The Romance and Reality of Copy Editing
THE ROMANCE AND REALITY OF COPY EDITING:
A NEWSROOM CASE STUDY
Glen L. Bleske
Department of Journalism
California State University, Chico
Chico CA 95929-0600
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Manuscript for consideration for presentation at the AEJMC annual meeting, Miami 2002
THE ROMANCE AND REALITY OF COPY EDITING:
A NEWSROOM CASE STUDY
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. This case study spends two nights with copy editors who push copy through their computers. They are more like technicians than wordsmiths, and the textbooks don't talk about their disappointments.
THE ROMANCE AND REALITY OF COPY EDITING:
A NEWSROOM CASE STUDY
As deadline approached, Joe Young began to think of himself as an editing lawn mower as he ripped and chewed his way through news copy. The fingers of his right hand rapidly played the keyboard-- up, down, right, left, and the blinking cursor on his computer screen followed his commands, turning a figure eight as Young nervously moved his eyes across the VDT. His head bent slightly toward the screen. He leaned into the screen and typed faster than the electronic images could appear. He waited impatiently, tapping his hand on the desk as the screen blinked repeatedly.
Young, 25, is beginning his second year at his first newspaper job. He is a copy editor.
Sam Elder, 50, also is a copy editor. He leaned back in his cushioned office chair and folded his hands behind his head. He stared at the screen. As he read the news story, the cursor sat in one place. As Elder steadily progressed through the story, only his eyes moved. He shifted slowly forward, he studied the screen for a moment, and then he dropped the cursor three lines, slid to the right, and deleted an article before a plural noun. He leaned back in the chair, put his hand to his chin and kept reading. Elder has been working for newspapers for almost 25 years.
Elder and Young (not their real names), work at a daily newspaper in a southern urban area. Each editor volunteered to let me observe his copy editing shift of eight hours, followed by an intense two hour-interview. The purpose of this study was to find out what copy editors do and think. Usually, studies of copy editors focus on their gatekeeping duties or the effects of technology on editors, or copy editor burn out or the professional values of editors.
Yet, we need to consider that the main tasks of copy editors are to prepare copy, fix errors, write headlines, layout pages, find holes in stories, guard the English language against misuse, and stand as the last line of protection against libel. Although many research studies have looked at editing and editors, systematic studies of what copy editors do and think are rare, and no study of copy editing processes has been reported in a peer-reviewed journal since the advent of electronic editing in the 1970s.
By studying the process of editing, I hope to come to a better understanding of editors and why they do what they do. News editing courses are often one of the two staples (along with news reporting) of the nearly 400 college journalism programs in the nation. The teaching of editing skills could be improved by a study that describes how real editors edit. The following study is an exploratory case study of two editors. It will present a three-way comparison between two copy editors--a recent college graduate and a 25-year veteran--and the copy editor model as popularized in journalism textbooks.
In research studies, the term editor is often used loosely to describe newspaper jobs that typically involve management decisions and story selection. The term may or may not include copy editing duties. In this study, the focus is on copy editors who are newspaper employees without management or story selection duties. During the shift they were studied, the copy editors spent most of their time writing headlines and editing copy for errors. They worried about news style and spelling, and they cut stories to fit new holes. The limits of this study left out those editors who mainly design pages, paginate news pages, or work in news slots selecting stories and assigning them to pages and passing them on to other editors to process.
I focused on two copy editors who have no management duties but are held responsible for thousands of words that make up the printed text of an average daily newspaper. They are the last editors to read a news story before a page is printed. This study will describe the skills and thinking of the editors as they meet deadline pressures and fulfill journalistic conventions.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT COPY EDITORS
Research emphasis on copy editors has been generally focused on the study of environmental constraints that affect the decision-making by editors when they select news. These studies indicate that editors operate under constraints of time, space, resource availability, and bias. Other studies have looked at the social pressures in the newsroom or the effects of management involvement.
Typically, studies of editors have focused on what influences news selection. Tuchman, for example, argued that constraints of time and space imposed routine decision making on editors, and that personal bias and journalistic conventions shape both the content and the selection of news.
