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Page Location: Home » Archives » Convention Proceedings » 2001 Convention » Thursday, April 5
Workshop: Keeping your copy editors happy

Published: August 07, 2002
Last Updated: August 07, 2002
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Thursday afternoon, April 5

Hank Glamann, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, moderator: Welcome. I’m sure others will be joining us, but because our time is limited this afternoon, we want to get rolling. With me on the panel this afternoon are my very good friends, John Rice, news editor of the Houston Chronicle; Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor of the Detroit Free Press; and my new friend, Ken Tingley, managing editor of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., and a member of ASNE, whom I’m sure many of you know.

I’m very pleased to report to you that in the discussions the four of us had leading up to this panel, we discovered the secret of how to keep copy editors happy. Now that we know that, of course, we’re not going to tell you. We’ve heard a lot about this in recent years. As we all know, it’s become something of a Holy Grail, in fact, and we’ve been chasing it for a long time. But I hope the enthusiasm for continuing to pursue it has not flagged, because it does remain a very important issue in a great many newsrooms — virtually every newsroom that I have ever encountered.

Each of our panel members brings a distinctive perspective to the issue. You’re going to hear reinforcements today of some suggestions you’ve heard in the past, but I think it’s always worth going back to basics sometimes and remembering that we’ve heard it before, but maybe we’re not doing it as much as we need to. I hope you’ll also hear some new suggestions, some ideas on how we can address this issue.

Without further ado, I’ve asked each of our panelists to make a very brief presentation to start our session today, and I’ll make some very brief remarks after that. I want to reserve a chunk of time for us to talk to one another, because my experience has been that’s often the best part of these sorts of sessions — your perspectives and your ideas as they compare to ours.

We’ll start with John Rice from the Houston Chronicle.

Remarks by John Rice

Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. I believe the copy desk has to have a champion. I think whoever is in charge of the desk needs to be that person. I think the key to keeping copy editors happy is a commitment to their satisfaction and well-being, working on the desk against anonymity in their jobs and arguably the worst schedules in the newsroom. Some efforts toward that end are free. It just takes some concern and some effort. Some of the things we do in Houston are innovative scheduling, regular meetings to keep communication up, posting of good work, and names and titles on computer terminals. Another thing we do is have the copy desk centrally located in the newsroom. All the originating desks are around the copy desk.

Some of the things I believe you need to do cost money — but they pay a handsome reward.

n Training and continuing education are essential to keeping not only a motivated desk but also an educated desk.

n Monthly contests, which were very popular at one time, have kind of faded. We just brought ours back: monthly contests for best headline, best caption, best design, best catch. We pay a small cash reward. The judging is done within the desk on a rotating basis. We have a supervisor and a nonsupervisor judging work, and it moves around. Everybody is involved in critiquing everybody else’s work and judging the best.

n Social gatherings — take the entire group out to an Astros game once a year. It’s not really a great expenditure. We pick a day game on the weekend when everybody can go and have a good time.

All these things I’m talking about are included in this handout that is available to you.

The other area I want to address is fairly innovative. I’d really like to get some discussion on it and questions. I’m a real advocate for telecommuting, letting editors work at home. Technology is there. It’s not a question of being able to do it. We do it on a very limited basis in Houston. We have two editors currently working part-time, one from east Texas, about two-and-a-half hours away, and another one from Alabama, who is an education professor. Both are great editors and both are fully credentialed, and circumstances provided that they were not able to be in Houston anymore. So, we made arrangements for them to edit by remote. At this point, we don’t have the program expanded to allow any of our full-time people who live in the city to do it. In order to make that jump, we’re going to have to come up with a cohesive program and ways to let people into the program. Obviously, it would be very popular. Right now it’s limited to part-timers, and on an individual basis.

I don’t want to take too much opening time. The handout has a fairly detailed list of what I think are the concerns that might come up and also the advantages to such a program. There are also some examples of people we’ve lost — good editors — because we had no way for them to reconcile their family life and their work life. I would be happy to entertain questions about that. And your ideas on it would be great.

Let me back up just a little bit. On scheduling, we have 28 people on the copy desk, and we were in a position where some people worked all the time on weekends, some had Monday through Friday, some were on Sunday through Thursday. We came up with a schedule, it’s the back page of my handout, where almost everybody has a three-day weekend — Saturday, Sunday and Monday — every other weekend, and the week they don’t have the three-day weekend, they’re off either Sunday or Monday. This has a couple of advantages. One, obviously, is morale. It’s a very popular scheduling program. Another is that it keeps people rotated through that Sunday operation. We don’t have a daily crew and then a different crew that works weekends and for Sunday operation, which keeps that Sunday product viable and keeps the experienced hands working through it as well as some of the newcomers.

I’ve detailed some of the training we do. Last year we had 26 editors and sent 21 out of the building for continuing education, training seminars and conferences. There’s a great reward from that. It really helps to get people out to keep up their contacts in business and develop friendships outside the building. Those cost but pay a good reward.

Glamann: So it really is possible to send someone out to a seminar and have them come back to work for you, which is a good thing to keep in mind.

Rice: Sometimes they bring people back with them.

Glamann: Thank you, John. Joe Grimm of the Detroit Free Press.

Remarks by Joe Grimm

Thanks, Hank, thank you, John. That’s a good lead-in to what I’m supposed to do. I’m really here as a messenger. I was at the American Press Institute for the copy editing boot camp about a month ago. At a dinner after the copy editors had had just one or two drinks, so it was early yet, I asked them to write on little slips of paper what they wanted you to know. If you sent somebody to the API boot camp for copy editors, you may have some of their comments. I promised them I would bring their comments to you. I want you to read these on the plane on the way home or later. I want you to take these back with you, but I’ll read a couple of the ones now that really hit me. I have to say, I love these people. I mean, these are people who are working hard, who really care about what happens with the newspaper, who have the reader in mind all the time, and who really like to edit copy. They like their jobs. They’re excited about what they get to do. They did talk about some of the problems — that’s what we were there to do, but they really like what they’re doing. They’re not working on dumping grounds, as we used to have a few years ago. Copy desks have changed remarkably. I’ve seen pictures of what copy desks looked like. They don’t look like that any more. Anybody see the picture of the — I think it must have been in Texas — all-male, all-old-male, all-old-white-male copy desk, cigarette butts all around the copy desk, and a six-shooter on the desk. You’ve got to keep those guns in the drawers now. You can’t just have them on top of the desk. So, things have changed.

If I were to put a couple of headlines — I guess that’s what copy editors do — on what they said at API just about a month ago, one of the first ones would have to be about respect. They’re not being disrespected so much as they’re not being understood. They don’t think you know them. I asked them,”Does the editor at your paper know who you are?” A lot of them said, “Yeah, yeah, the editor knows who I am.” Some of them said, “Well, no, the editor knows what I am. The editor knows I’m one of those copy editors, but if I were in the elevator with them, I don’t think they could come up with my name.” That’s pretty sad. You have to ask yourselves, “Do I know all my copy editors, at least by name?” Then, “Do I know anything after that?” It’s the kind of disrespect that comes from being taken for granted.

John mentioned working with schedules. One of these copy editors said this, “What I need from my editor to make things better for the copy desk is a better vacation plan, a better schedule plan. I had to use vacation days to go to a friend’s wedding because the friend got married on a weekend.” This copy editor works every Saturday and Sunday putting out the Sunday and Monday papers, and in order to go to a wedding had to use vacation. They couldn’t change the schedule enough to give this person a Saturday off. That’s the kind of disrespect that comes from not understanding what it’s like to live like that.

These are some of the things they want.

Feedback: “We get all the blame and none of the credit. It would be nice to hear something positive for a change.” If you’ve never gone over to the copy desk and said, “Who wrote this headline? It’s damn good,” but always go over there when there’s a mistake, then they’re talking about you. Here’s another one about feedback: “Do a one-on-one consultation with me about the quality of my work.” Now, isn’t that exactly what you want them to want? “Not the employee review, something with a lot of feedback from you that I’m not aware that I’m missing.” They think you’re unhappy with what they’re doing, but they don’t know exactly what you’re not happy about.

I was impressed with the number of people who are really concerned about the quality of your newspaper. They said, “Tell the editors to make sure we have enough people to do the job right. Fewer copy editors means more copies being read by fewer people. Quality editing suffers as a result.” They said the same thing about pagination. We used to see the copy desk as a dumping ground because that’s where bad reporters got dumped. Copy editors now see the copy desk as a dumping ground because that’s where we dump a lot of work. Pagination? Dump it on the copy desk. Gotta do some formatting to get this ready to go on the Web or in the library? Dump it on the copy desk. All of that stuff comes at the expense of good editing, and ultimately at the expense of copy editors.

This probably doesn’t apply to anybody in this room, but one person said, “If you want something specific, tell us before. Don’t yell at us after.”

