10 February 2009

The heart of an editor and The Stylebook

It's another Tuesday at the Greeley Tribune, and Nicole, one of the copy editors/page designers here, keeps on breaking computers. She says the first time she did it, it was on purpose. The second time, all she had to do was sit down in front of the computer we use for photoshop, and it spazzed out. She went to open the program and the screen went BLLAAAAAAACCKKKKK.

I feel happy that I haven't killed anything yet. I suppose the day will come.

I feel like this internship is going pretty well so far. I mean, I haven't done anything incredibly stupid, and when I do miss things, they're usually special Greeley rules, or things I haven't been told to pay attention to in the past.

One of my projects earlier this evening was to edit a short article written by another intern named Jessica. She goes to UNC; I met her a couple of weeks ago and she seemed like the energetic, go-getter type. This idea was confirmed when I was told that she, unlike most every other intern here, is an English major.

I don't want to say that she's not a good writer. I think basing a person's writing ability off of a single example of newswriting is really kind of mean. But this piece. Oh, this piece. I read the lead (the first line). Twice. Three times. She'd never interviewed anyone before, and it showed: The entire article read the same way I'm sure my newswriting did when I was in Reporting 1. Dull. Very little personality.

That was the moment I realized I've turned into a newswriting snob. I don't think I was like this two years ago. It made me feel bad, like I'm a mean person who only finds joy in demonstrating my writing superiority over others. I told Casey this (he's one of my mentors) and he almost laughed and said, "Well, that's a good quality to have if you're going to be an editor."

The tiny snort of a laugh that Casey gave while keeping his eyes on his computer screen didn't exactly make me feel better. Editing some mini briefs he had written and finding mistakes in them did. So it seems like I'm either a very mean person....or I am going to be a fantastic editor, because I don't care about feelings when I edit. I care about the words sounding right.

Then again, I feel like a sort of diseased something is churning in the pit of my stomach. I never wanted to be one of "them." I've always hated pyramid-style articles -- hated writing them, hated being forced to read them -- and I have to confess, I'm a tad horrified with myself right now. It doesn't matter so much that I really did make it better. What matters was my first instinct to push the pertinent information to the top. Like my French prof would say, I've started my "chute au mal." My fall to evil.

But at least I really did make it better, at least, Casey said I did. I'm a big fan of reading things out loud, sometimes I'll plug my ears after editing a piece and whisper it to myself. It's a little difficult to do that and not feel weird, since the newsroom is really quiet after 5:03. With just sports and the copy desk still sitting around and working, the only loud things that happen mostly concern bantering and the police scanner. I had to do the ear plugging thing a couple of times with Jessica's article to get it right. See? Fall to evil.

Hopefully I can get to the point where I can just glance through things and not have to look up punctuation entries in the AP Stylebook. Oh, and concerning the Stylebook? Oy. I'd always been convinced that it was simply the collocation of strange rules written by a bunch of completely sloshed news editors trying to change the world of journalism.

Now that I've been using it more frequently, I am almost positive that my hypothesis is correct. How do you decide that in all American newspapers, "traveling" will only get one "l"? Or, for that matter, that all punctuation (except for that question mark) goes inside quotation marks? Oh, but there are even more exceptions.

I don't really know what they are yet. I just know that they exist. That's the most frustrating part of what I do: knowing that there may or may not be something wrong with a sentence, and knowing that its correctness lies solely in the hands of a bunch of drunkies. That if the sentence appeared in almost anything besides an article in a newspaper, it would be perfectly fine.

I can understand why being a copy editor isn't really on the top of the list for careers. You have to follow rules. Lots of rules. Some rules don't even have an explanation. In the Stylebook, they're just listed as a single word. Like "seesaw," or "'hooky' Not 'hookey'."But why isn't is "hookey?" Who decided? Was it a linguistics thing? Is "hookey" actually a bad word? How can normal people know these things, unless they had a hand in creating the Stylebook?

They can't. And that is why we editors are the elite (haha!). Although, the elite as compared to who, I'm not exactly sure. Who knows. But I'm sure that somewhere in the world, there exists a career that is the proletariat to our bourgeoisie.

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