Copy editing under deadline

Today was my toughest day at work so far.

Proofs were piling on and stories in the queue were numerous, which is sort of normal as I approach the end of my shift, but today, it seemed like there was more to do in less time.

The feeling I get when I send the last page away is similar to what it feels like when you finish an exam. It’s something you’ve been stressing for for a reasonable length of time, but once it’s done, you feel a load come off. You momentarily don’t know what to do with your new-found freedom.

At the start of my shift, things are relaxed. I can take time and be extra, extra careful, as opposed to being merely extra careful. Just walked into the exam hall. Get handed the exam booklet and I’m feeling all right, unaware of the impending pain. Open the book up, scan the questions and can already see some of the answers in my head. The rest will probably, hopefully, come to me given some thought.

In the final hour of my shift, I realize I don’t have all the answers and have written an inadequate amount for certain questions. It’s a race to see how much crap I can squeeze onto the page.

In school (especially university), I didn’t care much about grades as long as I passed. As a copy editor, every mistake I make causes me pain. That makes the tail-end of my shift extra nerve-wracking (also spelled nerve-racking, as I learned the other day) because I don’t have enough time to read entire stories and I’m terrified I’ll allow an egregious error into tomorrow’s paper.

Fear’s a nice motivator.

Adventures of a copy editor

I like my job.

It’s seven and a half hours (wait, does that need hyphens?) of sitting, staring at a computer, fixing other people’s mistakes and praying I don’t make any of my own.

Incredibly, I’m entering my fourth week at Brunswick News as their copy editing intern.

Even more incredibly, I haven’t gotten fired yet.

My first couple weeks were spent learning the very basics. I later got moved to the 5 p.m. shift, which comes with more responsibilities. The newspaper I take care of – The Daily Gleaner, Fredericton’s daily – has a deadline for its last page around 12:30, which means I need to make sure everything’s done before then.

I’m pretty sure I’ve caused/allowed several mistakes to make it into the newspaper in my brief time at BNI.

At the beginning of my shift, there is a low-to-moderate level of work to be done. If the Gleaner has nothing in the queue, I help out with other publications. Once we get past roughly 9 p.m., the queue empties out again and I’m left waiting. That’s as good a time as any to take a lunch break.

As 11 p.m. approaches, things start heating up again. Reporters are filing their last stories, sports events have wrapped out and wire copy is coming in.

Crunch time.

It’s tough to describe the moment. The excitement of crushing story after story in the queue; the paralyzing fear of getting overwhelmed, missing something important (I missed “DNP” in a headline on A1 – it should’ve said NDP, as in the political party – thankfully, that was caught by another copy editor) and just somehow screwing up; the irritation at common errors that waste your time; and of course, the overwhelming relief once the final page has been sent on its way.

I could see myself doing this as a career.

It’s true that the newspaper business is in pretty bad shape, but as long as people don’t know how to spell or otherwise communicate properly, there will always be a need for copy editors.

That’s great news for a guy like me who’s trying to make it in the business.

Low quality journalism

I’m scared for journalism.

Newspapers are shutting down, jobs are being cut, businesses are being “consolidated” and fewer people are subscribing to print publications.

But even worse than that is the quality of the journalism (and journalists) being produced.

As a copy editor, it’s my job to care about spelling, grammar and style.

Reporters should care as well. How can you write a good story if you don’t care about spelling or structure?

I recently edited a few stories which were poorly written. Dailies usually have exceptional writers, whereas weeklies often hire kids right out of j-school (or worse, still in j-school, as interns). These stories came out of the weeklies.

Unfortunately, good spelling and good writing cannot be taught. You can get better by practising, but you either have potential or you don’t. That said, diligence and rules can be drilled into your head. Can’t spell your way out of a paper bag? Train yourself to double- and triple-check your work. Keep a dictionary and a style guide nearby when you write.

Anyway, spelling wasn’t great, names were misspelled, there was improper punctuation and a heavy reliance on quotes, with very little in between.

“Quote,” Joe said. “More stuff.

“Talking some more.”

Then Joe said some more stuff.

“More quote,” he said. “Stuff.”

Joe said some other stuff.

“Another quote.”

Don’t be lazy. You can’t just gather your quotes, barf out a story and file it without looking it over first, especially if you’re an inexperienced journalist.

I haven’t put much thought into this blog post, partly because it’s just a blog post. Nobody’s going to read this. I’m choosing to spell properly, but I’m also choosing to simply type what immediately comes to me.

As a journalist with a job to do and people who count on you, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard.

Otherwise, don’t complain when traditional media dies out in favour of Buzzfeed-like stuff (no offence, Buzzfeed) that people read on the shitter or on a boring bus ride. After all, you helped kill it.