Leading the desk
John McIntyre, president of ACES and assistant managing editor for copy desks at the Baltimore Sun, offers some fantastic advice for desk chiefs on the ACES message board. A snippet:
WHAT LITTLE I KNOWI'd add: Listen to your employees gripes and opinions; it helps them feel respected and valued.
Hiring is the most important thing you do. Put together a general knowledge/editing test for applicants that is as hard as you can make it. Get your colleagues in management to interview applicants as well, make sure that at least one of them asks hard questions, and then pool your information.
Evaluation is the next most important thing you can do. Engage your staff in the process; invite them to write self-evaluations for you to consider before your write up your evaluations of their work. And talk to them about their work more often than once a year. Get copies of the work they send to the slot and comment on how they’re doing. Talk to them over coffee. Invite their suggestions, individually and collectively, about improvements in the operation of the desk.
Training is essential. You can take half an hour at the beginning of the shift to do a mini-workshop that focuses on one story or one issue, and the paper will still come out on time. Do each mini-workshop twice in a week so that you catch people who miss one because of days off. Invite your subordinates to put together workshops.
Find rewards for good work. Get your cheese-paring masters to pay some or all of the expenses for a couple of copy editors to attend a national or regional ACES conference. It will energize them. See if you can get the occasional American Express gift check of $50 to hand out as an occasional bonus. Make sure that the copy editors are included in the acceptable graft — tickets to movies or sporting events, tchotchkes from advertisers and the like — that flows into the newsroom. Make a traveling trophy that you can award to one copy editor each month for good work, and make sure that it stays prominently on display.
Encourage your staff to have a life. They should be reading books, pursuing hobbies, getting together socially outside the newsroom. Organize an occasional pot-luck dinner for the desk on a relatively slow night. If you feel bold, invite the reporters and assigning editors to share in it.
Keep your people visible. Make sure that your masters know who is making good catches and writing lively headlines. Position your copy editors for advancement. Be in the bosses’ offices as often as the reporters are.