Copy editing is a quiet business. It is behind the scenes, and much of the work is felt in the negative space — in grammar errors that aren’t there, or mistakes not made. But in this space, copy editors are also responsible not just for spelling mistakes, but tone, accuracy and the reliability of sources.
These are the things that keep content reliable, and part of why it is so alarming to see a nationwide trend of publications laying off their copy editors.
On June 23, staffers at the New York Times staged a walkout in protest of cuts to the paper’s editorial staff. Among these cuts were significant reductions to the paper’s copy editing staff and the elimination of the stand-alone copy desk.
This shift is part of a larger organizational effort within the paper, with funding going toward hiring of more journalists and “streamlining” the editorial process. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet acknowledged in a Q&A that the decision “is actually not primarily a financial issue — we are mostly shifting resources, not cutting them.”
More stories — and important stories — being written is a necessity, but there’s a price to removing a major step of the editorial process. These changes come at the expense of quality.
Staffers at the New York Times, as well as the journalism community in general, have largely stood in solidarity with the copy desk, calling it the “immune system” of the paper. Removing this piece of the newsroom has ramifications through the chain of editorial command and has significant effects not only on content but on the morale of a paper’s staff. It doesn’t fare well for anyone’s content when you see that newsrooms are “eliminating a layer of valuable editing.” That editing affects everyone.
Even though journalism is changing, our readers still demand and deserve accuracy for the best content possible. And that’s why The Daily Californian’s copy desk still stands.