In Search of Black Male Copy Editors
In my 11-plus years as a copy editor, I've had the pleasure of working closely with 34 of the finest copy editors that journalism had to offer.
Of those 34, only three were black -- two black women and one black male.
At the last NABJ convention in Dallas, we had a session about the lack of black male copy editors. A majority of the room consisted of black female copy editors. You could count on two hands the number of black men who attended.
Black men are underrepresented at newspapers around the country, and yet more black men need to be at the copy desk so our voices will be heard and our communities reflected.
At my job at The San Diego Union-Tribune, there are two black copy editors at the paper. I'm in Special Sections. Down the corridor, my friend Todd works on the Metro copy desk.
We all know that the desk can be a tough place. It's a thankless job full of intense mental work. It's also a place where you need a strong personality to make your points and listen to others.If an error slips through, a reporter will be called, a correction may be made, and the copy desk will be visited.
Copy editing is not glamorous. We're the people who catch errors, clean up copy, answer questions, massage egos, and punctuate sentences. All while trying our best to put out a good paper. We irritate some reporters but are a savior to others. Ultimately, the readers are our boss.
If an error slips through, a reporter will be called, a correction may be made, and the copy desk will be visited.
It's not a job a lot of people want.
But this can change.
If you truly want a diverse newsroom and copy desk, you've got to do some searching. Most of my black male counterparts at other papers didn't start off looking at the copy desk as a place to hang their hats. Most of us were either recruited or fell into it.
Now, our numbers are dwindling.
I know -- or know of -- practically every black male copy editor at most of the major newspapers in the country.
A lot of us are steadily climbing the corporate ladder. Many of my counterparts have moved off the rim and are moving toward senior management positions. Some plan to leave the business entirely. And it looks like there are few to no replacements on the horizon.
Newsrooms are going to have to roll up their sleeves and realize that very few people will ask to be copy editors. But with the right incentives, they might be able to get people to at least think about it.
If you truly want a diverse newsroom and copy desk, you've got to do some searching.I think if we want to find our replacements on the desk, we need to start as early as possible. Hit the high schools and convince the next generation that copy editing can be a rewarding career. Tell the college set (especially those at historically black colleges) that reporting is wonderful, but now it is possible to skip the reporting ranks and head straight to the desk.
Some would argue that to be a good copy editor you need to have that reporting experience. But last time I checked, the English language still followed the same set of rules, for reporters and editors alike.
I also think we need to look in our newsrooms and try to persuade folks who may be at a career crossroads to give the desk a try. There may be some undiscovered copy editors just waiting for a chance to prove themselves.
The few dozen of us at copy desks around the country will continue to keep the faith that hope is on the horizon.