Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Code Returns

You've seen it before. Let's take a look again, at a further-revised version. "The Copy Editor's Code," as handed down by the deities on high to their most humble servant, C. McCuistion. Or something along those lines.

1.) I will be a reader.

It's the most important factor of all. The newspaper begins and ends with the people reading it. A copy editor stands in for the reader at a critical point in the process. We can change things if they don't make sense.

We do this job for those who pick up the paper in the morning (or log onto the Web site). We answer to them.

2.) I will strive for accuracy and clarity.

The two go together. They fight sometimes, but it makes their relationship stronger in the end. The newspaper must be as accurate as it can be. It must put that information across in clear prose.

3.) I will express my concerns.

Copy editors do their job toward the end of the production process. Their concerns, therefore, can be dismissed in the headlong rush to print. We have to be heard. Not all battles can be won, of course. Not all battles are worth fighting. But we have a job. We must do it.

Sometimes, this means asking stupid questions. Sometimes, this means seeming dull-witted. Sometimes this means acting like an asshole. We didn't go into this for the glamour. We went into this for the truth.

4.) I will respect those who entrust their work to me.

Reporters. Photographers. Designers. Graphics artists. Assigning editors. We handle their creations. We sometimes take that responsibility too lightly. We should consider the reporter's intent. We should consider the photographer's intent. We should look at the page layout and consider what the designer meant to do.

These folks all started the process. Now it's up to us to finish it with aplomb. They will be our readers as well.

5.) I will know and use my newspaper's style rules.

This precept occupies the lowest spot, I know. Perhaps we should think of the numbering system as separate from entries' importance.

Anyway. You should know the style before you use the style. Rules and guidelines are seldom absolute. They can be bent, broken or changed. But we should know when that happens and why. Style ensures consistency and readability. It differentiates a newspaper from a collection of stories thrown together. It is the voice of the paper.