Personal Responsibility for Copy Editors

Anne Glover, Assistant Managing Editor/Copy Desks, St. Petersburg Times

Assuming responsibility (some basic guidelines)


I. Acknowledge that you are the person who can control what happens. Whether you are working on the rim or layout out pages, you control your destiny by your actions and your preparedness and your ability to find solutions when problems come your way.


II. Excuses are no excuse. Obstacles arise every day; how you deal with those obstacles is what sets you apart — for good or bad.


III. Understand your role in our newspaper: You are expected to achieve excellence every day. This is no time to “settle” for something less.


IV. Nothing will be handed to you. So what do you do? You go after it. You can obtain that layout, that headline and, yes, even that new job you want if you are willing to put a lot of effort into getting it.


V. Being a casual participant is not an option. If you are in a job for the day — rim, slot, helping out the Business section — really be there and be a willing and active participant. Don’t just occupy a seat.


VI. Meet expectations — and then exceed them.


And now, the details I. A slot editor’s responsibility:


A. Act as the news editor for your section. What you do is important. You will be held accountable for what you do.


B. Know what is in your section. Read your budget thoroughly when it arrives and discuss it in detail with your editors. Edit as many stories as you can that are on your front page and inside your section.


C. Think of your readers. Are they being served? Or are they being shortchanged because of obstacles that you allow to derail your efforts?


D. Know the area that your section covers. Take an interest in the subject matter. Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the area that your section covers. The more you know, the better prepared you are to serve the reader.


E. Read your section. Pick it up the next day and look at it to see what you did. Read other sections as well, to familiarize yourself with the issues that we are covering on a day to day basis.


F. Know your section’s role as it relates to the rest of the paper. What main run edition does it go out with? What sections does it have the most in common with? Is it an important strategic area for us? Who is the competition?


G. Make contributions. You are empowered to contribute as much as your energy and knowledge and enthusiasm will allow. You can make a difference — and should.


H. Respect your fellow editors and reporters. Consider their reaction to every decision that you make. Earn their trust, not their suspicion. They are at your mercy, and you at theirs. You need each other, so be courteous and considerate, as you would ask them to be to you.


II. A rim editor’s responsibility


A. That story you are editing is your story. Treat it with respect and care. Make no unnecessary changes, and no unnecessary cuts. If a slot editor has called for a major cut, don’t assume it’s okay. Question it and insist upon getting approval from the editor or a news editor.


B. Backstop the slot editor. If the story is overplayed or underplayed, speak up. Look for quotes or info boxes or even breakout graphics if there is time. A quick-thinking rim editor can give the slot editor valuable information that makes the difference between an okay section and a great section.


C. Read budgets to prepare yourself for that night’s stories. This not only gives you a sense of what the work load and flow might be like, it lets you set your pace accordingly. If you rush breakneck through stories on a night when you could really take more time, you are shortchanging yourself and your copy chiefs.


D. Strive for great headlines, not serviceable ones. Headlines are the first thing a reader sees. Yet, they can be the last dashed-off part of our jobs. Think about that again: They are the first thing a reader sees. Are you happy with that first impression?


E. Read the paper. Not just the main run, but the regionals too. You don’t have to read every word. But you should at least skim the major stories.


F. Make contributions. You are empowered to contribute as much as your energy and knowledge and enthusiasm will allow. You can make a difference — and should.


G. Respect your fellow editors and reporters. Consider their reaction to every decision that you make. Earn their trust, not their suspicion. They are at your mercy, and you at theirs. You need each other, so be courteous and considerate, as you would ask them to be of you.


III. Everyone’s responsibility


A. Watch out for each other. Don’t work in a vacuum. Be aware of what is going on and be prepared to sacrifice your work at the moment to help out in a crisis.


B. Ask for help. Don’t shoulder a burden at the risk of committing a mistake or short-changing the readers. Help is plentiful and available.


C. Know your newspaper. Learn who editors, reporters, news artists and photographers are. Learn who your fellow copy editors are. Find out who the people are who have direct bearing on your job on a consistent basis.


D. Speak up, not under your breath. Change happens because someone sees something that could be different and offers a solution.


E. Pay attention to the details. They count. A misspelled word in an obit will mar that obit for ever. And think of the relatives who will clip that obit and save it and have to live with that irritating misspelling or typo for the rest of their lives. This information originated as a handout for a Poynter Institute seminar for journalism educators in June, 1995. It may be used with attribution of the author and the Poynter Institute.

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