How to Lure Copy Editors to Work on the Web

Q. I saw your advice for copy editors in the column "Skills That Can Make You More Valuable as a Copy Editor." It's good advice. I run a 24-hour digital news desk as part of a convergence effort. I have had several openings on the desk, but no copy editor has applied, to my recollection.

How do you sell Web jobs to copy editors? Soon after our news desk was formed, a nationally known journalist at a seminar said copy editors would be natural employees for Web work. Maybe they don't want to work on the Web. Maybe it's because another skill successful copy editors will need to work on the Web is reporting skills.

The Web journalists who work for me do it all: write briefs from news releases and beat calls, edit stories, write headlines and, frankly, do layout work on the Web when they post their work and the work of others by using special words and clicks.
Donna Rogers

A. I agree that editors should be well-suited for working on online desks. Those who work for online desks multitask, yet focus. They make many news decisions quickly. They are detail-oriented. They summarize well.

But I have seen just what you describe: copy editors who seem to shun online work and who stick to what they know. This is dangerous behavior. I think I know some of the reasons and have some strategies for you.

First, consider basic characteristics of the job, such as shift times, compatibility with a new work group and autonomy. Make sure that you are not misreading obstacles coming out of other factors as an unwillingness to work the Web.

Ask yourself whether the work you need to have done is truly editing or more like production work that does not have much to do with editing content. One copy editor told me that his new job was basically copying content and pasting it into little boxes in the content management screen. He valued editing, but didn't think the online desk cared one way or the other. If you want to hire editors, make sure editing is an important part of their responsibilities.

Next, sell the job. We sometimes feel that we should not have to sell good jobs, but if we want to get the best people, we have to sell. If you think selling seems like begging, get over that. Work up a sales pitch and then use it on people selectively. I am talking about internal recruiting. Everyone likes to be recruited. When you do this, think not just about the most skilled people, but the most influential ones. Win them over and they will spread your message.

An effective way to recruit people is by giving them a taste of the job. Invite people over for vacation fill-ins, taking care to give them sufficient training to do the jobs well. Arrange a cross-train program that lets people come over to the online desk for a couple weeks at a time. Look for split-shift opportunities where editors spend part of their shift on one desk and the rest on another.

To summarize: Identify and remove barriers, sell the jobs and expose people to the work. Copy editors are smart and know they have to diversify their skills. This approach should work, but it is not a quick fix.

E-mail Joe for an answer to your journalism career question.

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  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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