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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.

Saint John – Monday to Friday, business hours only

A presumptuous title, considering I haven’t even been in town an entire week yet.

I walked around uptown Saint John this past weekend and it was eerily quiet. Quite a few cars were around, but not a single human in sight. Did I forget about a holiday or something?

Today was my first day at the new job. Learned how to be a copy editor. Imagine sitting at a desk for eight hours straight, reading all of tomorrow’s stories and having to fix them. I’m excited for Day 2.

My shift ended at 8:30ish and surprisingly, it was still bright outside. My workplace is inside Market Square, which looks like a market from the outside, but has a library, some retail stores, a few restaurants, a food court and some offices. The actual market is across the street. Perhaps I’ll go when I feel a hunger for lobster flesh.

I’m pretty sure Saint John shuts down after about 5 or 6pm. Most of the restaurants I’ve checked out online close around that time. What the hell kind of restaurant closes down right as people get hungry?

There are probably a few pub-type places open late, but so far, I’ve only found two restaurants that are open when I leave work: a Japanese place and an Egyptian place.

As much as I love sushi and shawarma, I’m going to need to discover more restaurants. Cooking’s not an option because my room doesn’t have a kitchen.

Any part of Toronto at 4 o’clock in the morning is livelier than Saint John is on a weekend or after about 6pm.

Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m more of an indoorsy person anyway.

The time I peed next to Zenon Konopka

Pearson International Airport, Gate D9. “Xenon Konopka” is called to the counter and I am snapped out of my early-morning blahs. It couldn’t be, could it?

Nobody approached the counter that I could see, so I quickly forgot about it.

As I took my aisle seat on the twin-prop aircraft, I heard a voice that said something like, “Who’s the lucky person to sit beside me?” I looked up and saw him. An NHL player on the same flight as me, going to Saint John just like I was. Cool.

He said a few rows back. A few rows ahead, I saw a guy who looked exactly like Sean Monahan. Throughout the flight, he was bro-ing out with some bro, passing a phone back and forth and laughing at what I presume were cat videos. Turns out Sean Monahan was Sean Monahan and the bro was Cory Conacher. It also turns out there may have been several other NHLers on the flight. They were headed to Hockey Street to play some ball hockey. It’s an actual street in Saint John.

At Saint John Airport, several Budweiser girls were waiting for the hockey players. I walked past the group to go the bathroom.

There I was minding my own business when a guy takes the middle urinal. Unless you’re bursting at the seams, you should never take the middle urinal. Whatever. I go to wash my hands and he does too. Holy moly, it’s Zenon Konopka! Not only did I share a flight with him, I peed next to him!

And that’s how my trip to New Brunswick started.

Oh, and my cabbie was a Toronto-native and a Leaf fan.

My unpaid internship at The Hockey News

As part of my one-year sports journalism program at Centennial College, I had to complete an internship.

The program set up interviews with TSN, Sportsnet and theScore. They each scooped up a few of my classmates. In desperation, I emailed the managing editor of THN out of the blue, asking about their internship program. I don’t know why I left that to the last minute, seeing as THN was my first choice.

Maybe I was the only person to apply, because I got it.

I don’t know if THN or any of the other internships available at Transcontinental, their parent company, require course credit. I didn’t ask. That’s an interesting discussion: whether journalism-type internships should be for course credit, or if they should be open to anyone with the skills and the drive. We’ll leave that for another time.

All internships at THN are six weeks long. Mine began the first week of November, so this post is a little late.

Most of what interns do at THN is check facts and edit copy. There are opportunities to get original writing into the magazine or THN.com, but you’re an editor first and a writer second.

If you’re looking to diversify your resume, or if you’re looking to improve your writing, or if you’re not a great editor, I’m not sure THN is the right place for you to intern.

Basically, you should be a good writer and a very good editor in order to get the most out of an internship there.

I’m never happy with my writing and I’m always afraid of missing things when I’m editing, but I loved my time there.

There’s zero coffee-fetching or “administrative duties” to do. The writers, editors and art people (for lack of a better term) take pride in treating their interns with respect. I never once felt like an intern during my time there.

I transcribed one interview in my six weeks and the guy felt so bad for asking he bought me lunch. I didn’t mind, though I did get a free lunch.

In terms of education, I learned a bit about how THN magazine is put together and also a bit about the magazine business itself. Can’t say I learned a ton, but the experience was valuable.

I was never exploited. I got a few things published in the mag. All the writers and editors are contacts. (I mean, we’re not best buds, but I can talk to them.) Did I mention it was only six weeks? I worked twice a week at the library to pay for transit and food. Six months unpaid? Forget it. But you can’t argue with six weeks.

I went to several Leaf games, the World Sledge Hockey Challenge, a “friendly” women’s hockey game between Canada and the US at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 30 and the Canadian world junior selection camp.

I got to rub shoulders with important people in the business. Oh hey, there’s Jim Hughson grabbing something to drink during intermission. Joe Bowen walks by. There’s Bob McKenzie and Craig Button, mere feet from me, watching Connor McDavid. Hayley Wickenheiser, looking forward to Sochi?

I’m aware I haven’t made too many actual arguments as to why unpaid internships can be very valuable. But hey, mine was.