Other types of studies sometimes have an applied focus, such as measures of editors' rankings of what's important in the editing process. For example, Bremner asked editors to rank the importance of 60 headline faults. Sometimes, editors are asked to rank types of errors they usually find in news copy, or to judge how important mechanics is in journalistic writing. One study found that educators and editors agree that the key skills for copy editors to possess are language, accuracy and fact checking, ethics, headline writing and critical thinking. The authors of one of these studies, however, suggested that managers may be expecting too much from copy editors, and that the amount of coursework in a typical journalism school editing course may be unreasonable because it overburdens students.
When electronic editing was introduced to newspapers in the 1970s, the question of what exactly copy editors did on the job received attention. Video Display Terminals brought about major changes in how copy editors performed their tasks. Randall, for example, compared a newspaper before and after VDTs were installed and found that the VDT-produced newspapers had fewer errors. Garrison as part of his VDT study found that most of a copy editor's time was spent editing stories followed by writing headlines. Wire stories were usually cut from the bottom up and changed to fit the newspaper's style but were rarely reorganized. Editors agreed that accuracy had been improved by VDTs, but that they had to accept more responsibility since fewer editors read each story. The movement to use electronic page makeup has had mixed effects on copy editors: some appreciate the positive aspects of flexibility and control, while others fear that the work is degrading and a burden.
In the 1990s after the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported high levels of discontent on the nation's copy desks, researchers focused on copy editor burnout and dissatisfaction. Cook and Banks found, for example, that the highest level of job burnout is among entry level journalists at small dailies, and that personality and health factors often played key roles in determining burnout. "Understaffing, increased work volume, new technology, and ungrateful supervisors all spell trouble for an overburdened, burned-out copy desk," researchers noted. In a case study, one researcher provided some clues to the problems of the overburdened copy editor: stress created by deadline pressure and management activities was cited as a leading cause of copy editors' complaints.
Copy editors in this study. Although their experiences and ages are different, Elder and Young share many things. They are both males who graduated from Southern public universities with degrees other than journalism. Both became interested in journalism because of their interest in language arts. They began to think of journalism as a career option after they worked at newspapers during summer vacations while they were in college. Neither worked for his high school newspaper, and only Young worked for his college newspaper. Both had received praise from numerous teachers for their writing abilities and were encouraged by their early newsroom experiences.
They are both heavy readers of newspapers, book, and magazines. They both come from middle-class backgrounds, although Elder's childhood was spent in a rural area, while Young lived in an urban area. Neither has children nor is married, although Elder shares a home with a partner. In general, Young is not satisfied with his current job. He prefers working with reporters and has strong ambitions to become a mid-level manager who is involved in producing news, rather than managing the business-side of newspapers. Although Young doubts that there is opportunity for advancement at his current job, he accepts the idea that he must gain experience before he can move to another newspaper for a better job. He notes that he is not active in community events, and he rents a house.
Elder says he is satisfied with his job. He had been a line manager for the afternoon version of the newspaper he now works for, which was folded and the two staffs merged. Elder prefers working more with news gathering and reporters and would like to change jobs. But he strongly insists that he is happy at his job and satisfied with the community, newspaper management (a family-owned newspaper), and benefits. Elder is active in many community activities, has family in the area and owns a home.
The major concept applied to editors is gatekeeping. It is traced to the ideas of Lewin who described a gatekeeper as someone who decides which items would continue to flow through communication channels. The concept of gatekeeping was introduced into journalism research by White, who performed a content analysis of stories sent by wire services and passed successfully through a newspaper wire editor to appear in the newspaper. The major limitation of gatekeeping studies are their emphasis on selection process, which is viewed mainly as a function involving constraints.
Expanded Gatekeeping. For this study, gatekeeping is defined as a broader process. Donohue, Tichenor and Olien suggested that the concept of gatekeeping should describe a process of information control that goes beyond selection and includes message shaping. For this study, a gatekeeper includes copy editors who may change one word in a lead as well as those who write a headline. By including message handling under gatekeeping, the average copy editor becomes part of a larger process that describes how media produce messages. As Tuchman noted, gatekeepers learn to do their jobs by being gatekeepers. Copy editors probably learn to edit by being editors.
