More than one flavor of copy editor

On Wednesday I added my small voice to the chorus taking Abraham Hyatt to task for remarks about copy editing and copy editors quoted on Jim Romenesko's site. Mr. Hyatt has remonstrated in a comment: 

Thanks for calling me a name that your commenting system won't let me repeat. Classy. 

I was writing about a process, an editorial process -- which included copy editors -- that failed. You seem to forget that I _wanted_ copy editors. I see the value of them. For god's sake I tried for years to hire them. I was _thrilled_ to finally get them. But an editorial process that included them didn't work for our audience.

You can call names, but you've -- as far as I can tell intentionally -- ignored every point I made in my post so you can climb on your soapbox and rant. You also did zero reporting to find out how tech blogging works and what its audience is like.

I don't need to attend the ACES conference; I've worked alongside copy editors my entire career and respect what the do. My post did not, at any point, say anything different. 

I didn't precisely call Mr. Hyatt an ass, but said rather that his beliefs "are the views of an ass." Perhaps that's the sort of nuance a sluggish copy editor would pay attention to, but which has no place in the fast-paced world of tech blogging. 

More to the point, if Mr. Hyatt had had the benefit of working with an editor, he might not have fallen into the false dichotomy of suggesting that the only choices are copy editors who bring the operation to a screeching halt or no copy editors at all.

And I'm fairly sure that such an editor would have pointed out that dismissing the role of the copy editor as hyphenating compound adjectives would not fully convey his esteem and high regard for all we do. 

But since Mr. Hyatt evidently needs no further information about copy editing, I won't presume to instruct him. But those of you who may have been led astray by the screeching halt/going bare choice might benefit from seeing additional possibilities. 

If you're running the show, you can actually choose what level of editing you pay for: 

Slash and burn: Every copy editor has done this. You are handed a text with deadline minutes, or seconds, away. You scan it for obscenities and obvious libel, run a spell-check, slap some kind of a headline on it, and send it on its way. (In some establishments, this is about the only editing that gets done.

Quick and dirty: You'll want to keep in mind the fast/cheap/good principle: that you can only get two of the three at a time. In quick-and-dirty editing, the copy editor actually reads the story through and makes minor corrections. Not much more. 

Proofreading: Don't mistake this part of copy editing for the whole thing, any more that you would limit writing to spelling. Proofreading will typically clean up the text but not necessarily raise substantive issues.  

Journeyman: Here you get some fact checking as well as attention to spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage, and conformity to house style. 

Master: Everything the journeyman does, with additional attention to focus, structure, tone, prose style, and legal and ethical issues (libel, plagiarism, fabrication). This is the editor who raises troublesome questions, i.e., your insurance policy.  

Bespoke: You get the full attention of an editor who can collaborate with the writer as an equal, doing all that is possible to achieve the author's purpose, to the reader's ease and benefit. 

There are, however, as in any trade, some practitioners you will want to avoid:

The obsessive-compulsive: Focuses on the wrong things and can't bear to let go of the text. 

The graph hooker: Named after the hot-type practitioner who would mark only the paragraph indents for the Linotype operator, with no other changes. The graph hooker may go as far as to run the spell-check, but otherwise leaves no fingerprints on the text. (Some assigning editors operate the same way.) 

The stylebook literalist: Thinks that the Associated Press Stylebook was dictated by Jehovah at Sinai and attempts to render every text as dull as AP copy. 

The rogue: Rewrites every text as he would have written it, and is just as headstrong as your most mulish writer. 

Be careful which column you pick from. 


Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad