When I started doing journalism at a professional level a few semesters ago, I was more than a little terrified that I’d never be any good at it because I was always so worried all the time.
I’d write a story, and then I’d go home and think about it and not be able to fall asleep at night because I’d have to get out of bed five time to make sure the story still said what I thought it said. I’d freak out when an editor tried to change my story because I’d be convinced it would cause something to go horribly wrong. I’d do some other worried thing that makes this paragraph a set of three ideas, because having a list of two just doesn’t work in my mind.
Then, somewhere along the line, I have the distinct memory of a conversation with an editor in which I discovered that the fact that I worried meant I cared. A lot. And something about the conversation stuck with me. Slowly, I began to realize that I did have a high capacity to pay attention to the details of my stories, that I knew what they needed in order to be right. As I started transitioning my thinking away from “I worry all the time” and toward “I have a close attention to detail, and I care about doing things well,” my ability to do journalism well began to increase.
And the reason I say this now is because it’s honestly served me fairly well in my job as a copy editor at the Missourian. (I’m doing this a couple of shifts a week in addition to working as an assistant city editor.)
If my job as a reporter was all about the details before, it’s even more so on the copy desk. I’m reading stories with a close eye looking specifically at things like the wordings and the commas and the AP style and the spellings and the dates and all the little things that make a story, well, better. I get to do things like catch misspellings in wire copy or question if the wording a reporter used to reference a policy makes the point the reporter wanted it to make. For 9.5 hours a week, I analyze, scrutinize and generally get to be just a little bit neurotic. And to an extent, that’s OK.
Now, even a few weeks in, I’m already seeing ways I can improve as a copy editor, and I’ve begun to understand that there’s a balance in how I worry about my copy. I have a tendency to be a bit slow when I edit, and I know I’m going to have to work on my efficiency and confidence with another person’s writing. Already, I’ve admitted to myself that I’ve spent longer than necessary worrying about things that were already in good shape.
But at the same time, I’ve already been in a few circumstances where my attention to detail has served me pretty well. I’ve asked good questions, caught errors before they made it to print, cleaned up writing to make it more concise and readable. On the whole, I enjoy what I’m doing so far, and I can see that using an eye for detail makes a difference in making the final product that much better.
Over the past several months, I’ve been experiencing this bizarre change in perspective when it comes to the way I see my ability to thrive in the newsroom. Yeah, I have some habits that make my job harder at times, but I also have more than enough personality traits that give be the potential to be good at what I do. It’s just been a matter of learning to see that.