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Jan 18 / King Kaufman

College editor describes the five stages of copy editing

Copy editors across the land have been nodding their heads over a piece in a student newspaper at the University of Alabama that describes the life cycle of copy editing.

John Davis, the copy chief of the Crimson White, is looking to hire a copy editor. “I like people to understand what they’re getting into,” he writes, “so the following is what I consider to be the five stages of life as a copy editor.”

The stages range from “Doing your job, and genuinely caring,” through “Questioning why you do the job as you hit the keyboard harder and harder with every correction,” and on to the last, “Quiet reserve and acceptance of your role in life. What time does the bar close?”

It’s a funny piece, and it reminded me of an exchange I had with a fellow copy editor when I was at the San Francisco Examiner in the early ’90s.

I had started out in Stage One, all eager and intense, and I noticed there were a bunch of old guys on the desk who didn’t seem to care at all, just punched their timecard and did the minimum to get by. I would later learn that some of them had been fine reporters at one time, and were now playing out the string, waiting to retire.

But I couldn’t imagine being one of those guys. A couple years later I had moved off of Stage One, but I was still a relatively young guy trying to make something of myself. I’d grown some cynicism but I still cared.

One night I was talking about all this to an older sports copy editor I was working a shift with. Referring to the way the copy editing staff had shrunk while the volume of copy had not, he said, “When I first came here in 1960, I saw all these fat old guys on the desk, not caring, doing crossword puzzles, and I said to myself, ‘I am never going to be one of those guys.’

“Now,” he continued, “I’m old, I’m fat, I don’t care, and they’ve sped us up so much I don’t even have time to do crossword puzzles.”

The glamorous life of a copy editor!

Bleacher Report has a Copy Editing Internship if you want a taste of that high life. When we hire copy editors, we generally promote from within the internship program.

Hat tip to Craig Silverman at Poynter, whose piece alerted me to Davis’ article.

  • Jesse Reed

    That post was hilarious, and I’m sure it’s spot on. Thank you to all the editors out there that put up with us writers and our egos.