As we near the end of another year, I thought I’d mix things up a bit on the blog today and try a video post.
In my first ever video for Super Copy Editors, I lay out my thoughts on the future of copy editing, specifically as it relates to the media industry, and what freelance copy editors can do to survive in the current environment.
For many copy editors, the landscape looks bleak right now. But even though the larger media industry is ditching copy editors left and right, there’s still a niche for top-notch freelance copy editors because many businesses DO understand the extraordinary value of what we do.
Here’s the video:
Here’s a transcript:
In the mid-’90s, when I was starting out as a copy editor, I was in college and my journalism professor told the entire class, “You guys must be crazy to get into journalism right now.” That was my journalism professor!
We all kind of laughed and looked around nervously, but it was clear even then, 20 years ago, that the industry was completely changing. So much has happened since then.
I was a copy editor for newspapers. I did that quite happily for a few years. Then I got more into the design aspect of newspapers. But the clouds were already descending upon the industry. Ad revenue was going down, being lost to digital.
I was thinking, “You know what? Maybe I should get into copy editing again because copy editors are always going to be needed.” Because, of course, newspapers care so deeply about the quality of the product. So, I got more into copy editing, and I really honed my skills. Eventually, I struck out on my own as a copy editor, going freelance and building up my own business.
Five years later, I realize I was totally wrong about how copy editors would be valued by the media industry. My assumption was that copy editors would be among the last to go in a layoff situation. It has become abundantly clear, though, that management doesn’t give a crap about quality in that way.
Just as an example, this past summer, The New York Times laid off a massive amount of copy editors. The New York Times—one of the biggest newspapers in the world, one of the most prestigious. They laid off … I think they went from 100 to 50. The copy editors who were there called it humiliating. They claimed that the management had referred to their work as “low-value editing.”
The copy editors there said, “Look, you have no idea what we actually do. We’re not just pointing out silly, easily identified errors. We’re actually saving your asses on a daily basis, protecting you from lawsuits.” This isn’t easily replaced by a reporter scanning his text for typos right before he submits the story.
Of course, The New York Times responded along the lines of, “We’re not getting rid of the copy desk. We’re just eliminating levels that are unnecessary.”
Long story short, The New York Times laid off a massive amount of copy editors and swore that this wouldn’t affect the quality of the product. But I have a collection that I save … I save screenshots any time I see an error. I have two dozen from the past three or four months alone. It just ticks me off. This is one of the best newspapers, best media organizations in the world—and they just don’t seem to care that embarrassing errors are making it in. Because that’s just not as important as the bottom line.
So, what is the future of copy editing? I think it’s clear that copy editing is falling by the wayside in an effort to improve the bottom line. That’s the reality.
Now, how can you survive as a copy editor today? What I tell freelance copy editors who are just starting out is what I’m doing right now in my own business, which is, “Build up your client base!” Time is of the essence. You need to get loyal fans right now. There are plenty of businesses, plenty of people, plenty of writers who care about quality. Do all the marketing things that you’ve read about. Build it up. You need to get it going now; get that fire blazing. Find those businesses and people who understand the value that a copy editor can provide.
Most important, you will not survive as a freelance copy editor if you start pricing ridiculously low for your services. Copy editors are a crucial step in making sure that the writing doesn’t have stupid, costly mistakes. So, don’t let your pricing scrape the bottom of the barrel.
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