Every evening, in every kind of newsroom, editors gather to turn the day's news into tomorrow's news report.
The editors come from throughout the newsroom - the managing editor, section editors, editors in charge of visuals and the editors in charge of production - and they share the goal of giving their readers what they need and want to know to lead informed lives and contribute to their communities of interest.
It is the news editor and the copy editors, however, who are the last to see the news report before it is published. The editors on the copy desk serve as the newspaper's surrogate for readers. Copy editors come to the news as the readers do, whether the news is on newsprint or a computer screen. If editors fail to fix a mistake or suggest a vital improvement, not only does the public suffer but also the newspaper. If errors are routinely recognized by readers, both short-term and long-term consequences follow. In the short term, the reader's instant reaction is one of ridicule or dismay. But over the long term, repeated errors can lead to loss of trust in the newspaper.
In an industry that devotes only a small fraction of its resources to staff development, copy editors too often are the last to be considered for training and resources. Substantial strides have been made in recent years to focus attention on the copy desk as a valuable resource of expertise across all disciplines, from information gathering and writing to editing and packaging. Efforts such as those by the American Copy Editors Society have built a thriving network of copy editors eager to improve themselves and their organizations.
For such gains to continue, the newspaper industry should edit the future through a culture of learning, one that recognizes the value of editors as gatekeepers who insure fulfillment of the newspaper's core obligation to be accurate, fair, balanced and complete. They must make the same kinds of choices for their news organizations as they do for their audiences: What is the knowledge required to build excellence in their corps of gatekeepers?
"Editing the Future," a two-day conference sponsored by the Knight Ohio Program for Editing and Editing Education, the Poynter Institute, the Maynard Institute and the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, brought together editors from across the industry to consider key issues confronting newsrooms. How do we hire good editors and then train them for advancement? How do we guard against inaccuracies and build credibility? How do we cover communities that grow more diverse daily? How do we cope with a rapidly changing media landscape, one that has turned Web sites from an "extra" operation to an integral part of the news report?
Nowhere are these questions more urgent than on the copy desk, which sits at the nexus of what we did yesterday and what we need to do tomorrow.
Deborah Gump, Ph.D.
Knight Professor of News Editing
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism