NPR's "On the Media" this week repeats a segment from two years ago about copy editors, possibly the least-valued employees in any big newsroom and a profession that is dying out along with the newspaper business.
"On the Media" talked to Merrill Perlman who, at the time of the interview, was director of copy desks at the New York Times. Perlman explained what motivates most copy editors:
"I'm not sure there is a typical copy editor. I think they share some common traits. They all share that love of language. They all share that desire to get it right. Sometimes it's an obsession to get it right, and that's not necessarily a good thing.I've worked with some great copy editors at a number of papers over the years and I have to say, as Bob Garfield does in the interview, that they have saved my ass (and the asses of many others) too many times to count. They get no credit for the millions of mistakes they correct daily, but all the blame if an error gets into the paper or online. It's truly a thankless job.
"They don't so much care about the public recognition, but they like to bitch about not having the public recognition, so they're a complaining bunch."
And they love it.
In the new media world of the Web, they are very rare. News sites are so strapped that they've decided that copy editing is something that can be dispensed with. I think that's a mistake and one that someone is going to pay dearly for when a simple mistake hits the web and turns out to be libelous.
Mistakes not only can get you sued, they make you look foolish and unprofessional. And that, in the eyes of many, erodes your credibility. Next to making a profit, building credibility is one of the most important tasks faced by any web news startup.
As I've started to work to start up a neighborhood news blog, I've been wondering at what point we all decide that we need a copy editor. I had dinner the other night with a neighbor who wants to write for the blog and we agreed to read each other's copy. Should all of us neighborhood bloggers band together and find a way to support a copy editor or two? I think it's a good idea. I'm wondering what others think.
If we go for it, I know a bunch of talented, out-of-work copy editors who would probably be available.