Join Riverfront Times Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Commatose! Hundreds of Copyeditors Descend on St. Louis

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Copyeditors don't have the splashy bylines of reporters or the lovable kookiness of art directors. They sit at their desks with bowed heads, poring over their well-worn copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, checking to see if "postimpressionism" is one word, two words or hyphenated. They hear "underway" in conversation, and they silently recite that it should be two words in every sense but nautical. They are ever vigilant for the stray or missing letter: A story about a public pool gets really gross really quickly without the humble letter L in "public." Or "pool."

Proofreaders from Calgary, ex-editors from Hustler, marketing directors from Tampa, professors, publishers and freelancers of all stripes are gathered in downtown St. Louis this weekend for the seventeenth annual American Copy Editors Society's conference. They wear buttons admonishing "Create It, Don't Copy It," and "Break It, Don't Fake It" -- both in reference to plagiarism scandals -- and they confess to groups of strangers about that one time they let the word "prostrate" get through in a story about prostate cancer. The anecdote is met with knowing, sympathetic groans.

Number of cool journalistic-looking trench coats spotted at ACES: zero. Number of Clark Kent/Superman theories and stories: crazy, incalculable number.

Teresa Schmedding, the president of ACES. - KRISTIE MCCLANAHAN
  • Kristie McClanahan
  • Teresa Schmedding, the president of ACES.

"The first conference in Chapel Hill, we had 300 people," begins John McIntyre, one of ACES' charter members and the night content production manager at the Baltimore Sun. "Somebody said that it was probably the largest gathering of copyeditors in one place at one time in all of human history. I went back to Baltimore and told that to my wife, and she muttered, 'Except in Hell.'"

He estimates he has had only a handful of Saturday nights off in the last 33 years.

McIntyre, author of the book The Old Editor Says, goes on to say that ACES was formed to give editors a voice and provide a forum where they could gather and improve their skills. During this three-day conference, word czars can choose from seminars with names like "Sweat This, Not That: Real Rules vs. Grammar Myths" and "Editing While Exhausted."

But even these well-mannered wordsmiths can get vicious, and not just about how many spaces should go after a period. (One, only, always.) Teresa Schmedding, ACES' president who's a native Missourian and a Mizzou journalism school graduate, remembers when the Associated Press amended its style guide, a widely used reference book in newsrooms. "It was a little bit of a smackdown. One year, when AP announced that they were going to spell out states' names in their datelines, it was a huge uproar. I thought people were going to start pelting them with stuff," she says.

The AP later returned to its old rule.

And there's this fun fact from Eric Althoff, a former editor at Hustler, whose past ACES seminars have included "Even Porn Needs a Style": The magazine's in-house style guide mandates that "blowjob" be one word, "an exception to Merriam-Webster."

Tags: ,

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

July 29, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2020 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation