When I was selected to join The Daily Californian’s summer copy desk, I was ecstatic. It was a new step in my modest editorial career, and I was honored to join an entity so prominent as to be known by essentially every UC Berkeley student. And I always enjoy working behind the scenes. To me, being a copy editor is like owning an invisibility cloak.
Whenever I pursue something new, my life unfolds in one of two ways: I walk in not knowing what to expect, or I lavishly paint a picture that ends up being totally inaccurate. Either way, everything turns out to be different from what I imagined it to be.
Before I began my stint as a Daily Cal copy editor, my predictions about the role were shaped largely by memories of grade school, when peer editing meant scrutinizing hard copies of essays and leaving comments, carrot tops and cross-outs in glittering red ink.
But I settled into a routine of making edits on WordPress and keeping my eyes peeled for many things that had never been on my radar before. It was less old-school than what I’d envisioned. I had also never realized how difficult it would be to fill text boxes from end to end when font size was bound by tight limits and when hyphens that did not occur naturally were forbidden.
That is, writing headlines, subheads and jumpheads meant a constant cycle of stretching, shrinking and swapping words. From time to time, I would badger thesaurus.com in search of a magic word that would get me out of whatever fitting-related pickle I happened to be in.
I became caught in an ongoing quest to look for missing or errant punctuation and capitalization, forever consulting the Associated Press Stylebook for the most basic of rules. “Is this a word?” “Should this be capitalized?” “Does this sentence structure make sense?” To my surprise and sometimes chagrin, I would constantly ask Google and/or my fellow copy editors what felt like the silliest of questions. But it was all in an effort to help make each publication polished and picture-perfect.
I still walk across campus two nights a week with a bounce in my step, eagerly awaiting the article(s) I will run through with a fine-toothed comb and the narrow boxes I will pick my brain trying to fit headlines into. Being at the copy desk has definitely made my summer more interesting — even if it has meant relinquishing my beloved Oxford comma.