Research Questions. Overall, recent literature suggests that copy editors are overworked. The American Copy Editors Society has a survey connected to its Web page that asks for information about the process of copy editing at newspapers. More than 120 editors have competed the survey. One editor wrote: "The workload is beyond any reasonable expectations. The pages get done, but very little actual editing is done."
The goal of this study is to continue the process of understanding copy editing. Why are copy editors discontent? What are their job expectations? How does the work meet those expectations? What do editors think when they edit? How do their jobs compare with the image of copy editing in journalism textbooks?
This study compares two copy editors and the ideal of copy editing as presented in editing textbooks. The goal of a case study is to provide rich information about a case in a context that sheds light on the research problem. Case studies are valuable because they provide a more valid form of understanding a problem and a better basis for understanding a situation than a quantitative study.
For this study, I spent one eight-hour shift with each of the copy editors. Each worked at a Southern daily newspaper of about 60,000 circulation. Management considers Elder to be a veteran copy editor who is a valuable asset to the copy desk and the newsroom, which is mainly staffed with young, inexperienced copy editors and reporters. As Elder noted, during his 20 years at this same newspaper, he has seen dozens of young reporters and editors come and go. Young is considered a bright copy editor with a promising future, who will probably leave the newspaper for a better job within the next couple of years.
On the nights I observed Young and Elder, they were assigned to "rim work," which meant their duties were limited mainly to editing text, proofing pages, and writing headlines. Other copy editors during the shifts performed multiple tasks that included electronic pagination, story selection, and layout duties. But the focus of this study is the editing process and the values, thinking, and social influences that are in play while the copy editor does the most basic of editing tasks.
During most of my observation, I watched as the copy editors opened and edited news stories and wrote headlines. The editors were told to work in their normal fashion and to share their thoughts if they wished. I occasionally asked what they were doing if I needed more information. As a former journalist with 10 years of experience, I easily understand most of the tasks. Within a week of the observations, I interviewed each copy editor for about two hours. I later shared my work and conclusions with Elder, Young, and a third editor who knows them both. All three editors judged that the conclusions of this study fitted their perceptions of what they do and how they do it, and why they do what they do. Newspaper management easily approved access to the newsroom, and Elder and Young appeared eager and flattered to be chosen for study. I told them that I wanted to know what newspaper editors really did and to compare it with what journalism books said they should be doing. I
approached the observations with two, deep-rooted biases based on my long association with newspapers and editors. I believe that copy editors are expected to do too much in too little time and that those constraints affect the quality of editing and their job satisfaction.
Editing generally has been divided into three tasks: coherence editing, global editing and editing for correctness; on a microlevel, editing has been used to describe: rewriting, proofreading for grammatical and spelling errors, revision to improve context or meaning, substantive editing, re-organization to improve the overall story, or working with a writer to change and improve a text.
As a preliminary model, three journalism editing texts were used to describe a copy editor's tasks for this study:
1) They use tools such as computers, pica poles, dictionaries, newspaper archives.
2) They have basic skills involving the use of the electronic tools; for making sure that sentences and paragraphs make sense and cohere; for making the right word (correctly spelled, grammatically sound and stylistically correct) is being used; for ensuring that text is accurate, objective, and fair; for compressing copy to fit space constraints; and for writing story summaries (headlines and cutlines) in very few words.
3) They polish words with their skills to assure headlines are attractive and text serves meaning. They are "wordsmiths" who improve stories at the sentence, paragraph and story levels. They are careful readers who plug holes in stories and make sure that story beginnings are tight and well-written
4) They watch for libel.
5) They have advanced skills such as compiling news stories by using different wire services or local copy to reduce a great number of stories into one, coherent, concise, complete story.
6) They have graphic and layout skills. They may need to know electronic pagination.
7) They develop a sense of news judgement and copy flow.
During observation, I watched for all these skills except No. 6, which was beyond the scope of this study. During the shifts I observed, neither editor compiled a series of stories into one story (No. 5). I asked about this, and the desk copy chief acknowledged that the newspaper should do more compilation. But, the desk chief said, the news desk usually does not have adequate staffing to allocate time to compiling stories. In rare cases, such as important stories with multiple versions from different wire services, the news editor will assign a copy editor to compile stories.
