Forgive me, nightside copy editors, for I have come to dash your hopes and crush your spirit.
I come as one of you, having edited many thousands of stories and written many thousands of headlines in the darkness of an approaching newspaper deadline. But those days are gone, and that era is past. It's time to let go.
Forget about the horseshoe-shaped universal desk, the rim rat and the slot chief. They are as outdated as green eyeshades, pica poles, rubber cement, and drawing little lines below "w" and above "m" so as not to confuse the Ludlow machine operator.
The flat truth is: If you're editing stories for a newspaper deadline, you're doing it wrong.
And you can take down that arrogant sign over the desk that says "Where the work gets done." (This was a real sign at one newspaper where I worked.)
I do not suggest that copy should not be edited. "Everybody needs an editor" is as true today as it was when I had long hair and a motorcycle.
But editing should be tightly coupled with newsgathering and writing. If your newsgathering process isn't producing clean, publishable copy, you're not ready for a digital world. Fix it.
Print is, at best, a static fork of a continuous digital process. If you're waiting to post news until it's edited for print, you're killing your job. If you're posting news on the Web that isn't of publication quality, you're killing your job.
Many companies are centralizing or consolidating their print production operations. This is seen as a cost-cutting measure, and it is. We are seeing the sunset of print, and no amount of wishing and hoping will make it otherwise. Cutting the cost of print production as print revenues fade is the only responsible path, the only way to "save newspaper journalism" for a digital future.
I believe print layout/design is journalism. I understand the importance of qualified editors in the print-finishing process, writing or rewriting headlines, trimming and condensing stories to fit the unyielding requirements of the physical page.
But if that's where your editing is happening, you're screwed.
It's time to toss a flower, sprinkle some dirt, and say a prayer of thanks for the many years that the old-world copy desk reigned as the final arbiter of the daily truth. Let the undertaker have it, and move on.
And as your newsroom, information center, or whatever you call it shakes itself free of print, perhaps it can gain a new clarity of purpose.