Column about ‘lowly’ copy editors elicits hilarious response from newspaper colleague

Steve Murray is a very funny “graphic columnist” for Canada’s National Post. This week, Murray also submitted a letter to the editor. Murray was moved to write to the paper after the Post published a column, “The lonely life of the lowly copy editor,” that painted the copy editor as “unacknowledged within the newsroom and a relic online.”

Writer Yoni Goldstein described copy editors as the “low man on the totem pole”:

He isn’t trusted, or perhaps good enough, to take on the “real” editing tasks of deciding what gets written and massaging words and paragraphs to produce a tightened final product. He is, basically, a human spellchecker and guardian of the newspaper’s arcane style guide, a set of rules (like whether to spell the word “aging” or “ageing”) most editors and reporters either ignore or forget. In some cases, copy editors are also tasked with “laying out” — arranging the various articles and pictures on a given page of the paper. This added task further separates them from other editors who, as a point of pride, avoid that job at all costs.

The column concluded by bidding farewell to copy editors, suggesting they’re no longer needed or valued because “we as readers have evolved. We no longer sweat the small stuff of proper hyphenation and correct usage of semi-colons — it’s the ideas and opinions that we’re after. ”

As one might imagine, the column has not been well received by copy editors. Tweeting editors criticized the effort, and Pam Nelson, who writes The Grammar Guide blog for the American Copy Editors Society, took note and linked to other reaction:

I still think that the post is meant to be humor, not because writers don’t sometimes believe the sort of nonsense the post puts forth, but because I just can’t believe someone would write such ignorant garbage. Indeed, with the layoffs, buyouts and transfers that have occurred in the past few years, I sometimes do feel undervalued and lonely, but I do not see myself as lowly. And I have great esteem for my fellow copy editors.

I enjoyed Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre’s description of the Post column as “A brief but fatuous article … ”

But my favorite response came from Murray’s letter to the editor:

Reading Yonny Goldsteins column on copy editors made me shake my head fro the future of this proud instituteion of newspapers. Copy editors are the last line of defense in elevating newspapers above error-riddled bloggings. a properly editted paper is essential in not only maintaingin quality but in keeping a reader with in a story, as evryone knows that mistakes are like speed bumps when trying to digest proper content. As a writer for this paper, I value what copy editors bring to the page, as i have been known to make some erors from time to time.
Steve Murray, National Post columist, Toronto.

There’s error-filled text no good copy editor would dare touch.

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  • Ted Schnell

    Great stuff. Honestly, though, I never felt “lowly” working among my fellow copy editors, designers, reporters or among the editors with whom I worked over the years. For the most part, there was a mutual respect for each individual’s strengths/areas of expertise.

    The “lowly” part was more of a perception of the corporate view of our work. Early in the 2000s, it seemed it was easier to let copy editing and design positions go unfilled, which meant our workload increased, while the workload seemed more static for others. We got sympathy within the officer from our fellow professionals but none from the brass outside the building. Over time that lack of sympathy appeared, from our perspective, to grow into contempt, which was punctuated most during the layoffs that began in 2007. Cut copy and design because they generate no content, was the reasoning that appeared to dictate these cuts.

    My time came in late 2010, three years after I’d moved, wisely, I thought, to the Web side of our newsroom. The past 14 months have been lowly.

  • Patrick Jean

    I found Yoni Goldstein on Twitter. I also found at least six spelling and grammar errors in just his past 24 hours of tweets. :-)

    What Yoni fails to realize is that your “ideas and opinions” won’t resonate when your readers can’t get past your poor spelling and grammar. That’s where the “lonely, lowly” copy editor saves your ass.

    But I wouldn’t expect Yoni’s ass to be saved so much any longer. I think a *lot* more spelling and grammar errors will not be getting caught from now on. :-)

    “Yoni Goldstein” is not his real name, by the way. Me? I don’t hide behind a pseudonym.