The lonely unappreciated life of a copy editor

My co-worker showed me this the other day and I nearly died. It is so perfect. Obviously if you're not a copy editor, you probably don't realize just how perfect this is, but take my word for it: It's perfect. Enjoy.

The lonely unappreciated life of a copy editor
By Jamie Kelly

The great thing about being a copy editor, besides all the drunks you get to meet in your after-work socializing, is that the public at large has no clue who you are or what you do. Most don’t even know you exist, sort of like my experience with girls in high school.

If they do have a guess, it’s that a copy editor is some mousy nerd in a fedora who runs spell-check over a story and knows the difference between its and it’s. And I’m trying to think of what that difference is right now, but it’s significance has escaped me, so we shall do as that chicken did in that parable and cross the road into other material.

Indeed, the public doesn’t know that we’re the lowlifes who write the headlines and design the pages in our vainglorious delusion that the public cares about headlines and design.

Of course, the public DOES care about headlines and design. They just don’t really know it.

They’re not picking up the paper every day, thinking, “I wonder who the creative genius is down there at the daily paper who makes the layout so attractive! Just look at that reefer to additional related content inside, for example. Just look at it, Marge! And that headline is poignant and subtle and replete with emo-tional impact, enticing me into further reading of the subject matter above which it rests. I’d sure like to meet that copy editor and give him chocolate and a sack of cash.”


See, we don’t get all the praise and adoration that reporters and Dave Barry-ripoff columnists get. We have no bylines; we don’t mingle with the general public; we don’t bring down empires and quote anony-mous sources and make up stories while sitting on our butts in a bar, downing whiskeys on the company credit card like that esteemed reporter from the New York Times, although that sounds pretty damn sweet, which is exactly why I don’t have access to the company credit card.

In fact, if you approached a member of the public and said, “Hello, person, I’m a copy editor at your daily newspaper,” he’d probably look at you and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about and get the hell away from me or I will puncture your abdomen with my keys.”

Not that there aren’t little perks to our anonymity. When we screw up a headline, most people assume it’s the reporter who’s responsible. Have you ever noticed that? Isn’t that cool? I always get a good little chuckle out of that. That’s why reporters, who can be such repressive whiners, get so ticked off when you write, “Blah blah blah, some headline about some loser goes here” above their story.

It’s just that we would sure appreciate a little recognition every now and then, wouldn’t we, fellow low-lifes? Just a little. Just a phone call from the mayor, saying “Jamie, I LOVED that headline over the story about my indictment.” Or how about adding a Use of White Space category to the Pulitzer Prizes? Or how about having a chance at that $5,000 Lee Enterprises award, WHOOPS, I better delete that last one.
As it is, the only recognition we get is from each other in the form of “Nice design, dude,” or from our superiors in the form of, “Get your ass in here and let’s talk about that spelling error.”

Such a lonely, unappreciated life it is on the copy desk. I don’t even know why I have a telephone here. Every time it rings, I know it’s my mother.

She’s not entirely clear what I do here.

Jamie Kelly is a columnist and copy editor at the Missoulian in Missoula, Mont. He can be reached at (406) 523-5254 or at

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