The classroom is not the newsroom

Author: Glen L. Bleske

Publication: The Romance and Reality of Copy Editing: A Newsroom Case Study, paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication 2002 convention, available in the AEJMC archives.

At some newspapers, copy editors’ jobs are far different from what editing textbooks suggest they will be. As Bleske writes: “Editing textbooks talk about copy editing in an idealized newsroom, where editors upgrade poor work, improve writing, check facts and plug story holes. The books tell students about the romance, but they are light on the reality of burnout, deadline pressures, and the overburden on copy editors.”

Bleske’s case study is based on his observations of two copy editors – a veteran and an inexperienced editor – at a 60,000-circulation Southeastern newspaper. Both said they had little time to improve story structure and organization, a type of editing some texts focus on extensively. They also routinely cut wire stories from the bottom without reading to the end, a practice editing textbooks disdain. Pressed by an approaching deadline, one of the copy editors “edited” a story in 90 seconds. There was never time to read stories more than once.

Language and words, however, are what attract journalists to newspapers, Bleske writes. “Technological journalism has forced these editors to become something less, something caught in the cog of modern times. While many people may debate the future of journalism education and the relative values of teaching media specific skills or an integrated media approach, the traditional copy editor is still in demand. Editing class teachers need to assure that students understand what copy editors really do.

“Journalism education has the responsibility to prepare the student for the modern newsroom. The romantic model of copy editing as presented in textbooks is a story that needs rewriting. Newsroom managers, too, need to rethink about the romance and the reality of copy editing at their newspapers.”

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