Things aren’t going so well inside The Gray Lady right now. More than 100 newsroom staffers recently walked out of The New York Times to protest massive cuts to the paper’s copy editing staff. They came from every floor, making their way to the street and chanting pro-editor slogans. (So if those are a thing now, sign me up?)
Why the very public show of solidarity? Because editing still matters, and they know it.
They carried some awesome signs:
“Copy editors save our buts.”
“Without us, it’s the New Yrok Times.”
“This sign wsa not edited.”
They’re right, of course. Editors are part human spellcheckers, walking encyclopedias and real-life Google. We wear those badges with pride and no shame. But the things you see—the spelling, grammar and punctuation—are ultimately the smallest part of what editors do. It’s the things you don’t see that matter most.
One sign at the Times walkout said it perfectly: “Who do you think makes sure it’s fit to print?”
At its core, an editor’s job is to make your work even better. We’re here to help. And sure, that often means adding commas and fixing spelling—those are, after all, the first things readers and customers will catch if we miss them. But day in and day out, we also compile style guides to make sure every piece is consistent from front to back and across campaigns. We make mental lists of even the smallest details for future reference. We make sentences easier to read, help tell stories in the right order, pull the most important information to the top, flag things that might confuse readers, dismantle and rebuild copy, and reach back through years of editing to remind people of obscure requests.
Even the tiniest edits often come from one of those mental lists. About two years ago, a client asked that we change “stop in” to “stop into” on an ad. To this day, that tiny phrase gets automatically checked on every piece we do for them, making sure they never had to ask twice. Think of us as little detail-oriented mental personal assistants.
Copy editors (hopefully) don’t come to a job with delusions of being better than their writers, PR pros, designers or account executives. We definitely don’t think we know a client’s business or industry better than they do. And against all stereotypes, we actually kind of hate having to tell people their copy needs some work or their layout is hard to follow. Because it turns out, the best work happens in a place of mutual value and trust between editors and the people who get the copy into their hands.
When asked about his paper’s cuts, Times staffer Bill Baker said, “We are hoping management sees that what they are doing from the structural perspective is detrimental to the integrity of the newspaper.” The Times pushback came because employees know a company’s integrity and credibility lie in its quality. And those things come from the resources you have in place.
At Dixon Schwabl, we’re lucky to have a management team that chose to make an investment in editing not once, but three times over, recognizing the importance of accuracy, clean copy, years of mental notes and even mad Google skills. And that investment is passed directly to our clients, whose work never makes it out the door without someone hitting the pause button and making sure it’s good to go. Every single day, that step catches something that would have been embarrassing or costly. And that’s the hidden value of copy editors.
Jen Moritz is a Senior Copy Editor. Translation: Jen Moritz is an expert butt-saver who makes good work great and great work special.