Life after newspapers: Copy editing skills are portable

I have learned a great deal since I started working for the AICPA‘s magazine and newsletters group about four months ago. We publish the Journal of Accountancy, The Tax Adviser, CGMA magazine and newsletters for certified public accountants. I no longer stumble over acronyms and abbreviations such as GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) and FMV (fair market value), and I have an inkling of how our nation’s tax policy reflects our cherished capitalism. But the most important lesson I have learned is that a conscientious, well-trained copy editor who has worked for daily newspapers for more than 30 years can find fulfillment and challenge in another type of publishing.

For years, I worried that my skills weren’t portable or that people in other types of publishing would not see how my knowledge and skills would fit in their organizations. I was wrong, and anyone who thinks that a good newspaper copy editor can’t be a good specialty copy editor is wrong.

I didn’t know a lot about accounting when I started, but I am learning every day. But what I know or will know about accounting isn’t as important as what I know about  usage and grammar and what I practice about consistency and fact-checking. I don’t have to grasp the deep ins and outs of tax accounting to see a subject-verb agreement problem. I don’t have to have a background in accounting to know that I should check a quote from a Supreme Court decision or raise a question about a word chosen to characterize that decision. I know that when an article says a man has been a CPA for 22 years I should check to be sure that’s true. (Turns out, it was 32 years.) I don’t need an accounting degree or even an IT background to try out something in Microsoft Excel to see whether it works the way an article I am reading says it will.

Resources exist on the marvelous World Wide Web for all of us to check and learn more about whatever we are reading. The senior editors I work with — several of whom are true experts — are available to explain something to me if I need. My supervising editor is himself a wealth of information on style and policy. We read proofs and have many chances to find problems and fix them.

I am most fortunate that I have the time to do this kind of copy editing, something that is harder to do in daily newspapers now with fewer people, more work and less time. I am grateful every day that I am paid to practice my skills and am rewarded for my work ethic.

Many of my former newspaper colleagues could make an important contribution to any publication — print or online. For many ACES members or other copy editors, this is old news. You have been out earning a living and adding value to academic papers, business communication, books and other published work for years. You also have embraced change and acquired knowledge that makes you even more valuable. You found ways to market your professional skills and keep at it.

We need to spread the word: A good copy editor is worth hiring, no matter where he or she learned the craft.


One Response to “Life after newspapers: Copy editing skills are portable”

  1. Judson Drennan

    Pam, I didn’t know that you’d left the daily grind. And I am glad that you are finding your way in your brave new world. (Ok, not I’m oddly sweating the typos and grammar faux paus that I might have in this post. Damn you, Copy Editing Queen. No matter the offense, I’m blaming it on my iPad.)

    As you know, I left about two-and-a-half years ago, and it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done — bigger than getting married, becoming a father, watching my own father waste away and pass — because It hit me at my core. While all else can change, I am, and will always be, a journalist.

    So now, I work for the Mother Ship, and my days are spent throwing around terms like “business value, ” “ROI” and minimum acceptance tests. These are not the storytelling terms that I’ve grown accustom to. (I know, I know, “to which I’ve grown accustom.” but it just comes across so formal …) But what I have learned is that our core skills — critical thinking, woodcraft and communication — cross many disciplines. I am a rock star at my new job. And it’s not because I’m good at software development; it’s because I can find out what other pele want (interviewing skills), can tell the difference between tonight people say they want and what they actually need (reporter’s B.S. meter (patent pending)) and then communicate those ideas to our development team (writing skills).

    Everything I know I learned in a newsroom. But I find that the average job is less demanding and more forgiving. So I muddle through and that see to be more than enough to succeed.

    it seems as though your personal experience, while different, is following a similar trend.

    I hope all is well with you and your family.