Shoptalk: Will Edit, for Food

By Braun, Kevin | Editor & Publisher, February 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Shoptalk: Will Edit, for Food


Braun, Kevin, Editor & Publisher


The late Rodney Dangerfield was known for saying, "My problem is that I appeal to everyone that can do me absolutely no good." A version of that statement applies to out-of-work copy editors: We know a lot of things that can do us absolutely no good. I am among the legions of copy editors who are free agents as a result of the nationwide decline in the importance of print newspapers in people's daily lives. We're all in the same boat, and it bears a startling resemblance to the Titanic. We have a lot of skills that don't translate well in the "real" world.

Copy editors are the women and men who write the headlines and cutlines (photo captions) throughout a paper. They also are usually the last line of defense -- the final ones to read a story before it is published -- so they're checking for grammar, spelling, any factual errors and to make sure a story proceeds in a logical fashion. To do that requires putting ourselves in the shoes of the reader (or Web site user).

I've often equated a copy editor's job with that of a baseball umpire. We are largely anonymous (unlike reporters and photographers, our names don't appear) unless we should make a mistake. And our mistakes might be in very large type -- the size that takes up the top line on the eye chart.

I've always been proud of the fact that I can spell "berserk." In fact, I once had an interviewer at a major newspaper give me kudos for spelling it correctly on an editing test. But now, it no longer matters as much.

I can trumpet the fact that "anxious" and "eager" aren't interchangeable (the former implies nervousness, the latter anticipation), but no one cares. My wife and two teenage sons definitely don't want to hear it.

I can't share a laugh in a job interview about the time I scanned a grocery store aisle marked "STATIONARY" just to see if people were standing still there. (I didn't see any, but I did see a lot of stationery, or writing paper). Or the day my newspaper colleagues and I were amused about a promotion for a charity event featuring chili for "$2 per bowel."

And I know all sorts of trivial and not-so-trivial facts. For example, "Uncle Tonoose" on Danny Thomas's 1950s sitcom Make Room for Daddy was played by Hans Conried, who years later played "Wrong-Way Feldman" on Gilligan's Island.

But these are not things that might impress a corporate recruiter or lean a job interview our way. …

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Shoptalk: Will Edit, for Food
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