Being a Professional Grammar Queen

workI realize I haven’t written much of anything about my job since when I accepted the position in August. It’s hard to believe it’s already been six months, as of yesterday, since my start date! The time has passed quickly, but it’s also astounding to me just how much I’ve learned in that short period of time.

When I meet new people and they ask me what I do for a job, I usually reply, “I’m a copy editor for a trade magazine.” Short, sweet, and simple. To some people — accountants, mainly — this sounds really cool. I avoid using my technical title, “desk editor,” because that is even more vague to the outside world. But does anyone know what copy editors do, really?

I certainly didn’t know what a copy editor was when I was high school, which is the age when you are most likely to be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I received plenty of suggestions from my teachers: go to medical school (from my biology teacher, unaware of how embarrassingly squeamish I am), be a female engineer (from my calculus teacher, who sadly did not realize that I am a word- and not a numbers-person), be this, be that. But no one ever suggested copy editing!

Which is too bad, really, because copy editing is a job that was developed just for people like me.

I get to read stuff all day (news stories, continuing education lessons, whooo!) and wield my Grammar Queen Red Pen of Power. JK, I do almost all editing on the computer. And if that weren’t enough to delight this little bookworm/news junkie, I get to do page design, too.

Page design is my favorite. It’s a combination of creativity and precision. I get to choose arrangements and colors that are pleasing to the eye, and I also get to do really finicky things like make sure everything is lined up juuuust right and that the spaces between, say, two articles is the ideal amount (if anyone is wondering, it’s one pica, or 1/6 of an inch). There’s rulers and grids and color palettes and FONTS, so many fonts involved. Adobe InDesign is my happy place.

In short, my job is to take information the reporters have gathered and present it to the reader in a way that is accessible, organized, and appealing. You could also say I put words and pictures on pieces of paper. Ha.

I also get to do other stuff that while not necessarily fun, still surprises me that I get to do for a job and get paid for it. Things like (I kid you not) wading through hundreds of photos to pick the prettiest ones, then processing them through Photoshop. Sometimes I make slideshow photo galleries for our website. I can assemble digital editions of the magazine that allow you to click on a specific article on the table of contents, and flip directly to that page. Sometimes I use a special computer program so that when readers scan a certain logo in the magazine with their smartphones, an additional video, podcast, or photo gallery will pop up. (That last one is actually really cool. I always triple-check anything I’ve programmed for scanning, mainly to relive the coolness again and again.)

I’ve learned how to use iMovie at a very, very basic level, and how to tag items in InDesign with XML so they can be easily uploaded to our website. I can make infographics and charts galore in Illustrator. I think I’ve finally figured out most of the Apple keyboard shortcuts for Adobe Creative Suite. Or at least the ones I feel the need to know.

And I know I will keep learning new things.

I love working in media/journalism/publishing because it’s such a dynamic industry. Yes, print is dying, but publications are not. News and current events will never cease to be important There are so many innovative ways to redesign the traditional print publication into something paperless and interactive. I can’t wait to see what will be thought up next.

(If you, too, are a professional interested in the changing mass media industry or are just a consumer who is curious about how news is made, I suggest the NY Times‘ blog Media Decoder, as well as mediabistro’s daily e-newsletter. Also, if you have Netflix, watch the documentary Page One. Throw in The September Issue and Helvetica for more fun info about the publication production process and typography/graphic design, respectively. You’re welcome.)

I love getting to work in an industry that is in some ways a little antiquated — I’ve always yearned for the bygone years of my favorite classical novels — but also exceedingly modern. As a liberal arts major, I know how invaluable it is to have so many hard skills and proficiency in numerous computer programs. I like the confident, valued feeling of knowing I have the ability to do something that not everyone else can, that I do something much more than fix misplaced commas and write headlines. (But believe me, writing headlines takes skill like you would not believe. Writing headlines is the bane of my existence.)

So, all in all, everything with my job is going really well. Is it my “dream job”? No. But my dream job is something like getting paid millions to recommend my favorite books to customers in a bookstore while drinking lattes and petting cats all day. Or, OK, working for a newsy consumer magazine, like Time or New York. Or maaaayyybeeee Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple.

But my current job is a good stepping stone, with lots of responsibility and potential for growth during my time here.

Other perks: lovely coworkers, short commute on public transportation (less than 30 minutes), K-Cup machine, casual dress code. Getting to work on a Mac at a desk with a window view (you know, of another building and pigeons) isn’t so bad either.

I will never cease to be grateful for the opportunities given to me. I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t work insanely hard to land two full-time, salaried journalism jobs in the first two years out of undergrad. But I do know at least part of the reason I’m here is luck, and for that, I am forever grateful.



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