Global editing. This type of editing involves changing organization and structure of a text. During global editing, an editor may even ask a reporter to add chunks of information to a story. The typical journalism editing text devotes much space and attention to this skill.
But Elder and Young both said that they do not have time to do global editing, but they added that if some story was grievously disorganized they might make changes if the changes could be done quickly. They justify their unwillingness to make global changes by noting that the stories they edit, both wire service stories and local news stories, have been edited by other editors (assistant city editors or wire service editors) who have considered the organization, structure, and information content of the story. Elder and Young said they are more likely to make global changes to wire stories, moving information from the end of the story to higher in the story, when they believe the story is likely to be cut during pagination.
Elder said he was reluctant to make substantial changes to material that a reporter and editor, especially in local feature stories, has judged to be appropriate. One of Elder's values is his respect for the professionalism of reporters and other editors. Often during our conversations, Elder, who previously had spent 10 years as a supervising editor for local news, would speak of his work in relation to the functions of other editors and production workers. He cast his responsibilities in a way that made it clear that he thought of himself as part of process of creating a product. For example, in discussing the need to make deadline, Elder talked about the need for the presses to start on time so that the newspaper delivery people, mostly part-time workers who work other full-time jobs, could finish deliveries and be at their other jobs on time.
If copy editors made major changes in local news copy, "people would have a cow," Young said. "I've been told that if something needs major changing to send it back or call a superior's attention to it. The mind set is that copy editors are an extension of the computer system to clean up technical aspects of the story."
One example of global editing occurred when Young, while writing a headline, moved information (about three words) from the middle of a wire news story into the lead. He then wrote a headline that included this newly prominent material. When asked about the move, Young worried whether I thought he did something wrong. He explained that he thought the wire story was slightly stale and needed to have the information in the lead to attract readership. Contrary to the journalism text model, Young said he almost never rewrites the lead of a local news story.
Another time, Young pointed out a wire story that repeated information from the lead in a paragraph later in the story. Young explained that taking out the redundancy would take too much rewriting, and he declined to make the change.
Coherence editing. Both Elder and Young acknowledged that while reading copy, they mainly pay attention to how well the story coheres--do the words make sense, and does the copy read smoothly. The issues are word choice, clarity and understanding.
Journalism editing texts list the types of coherence improvements copy editors should make. Gilmore vaguely describes the task as one of polishing copy, while Westley offers numerous examples of before-and-after changes in copy. The implication made by the textbook authors is that copy editors have some sixth sense that leads them to making improvements by taking out words or recasting sentences. The critical point, the texts say, is careful reading, at least twice or even three times.
In the world of Young and Elder, copy editors only read the stories once. They said time limits prohibit repeated reading. At best, Elder said, his job is to keep embarrassing mistakes out of the newspaper. The first step is finding those mistakes.
Young reads until something stops him. "You go through it, and stop at places that are difficult to understand or don't make sense. I know something is wrong if I have to reread it before going on."
During my observation, coherence changes by Young including adding a "the" before "two shots," and he changed "at" to "to" because the original phrases "didn't sound right." He removed redundant words and often changed the awkward placement of the time element in a sentence. In one story about an arrest of a rape suspect, Young changed "alleged" to "charged," and changed "contended" to "alleged," and changed "sexual offenses" to "sex crimes."
In describing the above changes, Young said he was in a "hunt mode" looking for jargon or antiquated language. He was looking for shorter words that have direct meaning. He wanted to "paint a better picture."
"Don't say, 'He received a fatal gun shot wound.' NO! Say, 'He was shot dead,'" Young said. "I'm not a copy vigilante, but if it sucks eggs, I believe I should make it better."
Elder uses a similar technique. As he reads, he becomes the average newspaper reader. "If I get lost, I back up and say, 'What is this story trying to say?' I know that if I'm lost, the reader will probably get lost, too."
Elder makes far fewer coherence changes than Young. He changed "2 to 4 percent" to "2 percent to 4 percent" for clarity. In another story he took out the 12 from "12 midnight."