“Adequate staffing,” they said, “remember pagination has dumped additional work on the copy desk.”

Another person said, “Involve copy editors in the entire process from the planning stage through the presentation. I can’t be a good editor/paginator unless I know ahead of time what to plan for.”

One of the copy editors said, “We shouldn’t be the last to know, we should be the first to know.” And I said, “Come on, seriously,” and they said, “No, we mean it. If you want it to come out a certain way in the paper, clue us in, we can make it happen. But if it just arrives at the last minute and we don’t know what you want, it’s not going to work out. We want to know first.”

This person said, “Don’t treat us as the stepchildren of the newsroom.”

See if this applies, “Remember that people are still doing important work after you go home.” I know you’re calling the news editor. When I was the news editor, the editor would always call and find out what kind of mistakes I was making and fix them on the spot. But there are many other people working there, too, and these are the people who say, “You know, if I got in the elevator with them, which I’m going to try not to do, I don’t think he’d know who I am. He doesn’t know my schedule, doesn’t know my needs, doesn’t know that much about my work.”

Some of them wanted you to sit in on the copy desk, and some of them didn’t. One guy said, “We tried that at our paper. The editor sat in on the copy desk for a couple of days.” I said, “How did that go?” He said, “The editor cherry-picked all the good stories, only would edit the best reporters, handled a lot of the Page One stuff, didn’t have a very heavy workload, and now thinks he knows all about our jobs.” Some said, “I don’t think we need to have the editors sit on the desk. There are other ways to do this.”

I want to close with a little story. It’s a little retention tool that’s easy to do, and it doesn’t cost any money, so it’s a great one for 2001. This works with copy editors or anybody. Approach a person alone and ask, “Why are you still here?” That sounds a little threatening, like you’re planting a seed. “What keeps you here? Why are you still here?” But the point is to find out what matters to them, what they need, and how can you do more of the things that keep them there. What keeps most of your copy editors where they are is not inertia. People don’t need to stay at your paper. They can work for John’s, and they don’t have to go anyplace.

What keeps them there are their immediate bosses. How good are your copy chiefs? We don’t expect you to be able to do all these things, so how good are your copy chiefs? Are they doing these things? I was really curious, so I asked one of our copy editors, “Why are you still here?” She’s from Los Angeles. She hates snow. She likes to wear those gigantic clunky shoes with open toes. She likes to be tan. No way should she be in Detroit for three years. She said, “Because you have Alex. Alex is the best copy desk chief I think I could find.” When she finally did leave, she went to the Los Angeles Times. She said, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to have as good a copy desk as I had in Detroit, but I’m going to be on the beach. I’m going to have a tan. I’m going to wear those sandals all year round.” We didn’t keep her forever, but I think we kept her a year or two longer because we had a good copy chief.

When you have time, read what the copy editors are asking for. On the back of this sheet is some of the retention strategies that Knight Ridder is circulating. There’s a magazine back there, came out yesterday, about what to do at the copy desk in terms of recruiting and retention. Take a look at those, but especially read what they said. These messages were written for you. Thanks.

Glamann: Thank you, Joe. Ken Tingley?

Remarks by Kenneth E. Tingley

I work at a 35,000-circulation newspaper and kind of feel like the bottom feeder here when it comes to copy editors. Who else is from a paper under 75,000? OK, so you know what I’m talking about. The way it works in New York is the New York metro papers steal from Syracuse and Albany. Then Albany and Schenectady steal from me. Then I don’t do anything because I have no one to steal from. And that seems to be the big problem for a lot of us.

About a year ago we essentially completed a reshaping of our copy desk, because every person had left within that year. I’ll tell you where I got my new copy editors. Maybe, this will help you a little bit. My news editor was a guy who had worked for us about 10 years before. He married a local woman, came back, worked in public relations, then decided he wanted to get back into newspapers. He sent me a resume two days before my news editor resigned to go to Albany. We hired him on the spot. My assistant news editor was about 22 years old and was really good. We hired him from sports. One of the copy editors we hired was the Newspaper in Education assistant. Another one we got from a small paper of comparable size, working in West Virginia. Is anyone here from West Virginia? I can’t make the joke then. We figured because the paper was in West Virginia we had a shot, you know. Another copy editor was about 35 years old and was a restaurant owner who was having tough times and was looking for a midlife change. The final one had been a scanner operator in our production department.

