John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Monday, August 24, 2009

How it works

Here’s the deal:

Step 1: You (corporation, private firm, educational institution, nonprofit organization) invite me in for a little chat about the ways that your operation would benefit from the presence of an able and experienced editor/writer/teacher/trainer (me).

Step 2: Persuaded, you engage my services.

Step 3: In return, you pay me wages.

Really, nothing could be simpler.

How I can tell it's Monday

Item 1: The first eight words of a story on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper delivered to my house: Anthony "Tony" Fein, a former Iraq War veteran. He used to be a veteran but is no longer?

Item 2: A private message asks what advice I could give to someone interested in newspaper copy editing. My reply:

Newspapers have been laying off copy editors in large numbers, partly for overall staff reductions to cut costs but also out of a mistaken belief that accuracy and precision are not worth the expense. [See Item 1.] Consequently, there are very few copy-editing jobs available at newspapers, and there is a large population of out-of-work editors, along with a few students emerging from journalism programs, competing for them. I could not advise anyone that going into editing is a shrewd career move.

Item 3: Last week ground toward its end with a post about a freelancer who sent out a prefabricated story, complete with quotes, so that a source’s name could be typed in the blank. That was bad enough, but Pam Robinson reports on a public relations firm that has its interns posting bogus reviews praising a client’s products.

Item 4: If you doubted that an online publication could rival newspapers for interminable, rambling, self-indulgent articles, I invite you to examine jjmoney62’s structural analysis at Testy Copy Editors of a story about a Little League player.

Item 5: I am already seriously behind on four editing projects.