Copy editors still have key job, even as roles expand

Friday, April 10, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:28 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 10, 2009

Dear Reader,

When you assume … .


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So Tuesday morning, I was wrapped in my print edition and a cup of coffee.


I spied the restaurant inspections — is it just me, or are those Health Department reports impossible to ignore? – and rolled down the list. Then sputtered. I even growled.

The address listed for Lakota Coffee Shop was “1 Hospital.”

I know Lakota. It’s on Ninth Street, across from Sparky’s and about two blocks from the Missourian offices. It’s a fine place, and apparently safe, according to our city inspectors.

So how the heck could my newspaper get something that is so simple so wrong?

I was surprised, then, when I read the clarification in Wednesday’s edition. The address, it said, refers to Lakota’s coffee kiosk at University Hospital. In other words, Mr. Right (me) got it wrong.

So thank you, editors. The copy desk didn’t assume the executive editor was correct.

In fact, I have news editor Jake Sherlock’s daughter to thank.

When I told Jake of the presumed error, he remembered some anxious hours spent at Boone Hospital Center 13 months ago when Audrey was born. Jake preferred Lakota’s java to that of the nurse’s station.

So Jake knew to have a copy editor check my assumption, figuring if Lakota has a kiosk at Boone Hospital Center there just might be one at University Hospital too. The information was vetted, and my assumption was proved to be one not based on the facts.

Every day, copy editors make saves. Dozens and dozens of saves. And yes, they miss a few, too, which is where the next level of editing comes in – when you leave a comment online to correct information, or when you pick up the phone to let me or others know of a mistake.

The world of copy editing, like most facets of newspapering, is changing. Copy editors are looking for supplemental material on the Web to increase your understanding of a local story. They’re checking breaking news and blogs, sometimes after the first public post. They’re writing headlines two ways (one for print and another for online).

The core of the job hasn’t changed, though. Copy editors still play a vital role.

I know the system isn’t perfect. It works more often than you might realize, though, especially when smart editors know enough not to trust the boss.

Tom Warhover is the executive editor of the Missourian. E-mail him at or reach him by phone at (573) 882-5734.

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