Overall, however, Young and Elder made few changes of any type in the stories they edited. Many stories had no changes made, while others had two or three. During the two nights I observed, they edited a total of 55 stories and made a total of 243 changes in copy, including changes made for correctness.
Editing for correctness. Editing textbooks focus on these kinds of errors with chapters devoted to grammar, style, word choice. The strategy of the textbook authors appears to focus on listing of typical words that are misspelled, words that are misused, and grammatical mistakes editors should watch for. But lists seem far from the minds of real copy editors.
Elder said mistakes jump out at him while he's reading. During his shift, most of the mistakes he corrected were related to hyphens: adding them to words such as run-off and 12-step plan, and taking them out of words such as grown-up. When reading proofs
he checked jump lines and date lines. He took the "s" out of "backwards." He checked the spelling of six proper names during the night, using the paper's electronic archives.
When do copy editors check something? Young said a bell goes off. "I've been reading along thinking of the major things in the story, then the grammar alarm rings. Or, I know I've seen this before, or I know it's something that can be messed up easily, or I know it has multiple forms and I want to check it."
Among the mistakes Young checked included whether newspaper names should be in italics and whether an event happened the previous Thursday or Friday in a confusing story. In fixing mistakes, Young made far fewer corrections than Elder. Young moved a misplaced modifier to the end of a sentence. He took the year off at the end of a date because the event had happened within the last 12 months. While reading a page proof, Young deleted an extra article before a noun, and he checked whether three words naming a public building should begin with capitals.
Although the textbooks emphasize the importance of spelling, it is a rare consideration for Elder and Young. This is probably due to the proliferation of spell checkers on computer software programs. Young estimated that each story had probably been through at least two spell checks before he read it. Elder did catch one mistake that spell checkers can't catch: he changed a "to" to "too."
Once edited, every story as a matter of desk policy is read by a spell checker before it is shipped to a paginator. Elder and Young agree that the "mindless" spell checker program is a waste of time. They had to repeatedly strike a key to tell the spell checker to skip proper names.
Editing for fit. Elder and Young agreed that the best and fastest way to cut a wire story is to fit the layout of the design editor. They use the computer to justify the story and show the length line by line. They move the cursor to the point that marks the length ordered by the layout editor. They search for the nearest line that lets the story end at a sensible place and then they delete the rest of the story without reading it.
Gilmore's textbook calls such editors butchers. Westley says no self-respecting editor would bite off the end of stories. Elder and Young say it's the only way they can do their jobs and make a deadline.
Although editing textbooks insist that editors read the whole text and carefully cut stories, Young says that type of editing is unrealistic given the time constraints and the large number of stories that he edits each night. Besides, he argued, the ends of wire stories are usually filled with unimportant information, and it makes no sense to read 20-inches of news about Yugoslavia when the layout calls for 6-inches of copy.
Elder and Young said they are more careful when cutting local stories, but they seldom are expected to do so. No local stories were cut the nights I observed the two editors. The copy desk chief told me that minor cuts needed for production purposes are usually made by the pagination editors as they electronically paste up news pages. The paginators, too, usually cut from the bottom, the editor said.
Pressure and deadlines. The pressures on a copy editor may depend on newspaper size. Gilmore tells student editors in his text that although the work pace may be brisk at times, they should have enough time to bring a book or magazine to work and catch up on the important reading they should be doing. Young and Elder, however, have so little free time on the desk that they eat while they copy edit, chewing as they read. Elder took almost 30 minutes to eat a piece of pizza that was cold by the time he finished.
Elder was obsessed with copy flow. He constantly kept track of the number of stories that were waiting to be edited. As he worked, he was aware of wasting time. "My theory is get it right the first time; then you can avoid a scramble later."
Throughout the night, he constantly referred to the approaching deadline of 11 p.m. For example, just before 9 p.m., he takes a cigarette break and said it would be the last one "before the big push." At 10 p.m., after editing his 19th story in the last two hours, he said: "It feels good to be caught up for a while." At 11 p.m., Young told another editor that he was starting to edit stories for the late edition, but if something for deadline needs to be done "call me if you need me."
