Learning to be a newspaper Copy Editor

No soup for you.

You know the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Yeah, this isn’t about him, except I was thinking of him since I now work as a Grammar Nazi.

I am a Copy Editor at Cal State Fullerton’s newspaper, The Daily Titan, where I ensure that the newspaper has proper facts, grammar and style. Journalists are a passionate lot, intent on upholding Accuracy, Truth and AP Style in a world reeking of Laziness, Gossip and LOLs, so copy editing is essential for any news organization.

I have discovered that copy editing is exactly what I enjoy doing. Where runners get runner’s high, I get a euphoria in making sure the newspaper is correct and engaging.

Here is what I look for:

1) Facts– Every proper noun needs to be checked, including names (Lindsay or Lindsey?), places and movies. I have already encountered misspelled names and cities. Also whether a place on campus is called the athletic ticket office, the athletics ticket office, the athletic ticketing office, or the athletics ticketing office. It’s a tad tedious but rewarding. Also, check to see if it a preferred spelling is “theater” or “theatre”.

2) Style– Per the Associated Press Stylebook, certain words need to be used correctly. Here are are a few useful tips:

A) A flag is only flown at half-mast if it is on a ship, otherwise it is half-staff.

B) Over vs. more than. Try to use more than when referring to specific numbers, like “more than $1000”.

C) A homicide is a legal term for slaying or killing. Murder is a malicious, premeditated homicide, and manslaughter is a homicide without malice or premeditation.

3) Grammar– This goes along with style. Two essential components are consistency and clarity. But arguably a Copy Editor’s greatest goal is conciseness. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Here’s how:

A) “He said that” can usually be slashed to “He said”. Readers skim over the extra words (*cough* fluff) so just give them what they want.

B) “The shiny new convertible, which was red and was made in 2012” (12 words) can be shortened to “The 2012 red convertible” (4 words). (Side note: Usually phrases that are offset by commas after a noun can be put as adjectives before the noun. Another example is “Jane Doe, who plays forward on the Titans soccer team” could be “Titans forward Jane Doe”.)

C) Don’t beat around the bush. Make sentences straight-forward.

D) Parallelism and subject-verb agreement- This gets complicated because is a sports team singular or plural? According to the stylebook, a team is singular and has the pronoun “it” when referring to a collective team, and takes a plural verb like “the Mets are”. I still don’t really know much about this without looking it up.

I love Copy Editing so far. I ensure that the newspaper is correct and that writers speak in the best possible tone (formal for news, persuasive for opinion, interesting and engaging for entertainment reviews). It is a team effort to publish a newspaper and the additional, ideally unbiased eyes of a copy editor uphold the paper as a beacon of truth that readers can trust.

Also, copy editors receive two important benefits:

1) Career skills. Being a good writer and communicator is important for every job and editing is one of, if not the, the best ways to improve these skills.

2) Fundamentally, I’m just getting paid to carefully read a newspaper. I get immersed in soccer, politics, movies, social media, the budget crisis, and the newest pastrami restaurant- and that is just one day’s reading!

I still have a lot to learn, but I am up for the challenge.

Here’s my workspace!

(Text, drawing and last photo by Tim Worden, Soup Nazi photo owned by NBC.)

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4 thoughts on “Learning to be a newspaper Copy Editor

  1. That was fun to read, good job :-) Indeed being a copy editor is hard work and takes quite a bit of grafting, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. Thanks for the post and goodluck!

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