Saturday, October 16, 2004

The fate of the copy desk

Tom Mangan has started an insightful thread on the Testy Copy Editors board. He begins:
Yesterday we had a big meeting of all the copy editors in which we were told that no hiring is in the picture regardless of who leaves ... we are shortstaffed on every desk and have taken to reassigning reporters to the copy desk. This is at the San Jose Mercury News, for those who don't know me ... not exactly a small-town rag, if you get my drift.
There's a hiring freeze at the Dallas Morning News, as well, as the paper decides which 150 of its employees it will lay off.

Tom asks two important questions that we should be thinking about.

First, with demand for copy editors so high and good people fleeing the profession, why aren't we demanding more money?

Second, is this hegira indicative of copy editors' seeing no future on the desk, of working in a dying business?

On the money angle, I'd say that, in large part, people aren't asking for money because newspapers aren't acting like they're worth it. With some of the best people leaving the industry -- and papers doing little to keep them -- copy desks seem happy to replace their talent with cheaper labor. These copy editors right out of college don't lack talent, of course, but they do lack experience. And when a paper values a small salary over a wealth of knowledge, good people often feel as if bosses would just as soon replace them as give them a raise.

On the exodus angle, can't we all feel this? I don't like to be a doomsayer. But with circulation continuously declining, I think it's in the back of all of our minds. Most news Web sites are published without professional copy editors. As more of our news moves to the Web and away from print, will our jobs slowly die? Thirty years from now, I'll still be working, but will there be a newspaper job for me to work in? And wouldn't it be better to find a lasting profession now than in 25 years?


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