by Craig Branson, Online Director - ASNE
While copy editors often lament that managers and others don't listen to their complaints, a San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News manager suggested [recently] that those barriers to communication are sometimes created by the copy editors themselves.
This isn't done consciously, said David Tepps, an assistant managing editor of the paper. Instead, it is caused by an insular culture on the copy desk.
One way to get beyond this, he said, is to talk to people on other desks rather than use the electronic messaging system. He argued that such systems create barriers between the editors and the rest of the newspaper, which operates largely through person-to-person contact.
"To get the reporter and copy editor together generates 'human moments' in the newsroom and humanizes copy editors to newsroom people," Tepp said. Such moments help relationships progress and flourish, and creates good feelings in both people. In turn, that improves relations between the copy desk and the city desk, for example.
Another method of breaking down newsroom barriers is for an editor to spread themselves around. This could mean rotating as a copy editor between several departments, subbing in as a reporter for a short time or just working on the layout/design desk.
"The more we can do to give copy editors a broad role, the better off weíll be," he said.
Some newspapers do this formally -- San Jose has formal ways of rotating and job-changing -- or informal ones like talking to a department head about changes.
Sometimes, though, the barriers are created by the editor because of personality traits or stubburnness.
An audience member -- a copy chief -- cited an example on her desk of an introverted editor who would never question an editor about a story but would complain bitterly about how a story was poorly written and how he was having to work really hard at fixing it. When she suggested that he call the bureau chief or reporter to talk about it, he balked, saying that years before that same editor had bawled him out for edits he had made to a story. "I'm not going through that again," she quoted him as saying. So she took on the task and got the two people talking about the recurring problems. After 18 months and several interventions on her part, the editor would talk to the desk on his own. But it took time and effort.
Tepps echoed that sentiment in his next point: Bringing a few members the desk and a few reporters together for coffee.
He said that once his newspaper started doing this that real communication started happening. This was especially true for bureau reporters -- some of whom had worked for the paper for 20 years -- yet had never met a copy editor. By introducing them and not just talking shop, but about journalism in general and their own background real dialogue started and aided greatly later on when questions arose. They could just call the reporters or vice versa. Tepps also did this with the top managers of the newspaper, which improved their relationships, as well.
All of these innovations -- encouraging personal contact, starting newsroom coffees -- require the managers to set aside any territorialism they may have. Editors follow their leaders, and if the leaders have a bad realtionship with each other, they will echo those sentiments.
Some tips on breaking down barriers:
- Hold brown-bag lunches
- Hold newsroom coffees
- Schedule the meetings at 4 or 5 p.m.
- Free food a good draw
- Introduce cross-training so editors will learn more about their newspaper
- Make sure that people are talking to each other about stories