Copy editor: not the frontman, but the guitarist with mystique

In "Almost Famous," Stillwater "guitarist with mystique" Russell Hammond steals the show. Would copy editors be better off if they could do the same? Image from

In “Almost Famous,” Stillwater “guitarist with mystique” Russell Hammond steals the show. Would copy editors be better off if they could do the same? Image from

Lots of ink has been spilled about the copy editor personality profile, particularly in contrast to reporters and writers. Copy editors meek, nerdy types who avoid the spotlight, people say. They scoff at others’ perception of them and have lots of opinions, but are absolutely certain no one really cares.  In addition, they are:

  • Anal-retentive
  • Bookish
  • Frowsy
  • Antisocial
  • Overly prescriptivist
  • Generally grumpy

All stereotypes. As with all stereotypes, there’s a fair amount of truth in these labels. But I’ve met outgoing copy editors and shy reporters. Editors who were laid-back and sporting, and writers who would argue minutiae two hours after deadline.

In spite of these exceptions, the cumulative effect is that copy editors generally only find glory within their own ranks.

For the most part, editors are too busy — living out the maxim that the best editors work elegantly, with subtlety and near-transparency — to demand accolades. But there’s a fine line between flying below the radar and being forgotten entirely. As struggling news organizations bleed copy editors and non-news businesses struggle to understand what copy editors do in the first place — and how they can benefit — one thing becomes abundantly clear: We need to toot our own damn horns.

Outside the newsroom, I’ve found, a copy editor is part of a team made up of content folks (writers, designers) and business folks (account managers and business developers). If you’re lucky, each member of the team gets what you do. If you aren’t lucky, you have to explain it. Regardless, you have to carve out a niche in the schedule and in the budget so you can do your job effectively. And then, when all is said and done, the measures of success have little to do with your mastery of AP style.

Let’s move beyond the post-journalism navel-gazing, past what people expect us editors to be. Let’s start a new conversation. Let’s talk about the business gains that come from amazing storytelling and incisive editing. Let’s show ’em we have a sense of humor (however weird it might be) and a desire to learn how our craft fits in with theirs.

Can you feel the excitement building? Step out of the box that got built for us, spread the gospel, and maybe someday we’ll get broader recognition of the ways we rock.



2 responses to “Copy editor: not the frontman, but the guitarist with mystique

  1. Pingback: Reflections on a year of blogging | Michelle Moriarity Witt·

  2. Pingback: 7 ways my life changed in 2014 | Michelle Moriarity Witt·

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