Things I learned as a copy editor/page designer

Thursday was my last day as a copy editor and page designer at a consolidated editing center where I worked on 20 newspapers with about 30 other people. At the consolidated editing center, I laid out anywhere between six to 16 pages per day, depending on the publication(s).

I am so thankful for my time as a paginator and copy editor, because it has helped me hone skills that will only add to my career as a writer and editor. I came into my job not knowing anything about balancing word content with visual elements (sidebars, pictures, graphs, pull quotes, etc.). I didn’t know anything about presenting a story in an aesthetically pleasing manner while giving it a headline, deck and cutlines. As an editor at my previous job, I never gave a thought to word content and visual elements and how they could work together, but now I know for the future how to work with graphic designers and art directors on how to present content in an aesthetic and balanced manner.

I have come away from my previous job with so much happiness and fulfillment because I had an awesome and knowledgeable boss, helpful and mentoring supervisors and supportive copy editors who encouraged me along the way.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • NEWSWORTHINESS: Newsworthiness is something we all learned in journalism school, but this job has taught me the value of it more than my previous jobs and freelancing gigs. Working in daily news for various publications shows you audience, news value and timeliness day after day after day. As someone who was strictly a magazine writer, this is a valuable quality to take away.
  • DESIGN: As I mentioned earlier, I had no experience in page design (well, I took a class in college where we learned basic paginating and copy editing), but I now know how to be the kind of editor and writer who can visualize a story with art and graphics as I am writing a story. As a magazine writer, most stories (unless they are features) should be photo driven, and it’s important to think along the lines of color, pictures, sidebars, graphics — things that stimulate and engage the reader.
  • PEOPLE: Working in a consolidated editing center, you deal with a variety of personalities whether they be editors, other copy editors, ad sales executives, classifieds, press room workers, etc. You have to understand how to communicate effectively with all groups. As a copy editor you are the final step before the paper prints. You are the person in charge of producing the entire paper and have to make it happen by communicating with the appropriate department if there is a problem. You have to make it work and be on top of all aspects of the paper.
  • LEADERSHIP: When it comes down to it, as I mentioned earlier, you are in charge of putting the paper out. You are the last step before the paper goes to print, so you have to comfortable and confident enough to make a decision whether you have the OK or not. If the editor isn’t around to voice his opinion, then you have to have the gumption to make the decision since he/she isn’t there to do it.

Thank you so much to everyone at the consolidated editing center for their support and input. Working at the C.E.C. has been an absolute pleasure because of the supportive, creative people who head it up.

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6 thoughts on “Things I learned as a copy editor/page designer

    • marissahermanson says:

      While at the CEC, I wrote for six magazines on the side, so I have always had my fill of writing. If I wasn’t writing while at the CEC I think that would’ve made me feel incomplete, but I had the perfect balance of doing what I love while honing other skills that only added to my writing and editing. For instance, now when I write a front-of-book story, I imagine how all the art elements and text work together, and it makes writing easier (which is odd!).

      I know that if I wasn’t freelancing on the side while doing my copy editing and page designing it would’ve turned into a preference thing, but this entire time I have had the best of both worlds!

      What I have realized is you need to know how to do everything in journalism. You need to be that complete package with the ability to do the visual, the writing and the editing. That’s what I call a journalism NINJA. If you have all the skills, you are the complete package.

  1. John Hudson says:

    Hi, Marissa,

    You learned a lot in your time at the CEC and you have some great take-aways from your new job. All the things you did at the CEC with make you a better magazine editor. I’ve done some magazine editing, and it’s so easy to become so micro-focused on your (generally narrow) audience that you miss a lot of opportunities for inspiration.

    (Copy editor side night: You don’t “hone in on.” You can either “home in on,” or you can “hone” something, like a skill, but please, please, don’t ever let anyone at your magazine “hone in on” anything. I guess it’s an eggcorn of a sort, but it lacks the humorous edge of a true eggcorn. The admonition is free. No charge, Gratis.)

    It was a pleasure working with you, and I’m very sorry I didn’t actually tell you goodbye before you left. So, belatedly, goodbye. Have a great time in the PRC. John Hudson

    • marissahermanson says:

      John, Thank you so much! It was so great working with you and the Bristol paper. Twas a pleasure!

      And, I need more people like you to stay on my writing and keep me on track! Don’t worry — I’ll come back and bother you at the office every now and then.

  2. Scott Marshall says:

    Hey, I began my career on a fantastic “universal” copy desk in West Palm Beach (we handled all copy except sports, until midnight every night). It was a seminal experience that has served me well to this day.

    In layIng out local editions, I used a ruler and a proportion wheel (even with my limited knowledge of math), marked up paper “dummies” and marked up copy “by computer” for the rim rats, ha. Then, I worked with composing (paste-up) people in the back and, occasionally, with the engravers (they always were surly).

    On one or two nights a week, I used my news judgment to select wire copy (we eventually got it by computer, sted of by hard copy) and laid out inside-A pages and, overall, edited all kinds of copy. I H&J’d (that’s hyphenation and justification, on the old Atex system) computer copy to let the A-1 man know how long the wire stories were. We got copy from at least six or seven wire services in those days.

    Despite dizzying technological advances and the change now to great digital designers (you guys are freakin’ amazing!), the need for good editing and news judgment has not changed; you have richly experienced that here, I’m sure.

    Take your experiences forward. Now, it’s on to the next level, to which I leaped (literally, overnight, in a yellow Ryder moving truck across the Florida peninsula) in 1985. If you ever find yourself on a story that’s strange or if I can help, then I’ve probably experienced it, believe me — call or email or text.

    Being the great person that you are, I believe that you always will succeed, and Godspeed/ScottM.

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