The newspaper’s goalie: delivering on defense

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From fourth to 11th grade, I took a fervent, sweaty pride in being the goalkeeper for my school’s soccer team. Come to think of it, being a goalie was quite an eerie feeling — for seven years of my life, I was the last line of defense for an entire team that worked tirelessly to essentially keep the ball from coming to me at all. On the off-chance that the ball did come my way, it was my duty as the goalie to deliver. Sometimes, I did. Other times, I didn’t. By the end of it, I’d grown used to gaining little credit for doing something right but bearing the brunt of the responsibility for doing something wrong.

Working on the copy desk of The Daily Californian is, believe it or not, a similar ballgame. As the newspaper’s last defense against factual, grammatical and stylistic errors and libel, members of the night department often bear the imposing burden of maintaining the consistency, magnetism and reputation of the paper. Of course, every department produces remarkable content, and together, they work tirelessly to put out a paper four days a week. Nevertheless, if we were to work within the metaphor of soccer, the news, arts, opinion, blog and photo departments are offensive players, while upper management oversees and inspires them like the wise coaches of a varsity-level team. Which inevitably leaves us, the night department, as the goalie of the Daily Cal — expected to do our jobs right and accepting the majority of the responsibility if we don’t.

Of course, it was seldom solely my fault as the goalie of the team when I let a goal in. Maybe the opposition’s offense had had a particularly great run, maybe our team’s defense had been playing too far up the field or maybe the ball had rebounded off the crossbar to spin itself into the goal. Or maybe it was my fault because I had misjudged how far I had to dive.

But the fact of the matter is, every careless misstep I made as a goalie for my school team or make as an editor for the Daily Cal holds a lot more gravity than the average, silly slip-up. If, in fact, the night department’s job is to correct other people’s mistakes, we often tend to forget the other part of the equation: What if the night department were to make a mistake?

Spoiler alert: The night department does make mistakes. We unfortunately let slip these tiny, little errors, which naturally happens when reading an entire newspaper’s worth of content within the span of a few hours. All copy desks do. But we’re constantly working to better ourselves and master the tricks of an imperfect trade. I gained a world of knowledge after I accidentally typed “undergraduate” for “underground” while editing my first-ever long-term story as an assistant night editor. It was an oversight early on in my tenure that paved the way for a greater effort to be aware of the (dis)connect between my thinking and my typing — a skill I still hold with me today. The best — and only — way to be a copy editor, I reckon, is to be willing to make mistakes and learn on the job.

That might be a scary thought, especially when making mistakes and learning on the job entail an embarrassing correction and a long email of constructive criticism from your boss. But that’s OK, because we signed up for it. Responsibility or not, tedium or not, judgment calls or not, I wanted to be a goalie for my school team 10 years ago, and I want to be a copy editor for the Daily Cal today. And nothing better motivates me to thrive than the desire to embrace responsibility for the newspaper, the crisp smell of an approaching deadline and an incredible staff to help me along the way.

Janani Hariharan is an assistant night editor. Contact her at [email protected].