The Copy Shop: Copy chiefs are here for readers – and we’re here for Copy’s future
(Nicole Nobre/Daily Bruin)
By Maris Tasaka
May 19, 2020 1:46 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.
If copy editors are the readers’ advocates, the Copy chief and assistant Copy chief are the ones making sure those editors have developed the skills to be just that.
Within Daily Bruin, the Copy section has the most editors – nine in total during the 2019-2020 year. Where most other sections typically have one top editor and anywhere between one and six assistant editors, Copy is led by one top editor, known as the Copy chief, an assistant Copy chief and an additional seven assistant editors known as slot editors.
The makeup of the Copy section’s leadership is thus markedly different from other sections, and it can be confusing to understand what that difference means. Part of this difference stems from the roles of the chief and assistant chief.
The responsibilities of a copy chief do not differ all that much between news outlets, although the name of the role can differ depending on the newspaper. General responsibilities of copy chiefs, and their differently named counterparts, can typically include managing workflow at the copy desk and overseeing rimmers, slots and proofers.
The Daily Californian’s website, for example, refers to what appears to be its equivalent to a copy chief as a night editor. This is the person who is also at the head of the copy section and comes in at night to help oversee paper production.
For some newspapers, there is no distinction between a slot editor and a copy chief. But at The Bruin, there are a few additional duties the chief and assistant chief undertake.
In general, when the chief and assistant chief are on shift, their roles do not diverge that much from those of a slot editor. Just as slot editors are assigned one to two shifts in the office per week, so too are the chief and assistant chief.
Besides day-to-day shifts, though, there are a few unique pieces of content the chief and assistant chief are responsible for editing.
Generally, the Copy chief and assistant Copy chief split these additional responsibilities, from alternating editing breaking football stories – which is often a six-plus-hour endeavor – to proofreading special issues like Daily Bruin’s quarterly magazine PRIME.
The chief and assistant chief are also typically the ones who meet with other sections’ top editors to keep workflow as smooth and efficient as possible, and to ensure that sections are meeting Copy’s deadline and Copy is meeting the printer’s deadline.
Additionally, each week – and every other week with proofers – the chief and assistant chief meet with the slots and go through critiques. During critiques, slots pick up one to three print papers throughout the week, read through the same section of the paper for each day and look for any inconsistencies or copy errors we’ve missed. Going over critiques during meetings provides a forum to discuss and establish new style rules to avoid future inconsistencies.
The Copy chief, though, has the added responsibilities of overseeing all hiring decisions within Copy, scheduling slots, rimmers and proofers on all their shifts, evenly designating stories to slots when there are special issues and organizing the occasional Copy-wide meeting.
Copy-wide meetings provide an opportunity for the chief and assistant chief to address key topics and to give advice to the entire section. At one of this year’s Copy-wide meetings, Saskia Lane, the 2019-2020 Copy chief, went over search engine optimization and how to utilize it to write an effective headline.
Apart from the many day-to-day roles, one of the most important jobs of the Copy chief and assistant chief is to facilitate the transition from one year’s editors to the next.
When I was hired as assistant Copy chief, one of my main goals was to ensure that I, along with Saskia and those who had been in Copy for a while, passed down all the institutional knowledge we had accumulated over the years to new editors.
By their very nature, student newsrooms have quick editor turnarounds, and so much of being a copy editor is learning on the job. But this can be difficult when editors only have one or two shifts per week. So, it is essential we utilize our time wisely to guarantee this year’s interns and staff members are fully prepared to become next year’s editors.
Typically, because the Copy chief and assistant Copy chief will have had more experience editing than the slot editors, proofers and rimmers, they can act as a resource when staff members have style or wording questions and can help ensure Daily Bruin is maintaining a consistent style throughout the years.
This year, one of the ways we tried to achieve this was by developing a style guide – similar to what The Associated Press has – that is customized to the needs of the Daily Bruin and UCLA. This would include entries on topics ranging from what we would call buildings like the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on first and second references, to how stories like Q&As should be formatted in print.
Slots this year and last year have also worked on pet projects, such as walk-through guides for rimmers and proofers, for editors during intern training and for interns to refer to when on shift.
Although it can often be time-consuming for slots to undertake pet projects on their own time, having slots record as much of their knowledge as they can – from which AP rules we don’t follow to the design errors proofers should look out for – ensures the learning curve is not as steep for incoming editors.
At the end of the day, as the Copy chief and assistant Copy chief, our jobs aren’t just about being the readers’ advocate; it’s also about being the copy editors’ advocate. And the way we can do that is by making sure the next crop of editors are well-trained, consistent and, most importantly, prepared to take over our jobs when the time comes.