It is an action that helps transform information into journalism, and it starts early each day and goes deep into the night. Reporters ask them – of lots of people to gain information and understanding – before writing the story.
After the story is written, editors ask questions to put the story through our system of checks and balances for quality assurance.
These questions help ensure stories are accurate, fair and in context.
How do we know this?
Who else did you talk do?
Did you consider this perspective?
What does this mean?
It is an imperfect, but time-honored, belief that truth stands up to rigorous questioning.
When the content editors sign off on the story, it goes to the copy desk for even more questions.
Questions about word choice. Questions about style and content. Questions of fairness and grammar.
And yes, even questions of libel.
The copy desk is where the lovers of the language live. They are the keepers of the style.
They are the wordsmiths who write the headlines. Their goal is to get you to read the story without giving it all away. And they are forced to do it in a restrictive, predetermined space and structure.
It’s like doing a language puzzle over and over and over again. It was once described as writing a haiku to summarize Beowulf. Go ahead, give it a shot – 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. Use lots of keywords. Send me your best efforts.
They edit the articles for content, style and grammar. If you are a fan of the serial comma and want to argue about its relevance or need, call a copy editor.
They also lay out the pages and make news decisions on which stories are displayed on which pages as the clock moves toward midnight.
And the minimum requirement for their nightly toil: Get the press started on time and have no mistakes in the next morning’s paper.
It requires a certain kind of resilience to come back the next day and do it again.
Although copy editors work in anonymity, there are two times when you notice them – when finding a typo or other error in a story or when a headline makes you smile or laugh out loud.
As nonstakeholders in the story’s conception and early editing process, a copy editor’s first read is through your eyes.
What is this about? Why is this a story?
If something doesn’t make sense or is not quite right, they are charged with questioning it.
They uphold our standards and are our last line of defense for libel, our credibility and our reputation.
Your newspaper is made stronger by people willing to challenge and ask questions.
Should we do this? Do we want to print this?
Copy editors are our guardians, your advocates.