“Copy editors are my favorite people in the news business, and many I know are still alive and doing what they do... I was one for a long time, and I know that obscurity and unpopularity are part of the job. Copy editors work late hours and can get testy. They never sign their work.
“As for what they do, here’s the short version: After news happens in the chaos and clutter of the real world, it travels through a reporter’s mind, a photographer’s eye, a notebook and camera lens, into computer files, then through multiple layers of editing. Copy editors handle the final transition to an ink-on-paper object. On the news-factory floor, they do the refining and packaging. They trim words, fix grammar, punctuation and style, write headlines and captions.
“But they also do a lot more. Copy editors are the last set of eyes before yours. They are more powerful than proofreaders. They untangle twisted prose. They are surgeons, removing growths of error and irrelevance; they are minimalist chefs, straining fat. Their goal is to make sure that the day’s work of a newspaper staff becomes an object of lasting beauty and excellence once it hits the presses.
“The copy editor’s job, to the extent possible under deadline, is to slow down, think things through, do the math and ask the irritating question. His or her main creative outlet, writing clever headlines, is problematic online, because allusive wordplay doesn’t necessarily generate Google hits. And Google makes everyone an expert, so the aging copy editor’s trivia-packed brain and synonym collection seem not to count for as much anymore.
“Webby doesn’t necessarily mean sloppy, of course, and online news operations will shine with all the brilliance that the journalists who create them can bring. But in that world of the perpetual present tense--post it now, fix it later, update constantly--old-time, persnickety editing may be a luxury in which only a few large news operations will indulge. It will be an artisanal product, like monastery honey and wooden yachts.”
-- “In a Changing World of News, an Elegy for Copy Editors”