The copy desk saved me — more than once.
In old-times newspaper terms, the copy desk in a newspaper’s newsroom was a horseshoe shaped table around which sat a number of editors who read what reporters wrote. On the other side of the table in the “slot” was the chief copy editor who handed out assignments to the copy editors.
These editors were eagle-eyed in their ability to spot misspellings, mistakes in grammar and style, inconsistencies in the writing, gaps in the reporting, inaccuracies in the recitation of facts — and generally overall bad writing.
As a reporter, I was guilty of all of these sins — and more. Time and again, a good copy editor saved me from journalistic perdition.
The copy editors could be irritating as hell if you were a writer or reporter.
But millions of times over the more than one hundred years that copy desks were in existence, they saved reporters (like me) and their newspapers from everything from embarrassments to libel suits.
And it was openly acknowledged in the profession that the best copy desk in the world was that of the New York Times. Now comes word that the copy desk at the Times is being phased out.
As the deadline nears for Times newsroom employees to apply for a buyout, it is already clear that the elimination of free-standing copy desks will be a wrenching change.
Of course, it falls most heavily on the copy editors who were told they do not have a future at The Times. But in time, it will fall on just about everybody in the news department, as the responsibilities of copy reading are dispersed.
Whether readers are in for a wrenching change remains to be seen. The management of The Times believes that the editing process can be streamlined without jeopardizing the accuracy of the news report. Many employees are less optimistic.
But there is no doubt that the new system will upend — necessarily or needlessly — a deeply rooted Times tradition.
As copy desks pass from reality into journalist lore, there is much to be said for and about them — too much to include in a single blog post.
Watch for more.
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