Anybody from a small paper knows this — you have to be open-minded these days. You need to look for middle-age folks who are maybe looking at a midcareer change. Don’t worry about experience. Just throw that out the window. Look for bright people. Look for die-hard newspaper readers. That’s what we found in every one of the people we hired. The woman who was scanning photos, the guy who was working in a restaurant, every one of these people had read newspapers their entire lives. They were smart, and when we tested them, they did better than any of the college graduates we talked to, which was amazing and a refreshing change. Did they know a lot of basics, ins and outs of headlines or anything? No. But we’re teaching them. We’re stumbling along with some of that, but it’s starting to work.

We’ve learned a few things. I listened to Joe Grimm speak at a recent conference. He noted one of the things small newspapers never did was recruit. We all had resumes coming in all the time. When they didn’t come in, we put an ad in Editor & Publisher. Well, the last few times I put an ad in Editor & Publisher, I got one resume each time. That wasn’t working anymore. We started advertising in our own paper, asking for local folks looking for a midcareer change. We started advertising in other people’s newspapers, hoping that we could steal some of theirs or that at least the word would go out. We found that worked so much better. The last time we advertised for a copy editor in our own newspaper, we got around 20 resumes. Now, you threw out 15, but there were five legitimate possibilities.

The other thing we’ve done is to splurge and put internships back in. We took them away from writing and photography and put them on the copy desk. The one stipulation was that we went after people who were local. We wanted kids who were local. We heard, and probably a lot of people in smaller communities have heard, that some of the best and brightest are going off to colleges and not coming back, because there are no jobs. And we found that there are an enormous number of kids going off to college, some great schools, who want to come back to the area. We think we have a very nice quality of life in the Glens Falls area, and they wanted to come back. Bringing them back to work in internships has worked very well for us, and we’re hoping that they’re going to stay. We’ve only done this the last couple years, so we’ll see if they end up wanting to stay.

That’s a key thing for all of us to remember. And I don’t think I’m ever going to take that advice about asking them why they are still here. I’m just happy they are here, and I’m not going to give them any other cause to leave. Thank you.

Glamann: Thanks very much, Ken. I think it’s fabulous that you’ve reinstituted internships. One of the key answers for all of us — whether we’re at a small or large paper — is that, ultimately, we’re somehow going to have to grow our own. Obviously, that’s particularly problematic at the small-paper level. But there are sources for bright, young people, if we’ll only reach out for them. I was very delighted to hear about the grant to the new ASNE high school project earlier today. We definitely need to be doing that. If you take this problem to its logical extension, it’s pretty scary. If we’re dealing with this kind of a situation now, with no young people coming into the pipeline, the implications are pretty broad for our business, and not just for smaller papers.

At a session earlier today, Will Sutton, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and an ASNE member, was recommending some shifting of internship focus. If your worst need is for copy editors, then increase the number of copy editing internships. We hate to reduce the number for reporters and photographers, but perhaps we’re best advised to emphasize our most acute needs as best we can.

John, you were pointing out another good solution to this, which I believe you included in your handout. When we try to solve this we think in terms of FTEs, and, of course, not too many of us are adding those these days. But at the Chronicle — I know because I spent a number of years there before moving to Cleveland — there’s a big bubble on Friday afternoon, for example. It’s a big daily that has a bulldog edition. Basically, you’re putting out both a Saturday and a Sunday on Friday, so Friday night is a hell of a time on the copy desk. You don’t really need somebody a whole shift, but you have a four-hour period where things are just jamming, and a couple of additional hands on deck at that time would help tremendously.

That’s precisely what they have by virtue of a couple of wonderful editors, tremendous copy editors, some of the best I’ve encountered. They’ve made other choices about what’s going to be predominant in their lives now. They’re spending more time at home with their families. They’re not in the full-time work force, but they’d love to put some money into the kids’ college funds by working four hours on Friday night. And the beauty of having a computer sitting in that home office over in Jasper, Texas, is that particularly gifted copy editor can and has been called on to work an hour or two here and there when other bubbles have appeared on other nights. It’s a fine thing. And there are those types of resources in all of our communities.

Ken was talking about the quality of life in Glens Falls. Certainly, we would hope that we would find people who would want to come to a place like that and stay. Alternatively, it’s a wonderful strategy for smaller papers to become training grounds for young people who are going to move on to the Schenectadys and Albanys, who are going to move on to New York. When your paper gets that kind of reputation, then you can start attracting some bright folks from colleges and elsewhere. There is a lot of movement in that work force now, but I think that’s a very good strategy.

Tingley: We must be getting a very good reputation, because we’re getting a lot of people.

