Saturday, July 5, 2008

Taking Action, Speaking Up

This may help or not but at least it's an effort.

I got interrupted for a moment. What I was about to say was that I wish more working copy editors would blog about their experiences, make the argument for their worth and, not incidentally, get involved in what is happening to news publications and their jobs and their craft. Passivity is killing us. I'm not saying we can save traditional copy desks or even if we should. But there are too many voices, some smarter than others, often belonging to writers or tech-heads, kissing off our careers or denouncing us.

And I'm not referring to professors, who tend to take a longer view than we might because they're teaching the next generation or because that's just who they are.

Part of what is disturbing copy editors is the suddenness with which job loss has arrived at their doorstep. I know you can argue that the news business has failed because it ignored the Internet for too long or stuck to the wrong business model. But as recently as a few months ago, newspapers were still hiring copy editors even as they shed other jobs.

The loss of jobs has as much to do with corporate takeovers, top-level decisionmaking and a rotten economy as it does with whether our craft has any value.

I get a Google alert on several words, including on variations of copy editor and there's a rather surprising number of tech-focused people who think we have no value, that editing can just as easily be done after the posting or see as as a layer of cost or , worst, have an axe to grind with editors and use their blogs to make their point. It is long past the point where copy editors speak up, where members of ACES confront some of these issues and maybe, just maybe, save the craft, if not the job. I'd say we owe that to readers, first, and to our fellow editors, if not to our industry.

I continue to be surprised at how the same four or five people get quoted on the topic of editing, particularly those who have no interest in--and in fact, clearly would benefit from--editing, and those who confuse blogging with the reporting, editing and posting of news stories.

There's a difference between, say, a political blog that is happening in relatively real time where something is reported, the site goes and gets response, does some digging and comes up with more material and updates its information as it goes along, and a newspaper web site that reports on a car accident or a town board meeting. The political site is reporting on or even participating in the to-and-fro, something interesting in its own right. The news site telling us about whether our school budget is going to raise my taxes is an entirely different matter--I don't want to have to go back and read it six times to find out if the facts were wrong, been updated or has more quotes.

Bloggers tend to hear from other bloggers and so convince themselves that there are millions of people out there who have nothing else to do but monitor web sites all day long. If you're involved in your community in any way, you know there are scads of people who read the web only erratically and don't want to go back and read, let's say, the car crash story five times while the newspaper attempts to edit the story and get the facts right.

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