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Chiefdom  John McIntyre
 Aug 26, 2004 08:08 PDT 

A colleague who has recently been put in charge of a copy desk asked for
advice, and I sent the take you can read below for whatever help it may

John McIntyre


Some resources that may be useful for copy editors who have just been
put in charge of the desk.


The Poynter Institute has archive of articles on editing, some of the
most useful of which are by Anne Glover of the St. Petersburg Times. Go
to www.poynter.org and write “copy editing” in the Poynter search engine
to find the archive.

Bob Baker’s site, www.newsthinking.com, has numerous essays on writing
and editing, some of which — “The 15-minute workout,” “The 17 worst
cliches in the newspaper business,” “Forty ways to improve collaboration
at your newspaper,” “‘Yeah, I’m defensive. You gotta problem with
that?’” “‘I want to edit with more authority,’” “A vocabulary list for
reporters and editors,” and “Math for journalists” may be of particular
help for copy editors.

"Coaching Writers" by Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry is out in a second
edition. This edition has expanded material on the importance of the
copy desk and suggestions of how copy editors can participate in


Edward Miller’s biweekly essays on managing people are compact and
sensible. You can subscribe by writing to him at
mil-@newsroomleadership.com. An archive of past essays is available at


Hiring is the most important thing you do. Put together a general
knowledge/editing test for applicants that is as hard as you can make
it. Get your colleagues in management to interview applicants as well,
make sure that at least one of them asks hard questions, and then pool
your information.

Evaluation is the next most important thing you can do. Engage your
staff in the process; invite them to write self-evaluations for you to
consider before your write up your evaluations of their work. And talk
to them about their work more often than once a year. Get copies of the
work they send to the slot and comment on how they’re doing. Talk to
them over coffee. Invite their suggestions, individually and
collectively, about improvements in the operation of the desk.

Training is essential. You can take half an hour at the beginning of the
shift to do a mini-workshop that focuses on one story or one issue, and
the paper will still come out on time. Do each mini-workshop twice in a
week so that you catch people who miss one because of days off. Invite
your subordinates to put together workshops.

Find rewards for good work. Get your cheese-paring masters to pay some
or all of the expenses for a couple of copy editors to attend a national
or regional ACES conference. It will energize them. See if you can get
the occasional American Express gift check of $50 to hand out as an
occasional bonus. Make sure that the copy editors are included in the
acceptable graft — tickets to movies or sporting events, tchotchkes from
advertisers and the like — that flows into the newsroom. Make a
traveling trophy that you can award to one copy editor each month for
good work, and make sure that it stays prominently on display.

Encourage your staff to have a life. They should be reading books,
pursuing hobbies, getting together socially outside the newsroom.
Organize an occasional pot-luck dinner for the desk on a relatively slow
night. If you feel bold, invite the reporters and assigning editors to
share in it.

Keep your people visible. Make sure that your masters know who is making
good catches and writing lively headlines. Position your copy editors
for advancement. Be in the bosses’ offices as often as the reporters
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