Drastic measures on the west coast, where L.A. Observed reports the L.A. Daily Journal is eliminating its copy desk. Reporters will be required to suggest headlines and content editors will backstop each other’s work.

Drastic, yes, but certainly not groundbreaking. The 3,000-circ. tri-weekly newspaper I started out at 29 years ago didn’t have a copy desk. The three reporters edited each other’s work, and the editor (who was three years older than me) would write the headlines. I’d be willing to wager that many of the country’s smallest community newspapers still operate this way.

In 1979, we called it cheap. Today, it’s called efficient.

I can certainly question whether it’s necessary nowadays to have three to seven editors look over a reporter’s story before it reaches the reader. Frankly, a good reporter is a storyteller, which means he must have a good command of the language in order to be understood. That means knowing how to use a comma, knowing “which” from “that,” etc. The rewrite desk was eliminated long ago and the advent of pagination has pushed copy editors into another realm of newspaper production. The core of the copy editor’s work — the last line of defense for the newspaper’s accuracy and credibility — has been well diminished.

But even Motorola’s much-hallowed Six Sigma program requires a step in quality control. A quality control check is still a necessary part of the process. Eliminating that part will do more harm than good.

Cut down on the number of checks, yes. Eliminate the process? Never!


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