Maggie Pingolt, a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications, called our office to ask if she could interview one of our copyeditors. Ours work on contract, so they aren’t typically in the office.
“I supervise the copyeditors,” I said. “Do you want to talk to me?” I was on my way out the door but we agreed to a time later that day to talk on the phone.
Being interviewed by someone isn’t a routine event for me. I’m used to being on the “asking questions” side of interviews and I was surprised to realize how hard it is to talk about the things you do and think about every day.
Maggie: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Me: Okay, this is kind of a joke, but not really. Keeping up with my email! I get so many hundreds of emails each day it’s beyond manageable. The rest of my job as editor is joyful. I like what I do. But the effort to keep up with my email is a constant source of stress and really eats up my time.
Maggie: Describe your office environment in one word.
Me: The first word that comes to mind is “crazy.” We always have a lot going on at once because we’re a really small staff trying to do the work of a bigger magazine. Call it “crazy,” “chaotic”…any way you can think of to say it that doesn’t make me sound like a lunatic. By the way, this isn’t going to published anywhere, is it?
Just then, our staff writer/photographer, Daniel Friedman, walked by my office door and I heard Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist call out, “Hi, fried man!”
Maggie: If you could change one aspect of copyediting, what would it be?
Me: These are hard questions! I guess the only thing I really wish I could change is that I wouldn’t miss things. We have several layers of copyeditors who read the magazine before it goes to press and yet there is no way to ever get it perfect. You’re never going to be able to change one thing that solves all the problems. You’re dealing with human beings and a complex language with all sorts of exceptions to rules. I like rules, stylebooks…they give me a sense of certainty as opposed to having to make judgment calls.
I wish copyediting didn’t take so long, but it does — to get it right. I wish it weren’t so important but it is. In this day and age, where everyone is throwing stuff up on the web without a second thought, I worry that the value of copyediting, and factchecking in particular, has been lost.
Maggie: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to go into the field of copyediting?
Me: Really know the basics — grammar, spelling…and understand how important factchecking is. Study the AP Stylebook, get the app on your iPhone and use it…basics! I can’t tell you how many freelance submissions I get on a daily basis with typos, grammatical errors, informal language…it’s disrespectful to an editor to be so sloppy. People don’t take the time they should. All writers should think of themselves as students who are trying to impress the teacher.
Maggie: What’s your biggest pet peeve as an editor?
Me: That’s an easy one: People who are sloppy. Sloppiness indicates disrespect…they couldn’t take the time. I’m a firm believer that you do something until it’s as good as it can be, and only then do you let it go.
Maggie: Are there specific examples of grammar or word-use errors that bother you?
Me: Things that bother me? “It’s” and “its”…a lot of people don’t get that you only use “it’s” when you mean “it is.” Not the possessive.
I cringe when I see “all right” spelled as one word: “alright.” And then “there,” “their,” “they’re”…people misuse those all the time. I can’t stand run-on sentences…all of that drives me crazy.
We all make mistakes; don’t get me wrong. But when I see a freelance submission that has more than one or two it makes me want to claw my eyes out.