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The Copy Shop: Rimmer, slotter, proofer? The lost origins of Copy’s unusual position titles

(Nicole Nobre/Daily Bruin)

By Maris Tasaka

Feb. 10, 2019 1:29 p.m.

Welcome to the Copy Shop – the platform for members of Daily Bruin Copy to rant about the Oxford comma, discuss sensitivity in mass media and attempt to generally demystify the mind-boggling and all-too-misunderstood world of the copy editor.

When we first join the Daily Bruin as interns, we’re told there are three positions in Copy: rimmers, slotters and proofers. But what do those titles mean and where did they come from?

In training, we’re told that back in the day, the copy desk at newspapers was shaped like a horseshoe and rimmers were placed on the outside, the rim, and would hand in their corrections to the slot, who sat on the inside of the horseshoe. However, there’s a little more to it than just that.

It is thought that copy editors first emerged in U.S. newsrooms after the Civil War and that it wasn’t until the 1890s that the job began to grow in popularity. This came after a time in which newspapers themselves were becoming more popular as the public became interested in the goings-on of the Civil War, many of whom were looking at casualty lists checking for their loved ones. From as early as the 1920s and ’30s, journalists’ manuscripts and autobiographies recorded the structure of the copy desk as being in the distinctive U-shape.

Back then, the rimmer would be situated at the rim of the horseshoe-shaped desk and would edit any stories the slot distributed to them directly on paper. Rimmers would fact-check – although sometimes there was a completely separate job for fact-checkers – look for spelling and grammar errors, and check for potential libel issues.

In addition to that, they would need to know what size the story’s headline should be and would be tasked with trying to fit the story onto the page layout – which could entail either trimming it or figuring out how to make it longer. At times, the rimmer was also responsible for writing photo captions or designing the layout of the story. Once the rimmer finished editing the story, they would return it to the slot, who would take another glance over it.

In those days, the slot editor was typically the copy chief of the paper. The slot editor would sit in the middle of the desk, or the “slot,” on the inside of the horseshoe. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the reason for this was so the slot could easily roll around the table to distribute and collect stories from the rim editors.

In addition, the positions of slots and rimmers were all assumed by men, and the slot edition position garnered the moniker of the “slot man.”

The role of the slot, in addition to distributing stories to the rimmers and reviewing them when the rimmers were done editing, was also to be in charge of rewriting headlines, if needed, and placing the text into print when they were done editing – pretty much the same system that Daily Bruin Copy has now.

Additionally, the copy section in the 1950s had the option to “spike” a story, in which editors used a metal spike to puncture stories they decided were not going to go in print – something we rarely do today, if ever.

The final people to see the paper were the proofreaders, or what we now call proofers. Proofreaders would receive the final copy of the paper before it was printed and distributed to check for any lingering consistency or style issues while ensuring that everything in the layout looked correct.

It wasn’t until the around the 1970s that the practice of using computers to copy edit stories started. Today, with laptops, we have done away with the method of editing stories with a red pen on paper, but we still use the same names and general roles for the positions of the rimmer, slotter and proofer.

While today The Bruin has designers who focus on how much space a headline gets and how to fit stories into layouts, rimmers are still tasked with fact-checking the article, checking for plagiarism and bias, looking for style errors and, of course, checking the AP Stylebook, to say the least. Once our rimmers edit a story, they still send it off to a slot editor who looks for the same issues and inconsistencies. But now, rather than having just one slot editor who is also the Copy chief, we have a team of nine slot editors, including the Copy chief and assistant Copy chief.

When slots are done going over the story, they share what the rimmer may have missed and the good edits that the rimmer made, then place stories into the layout and print them for proofers to look at. Each day, we have a pair of proofers who continue to be the last copy editors to look at the paper before we send it off to the printing facility, and who are responsible for looking at any errors in written content and design-related inconsistencies that may still remain.

While we may no longer sit at a horseshoe-shaped desk – it’s just a long rectangle – and don’t use an actual metal spike to spike stories, a lot of the roles of copy editors when journalism was first breaking out seem to remain the same for the Copy section of The Bruin. It seems the Copy section today would be a lot more interested in the hyphenation and capitalization of the phrase “U-shaped” than actually sitting at a U-shaped desk.

Email Tasaka at [email protected] or tweet @maris_tasaka.

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Maris Tasaka | assistant Copy chief
Tasaka is the assistant Copy chief of the Daily Bruin. She was a slot editor last year and a contributor for Arts and Entertainment.
Tasaka is the assistant Copy chief of the Daily Bruin. She was a slot editor last year and a contributor for Arts and Entertainment.
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