The Campbell Library at Rowan University. The role of a copy editor is to make sure that an article is clear and concise before it is published. - File Photo / Miguel Martinez

During my time copy editing for The Whit, I’ve learned much about the process of curating a newspaper and the steps taken to get correct news online and in print. 

In particular, I’ve learned that the role of copy editor (or Copy Desk Chief) is not to be taken lightly. Copy editing is the first — and sometimes the last — line of defense before an article is published, with the exception of a managing editor or editor-in-chief, who don’t normally check for the same mistakes. Without copy editing, stories run the risk of not only being grammatically incorrect, but factually incorrect, which could mean big trouble for a news organization. 

This is because there are many aspects that go into copy editing a story. While the main goal of a copy editor is to make sure a news story is in Associated Press (AP) Style, we must also have an eye for sentence structure and the flow of a story, such as issues with redundancies, awkward sentence structures and punctuation. (Even now, I shudder at the realization that I almost added the dreaded Oxford comma into that list.) 

As my copy editing professor this semester, Deborah Woodell, said, articles must be “reader-centered, readable and right.” When editing a story, I try to achieve this by reading through the lens of someone who has no idea what any of the article is about. By putting myself in the place of the possible reader (such as you, reading this now), I can better catch inconsistencies and unclear information than if I read through the lens of someone within the news organization, who already knows the background information and details. 

Taking a copy editing class this semester also opened my eyes to the fact that, in addition to fixing what’s already in an article, we must look for what isn’t there, a fact I’ll admit I haven’t always thought to do in past semesters. For example, if an article is missing key details such as dates, times or other background information, it’s up to us to approach section editors or writers to highlight those issues and hopefully create a more rounded-out story.

In a sense, copy editing forces us to put on many different hats, acting as reader, writer and editor. However, I will say that my fellow staff here at The Whit rarely put out content that requires asking for core information that was missed (go team!).

While some people may be repelled by the idea of having to look for small details and working so diligently, there’s a certain pleasure in copy editing if you’re someone like me who aims for perfection and has a passion for grammatically — and otherwise correct — writing. While I, of course, get bouts of boredom or tiredness from the sheer amount of articles that I review every week, on the whole I try to take pride in my work.

Ultimately, it brings me joy to see a writer’s article more elevated, clear and concise as a result of my editing, and to help solidify the reputation and legitimacy of our newspaper. 

If you’re someone who is interested in this type of work (if I haven’t scared or bored you away from it already), there are actually many positives of being on a news team. The skills you learn working in a newsroom can be invaluable experience that’s good on a job or internship resume, or just in general. I’ve found many new friendships through working at The Whit that turned me from a sad and lonely commuter to an engaged Rowan student. It’s also cool to know about nearly everything happening at Rowan since I need to read articles in every section of our paper. 

And, at the end of the day, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish at The Whit. I feel that, behind the scenes, the same skepticism that helps me edit articles has helped me to better the way we function as a team in the newsroom, and to draw attention to things we may be overlooking (or not looking at fairly).

I’d hate to sound like the military recruiter in your high school, but if you want to be a part of any aspect of The Whit, from writer to section editor, don’t be afraid to reach out at editor@thewhitonline.com. There’s certainly a place for you on our news team, and you’ll get valuable experience in whatever sector of journalism you prefer.

Even if I don’t pursue copy editing as a career, I’m glad to have tried my hand — and succeeded — at being an integral part of a team dedicated to pursuing justice, voicing student concerns and, ultimately, seeking truth. 

For comments/questions about this story, email features@thewhitonline.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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