Archives for category: Copy editing

The big news of the ACES 2014 conference so far: The Associated Press just announced that its stylebook no longer prohibits the use of “over” in the sense of “more than” (e.g., “That price is $6 over my budget.”).

Why were copy editors gasping? The AP Stylebook is the default rulebook for many copy editors in the news industry — and, by extension, some editors in public relations and marketing. And this is a liberalization of those rules, which tend to be (in my opinion) needlessly prescriptive. Those gasping editors were either shocked that AP would endorse such a sensible reform or appalled that AP has given up this hallowed ground.

But what difference does it really make? Not much. If you’re a fan of saying “more than” with numerals rather than “over,” keep doing it. It’s not wrong, and the change to AP’s style concedes that. If you want to insist that your publication never use “over” with a numeral, make an in-house style rule. A lot of copy editors forget they can do that. Instead, they regard the AP Stylebook as a sort of sacred bible that must be followed, and I think that’s ceding a lot of power to an institution whose priorities aren’t necessarily the same as their publications’. Plus, some of AP style just doesn’t make sense.

I’d also argue that this sort of peevish obsession on the part of copy editors diminishes their reputation, and it feeds a disconnect between their perceived importance and their actual importance. In an era when news organizations are scrambling to reduce expenses — and when copy editors are bearing a disproportionate amount of that reduction — we need to fight our OCD tendencies that suggest the most important things to us are the smallest of peeves. Whether we write “over” or “more than” matters to a vanishing percentage of our readers. It should matter to a vanishing percentage of us.

I’m in Las Vegas this week for the annual convention of the American Copy Editors Society. This will be my fifth ACES conference and my fourth in a row as a presenter. More on that later.

So what is ACES and why does it need a convention? ACES members are editors, but editors of a certain stripe. At American newspapers they’re typically called “copy editors,” but in Britain they’re “subeditors,” and in a lot of contexts they’re simply “editors,” although that term is really too broad. The person in charge of a publication is its “editor in chief,” but that person isn’t necessarily the sort of editor who frequents ACES.

Most of the editors here are finishing editors — typically the last editor a work of content sees before it meets its audience. Many of the big-picture questions of a piece often (but not necessarily) have already been answered by the time it sees a copy editor. Ideally, a copy editor sees a piece that’s fresh and nearly complete, with only a basic understanding of what it’s supposed to accomplish. That allows the copy editor to be, in a way, the piece’s first reader, the first test of whether the piece accomplishes its goals. If it doesn’t, the copy editor is there to fix it, or to suggest to its writer and assigning editor ways to fix it. Once that’s done, the copy moves on to polishing — making sure the text is grammatically sound, fixing typographical errors, ensuring the text is clear and appropriately concise. A final step for many copy editors — and an increasingly important one in interactive contexts — is to write the display type: headlines, subheads, photo captions.

All that stuff, and how to get better at it, is what we’re talking about at ACES. And what I’ll be blogging about here. I’m not sure who’s going to read any of it, this not being a blog that has ever had any readers, but you have to start somewhere.