Friday, July 28, 2017

Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be micro managers

   It's kind of a given that copy editors make mistakes. In many cases, a copy editor is the last line of defense from errors, but when correcting an error, a copy editor might introduce a new error, for instance, when rewriting a caption, he or she might misspell a word or name. Often, there is a reason a mistake was made or might have been avoided. I remember a time that a colleague of mine was called on the carpet, had the riot act read to him, and got reamed (figuratively, not literally) because a story he edited had the phrase "Jew Jersey" which appeared in the paper.
   How could that have happened?
   A little forensic copy editing would have shown that there was a recent rule passed by someone who enjoyed making up rules, kind of like our current embarrassment of a president, that, and I forget the exact wording of the edict, but that we on the copy desk were no longer to use N.J. in certain circumstances and had to write out New Jersey. Not a big deal, but the copy editor in question was simply following the rules.
   A forensic examination of the keyboard, however, will reveal that the letter "J" is above the letter "N" and 50 percent to the right. I believe the term is catty corner.
Oops, wrong catty corner 

Okay, correct keyboard. Note the position of the n and the j.
   So ... when following the new rule and thinking he was acting correctly, he accidentally depressed the "J" rather than the "N" and the result: Jew Jersey, for which said copy editor got his ass handed to him over a nothing little mistake that never would have occurred in the first place had a supervisor not been micro managing.
   That was then. This is now.
   The newspaper where I work has gone through a succession of managing editors in the few years I've been there.
   An email that arrived, addressed to the entire copy editing staff, particularly got under my skin. It contained the phrase "How did this happen" when all the managing editor had to do was ask me, as said managing editor knew that I had laid out the page, and I would have explained how it happened, but the point of sending the email to the entire copy desk was to reassert said managing editor's control by humiliating the alleged error maker.
   If this were the first "how did this happen" email it would have been like the proverbial water off a duck's back, but this is a pretty regular occurrence, so I decided to ask Mr. Google what are the characteristics of a micro manager, and the answer, although I am sure there are variations, fit this micro manager to a T.

   I've made my share of mistakes, some of them clunkers. And I don't humiliate easily, so I wasn't humiliated by this particular email. But I did have my eyes opened to what is at times a stifling workplace environment. I'm not enough of an expert to say micro managing is any worse in a newspaper environment than it is in a corporate environment. But copy editors are often creative people, and micro managing in a newsroom stifles that creativity. The article points out that there is often a fine line between micro managing and effective leadership. There is also sometimes a hairline between an excellent, creative headline and a clunker of a headline, but if you don't consider the clunkers, you may never write the great ones.

PS: Thank you Victor Sasson for the kind mention in your excellent and evolving blog "The Sasson Report."

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