Glamann: It’s a never-ending problem, but that’s the best silver lining in that particular cloud. We haven’t hit on one solution that is especially important and is within all of our control here to a significant extent. One of the best things you can do for your copy editors is to give them the time to do their jobs. Most of us don’t do that very well. The reason is that when we think of deadlines, we only think of one, the last one, the point at which the button must be pushed and the paginated page must be shipped to the printing plant. The way to solve this problem is to set up an entire hierarchy of deadlines — and enforce them — to make copy flow. Certainly, there can and should be flexibility in such a hierarchy, but it does need to exist. Copy editors complain with great frequency and great bitterness about the fact that every deadline can be fudged except theirs. And that is often true. It’s not unreasonable for a professional individual to say, “Give me the time to do my job. Give me the time to practice my craft, to do something other than making sure that the 23 lines of code are in the proper order. You know, what do the words say? Could I have just a little time to look at the content, please?” This, of course, is a particularly acute problem — and the smaller the paper is, the more acute that problem is. We have some luxury as we go up the line. But the problem exists, nevertheless. The percentage of time that journalists who are working on copy desks are able to spend on journalistic pursuits vs. more technical pursuits certainly has shifted, even in large newsrooms, as pagination has advanced as much as it has.

Also, training has been mentioned. You can’t do too much of it. It’s unfortunate that in the economic climate in which most of us find ourselves, that’s one of the first things that gets chopped. And there has been, over the last 10 years I’d say, a dearth of training opportunities for copy editors, both in-house and out. Happily, that’s changing now. There’s some wonderful stuff available. I particularly recommend the American Copy Editors Society annual conference to you. I have a vested interest in that because I’m one of the founders of the group, but I do think it’s a tremendous training opportunity coming up later this month in Long Beach, Calif., and at approximately the same time each year, next year in Lexington, Ky., and the year after that in Chicago.

One other thing I would mention is also within our control and goes to the issue of respect Joe was talking about. Respect is invariably No. 1 on the list of what copy editors will tell you, their top editors, that they want. Sometimes pay is No. 1 and respect is No. 2, but generally respect is No. 1. So, do they feel they have a touchstone in the newsroom? Is there someone in editorial management whose primary responsibility, or a very important part, is to look after the interests of editors in that category? I’m happy to report simply among my colleagues on the executive board of ACES, three of us have become assistant managing editors in charge of copy desks within the last year. I moved to The Plain Dealer as the assistant managing editor for editing, and although my responsibilities extend beyond copy desks, that is the focus of what I do as a supervisor of people. The Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times have made the same decisions, and in all cases the positions are newly constituted rather than individuals moving into previously existing positions. That sends a very strong signal to the people working on the line. We think you’re important enough to have somebody in editorial management who is going to be an advocate for you. And titles are very inexpensive, folks. They really are. Sometimes people can enjoy those greatly, and there doesn’t necessarily even have to be anything extra in the pay envelope. We appreciate it greatly when there is, I assure you, but really, the pat on the back or sending that kind of a signal can go a very long way to making copy editors happy and, we sincerely hope, to keeping them around.

One handout that I made for you is material that you may have seen before. All of it is drawn from publications of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Some of it stretches back as long as seven years ago. This resulted from a series of conferences about the copy desk problem, which were kicked off by Merv Aubespin when he was chair of ASNE’s Management and Human Resources Committee. These meetings ultimately led to the creation of ACES. There’s an open letter to our top editors and an essay about this issue by Gene Foreman. Also, there’s specific information about what copy editors feel. There also is some material excerpted from the most recent version of the ASNE credibility report. Again, all of this material has been available before, but gathered together perhaps it might stimulate some thoughts that have not come about before.

We have a good 15 minutes left, and we’d like to spend the rest of the time with questions and comments and observations.

Questions from the floor

Eileen Lehnert, The Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot: We’re a 37,000-circulation paper. One of the challenges we face is that every young copy editor we hire wants to be a designer and not read copy. That’s a real retention challenge, because you can’t have a seven-person copy desk where everybody design pages and no one reads copy. Any ideas?

Glamann: You call on the same editors to do both of these things typically?

Lehnert: Yes.

Glamann: Thoughts, gentlemen?

