindy, a Poynter article today seems to support your point in everyone being his or her own copyeditor. The article is titled “What the Forbes model of contributed content means for journalism” and talks about how Forbes.com utilizes contracted contributors for the website’s contents. For all the benefits this model brings, there are downsides, one of which is that it loses in editing. There is no traditional editing of contributors’ copy, at least not prior to publishing. However, while there’s no traditional fact-checking, there is a lot of after-the-fact checking – the audience spots issues a lot.

  3. Copy Editors Rule. As long as anyone cares about quality control there will be a need for copy editors.

  4. Interesting, journalists definitely need to learn how to go over and ‘copy edit’ their writing, since they can’t be dependent on anyone else every time they write a piece 🙂

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