This week I interviewed Connor Bolinder, a sophomore political science major and the copy desk manager at the Technician, N.C. State University’s student-run newspaper. Connor has worked at the Technician since August of his freshman year (“this was the first and only thing that I really do”). The Technician uses both the AP Stylebook and the paper’s own in-house style guide.
Alison Krug: Could you describe the workflow of the copy desk at The Technician?
Connor Bolinder: Well, ideally it would be that reporters, columnists, they write things, and they send them to their section editor. The section editors give them sort of a scan for the flow and the ideas, and they don’t really pay attention to the copy errors. And by 5 p.m., they would send those articles to the copy desk, where two or three people would look at them, proofread them for AP style, for Technician style, fact check everything and then send them to the editor-in-chief for final review — but that doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes things come in a lot later. Sometimes not everyone has the time to spend looking at something, and then usually just one person might look at it on a very busy night. But we try to have at least one copy editor look at it.
AK: So your editor-in-chief looks at it after the copy editor looks at it?
CB: Yeah, she shouldn’t be looking for style or grammar because it shouldn’t be a problem at that point, but she has an idea of what (final product) is going into the paper.
AK: What’s the setup of your copy desk? Here at The Daily Tar Heel, we currently have two copy co-chiefs, three assistant copy editors and about 30 to 40 copy staffers. What is copy desk look like at the Technician?
CB: Well I’m the chief, and then I have one person who’s kind of an unofficial assistant, and then everyone else — I think seven people — are just regular staff.
AK: So what does your in-house style guide physically look like? Ours right now — well, we used to print it, and I think we stopped doing that in 2008 — now it’s all in a Google doc, which can sometimes become a mess.
CB: Every year the guide should be updated. It’s been updated this year, but in the past it’s kind of been neglected. We have a physical copy that’s printed that sits in the office, and then everyone has it — or should have it — saved to their computers. But most people just use the physical one.
AK: Is it saved as a Word document, or is it housed online somewhere?
CB: It’s saved as a Word document. You said a Google doc is what you use? It sounds like that could be edited by people?
AK: Yeah, we try to send out the view-only version outside of copy desk, but you know how Google Drive links can get mixed up. It’s not the best practice.
CB: Yes, I can understand how that can get messy.
AK: Do you have a formal practice for updating style?
CB: Once every year we usually have a formal meeting with the professional staff members and the editor-in-chief and the managing editor and the copy desk editor. We decide if some things are going to be changed. Like this year we started using “advisor” — “or” instead of “er” — because it’s more commonly used. And things like that we’ll handle all at the beginning of the year, but if things come up, like — we haven’t had anything like this recently, but any huge breaking events, we usually try to decide as soon as possible how we want to format things like that, just the editor-in-chief, the managing editor and myself, the copy desk manager.
AK: If something big came up, would you reprint the physical copy you have or just make a note in it?
CB: Probably just make a note.
AK: Since the Technician uses both an in-house style guide and the AP Stylebook, do you see a lot of crossover in your in-house style guide? That’s something I’m very much toying with now: how much of the copy editing basics should be included in our in-house guide.
CB: The in-house guide, we have almost nothing that is directly copied from the AP Stylebook. There are some things, like academic degrees, where (in the Technician style guide) there’s a short entry, and then it says to see the AP Stylebook for reference. But we try to avoid anything that you could just look up on the AP Stylebook because it would make a lot more sense to just go directly to the AP Stylebook for stuff that isn’t specific to N.C. State, the Raleigh area and North Carolina.
AK: At the Technician, what is the the general attitude toward style and copy editing. Is copy editing and looking at AP style and usage something exclusively the copy desk does, or is it something everyone is cognizant of?
CB: I think everyone tries to be cognizant of it, and I really try to get on people about looking out for errors — just basic things like spelling out numbers that at this point should be second nature to anyone. Overall I would say everyone has kind of a basic understanding of it.
AK: I’m trying to look for more ways to communicate about style directly to the staff. How do you communicate about style with the Technician staff?
CB: That’s actually something I’m really glad that you asked about because I started sending out every week an email about general style points — mostly Technician style but also reminding people of AP style. They’re 300 to 400 words about a specific topic that I think people have been missing lately. For example, last week I did one specifically about commas, Oxford commas. That’s the one thing that everyone always loves to talk about, but they’re never prepared to really get into it.
AK: What sort of response have you gotten back from these emails?
CB: For probably a few weeks after I send an email, people will be catching those things. Then they might slip away.