‘A copy editor? What’s that? Why?’


Friends and family rarely question my intentions for wanting to be a journalist. But when I tell them which area of journalism I want to pursue — copy editing — they look at me bewilderedly and launch into a barrage of questions: “A copy editor? What’s that? Why?”

There are countless reasons copy editors choose the career paths they do, and this is mine:

As I pointed to two stacks of newspapers tilted slightly on my front porch, I said, “They look like the Leaning Tower of Pizza.”

“It’s Pisa,” my mom said, chuckling. “And you better eat breakfast before your paper route if pizza’s already on your mind.”

I was a paperboy for the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in Nebraska the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Little did I know then, on my first day delivering newspapers, that I soon would have a craving — not for pizza, but for print journalism.

It was thrilling and fascinating reading the stories each day before I delivered the papers and then telling neighbors which stories were the best.

To continue to experience this exhilarating feeling, I became a copy editor working for newspapers including the The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Des Moines Register, The Lincoln Journal Star and The Scottsbluff Star-Herald.

As a copy editor, I help influence readers’ decisions of what to read with the headlines I create, the edits I make to reporters’ articles and the photo captions I weave together.

For the next few days as part of the copy desk for The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, my skills in those areas will be tested and honed with the help of Jen Balderama and Kaly Soto, both editors at The Times.

To learn more about copy editors and what they do, or to learn how to write better, visit these Web sites:

— Brian Anthony Hernandez


2 Responses to “‘A copy editor? What’s that? Why?’”

  1. Mariana Muñiz Lara Says:

    Hey Brian!
    I really like copy editing; looking through all the details…
    I also worked with Kaly; you are going to have fun, even if you have to stay in the newsroon past 11:00 p.m. 🙂
    Tell your new friends to give it a try, so that you can take a night off.
    And congratulations all for being in the Institute. I’m sure you will have a great time and learn a lot.
    Un abrazo desde Puerto Rico, Mariana
    Miami 2007 Institute

  2. Merrill Perlman Says:

    As my first editing teacher said, near as I can recall: As a reporter, you may have one, two or three stories in that day’s paper. As a copy editor, you may have a dozen. It’s your headline that lures the reader in to the story; without copy editors, reporters’ work is unread.

    And as a former assistant managing editor at the New York Times often said, “It’s God’s work.”

    So to all who think being a copy editor is the best job in journalism: bless you.

    Merrill Perlman
    Capo di tutti copy (as Nancy Sharkey has named me)
    The New York Times

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