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The desk makes the difference

My esteemed colleague Daniel Hunt has posted a refreshing statement at the discussion board of the American Copy Editors Society. He quotes journalists in San Francisco as they explore what kind of newspaper could and should be established in the city should Hearst’s Chronicle collapse. This is the key statement:

The copy desk is basically what differentiates professional journalism. Let's beef it up instead of cutting it back and then set excessively high bars for making no mistakes.

Perhaps a little overstated, but sweet to the ear.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:08 AM | | Comments (2)


Couldn't agree more. I don't exactly have extensive journalistic credentials, but it seems to me that the folly of today's American journalists is that they have forgotten for whom they're writing - namely, the citizenry. Advertising has hijacked newspapers, so to speak, resulting in journalistic allegiances to business as opposed to the readership. As a result, the quality of print journalism has declined, which in turn decreases said readership. People should want to turn to print journalism because they can reasonably infer that the information provided will be the most accurate, most substantive, and the most devoid of error (when compared to Internet sources, for instance). But when standards of journalistic excellence decline (i.e., cutting copyediting staff because they’re perceived to be “expendable”), the entire state of print journalism declines (which, on a deeper level, negatively affects the citizenry’s ability to effectively participate in their American democracy). Essentially, if print journalism is to be a money-making business again, it must put out a product that people want to pay for. And, well, no one wants to pay even the most meager of sums for what amounts to nothing more than black- and white-colored toilet paper.

Hopefully that makes sense. And I reiterate (because I can’t say it enough), your Copyediting class continues to be one of the better classes I have ever taken.

The Internet did not ruin the broadsheet business, it is the great leveling agent. Newspaper sales began to decline with the advent of nightly television news. The decline then blossomed with the birth of 24/7 cable news. But the newsies did not disappear, they just have more options. With the web, print, broadcast, cable, and radio now all play on the same field.

In 1439, Gutenburg invented the printing press. Almost 600 years later, broadsheet daily's are still printing the news on the same paradigm. How many industries last 600 years without changing? It is a short list. The media is actually bigger than ever. Competition should be a good thing.

The problem isn't that the audience dried up, instead, most newspaper corporations keep trying to mold the electronic media in their own image, instead of utilizing the very same technology to make what we all do, better.

Eliminating copy editors does not help, either. Nor does legitimate journalists "blogging" news. My 11 year-old blogs, and with all respect to him, he's not a journalist. We do not even use the "B-word" at our place.

Jes Alexander, Publisher
Herald de Paris et Cie.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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