America's Next Top Copy Editor
Here's another recap from the ACES conference, this one on how to be "America's Next Top Copy Editor," presented by Ron Smith (deputy copy chief at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Jackie Jones (director of Jones Coaching, a writing, editing and consulting firm) and Doris Truong (copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post).
This presentation was chock full of helpful tips -- ways to stand out as a copy editor, be it from raising your profile or improving your work.
- Get to know you co-workers and peers. The better you know a writer, the better he'll take your suggestions on his stories. Introduce yourself whenever possible; try to have face-to-face interactions when time and schedule permit. Attend budget meetings. It will help other newsroom leaders to know that you're not a copy desk clone, and it will make you see them as people, too.
- Compliment others' work. Praise fellow copy editors' headlines out loud, so your colleagues can hear. Point out well-written stories (or even a well-turned phrase) to reporters. Truong suggested CC'ing the writer's boss in the e-mail; the next time the writer has praise for you, she'll be more likely to return the favor. (And the next time someone sends you praise by e-mail, consider CC'ing your boss when you respond. Our supervisors always hear about our mistakes; they're less likely to hear about our successes.)
- Present your questions professionally. Try to ask them all at once; it will save you and the line editor time. And don't just point out a story's problems. "No one has hired us to be Roger Ebert -- thumps up, thumbs down," Smith said. Have solutions ready. Show how; don't show off. And do some research before you query. There is such a thing as a stupid question. Don't be afraid to ask, but make sure the answer wasn't in yesterday's paper.
- Own up to your mistakes. Copy editors' credibility is paramount; there's a reason we live by the motto, "First, do no harm." But when we edit in a mistake, it's important to apologize. Swallow your pride and tell the reporter or assigning editor what happened. Saying "I'm sorry" really does work.
- Volunteer. Taking ownership of a project no one else wants (voters guide, anyone?) is a good way to lighten your boss' load while increasing your profile. "Or, if there's a big project that you weren't asked to edit, raise your hand to do the proofing," Truong said.
- Be careful what you put in writing, even in notes mode on a story. "Are we libeling this guy?" is not a smart way of communicating the problem.
- Offer a spoonful of sugar with your medicine. Smith said the Journal Sentinel copy desk sends the newsroom a good lede of the week followed by a style note. It's popular, he said, because people check there for praise and come away knowing a new rule.