Tingley: My last copy desk was like that. They all left. Part of solving the problem was getting a mix of people. We found that some of the people who were making this midlife career change were more word oriented. They hadn’t gone to school for the training and the design and all the bells and whistles. In fact, that’s the part that we had to sacrifice to a degree. I mean, you can teach anybody good, solid modular layout, but the creativity certainly isn’t there to do the really wild section, the big Sunday front, etc. I don’t know if there’s a solution to that other than to impress upon them how much the word has to be a part of the product. It was a problem that we had. We had a lot of people who said, I don’t want to read that stuff, I just want to design it. It’s an ongoing problem. I don’t know if there is a great solution for it other than to keep preaching the written word.

Glamann: One thing I’ve done at every opportunity is to admonish the administrators of college journalism programs that this is happening. To an extent, this is our own fault. If you look at those ads for copy editors in E&P or wherever they may be, they list a long sequence of qualifications that we want copy editors to have: We want them to be skilled grammarians and wordsmiths and write bright and engaging headlines and must know Quark. But, often, when push comes to shove, we will let every single one of those requirements slide except the last one, because you have to know that in order to push the button at the appointed time. I have done both of those things myself. I love to design pages, and I have a great love of the word. But those two elements must work together. Design is content as designers are fond of observing. And I think there’s truth to that. But if what’s inside the pretty package doesn’t contain something that will engage people, it’s a worthless exercise.

Tingley: Part of it may be a hiring thing, too. Impress upon them that they have to have both skills. That’s the most important thing in the world. They’re not going to be doing just one or the other. The problem is that for a while there my criteria was, “Do you have a heartbeat and are you breathing? If you want to take the job, that’s great, I don’t care, whatever you want to do.” We’ve been very lucky that we’ve had a lot of people say they actually want to be word people and line editors.

Rice: How are you advertising your positions?

Lehnert: Pretty much the laundry list that Ken described. We’re looking for word people but also folks who can design a page because reality ...

Rice: And you’re getting back mostly people who want to design?

Lehnert: In the last several years we’ve been hiring a lot of people right out of college, and five or 10 years ago we weren’t — we were hiring people with five or 10 years of experience. But times have changed, and we’re finding that the younger people are very facile with design and very interested in it but really not very interested in doing any type of word editing.

Rice: I always make it a priority that we hire people who are good with words.

Lehnert: They’re usually decent with words, and they say they want to do that, but after they’ve been there six months, they say, “If you really want to develop me, I really want to be a designer. Give all the design pages to me.” Instead of having one unhappy copy editor, now you’ll have seven, because no one wants to deal just with words all the time, at least not on my desk.

Glamann: Do you think that if there were some online copy editing training of a fundamental nature to which they would have ready access, that that would benefit?

Lehnert: I don’t know. I sent the last one — who was with us for six months — to the ACES workshop last year. Then she went to The Detroit News.

Glamann: Sorry, sorry. You were talking about hiring people straight out of college. We’re now hiring people straight out of college, or we would be if we were hiring.

Rice: I just hired somebody right out of college.

Glamann: It’s paid tremendous dividends recently, especially if somebody is like a Dow Jones intern. We’re ready to take a chance, and most of the time it pans out just wonderfully.

Lehnert: See, if you all are taking them, we’re not getting them.

Glamann: Right. I wish I could offer you a better suggestion. Somehow or another we need to inculcate on these people an appreciation that that’s something they really need to know if they’re going to do this job and preserve the franchise that is mainstream American newspapering. If it only looks pretty, we’re in trouble. Thank you very much. Other comments or questions? Don’t be shy.

Joe Distelheim, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times. I’m looking for some new thinking on a very old question, the ancient tug-of-war between assigning, originating editors and copy editors. One says the lead ought to be in the third paragraph, and the other one says, no, that needs to be the first paragraph. And they come to me and I say, play nice together, let’s figure out what the best solution is for the newspaper, and I think that line is getting old. I’d be interested in people from the audience talking about that.

Glamann: I’m sure, Joe, you have a comment in response to that? I certainly do.

Grimm: Yeah, it’s amazing the things that get in the editor’s office. I mean, so we’re in here talking about you guys can’t figure out what the lead should be?

Distelheim: Who has the final word?

Grimm: The way your hierarchy is set up, your assigning editor does, right? Isn’t your assigning editor a cut above all reporters who are on the same plane as copy editors? I mean, if we want to go, “Who has the final word?” do you have at least in your head an organizational chart that says, “It ain’t the copy editor”? It winds up in your office because you say, “We’re not going to do this with an organizational chart. We’re going to do this on the basis of what’s journalistically sound, what makes the most sense for our readers.” And I think that’s where you want to keep things. This is sort of where the respect problem happens with copy editors.

