“Copy Editors Are Not Expendable: What We Do Matters”

This was posted on Twitter by Colleen Schrappen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the newspaper, owned by Lee Enterprises, laid off all its copy editors:

Copy editors are not proofreaders. We are not fact-checkers or headline writers. And, despite the prevalence of decisions that seem to contradict this: We are not expendable.

We are journalists—as integral to any news organization as reporters, photographers, and managing editors.

Eliminating the copy desk is like pulling at a strand on a sweater. It creates a hole that leaves the surrounding strands vulnerable. You can try to patch it, but the fabric has been weakened. The gape will be noticed.


Most copy desks punch above their weight, holding their own even through terrible losses. That may not be noticed, because when we do our job right, what we do is barely detectable.

But make no mistake, our thumbprints are on every story.

In every tightened sentence.
In every fixed first reference.
In every inviting headline.
In the captions, graphics, and sidebars. The special sections. The front-page cohesion.

We cut through the clutter, alleviate confusion, do way with redundancies. We ensure language is inclusive, free of bias and respectful of differences. We do the math, look things up, get it right.

For our colleagues. For our readers. For our own peace of mind.

We apologize to reporters when we phone them at night in order to fix their mistakes. We get dismissed by editors when we ask them questions—which is of course, our job.

We come in when we are sick, because there is no one to cover for us. We work nights and weekends and we miss events with our friends and families because, well, there is no one to cover for us. Ever.

We tear everything up, start over and stay late when Red Schoendienst dies. Or Phyllis Schlafly. George Bush. Muhammed Ali. Deadline-pushers, each of them, in every sense of the word.

When an email goes out thanking the staff for work well done, we are not mentioned by name. We are often not mentioned at all.

And that’s OK.

Because we also get to supply the Weatherbird’s quips. We write the headlines that sing. We make the saves that no one else will ever know about. We work with the funniest, smartest, most helpful people in the newsroom.

We throw Friday night fests, debate the latest changes to AP style and dissect the plots and protagonists that propagate the news cycle. We’re not shy about being a little off-color. Or a lot off-color. Ahem.


We are part of something big and important. What we do as copy editors matters. Journalism matters.

And in this terrible moment for the profession, I am still proud to call myself a journalist. The newsroom is my favorite place to be.

I love the news. I love being a copy editor. And I will always be grateful to have been a strand in that journalistic fabric.

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