Years editing: 23
Job title: Copyeditor
Job description: Edits articles; writes and polishes headlines and captions
Location: New Jersey
How did you get your current job?*
Lonely Planet was looking for freelancers through the Journalists of Color Slack group. They publish travel books and online travel guides, as well as online articles about destinations around the world. I emailed my résumé to the hiring manager, and we set up a chat time on Zoom. It was a different process from a full-time employee position, as those in the business know, because I didn’t have to take a test.
What copyediting training have you had?
In addition to undergraduate and graduate courses, I was a Dow Jones News Fund intern at The Boston Globe in 1998. I attended a two-week boot camp at Temple University under Dr. Edward Trayes before the internship.
“I had to abandon some ‘mainstream’ ideas about language, and I did so gladly.“
What positions have you held?
Most of my positions have been with daily newspapers and involved editing and layout. Those papers were The Kansas City (MO) Star, The Dallas Morning News, and The New York Times. Before working at The Times, I worked at Black Enterprise magazine, where my job involved editing and more in-depth fact-checking, which we don’t have time to do at a daily paper. I also did some writing.
Before I left Dallas, I was the assistant travel editor, which also gave me the opportunity to do a little writing. That experience helped me get my foot in the door at Lonely Planet. Immediately before Lonely Planet, I was senior copyeditor for The Appeal, a news website that reports on issues involving the criminal legal system, but with a different focus than mainstream publications.
Doing the Job
What are your go-to fact-checking resources?
When I worked at Black Enterprise, we had to call sources to verify quotes. In the newspaper world, it’s the reporter’s job to do that, because copyeditors at dailies don’t have time. We’re at the end of the production line and are often working late.
For verifying information that isn’t a quote, I like to look to sources like Investopedia’s dictionary when checking finance and business-related content. I also use Xe Currency Converter to make sure those numbers are correct (for business editing and travel editing).
At The Appeal, were there any challenges in working outside the mainstream narrative? Did that affect your process when creating the style guide?
I had to abandon some “mainstream” ideas about language, and I did so gladly. We capitalized “Black” well before AP decided to, for instance. (Of course, Black-owned publications have done this for decades.)
We also used “criminal legal system” rather than “criminal justice system,” since justice is subjective and there has been a lot of injustice in the system.
I decided we wouldn’t use the term “minority” regarding race. I made sure to explain in the style guide why we weren’t using it. It’s a pretty loaded term that has a negative connotation. So why not use “nonwhite,” “people who are not white,” or “majority-nonwhite” when that’s what we really mean?
“We headline writers did SEO before search engines and before SEO existed.”
Communicating With Others
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I enjoyed attending ACES: The Society for Editing conferences but haven’t been to one since 2007. It was nice to meet people who were just like me. A lot of journalism organizations are reporter focused, in my experience.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Be positive from the start. My philosophy throughout my career has been to kill writers with kindness. Don’t put them on the defensive. Most writers are amenable to changes if you explain why the changes should be made. Be prepared to relent on a change because the writer (or assigning editor, if it’s a reported piece) might have a good reason to keep the copy as is.
How diverse is your office?
Not very racially diverse, but diverse in other ways. The most diverse copydesk I’ve been on was in my first job at The Star — as far as age, gender, and race. I think my Black boss made a difference there. The copydesk at The Globe was more diverse than I expected it to be, not just racially. But as for overall diversity, most offices have not been. Black Enterprise was the reverse as far as racial diversity, and it leaned very female and young.
“I believe in ‘If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.’”
Did you notice a difference between working at Black Enterprise and, say, a majority white workplace like The Times?
Yes, the staff at Black Enterprise was majority Black. I definitely did not have to code-switch, so my off-the-clock self and my work self were pretty similar, unless I was on the phone with someone from outside the office.
How did the Black boss at The Star make a difference in the work environment?
I think he was protective of the young copyeditors he hired in a way that a boss of another race might not have been. He hired five Black editors on our desk, including me. He was an all-around good manager and checked in with us and other staff members on the desk regularly.
Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others?
The funny thing is I got into newspaper journalism to fight racism in coverage from within, but it’s been a losing game because I’m not in the right ranks to make systemic changes either in the office or in coverage. I’m glad to see a few things changing now at some levels in the industry. It’s extremely incremental.
If you could make changes, what would you do?
That is a tough question! I would make sure that writers and editors of color aren’t confined to certain subject areas or presented with barriers to advancement should they wish to advance. These actions prevent the so-called pipeline problem that newsroom executives say exists.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
The importance of identifying a sponsor as soon as possible, someone within your company who vouches for you when you’re not in the room. That person might mention you when an opportunity comes up, for instance. I think it’s hard to find a sponsor if you don’t stay with one employer for an extended period — few of us stay at one place for 20, or even 10, years anymore.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Perhaps encourage editors of color to speak with young people about the profession. Back when I had more time (and “weird” days off), I liked speaking with high school students at career days about what I do. I believe in “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I generally like seeing the results of my work in print and online. At Lonely Planet, I’m enjoying making decisions about photos as well as copy and having fun putting the pieces together, since I don’t do physical newspaper layout anymore. When I worked in newspapers, I liked writing a good print headline that told the story in a challenging word count.
Any tips for creating good headlines?
Headlines are the bane of my existence! Still, I somehow won a headline contest when I was an intern at The Globe. I would say, though, that we headline writers did SEO before search engines and before SEO existed. I always think about keywords that are accurate and draw readers.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Running, reading (of course!), and writing. In my early days of professional editing, I was shocked and a little annoyed that it was hard for me to read for fun. I had to ease back into it.
What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Woe Is I by Patricia O’Conner and Lapsing Into a Comma by Bill Walsh. If you’re going to read writing guides, you should at least have fun doing so, which is why I would not recommend The Elements of Style. I have several (free) copies of that book, and I don’t want to put anyone to sleep.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I didn’t set out to be a copyeditor. I was going to be a reporter, but a grad school professor told me they’re a dime a dozen. I kind of rolled my eyes. But when I went to The Globe, it stoked my interest in making a career of it.
* After this interview, Malecia began working as an editor at Dragonfly Editorial.