Thursday, August 1, 2013

Words of wisdom from a professional copy editor

The ACES national conference in St. Louis this past April was one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. Not only did I get to spend a few days in St. Louis with some good friends, I also made some friends there. And these new friends were just as obsessed with editing as I am!
UNL ACES members photobombed by journalist celeb Craig Silverman

One day I was working the UNL grad school booth. My editing professor was checking in on me and a man came over to talk to her. I just sat and smiled since they were obviously catching up. But then I saw his name tag. "You're Steve Buttry!" I blurted, like I had just realized Brad Pitt was standing in front of me. Mr. Buttry was one of the people my class followed after we started our Twitter accounts for Intro to Editing. After some laughs I properly introduced myself and got to have a nice little chat with Mr. Buttry. I called my mom that night and almost screamed into the phone, "Mom!!!! I met STEVE BUTTRY!!!" ..."Um. Who?"
Regardless of my mother's cluelessness to the celebrity world of journalism, I got to meet several other famous journalists that week.
I've kept in touch with many of the people I met in St. Louis, mostly via Twitter and LinkedIn. One friend I made was Brian Cleveland, an editor at the Washington Post. I recently got to speak with Brian again about his editing career, experiences and knowledge on editing.
After 12 years of editing experience, not counting college, Cleveland is currently a "multiplatform editor" (editor for print and online) at the Washington Post.
"(As an editor) you get to be an advocate for the reader, which is an important role...(if) something is unclear to you, odds are good it will be unclear to some of the readers as well," Cleveland said.
He also enjoys writing headlines and even photo captions. "Any time you can write something that will make people smile or laugh, you've done a good deed."
In a world where no job after college, especially in your field of study, is a real possibility, Cleveland has some suggestions for hopeful young journalists; the first being an easy one for the technology-savvy generation, is to learn as many skills as you can and as quickly as you can.
"If I had a choice between two potential hires, one of whom knew more but couldn't really learn new skills and someone who knew a little less but was adept at picking up new things, I would hire the second person every single time."
Cleveland, like many other professional journalists, suggests that college students also gain experience. "(Internships) are important for the experience and the connections you'll make...journalism is a small world, and your network can make a huge difference."
I also asked Cleveland if he had any fun stories from the newsroom that he could share. And his response was even better than I'd hoped for and is also getting me even more excited to join a professional copy desk.
"I can't really think of any specific funny stories, to be honest. I've certainly had a lot of fun over the years, but it's usually related to in-the-moment jokes, commentary about some story or mistake you've found or some other gallows humor that only journalists appreciate and most people would be appalled by."
Thanks for your words of wisdom, Brian. And for getting me even more pumped for my new job! These next 15 days are going to go so slow!!