Neither Angry Nor Bitter

A reaction I got the other night upon telling someone I was interning on the copy desk:

“Oh, you’re a copy editor? But you don’t seem angry or bitter.”

Not quite the reaction I was hoping for.

But I get (OK, I can maybe sort of begin to understand) why he said that.

I don’t want to make up excuses for people who seem “angry” or “bitter.” And maybe I’ve even come off as that sometimes, though I’m certainly neither — I just take my job seriously and get in “the zone.”

(It took a full 30 seconds for someone standing in front of me to get my attention today. Being in “the zone” can be rough.)

So here are five possible (note: possible) reasons why copy editors seem so distressed sometimes:

  1. We’re on a tight deadline. Essentially, we’re the ones who hold up the publication of the paper, especially at my summer internship. Writers can push back most deadlines. The publishers can’t. And for breaking news that needs to go online 10 minutes ago, the pressure’s even worse.
  2. We’re usually perfectionists. And we won’t let a story go until we know we’ve done our best to remove every Oxford comma. We stress that we might let a mistake slide.
  3. But we know that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Nobody’s perfect, not even Ryan Gosling, and sometimes, that makes us frustrated. But we don’t — or, at least, we shouldn’t — expect copy to be perfect when it comes to us, despite this apparent myth that copy editors just hate reporters who submit copy that’s not immaculate. (That’s just plain false.) That being said, quality’s controlled on every level — each person who sees the material should be checking for and fixing errors because we’re all working to create this final product that’s as close to perfection as it can get.
  4. Although some errors make us laugh, others make us shake our heads. Anyone who’s on the Internet for a decent amount of time has seen a hilarious typo on something semi-important. But when you cover City Council every week and repeatedly misspell a councilman’s name? That’s frustrating for the copy editor who, by this point, could spell that name in his or her sleep.
  5. Our hours can be just plain weird, and that can be unfortunate. I listen to songs “for your ride home from work” on my way there. I see the sun set, not rise. Tonight, I got home to find two roommates asleep and the third almost in bed. Sometimes — especially on Fridays and Saturdays — this almost backward schedule can get old, and because we didn’t sleep until 1 p.m., we can get tired. But it’s OK because we love journalism. Otherwise, we would be stuck in some cubicle at a 9-to-5 job, right?


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