Yes, there is a future for editing
An able editor, Brian Throckmorton, made an astute comment to yesterday’s post about the dismissal of the copy desk at the Raleigh newspaper, saying that the shrinkage of print editors and diminution of local coverage doesn’t leave enough work to justify a full copy desk and that regional editing hubs may not be ideal but are practical.
Steve Yelvington posted a complementary opinion yesterday at his blog, “Let’s bury the nightside copy desk.” The world of the print copy desk is gone, not to return, he says, and it’s time to give up on the concept. (If I can, just to a degree, demur, to the extent that newspapers continue to publish print editions—which even in decay are still the greatest source of revenue—copy editors are necessary for their production.)
Mr. Yelvington makes a couple of salient points:
[E]diting should be tightly coupled with newsgathering and writing. If your newsgathering process isn't producing clean, publishable copy, you're not ready for a digital world. Fix it.
Print is, at best, a static fork of a continuous digital process. If you're waiting to post news until it's edited for print, you're killing your job. If you're posting news on the Web that isn't of publication quality, you're killing your job.
And there, I think, is the point that is missed by the managers who are eliminating copy desks. They would be better advised to find ways to incorporate copy editors more thoroughly into the production of the electronic editions.*
It has apparently been thought at high levels that because people will spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet looking at photographs of cats accompanied by ungrammatical captions, that they will read anything online. Thus, engaging copy editors to improve the accuracy, clarity, and concision of online prose would simply waste money.
I suspect that as news organizations grow savvier about interpreting the available metrics—not just how many page views an article gets, but also how long the reader spends on it and whether the reader returns to the site—it will be discovered that the quality of the material does matter if the publication is to capture the readers the advertisers are looking for.
Unfortunately, by the time the publishers make this discovery, they will have put one of their most valuable resources out on the curb.
*Not all copy editors will welcome the new environment, and some may be so habit-bound that they cannot make the adjustment. (Newspaper journalists’ resistance to change makes the Vatican bureaucracy look innovative and fleet-footed.) But those who can make the adjustment possess the skills and the temperament to accomplish the task.