Elder changed his editing choices as deadline exerted its pressure. As deadline neared, he ignored coherence editing and seldom changed anything unless it was obviously a mistake. One time, he spent less than 1 minute editing a story and about 30 seconds in writing a headline.
Deadline awareness affects Young, too. He repeatedly checked with other editors to see if their work loads were under control. "Do you need help?" "Can I do something for you?" Questions such as these appear to be a "clock-watching ritual."
Both editors complained that the pace of stories and the repetitive nature of the work made it difficult to maintain interest and alertness. Young looked for ways to break the monotony. "Editing is lonely and frustrating, we need some way to break the tension," Young said as he rocked his head to loosen his tight neck muscles.
One tension breaker was humor. About three hours before deadline only two types of conversation broke the steady clicking and clacking of keys. Besides asking for instructions or information, copy editors tried to be funny, and they often laughed about anything quirky, and they did not hesitate to share it with everyone. For example, Young began work on a local news story that was 4 days old, and he told all the other editors that it was so old that "the seal on the jar lid had popped." As soon as he started to talk, other editors stopped and turned their heads toward him. One editor didn't hear and asked him to repeat the line.
Typically, the short interruptions usually involved some contextual humor about tension, performance, or the odd quality of some news story. Sarcasm, irony and bad puns were favorites. The only rule about talking aloud was that any comment that interrupts others must be some form of shared humor. A conversation's end was signaled with a chuckle and the simultaneous return to typing.
On some nights, early in the shift, some lulls exist in the work, and the pace is not as fast as the last to or three hours before deadline, Elder said. During these periods, Elder will take a break to smoke a cigarette, which requires that he go outside the building. (On busy nights, he might have only two smoking breaks. The night I observed, he took two breaks of about 3 minutes each before 8 p.m. After deadline he took two 10-minute breaks.) When the pace slows, Young likes to "surf the computer's story queues," looking for interesting stories to read that may not make it into the newspaper. Between stories, he shifted to the story assignment queue to see if any work had been assigned. When there were no stories to edit, he returned to story surfing.
Neither copy editor, however, complained about stress, burn out or pressure. When asked directly, they implied that pressure was part of the job, and they felt challenged by the job conditions.
Role of the editor. Young said copy editors on the rim are "the ultimate micro-managers," who leave the big picture to other editors. "By the time a story gets to us, our job is to pay attention to the tiny details," Young said. "We are a volume dealership in that stuff.
"I basically go in and people throw stuff at me. I'm a processor--that's the way it is when you are starting out. I'm treated as a rookie until I prove myself."
This is not the job Young wanted to do when he became a copy editor. Young has read ads in trade publications and noted that newspapers advertise for copy editors who are wordsmiths. Young complained that he doesn't get a chance to be a wordsmith. "We're technicians, and I don't like it very much."
Elder is more accepting of his role. "I enjoy detail work, dotting the I's and crossing the T's." A copy editor's job is to keep errors out of the newspaper. "I enjoy doing all the little piddley shit."
Organizational pressures. I did not observe direct pressure by upper management (who work days) on the rim copy editors (who work nights). Both Elder and Young commented on how they felt isolated from those types of pressures. Their boss was the news editor, and, as is typical at newspapers, she plays a dual role as a representative of management to the news desk employees and as a representative of her workers to management. Elder noted that while the bosses left him alone, he assumed that the news editor took the brunt of complaints.
Indirectly, and most obviously, upper management exerts the dual pressures to meet deadlines and to produce an error free newspaper. One wall of the newsroom is called the "Hall of Shame." There, the newsroom managers hang examples of notable mistakes. The first night I was in the newsroom, the wall had a letter and news clip from a reader who complained that the editors were sloppy because they had allowed "lead" to appear in a sentence when "led" was called for. The next night the wall contained a front page from a rival, and larger, newspaper. Elder said the front page had been much poorer than the one his paper had produced.
Elder and Young said they like the wall because it allows them to know what upper level management thinks and values. Elder said sometimes he ignores their values. "I want to know what they think, but I'm the one who edits the newspaper." Sometimes, when he doesn't agree with what the editors say, he edits the way he thinks he should.
