Solidarity with the NYT walkout over copy desk restructuring

Copy editors at the The New York Times released a scathing, heartbreaking letter yesterday that details how Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn have required them to “dance for their supper,” as a supportive letter from reporters put it — editing tests and newsroom overhauls and interviews for their own jobs and restructuring, and finally, buyouts, all in a time when the role of copy editing has never been more important. Editors and reporters staged a walkout for 15 minutes, starting at 3 p.m. today, carrying signs and stickers.

A person holds a sign above their head at the NYT walkout today. The sign reads
Photo posted by NYT staff photo editor Lance Booth on Twitter (@lancekbooth).

“We are living in a strange time when routine copy-editing duties such as fact checking, reviewing sources, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, clarifying language and, yes, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes in news covfefe are suddenly matters of public discourse,” the copy editors wrote. “We are, as one senior reporter put it, the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.”

Baquet and Kahn replied, in another letter, “We take those concerns seriously,” which reads with the same sincerity as “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.” The top editors also noted in their reply that The Times employs more editors than its peers — but, considering the massive layoffs that journalism has suffered in the last two decades, this is no justification for further cuts.

A copy editor’s job is not simply finding and fixing mistakes, though it’s true that our work is invisible when done well. We are not the grammar police nor persnickety perfectionists, following rules for the sake of rules. We are the first readers, ensuring that accuracy and truth are conveyed in clear prose.

It’s no accident that the letter of support from Times reporters begins, “We write to you as the saved — those whose copy, facts and sometimes the intelligibility of a sentence or two have been hammered into shape by our friends and colleagues on the editing desks.”

In solidarity with today’s NYT walkout, copy editors tweeted reasons why copy editors are necessary with the hashtag #whyeditors. A few of mine:

Poynter has coverage of the walkout and a Storify of tweets and photos. More on my Twitter feed @RachelLeeCherry and on #whyeditors.

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