When you get right down to it, a copy editor can’t really beat anybody else in the newsroom on the basis of position. It has to be on the basis of being right. If you run a newsroom with no politics — nobody does that, do they? — then the copy editor has a chance. You have to bring more of the journalism into those decisions. If we can get people to focus on the reader and not whose story it is, whose byline is on it, and a lot of the nasty stuff that creeps into those conversations, then we can put the reader at the top of the organizational chart, which is what we all talk about and always want to do. Maybe, that puts a little bit more power into the copy editor because it sort of levels out that chart. Of course, the problem you’re talking about, Joe, really has a lot to do with personalities, too, and each one of those has a different answer. You know those answers or lack of answers better than we do, and of course, the picture changes when the players change.

Rice: Actually, on our desk in Houston the night news editor, who is on the copy desk, has the final authority over how the story is going to be worded or whether it even goes in the paper. But, as Joe said, it’s a matter of mutual respect. It’s a matter sometimes of personalities and those things that you just have to sort through and figure out how to make work. It’s ongoing. Sometimes it’s worse. Sometimes it’s better, but there’s always going to be that friction to some degree.

Grimm: You do have to have a certain hierarchical component to the process or it doesn’t work, for two reasons, one of which is if there’s no chain of custody of a story as it moves through the operation, bad things happen. If reporters decide it really should have been this way, and they can manage to get to it after an editor, who is supposed to be his or her supervisor — and that will happen ... The other thing is, ultimately, someone has to make the decision.

But the philosophy I espouse in this regard I call collaborative editing, which is an extension of precisely what you were talking about. We really are trying to do what’s best for the newspaper. This is difficult to do with daily copy that’s flowing on deadline. It works very well with projects and material with which you have a greater amount of time. When you have that luxury you can involve everyone — including the copy desk people — much earlier in the process. If there’s a disagreement — the lead’s in the third graph, something fundamental about the story, something organizational, the tone, is additional reporting needed, something as basic as that — there’s still time for there to be a meaningful response other than, “I didn’t have a problem with it,” which is something copy editors have heard a whole lot on the phone at night, believe me, for a very long time. Although you may not be able to do that all the time with daily copy, if you set up a project and bring everybody in from every area of the newsroom operation, that will send a signal that you value the input of the copy editor. That can have a very beneficial effect as you go through the daily operation, because top editors are not the only ones who can’t recall copy editors’ names. Often, that problem exists with assigning desks, too, and if people get to know one another better, they’re going to work together a whole lot better. Yes, sir?

Mark Bowden, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Quick question for you about productivity. The debate on what you should expect. Presuming that you have experienced copy editors, their responsibilities are doing the editing as well as coding page design. How many pages are they handling a night? What is your expectation at the larger papers and at the smaller papers?

Rice: In Houston we have one editor who lays out Page One. He also has some responsibility for the content on Page One, but that’s not his primary responsibility. So, Page One or jump pages. We have one person who lays out the metro section, one person who does all the inside pages for wire pages, and then we have a fourth person who is kind of a utility person who handles some specialty stuff and can fill in for whoever has the greatest work load. We put four people just on the design function, they don’t work at the rim at all.

Glamann: I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I happen to know this very system of which John is speaking quite well. It’s a universal desk, so that layout and copy editing are all being done by the same group. Recent organizational changes made in that operation were intended to allow those various areas of work to ebb and flow as the work flows through the desk on any given day. People are not working within such rigid guidelines, as exist at traditional and larger operations, that they can only do one thing and if somebody else is swamped doing something else they can’t help them.

Rice: Right, there is some of that. But for you I would say, measure what one editor does against what another editor does. There’s a norm in there.

Bowden: Yes, but specifically pages. You’re saying that you have one copy editor basically editing and designing all the pages in your metro section?

Rice: Right.

Bowden: Each night?

Rice: Right.

Bowden: And how many pages?

Rice: Cover, an open inside, maybe two or three smaller pages.

Bowden: And what kind of front-end system are you using?

Rice: We designed it ourselves.

Glamann: To expand on that just a tiny bit, this person does layout work. The rim work and the slot work are being done by others. There are numerous people involved in the production of those pages. But the individual about whom John was speaking is primary coder and designer, although they are still members of the copy desk staff, and when they’re needed to do work on the words, they’re there to do that, too.

Tingley: We essentially have one person do each section as well, although most of the stories, anything local, are edited predominantly by the senior editors, the city editors, assistant city editor. They’re in pretty good shape by the time they’ll be given one more last read on it. But one person will usually do the A section, which is three or four pages. We might get somebody to help with the B section, which is our local section, front and jump and three or four more pages inside. You might get another person to help out there, depending. Then sports does their entire section themselves, with usually one person doing that and one person doing the feature section as well. It’s a pretty good work load. Most of our copy editors paginate at least 20 pages a week.

