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July 25, 2008


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"I need copy editors who know that Jim Morrison of The Doors went to St. Pete Junior College, that beat writer Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Fla., but is buried in Lowell, Mass "

I don't know these things--and I was born and raised in middle America. Does that make me a bad copyeditor?

I would NEVER expect a copyeditor to KNOW something so trivial. I would expect him/her to CHECK that stuff.

I *would* expect a copyeditor to know that the local term is "quahog," and to recognize that it's silly for Eva L. to be married to Evan L., and he/she should look up the people involved.

As for Coren, he *is* an ass, and there's no saving him--but in the two instances I've read of lately in which he flamed his subs, he did have a point.

(here's the other instance where he went spare about a chance to an article--the part-of-speech article, not a read-all-the-paragraphs article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/aug/19/1 )

Those subs made changes I would *never* have bothered to make, and missed concepts (fact-checking, idiom, and the importance of the lead and the "kicker") that they shouldn't have.

If I were their boss, we'd be having a conversation about those specific changes.

Of course, I wouldn't be an ass about it.

@TootsNYC: Clark--a Florida newspaper guy-- is referring to the outsourcing of local newspaper copy desks. Which explains his choice of geographic references and the slant of his argument.

I started my career as a newspaper copyeditor, and with five deadlines a day we never had time to do the sort of fact-checking a magazine would do. We had to hold all that information in our heads--or ask one of the grizzled veterans who'd been on the job for 40 or 50 years.

Great post! Enjoyed reading it!

@TootsNYC: You bring up a good point. I guess it wasn't so much the fact that Coren complained about his subs that made me mad. It's how he did it. It's one thing to say, "Hey, guys, I don't like this change. Please don't do it again." You can even ask (nicely, professionally) for a correction to be printed (I assume; I have next to no newspaper experience, so I'm kind of making this up). Not to bogart the discussion thread or anything, but I'd be interested to hear from you editors out there about how you've fielded complaints from authors. Are Coren-esque outbursts like this pretty common, or are most authors more civil? And, when you have encountered someone like Coren, how have you dealt with it? I've been lucky so far. I haven't been flamed by an author yet.

@Nancy: Thanks for the link!

I've had the good fortune to work with excellent editors who by and large have made my work look better by the time it hit the printed page or Web site. And I agree that good copy editors need a thanks and a pat on the back. However, I do have to take this opportunity to express my one pet peeve about today's news editors--and I confess to not being sure whether this applies to copy-editors or some other species of sub-sub or über-über editor: I want to shake an editor by the ears whenever I see an obvious editorial insertion explaining an allusion or reference that was made by a writer or interview subject who was clearly smarter than the editor. Example: "My God, I thought, I've become a Frankenstein," he said, referring to the title character of Mary Shelley's novel about a medical student who creates a human being from a reanimated corpse.

This seems like as good a time as any to post this link: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1729711,00.html

@Bob: Ah, the over-helpful narrator. Reminds me of the trademark style of the Lemony Snicket books--for example, from "The Wide Window":

"...if she ate a peppermint she would break out in hives, a phrase which here means 'be covered in red, itchy rashes for a few hours.'"

(And by "trademark style" I mean here "not literally registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but rather, in a metaphorical sense, so closely associated with the author as though to be his legal property.")

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