Copy editing means more than you think

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Sharon Pan/Staff

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When I went to interview for the position of copy editor at The Daily Californian, Ketki, the night editor, asked my thoughts on the mission statement of the night department. I was definitely very nervous — and maybe I just had not really thought about copy editing much before — so I just stammered over a couple thoughts on the spot. “Oh, um, I mean, when I see something with mistakes, I’m way more likely to not take it seriously, so it’s important to make the paper understandable and professional.” I know that wasn’t the best or most well-articulated answer. Now that I have had my first three weeks on the job, I would like to give a better answer to that question, which essentially amounts to: Why do you think copy editing is a meaningful aspect of the newspaper?

Part of me knows that rules in grammar are just made up by humans, sees that it’s an arbitrary decision to use “OK” instead of “okay” and thinks that rules in English are just another man-made norm. I am sure readers would understand the content of an article if we accidentally left the Oxford comma in or if we put “said” before a quoted person’s name on occasion, so why do I really think copy editing is so important?

Besides the obvious necessity of having an understandable newspaper, there is a subtler significance in the work copy editors do to pick out the grammatical and stylistic errors in articles before publishing.

My first argument for the utmost importance of copy editing is that caring about grammar, spelling and punctuation signifies that we really care about everything else in the paper as well, even when the rules we follow seem arbitrary at first glance. If you read something littered with easy mistakes, you can’t help but wonder how much effort was really put into it. As copy editors, we care so much about the newspaper’s contents that every comma counts in making the articles professional and credible. We don’t just throw articles in the paper without a second glance; even my second look gets a third, fourth and fifth glance from someone else.

The style that we employ is also crucial in maintaining consistency in the newspaper. We can’t have a front page in which one headline uses “US” while the other uses “U.S.” That makes it seem like articles in the same newspaper come from entirely disparate places, and honestly, it just looks crazy. Having a set of conventions makes our choices less arbitrary, actually, because we are committed to keeping the entire paper clear with consistent choices relating to grammar and style.

Working as a copy editor for the past weeks has led me to the final reason I see copy editors as so vital at the Daily Cal and in print journalism as a whole. I never before thought that we should take out “that” when writing a sentence like “Hannah said that she liked grammar.” But look: “Hannah said she liked grammar” — concise, clear, elegant. We take out what is unnecessary, and in doing so, we make it so that the articles tell you what you need and get right to the point. Though being concise is not necessarily my strong suit, it is important to make each word count toward something, especially in a limited amount of space.

I’m sure that as my time at the Daily Cal continues, I’ll have plenty more reasons why every tiny correction makes a difference in keeping the paper consistent and accurate — but for now, I hope this is a better answer to your question, Ketki.

Contact Hannah Martin at [email protected].

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