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.