Does copyediting have a bright future?

A Morphing Role

The closing session of the 2011 American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference was all about the future of editing. After the session, attendees summarized the experience with the conclusion that “the copy editor is dead. The content editor is alive” (copydesk.org). Far from predicting the extinction of copyediting as a career, this statement attests to the changing role of the copyeditor. Above all else, the title shift from “copyeditor” to “content editor” marks a turn towards a job with more defined characteristics. For example, content editors specialize in communication by helping to make content go public.

 It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Super Copyeditor!

The more concrete role of the copyeditor will help editors redefine and market themselves in ways that look more pleasing to employers. This change, however, means that copyeditors of the future should expect to do more than shift roles; they should also expect to accomplish a longer list of tasks. Copyeditors are increasingly asked to take on jobs that integrate social media, the web, and traditional editing. The skill set required of copyeditors is changing, and the new “content editors” must learn to communicate through different avenues to be able to be as employable and effective as possible. Thus, copyeditors of tomorrow must learn a wider variety of skills to be able to communicate through different mediums.

Negative Outlook: It’s the Economy, Stupid.

The increase in the amount of copyediting tasks is part of the trend towards cutbacks that companies have adopted as a way to counteract economic difficulties. Fewer copyeditors doing more jobs means less money spent on paying employees. However, the increased workload means that copyeditors will have less time to spend on each task; accuracy and completeness will be compromised. The obvious impact that these factors will have on copyeditors is that they will be expected to do more with less pay, more criticism, and less support. Thus, copyediting as a career may be an increasingly difficult and tiresome task, especially for those that pursue it without passion.

Positive Outlook: Your You’re Welcome.

Although the reputation and perceived role of copyediting may change, the value of copyediting will remain the same. The written word will always benefit from being edited for clarity, consistency, and conciseness, and editing is becoming even more important as self-publishing becomes more prominent. As one writer puts it, “if you can’t afford to pay for real book editing, don’t spend any money publishing your book; it won’t be worth it. All books need editing” (go-publish-yourself.com).  The written word is extremely powerful but books and other written materials lose influence if they contain errors and inconsistencies. For example, a book that contains factual errors may lose legitimacy and break the audience’s trust. On the other hand, an edited book will look more professional and readers will be able to concentrate on its content, not its errors.

The Sparknotes Version

Despite the growing task list and stress that copyeditors will increasingly face in the future, the important role that copyeditors face in regard to enhancing the written word and improving the writer-reader relationship means that copyeditors will not be going the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon.

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By Kourtney Kinsel, English and Political Science, Texas Christian University Class of 2013

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