Making deadlines has been a constant problem at the newspaper. Elder and Young agreed that deadlines should be made and should be absolute, and they perceived strong upper level management pressure to meet deadlines. They seemed unwilling to talk about specific deadline problems at the paper. With their facial expressions and tones, they implied the problem was related to work habits of some of their co-workers whom they did not want to identify.
During the last 25 years some things have changed in the newsroom, Elder said. management style has changed from confrontation to what Elder called the "get-along thing," which is marked by ultra-politeness among newsroom workers. Elder said he missed the old-style atmosphere that was more confrontational and allowed people to fight head-to-head and get things off their chests and then forget about it.
The news desk workers and reporters were so polite that the newsroom seemed like an insurance office. The air seemed to be missing an important staple: the drive and clarity that feeds on tension, anger, and anxiety. For example, Young was given an impossible headline to write in the space given. When the layout editor walked by, Young said, "Boy, you sure have given me some interesting head sizes tonight. These stories are really complex."
The layout editor paused, seemed confused and then almost defensive as she replied softly, "Do you need more space? How about a drop head?"
"No. I'm not complaining. It's just been a challenge."
"Go ahead, take more space. I have some extra room on the page," the layout editor said as she turned around, seeming to forget where she was going. Later that night the layout editor returned and tried to explain why the headline sizes had been so large for such small space, while Young apologized for appearing to complain.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
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 "art" of headline writing, that they are responsible for "captivating readers," and that journalism is a place for "imagination." But Elder and Young push copy through their computers. They do not edit, they process. They are more like technicians than wordsmiths, and the textbooks don't talk about their disappointments and those of copy editors at many newspapers.
Young is obviously not satisfied with his job but believes that he has to gain experiences before moving to a better job where he can be a wordsmith. But he is disappointed that his first newspaper experience is less valuable than what he had expected. Young appeared angry about the limits on his editing responsibilities, but he said that copy editing was the best job he ever had, much better than the factory work he had done in summers while in college. For Young, journalism is still exciting.
Elder appeared to harbor some resentment left over from his demotion during the merger of the papers, but he portrayed himself as the good soldier, willing to do what management wants. He enjoys the tiny details that he attends to. He is satisfied with his work and where he lives.
Elder and Young accept that deadline pressure is a part of journalism, and yet they desire to be real editors in the classic textbook sense. It's too bad that the reality doesn't match the ideal.
Elder and Young are only two copy editors in a world with hundreds of copy editors. Although a case study cannot be generalized to a larger population, I would expect conditions to be similar at small newspapers that have limited budgets and medium-sized newspapers during cutbacks . On the other hand, larger newspapers may provide opportunities for copy editors to be editors in the textbook sense, and it would be informative to expand this study to include editors at larger newspapers. Have they, too, become button-pushers and copy processors?
Many other interesting questions surfaced in this study. One is the relationship between management and copy desk editors. Breed has noted that many management pressures are indirect, and one researcher has found management decisions to be related to copy desk burn out. Under what conditions do managers add stress to the job? Another interesting avenue of research is personality and copy editors--certain personality types may fair better under the various pressures as suggested by Cook and others. Idealism of youth may fade as the copy editor gathers experience: Elder appeared to accept editing conditions more readily than Younger did. Perhaps long-time successful copy editors have certain qualities that make them suitable for the work. Finally the role of humor on the copy desk may be worth further study. It seems to be an important safety valve for pressure. How does humor work, and what are its effects?
Whatever the answers, journalism educators should be concerned about the average journalism student who is more likely to start work at a small newspaper, one that will put the rookie editor under great pressure, while skewering the dreams that had been fed by journalism textbooks and limited college experiences. The typical journalism student will be expected to ram stories through a system that requires technical expertise. Language and words have little to do with most of the copy editing I saw (even though newspaper editors have complained that journalism schools fail to teach students the basic language skills they need to be good copy editors).
Language and words, however, are what attracted Young, Elder and hundreds of other journalists to newspapers. 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.
 Gerald Stone, Examining Newspapers (Newbury Park: Sage, 1987).
