To be a copy editor, apparently, "you need to pay attention to accuracy"

So says this analysis of freelance copy editing. It also calls it a unique challenge along with paying “careful attention to the basic mechanics of writing.”

Thus, by the end of the second paragraph, it manages to backhandedly compliment copy editors while insinuating reporters/writers are functioning illiterates whose ideas apparently burst forth, uncontrolled or tamed.

When a profession is so misunderstood, it’s easy to see why it has trouble finding respect — or employment protection.

But first, let’s be petty and examine the rest of this guide to copy editing while keeping in mind that it was likely written without the consult of a copy editor or much, if any, pay.

  • “Freelance copy editing isn’t just a simpler offshoot of freelance writing in general, but an important discipline in its own right — and a rewarding one.” 
    • Well, that’s a good start.
  • Discussion of style guides and fact-checking, with nods to the variations. “Beyond that, all that it takes to become a successful copy editor is a sensitivity to cumbersome phrasing, grammar, and spelling, as well as a sensitivity to an author’s personal style.”
    • That’s all? That’s nothing. Sarcasm aside, all this is important. After all, there are always cases of editors rewriting or demanding changes simply because they don’t like the words, just as there are writers who will never be persuaded that when they type, their words are not like manna from heaven. Juggling these considerations while focusing on the goal is the humble task awaiting an editor.
  • “Many novice copy editors take a far too forceful approach to their work, effectively rewriting a reporter or other writer’s article for them in line with style guides and their own ideas about what makes good writing. This isn’t the function of a copy editor.”
    • OK, here’s where a discussion of judgment calls may be in order. Apparently, copy editing is viewed by many as an all-or-nothing proposition, one where either style guides stifle writing or writers run rampant through the writing fields … or an example that makes sense. See? An editor would have helped me there.
      More importantly, notice the tone. It’s a call to edit, but not so anything is noticed. In practice, this often means “don’t change anything.” At that point, who does need a copy editor?
  • “Since rewriting someone’s article causes you more additional work as well, why would you want to do it?”
    • That’s the spirit!
      I did skip the part about consulting with the writer on major changes or structural flaws. That’s really the key to editing — it’s a collaborative process. Take a look at a book of history or a biography, particularly a long, research-intensive one. Inevitably, the author will profusely thank his editor(s) and possibly researchers and other information-diggers who helped he or she accomplish a great task. There was an interdependence for a greater good. 

That attitude is not only positive and productive, but it’s damn well patriotic (in case you needed such an appeal). Copy editing is the whole, the parts and the sum of the parts — but it’s also knowing how each interacts with each other and the target audience. A copy editor cannot accomplish this alone. Neither can a writer (at least, all but a few). Together, however, that monumental task is accomplished every day in degrees great and small. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen. But like the CIA, failures are much more notable (and noted) than successes. It’s a cost of doing business.

One last note: Despite the article’s assertions, copy editing is not often “low-stress” (nor is it a writing job), but it can be rewarding inwardly and outwardly. Let’s spread that message in words and work — and be paid for it.