Monday, August 22, 2022

The small part

 On Saturday I attended a little gathering of Baltimore Sun employees and alumni to celebrate the belated acquisition of The Sun's 2020 Pulitzer Prize for exposing Mayor Catherine Pugh's Healthy Holly scandal, a handsome Tiffany crystal. I remarked online of my pride in having had a small part in the enterprise. 

A gentleman, whose name I do not care to mention, commented, "Only losers take credit credit for something in which they had little to no impact."* This is how people think when they do not understand what copy editors do. (Lately this is also how officers of publishing corporations appear to think.) 

It is the case that I did not report or write the articles or take the photographs. But other things accumulate to create impact. 

In editing the Healthy Holly stories, after they had been through the hands of the reporters and the assigning editors, I read each one through. If something did not seem clear to me, and might not be clear to the reader, I asked questions. I checked for factual accuracy and resolved discrepancies. I regularized, where necessary, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, and other matters of English usage. When the length of a story exceeded the space allotted on the page, I had to trim intelligently so that no significant details were lost. I wrote or edited the photo captions. I wrote the headlines, which are the reader's gateway to the text, seeking to make sure that they were accurate and appealing. And I made a page proof so that another editor could check my work. The whole point is to make each story factually correct and as clear as possible. 

Work that is largely invisible may not be appreciated, and it was true in many newsrooms for many years that copy editors were seen as losers, the copy desk the last stop for reporters whose legs or livers had given out. But every copy editor knows how much work goes into this obscure craft, and how much it can improve stories. 

The better reporters also know that. 

*I could write [sic] after that doubled "credit," but that would be snotty.