Since the 1980s, the publishing industry has been undergoing massive changes, and for a long time most copyeditors there have been freelancers instead of employees. Newspapers have been hemorrhaging copyeditors for quite a few years now as journalism changes too.
Why is this? Mostly, it’s because we editors work behind the scenes and haven’t consistently and publicly made the case for why we’re needed.
The situation has gotten so bad that even The New York Times, essentially America’s paper of record, is planning to halve the number of its copyeditors through buyouts. The copyeditors there wrote a letter to Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn, saying:
We are one of the crucial layers of review that you seem so determined to erase, as the sudden removal of the public editor role shows. We are stewards of The Times, committed to preserving its voice and authority.
You often speak about the importance of engaging readers, of valuing, investing in and giving a voice to readers.
Dean and Joe: We are your readers, and you have turned your backs on us.
Then reporters spoke up in defense of their editor colleagues:
We write to you as the saved—those whose copy, facts and sometimes the intelligibility of a sentence or two have been hammered into shape by our friends and colleagues on the editing desks. Our editors ask smart questions, engage passionately with our copy, and serve as our safety nets. Editors—and yes, that especially means copy editors—save reporters and The Times every day from countless errors, large and small.
Yesterday, June 29, Times employees temporarily walked out on the job in protest.
At the same time editors who work for other employers or who are self-employed had had enough of being seen as only fanatical comma flingers. We took to Twitter under the hashtag #whyeditors to tell the world why what we do is necessary.
These are just some of the vital tasks we perform in addition to correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar:
- Act as the reader’s advocate to ensure comprehension
- Simplify complex language
- Make sure that all important information points are covered
- Keep embarrassing errors from being published
- Remove libelous statements
- Make sure that the article, chapter, or book flows well
- Take out inconsistencies and wordiness
- Point out factual errors for writers to correct
- Remove sexist, racist, and other discriminatory language
- Get rid of jargon, or explain it if it must be kept
- Take out misinformation and disinformation
- Point out information holes for writers to fix
- Make sure that quotes are properly attributed
The Times may or may not listen to us. But it’s important that we keep #whyeditors going, so that everyone knows why they need us. Start tweeting now. And keep talking, in every venue possible, about why editors are necessary.