Thursday, April 17, 2008

Smokin' ACES: Copy editing honcho rails against 'wacko' ideas and the people who think them out loud

ACES President Chris Weinandt of the Dallas Morning News kicked off the ACES conference with a little rabble-rousing - well, as much "rabble-rousing" that is possible for copy editors. He's from Texas: Doesn't he look like Walker, Texas Ranger? He even wears cowboy boots.

This is the first post in a series that explains what my employer was paying me to do in Denver last week.

I attended the 12th national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. It was a three-day "learning time" in which hundreds of editors nationwide gathered to commiserate about their obscure and thankless jobs at newspapers big and small, at magazines and at governmental agencies such as the CIA and Department of Defense. Yes, copy editors are defending America ... from the scourge of bad writing and information gathering.

On a side note, I heard one story about a CIA copy editor. A newspaper counterpart asked him, Who is your target audience? "The president," he said. (Must not be too much pressure to get his grammar right with the current commander in chief!)

The opening session was a pity party put on by a few ACES higher-ups and the audience, which included one journalism educator who came all the way from Australia to ask me a question during the panel I paneled for (more about that later).

ACES President Chris Weinandt of the Dallas Morning News kicked it off on a real down note: Society membership has dipped into the 600s from a higher number (I don't know what), and national conference attendance this year was only 300, down from 400 at last year's meeting in Miami. Much of that, I suspect, had to do with belt-tightening newspapers not willing to pony up the funds for a great training opportunity. Luckily, I work at a newspaper that values training.

But Weinandt said copy editors are "as essential to newspapers' success as their stockholders are." Yet, we are too often ignored. Of 200 letters about the value of copy editing that he sent this year to upper-level newspaper editors, he received one response. He usually gets five (all at once now: OOOOOOOOOOO).

Some of Weinandt's meandering thoughts and trepidations are better summed up and commented on in bullet form:
  • One newspaper's idea to outsource copy editing to India was totally "wacko." Editors need local knowledge to edit. New Dehli isn't exactly a suburb of Orlando. Any upper-level manager who disagrees is clueless, stupid and should go home to Neverland ... or move to India.
  • We're expected to do more with less. There's a reason we're working more overtime: We don't have enough workers to do the needed work.
  • Copy editors are "criminally overlooked" by management and the rest of journalism. The scope of our job isn't realized in the outside world, probably because we work nights or that we're just quiet and too good for bickering.
  • We need to raise our profile, speak out against "wacko" ideas in trade journals, on Web sites and in major media, and partner with other organizations such as the Online News Association to blaze a trail into a future that has so far skipped over us. (I'm all for partnering with the ONA.)
It's better to end a post on a high note, so for that, I'll resort to the comments of John Temple, editor, president and publisher of ACES co-host Rocky Mountain News. He said that at the first ACES conference, the fear was pagination in which traditional editors of words were forced to design and polish newspaper pages. I do that, and I'm not scared.

But today (and yesterday and the day before that and the day before that), the fear is (and was and will be) the Web. Journalism hasn't quite figured out how to use it profitably. And old, traditional journalists haven't quite figured out how to use it. I have, and I'm not scared.

But with the proliferation of diffuse, unadulterated and unedited voices on the Internet, will copy editors become even more insignificant and forgotten?

Temple said, "I'm optimistic as long as we stick to journalism."

The best journalists I know are copy editors.

Blogger's note on the headline: The Offlede Stylebook says "copy editing" is not hyphenated as an adjective because it is easily recognized as a two-word word and that adding a hyphen would not add any meaning or ease of readability.

Session information
  • Title: "Opening General Session"
  • Time: 9-10:30 a.m. Thursday
  • Speakers: Chris Wienandt, president of American Copy Editors Society; John Temple, editor of the Rocky Mountain News
Smokin' ACES home


Anonymous said...

Funny how you remember things if you can't see. Someone asked me earlier about Chris' comments. It took me a while to figure out why I couldn't recall anything; my eyes were closed through the session (thanks, dry air + scratched cornea). Amazing how much of a "visual person" I am.


rknil said...

You don't offer much evidence of copy editors being good journalists.

If anything, you tell us what we already know: They're too gutless to keep their positions from being corrupted into something they never were intended to be.

A"CE"S can offer only fossils without solutions. It's a sad organization that should disband.