The Endangered Copy Editor

Nothing irks news junkies more than a story — or heaven forbid, a headline — with a typo, a misspelling or a wrong name. Of all the journalists in a news operation, the last line of defense against such potentially embarrassing mistakes is the copy editor, a gifted wordsmith who reads for a living and who is an expert in but one subject — their local community. They do their jobs without fanfare and almost always anonymously, and under the tightest deadlines you can imagine. 

At The Indianapolis Star, Gannett has thinned the ranks of local copy editors in recent years, making it harder to keep such irksome mistakes out of the newspaper and away from its website. Now, though, Gannett wants to eliminate copy editing in Indianapolis altogether.

The Guild knows this is a bad idea. We’ve pushed back against it for years. We’ve been saying it during contract negotiations in the past few weeks. But Gannett is more determined than ever, demanding agreement on a proposal to eliminate the seven remaining Indianapolis copy editors. Gannett wants to shift their important work to people at a hub in Kentucky where copy editors with little knowledge of Indiana will try to make time to edit stories from the Star while also juggling the same duties for a handful of other Gannett newspapers in other states.

Gannett has told the Guild that if we don’t agree to their demand by Nov. 30, it will lay off five more Star journalists — and still move ahead with plans to outsource the copy editors.

That’s how it’s gone so far with Gannett during these contract talks — demands, deadlines and threats. Not negotiations. So we’re pushing back. You can see it in the newsroom. You can see it on social media. Soon, you’ll see it in the street.

Will you support our cause? Will you support good local journalism? Share this post with others. Tell Star management what you think of their plan and their negotiating tactics. Share the image below because what’s not to love about people who make things better without seeking glory for doing the job right?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Endangered Copy Editor

  1. I’m a freelance editor who works with clients living all over the world. This is an asset when someone doesn’t have the right editor near them or it’s irrelevant if they’d rather work with someone from the comfort of their home anyway. However, I would never want to take a job away from a local editor who could more easily catch mistakes about their area than I could and thus could do the job better than I could.

    Have you tried starting a petition? Change.org comes to mind, but petition sites abound.

  2. Adam Segal-Isaacson

    All over copyeditors are being deemed “unnecessary” with people thinking that reliance on automated spelling and grammar checkers is sufficient. For years the publishing company I work for has outsourced copyediting. When it is outsourced to native speakers this works ok, but often it is not, and stupid mistakes are made by non-native speakers and automated systems that cannot adjust for eloquence and style. Copyediting and proofreading are not “extras” to be streamlined away but are essentials to good journalism and publishing. A quick example: early in my career we had a scientific manuscript where drug dosages were expressed in microliters. An error in programming changed this throughout 8 or 10 articles to milliliters, a change of an order of 10. This was caught by a proofreader comparing the original material to the material about to be published. If no proofreading had been done or if an automated system had checked just the final material, we would have published something that might well have included fatal dosages. Even political reporting however contains the potential for misleading and damaging statements if not checked. Consider how the omission of “not” might change a sentence. A grammar checker would find nothing wrong, but someone reading for sense would probably detect it.

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