Q: Is it unusual for copy editing to lead to other positions at a newspaper? Most of my experience is in copy editing (and I have a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund internship on my résumé), but somewhere down the line I might like to do some reporting as well. How can I improve my prospects while at
the copy desk?
A: The copy desk can be a great platform leading to other departments, often in first-line supervision. A copy editor who is proficient and line editing, and who is obviously in tune with the newspaper and exhibits good news judgment can be a godsend for the business news, features, local news or nation/world staffs.
The trick is to get the newspaper to see you as more than “just a copy editor.” Do this by showing some initiative to improve things outside your immediate job. Serve on task forces and committees (At a lot of papers, this will mean coming in before the copy desk shift starts.) Look for opportunities to be the lead copy editor on the newspaper’s most ambitious projects. Try to get involved early in them. Work into a leadership role on the desk, such as slotting.
Ask your paper to let you cross train for a few weeks in the job you have in mind. This will give you a chance to experience it and a chance to show what you can do—or still need to learn. A cross-train should not be a tryout, but an opportunity to experience something new. That way, there is no shame in returning to your job. It’s simply the expected result.
As jobs within reach come open, apply for them. Be reasonable, but don’t wait until a job comes open that you know you can get. The point is to get into career discussions with editors so that their image of you grows. The first time you apply to be an assistant city editor, they might be caught by surprise. If your ideas are good, though, and you’ve shown in your newsroom conversations that you have the demeanor and potential to coach and to lead, they’ll be looking for you the next time there is an opening.
As you build you career, remember that it is not enough to possess skills and qualities—you’ve got to exhibit them. Someone who says he or she knows how to lead a work group, but never does, will be doubted.
Show them the money.