“Lowly” copy editor? Surely you jest

A post by Yoni Goldstein at the National Post of Canada asserts, I hope with irony, that the copy editor in modern newsrooms is “basically, a human spellchecker and guardian of the newspaper’s arcane style guide, a set of rules (like whether to spell the word “aging” or “ageing”) most editors and reporters either ignore or forget.”

This has caused a stir among our kind. I first saw the link on a Facebook post by Testy Copy Editor and later read a spirited and pointed response from John McIntyre, who has said what needs to be said about this. See other responses here, here and here.

I still think that the post is meant to be humor, not because writers don’t sometimes believe the sort of nonsense the post puts forth, but because I just can’t believe someone would write such ignorant garbage. Indeed, with the layoffs, buyouts and transfers that have occurred in the past few years, I sometimes do feel undervalued and lonely, but I do not see myself as lowly. And I have great esteem for my fellow copy editors.

2 Responses to ““Lowly” copy editor? Surely you jest”

  1. Rhett

    After tracking the responses to Mr. Goldstein piece, I’m left to wonder if were not taking away the wrong lesson from this.

    Sure, all the copy editors “in the know” get that we do more than Mr. Goldstein suggests. But have we taken the time to think about why those thoughts would even be put to paper. I’m sure at one time or another we were given directions to “just check the commas” or “don’t change anything unless there’s a misspelling,” leaving us largely handcuffed to actually help the piece we are working on. I’d be curious to see if there are other copy editors who don’t feel the freedom to do their job thoroughly, because their peers or bosses don’t really understand what a copy editor should be.

    Rather than merely bash the piece that started all this, we should consider what points it makes toward our profession and how we can better educate those on the outside about the true role of the copy editor.

    • Pam Nelson


      You make a wonderful point. We should be more transparent and vocal about what we do.