 S. Holly Stocking and P. H. Gross, How Do Journalists Think? (Bloomington: ERIC, 1989).
 David Manning White, "The 'Gatekeeper': A Case Study in the Selection of News," Journalism Quarterly 27 (1950): 282-290; Pamela J. Shoemaker, Gatekeeping (Newbury Park: Sage, 1991).
 Warren Breed, "Social Control in the Newsroom: A Functional Analysis," Social Forces 33 (1955): 326-335; L. Donehew, "Newspaper gatekeepers and forces in the news channel," Public Opinion Quarterly 31 (1967): 61-68.
 Gayle Tuchman, Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978).
 John Bremner, HTK: A Study in News Headlines (Topeka, KS: Palindrome Press, 1972).
 S. A. Ward and R. Seifert, "The Importance of Mechanics in Journalistic Writing: A Study of Reporters and Editors," Journalism Quarterly 67 (1990): 104-113
 Ann Auman and Betsy B. Alderman, "How editors and educators see skills needed for editing," Newspaper Research Journal 17, no. 1/2 (winter/spring 1996): 2-13.
 S. D. Randall, "Effect of electronic editing on error rate of newspapers," Journalism Quarterly 56 (1979): 161-165
 Bruce Garrison, "The electronic gatekeeper: Editing on the copy desk of a metropolitan newspaper," Newspaper Research Journal 3 no. 2 (1980) 43.
 John T. Russial, "Pagination and the Copy Editor: Have Things Changed?" (paper presented at AEJMC Phoenix, August 2000).
 ASNE report
 Betsy Cook and Steven R. Banks, "Predictors of Job Burnout in Newspaper Reporters and Copy Editors," Journalism Quarterly (spring 1993): 1-10. Betsy Cook, Steven R. Banks and Ralph Turner, "The Effects of Work Environment on Job Burnout in Newspaper Reporters and Copy Editors," Newspaper Research Journal (summer/fall 1993): 123-136.
 Betsy B. Cook, Steven R. Banks and Brad Thompson, "The relationship of copy desk leader behaviors to job stress, hardiness, and health factors in copy editors" (paper presented at AEJMC, Washington D.C. 1995) 15.
 Brad Thompson, Jan Fernback and Don Heider, "Family Feud: A case study of job stress and coping mechanisms among newspaper copy editors" (paper presented at AEJMC, Kansas City 1993).
 Kurt Lewin, Field Theory in Social Science (New York: Harper, 1951).
 White, "Gatekeeping."
 G. A. Donehue, P. J. Tichenor, and C. N. Olien, "Gatekeeping: Mass media systems and information control," in Current Perspectives in Mass Communication Research, eds. F.G. Kline & P.J. Tichenor (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1972), 41-70
 Tuchman, "Making News"
 Survey cited from <http://www.copydesk.org/editorsink/response.htm>
 Michael Q. Patton, Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods 2nd ed. (Newbury Park: Sage, 1990).
 Both the news editor and copy desk chief were interviewed for this research.
 Linda S. Flower and J. R. Hayes, "A cognitive process theory of writing," College Composition and Communication 32 (1981): 365-387; J. B. Smith and M. Lansman, "Cognitive modes and strategies for writing" (Chapel Hill NC: Department of Computer Science Technical Report, 1991).
 The books were selected to represent thinking of three decades. All had multiple editions: Brian H.Westley, News Editing 3rd ed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980); G. Gilmore, Modern Newspaper Editing 4th ed (Ames: Iowa State University, 1990); Dorothy A. Bowles and Diane L. Borden Creative Editing 3rd edition (Belmont, Calif.:Wordsworth, 2000).
 Westley; Gilmore; Bowles.
 Westley; Gilmore
 Westley; Gilmore
 Breed, "Social Forces."
 Thompson et al "Family Feud."
 Cook et al "Job Burnout; Thompson et al.
 Ann Auman, "A lesson for instructors: Top 10 copy editing skills," Journalism Educator (autumn 1995): 12-22.
 Frank Fee, John Russial, Ann Auman, "Back to the Future? Teaching Copy Editing Skills in Changing Classrooms" (paper presented at AEJMC Washington D.C. 2001).