John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don't you ever talk about what's RIGHT with America?

Before I undertake the heavy lifting myself, does anyone else want to address the character who made — anonymously — the captious comment scorning copy editors on the “Not news” post?

Item: you can still count on the copy desk for indefatigable negativism. There is plenty of good journalism out there, even if there are fewer people producing it.

13 comments:

  1. My guess? Anonymous is an enthusiastic purveyor of non-news who, if he/she is not already doing so, should be working for a supermarket tabloid.

    ReplyDelete
  2. From Facebook:

    Bruce Holtgren: I was once told by another copy editor that one reason we're so loathed is that a big part of our job is to find fault. I think that's right on target.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Perhaps he's right. In addition to edits, we should include little notes on what writers are doing right ("This story shows real creativity, and your grammar is getting better! Good job!!! :-)"), so as to help bolster the their self-esteem.

    Of course, we'll need to sit in on some second-grade classes for a while to get the hang of it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. good journalism, yes, once it has gone past the copy editor!

    John R Avila, DDS
    twitter ID = MichiganCityDDS

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, for God's sake. If you want someone to tell you how wonderful you are, ask your mom. If you want someone to tell you whether you're in tune, ask someone who has a stake in how well you play.

    Of course there's still "plenty of good journalism out there." Most of it would be at least a little better, and some of it would be a lot better, with more editing. (By which I don't mean random insertion of commas or genuflection before half-remembered whims of schoolteachers; I mean careful, critical reading for content, form and tone.) There's also still plenty of bad journalism out there; the annual price tag on the 12 Days of Christmas was painful even before the great job loss began.

    It isn't faint praise, and it never was, to argue a story toward the front page. Sometimes we'll paint the lily a bit by pointing out that it's a good story. But implicitly, that's what we've already done.

    /rant. Sorry, John. You asked....

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think anonymous has confused copy editors - and possibly editors of all sorts and conditions - with K-6 teachers.Does he think editors should grade writers' copy, and put little colored stickers on it? A writer's job is to write well, and the editor's is to make it better. There, there. Such thin skins some people have.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I simply meant to suggest that you occasionally point to something that could inspire better work rather than harping on the bad. We know weather stories are lame and Time's person of the year is a promotional stunt. Seems there's plenty of thin skin to go around.

    -chris

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well, then, something in a positive mode:

    Say what you mean the first time.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Is it too late in the conversation to ask you all who your favorite journalists are and where you read their work?

    I would love a list. I know where to get my laughs (right here), and all of you are the people I'd trust to lead me to actual news as well.

    Our local paper has no news in it anymore (it hasn't for a while); e.g., Sunday's front page was shared by 1) a story about exercising to stay healthy, 2) a 4-day-old story about a boy who was hurt playing football (it had been front-page news for 4 days), and 3), a story about a rock concert that happened 40 years ago.

    One thing I do enjoy reading in this paper though are the random selections from the police blotter: Items from San Jose (and cities closer to it) include burglaries, shootings, etc., while those from Atherton and Menlo Park (very expensive places to live, where you can't even see the houses behind their big walls and hedges) all sound as if they were called in by a crazy cat lady--things like "suspicious van parked on street found to be carpet cleaner," "neighbor noticed neighbor's window cracked open," "rustling in the bushes followed by tiny footsteps on the roof determined to be raccoon." I love whoever is making these selections to print.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've been slow to copy responses from Facebook for those of you who are not Facebookies:

    Bruce Holtgren: I was once told by another copy editor that one reason we're so loathed is that a big part of our job is to find fault. I think that's right on target.

    Hal Laurent: I think Bruce Holtgren is quite right. I'm in the computer programming racket, and are analog to the copy editor is the QA person. I've often said that if your QA person isn't causing you annoyance than he or she is not doing their job.

    Linda Felaco: Bruce and Hal have hit the nail squarely on the head, IMO. Our cardinal sin as copy editors is that we puncture people's illusion of their own perfection. I had a boyfriend years ago who got upset if I told him he had spinach on his teeth. He preferred to leave it there rather than be confronted with the knowledge that the spinach had spent X amount of time visible to all and sundry every time he opened his mouth.

    Bruce DeSilva: Newspapers still have copy editors?

    Linda Felaco: Not any that I've read lately.

    Susan Z. Swan: Linda captured it: "We puncture people's illusion of their own perfection." When school systems (including universities) put the premium on retention and self-esteem rather than literacy and degrees with integrity, the illusion of personal perfection became magnified. Thus the need for copy-editors in journalism grew exponentially just as they all started getting canned. Copy editing is about making sure the copy is right, not making sure the writer is happy. It is a creative and positive force against chaos.

    Charles Stough: Recalling a Dayton Daily News in-house forum in which some project-committee reporter complained about copy desk interference. The posting was amplified by another reporter who said succinctly, "Here, here!"

    ReplyDelete
  11. And it still isn't a holy calling or a sacred duty.

    ReplyDelete
  12. True, and yet it's not entirely unlike doing missionary work among the cannibals.

    ReplyDelete