Grimm: This isn’t an answer, but going back to what the copy editors were saying a month ago, if you want your copy desk to be more productive, make sure the stuff arrives to them in better shape. A lot of them said, “Geez, the reporters never learn the style. There seems to be a widespread attitude that the desk will catch it. And it’s getting harder and harder to catch things.” So, as Hank said, one thing you could do to improve the productivity of the copy desk is to make sure you have a lot of deadlines, and make sure people meet them. And make sure that assigning editors are not exempt from knowing your newspaper style and are not sending stuff to the desk that needs a whole ton of work. You can make the copy desk work a lot more efficiently. You can retain people longer, spend less money recruiting them and hiring new ones, if you use the whole newspaper to get after this issue of productivity on the copy desk.

Tingley: Joe makes a good point. I’m sure we all have reporters who are great reporters and very good writers — and they just won’t give you the damn story. They just go on and on and on. Our copy desk would ask who’s writing that story, and go, “Oh no, it’s going to be a bad night.” They just know that guy is not going to make the deadline. Sometimes you have to help your copy editors out by beating up your reporters. You tell them to get the story in, and you have to make sure that that’s carboned to the copy desk, so they know you’ve called them on the carpet for this. Keep hitting on them about this. That’s real important. For me, it’s only two or three people who are chronic abusers of this. Most people get it in on time and do a good job. Once in a while there are other problems, but that’s a key thing.

One other thing, does anybody else run these silly contests, you know, headline of the week, headline of the month, things like that? The first month we did it, the winners were all reporters. They were suggesting the headlines. The copy desk got so embarrassed by this that they started trying a lot harder. They wanted to win the coffee mug. Our news editor was so happy the first time all the winners for the month were actually on the copy desk. I think that’s a really great thing.

Just one last thing about feedback, we’ve been hearing the whole week here about getting more feedback. One thing I started about a year ago, and I did it mainly for the copy desk, was to put up markups of the pages — but only positive stuff, the good headline, the good layout, great use of a photo or good cropping, just little detail things. I would try to look at the run sheets so I knew which copy editor did the page and get his or her name on it. We put up a little bulletin board right above the printer for the final pages to be proofed. And it was amazing. People lingered there, looking at the markups every day, and I’ve heard so many people say that’s great, that’s made such a big difference getting that little bit of feedback. I rarely do it negatively. Just all the good things. If there’s something bad, then you call them aside and talk to them about it. Those are just little things that you can do tomorrow if you want.

Glamann: Agreed. Joe, we’re past time, but we should do the money thing.

Grimm: Yeah, another thing you could do before you get back to the office is call the person who — maybe it’s you, in that case it will have to wait — handles your budget and look at what you’re actually paying reporters. Factor in years of experience — that’s relevant. Do the same thing for copy editors. See if it’s fair. If it’s not fair, go back and cut some reporters’ wages — no, no, there’s another way to rectify it. We probably do have a higher entry-level wage for copy editors, especially if we consider night differential, but then they become anonymous. They don’t get merit raises for consistently doing good work, because we don’t know they’re consistently doing good work. I have no data to back this up, but in general I think copy desk chiefs are not as good at promoting their people within the office as maybe city editors are. They have a different kind of personality and aren’t always pushing people and pumping them up and speaking up for them at merit raise time. Just run the numbers, see if you’re being fair. If you’re not being fair, well, you know what to do.

Glamann: Thank you very much, sir. I suspect that my fellow panelists, all of whom I’d like to thank very much for being here today, will be able to stay around and discuss any other matters that you all would like to bring up. I am up against a very scary deadline, and if I do not leave immediately, I will miss my airplane.

I am delighted that you were able to join us today, and I hope that we’ve been able to provide something to you that will be useful. Anticipating the fact that I’ve got to dash out of here, I left a stack of business cards in the back of the room, so if there’s something you’d like to ask or bounce off of me, please feel free to call me or e-mail me at your leisure, and we’ll see what we can do for you. Thank you all very much.

Grimm: One little plug for ACES, the dates of the next three conventions are on this handout, and the magazine back there has their Web address, where you can find information about the training they do, and I think even a national headline writing contest and some other good stuff like that.

Glamann: Correct. Bless you for that, Joe. Thank you all very much.

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