Evidently inspired by Abraham Hyatt's ill-considered remarks, reported on Romenesko, about copy editors bringing the operation to a "screeching halt,"* the American Journalism Review has posed a question on Twitter:
What do you think? Do copy editors negatively affect news outlets' flows?
Of course they can.
So can prima donna writers who imagine that deadlines are for other people.
So can inept assigning editors unable to manage their writers or their copy flow.
So can clueless managers who fail to coordinate the operation efficiently.
News tends not to happen on schedule, problems can crop up at any stage of the process, and anyone is capable of gumming up the works. A properly run operation understands this, apportions responsibilities, staffs adequately and appropriately, and sets up systems to deal flexibly with rapidly changing circumstances.
And, of course, when things do not go well, the traditional reaction is to blame the copy editors.
This can be explained, in part, because the copy desk lies at the end of the process, subject to the accumulated misjudgments and delays from upstream. This could also be, in part, because many editors, many managers, rose through the reporting ranks and have no experiential sense of what copy editors do (thus the "comma jockey" dismissals of our work).
If your news flow is not what you wish it to be, the copy desk is a potential source of the trouble. But it would be a mistake to consider it the only one, or even the first one to investigate.