Kathleen O’Malley is a copy editor for the Chicago Tribune.
I was always good as a kid at pointing out things that were wrong or reworking things that were wrong. My first job was at my hometown newspaper in Muncie, Indiana. For my interview, I took a week’s worth of papers and marked them up. I went in and said, “If you hire me, this stuff wouldn’t happen.” I stayed there for 10 years.
What is your general process for copyediting a story?
I read through the entire story, making small fixes as needed. I read through a second time, looking for holes or other questions for the reporter. The final time, I make sure all changes make sense. You should read every story as if you are a reader of the newspaper. You’ll likely have the same questions in a story that a reader might.
With today’s news of the Congressman Steve Scalise shooting, what was the newsroom like?
Today was interesting. The story was localized because the shooter was from Illinois, so the Metro desk had someone writing a profile of the gunman. The National and Foreign desks were doing their things. Opinion was writing editorials about it. There’s a lot of coordinating to get stuff up on the website and have it all mesh with each other. We had to make sure the details were right. Stupid stuff like “Are we going to use this guy’s middle initial?” Metro had “Five people wounded in the shooting,” and it turns out one story had “Five people injured.” Another had “Five people injured but one wasn’t shot.” It’s just a matter of getting all those facts to match.
How do you get those things to match?
I was reading an editorial that stated, “Five people wounded,” and I was thinking all five of those people had been shot. And oddly enough, I looked up and CNN had on its crawl, “Four people injured.” Was it four or five? I went to the other desks and asked what they had going on in their stories. I went to the Metro editor to see what they had and then called the Opinion person and said: “These people have this, and those people have this. We need make it match what the actual situation was.” That took about 20 minutes to straighten out. It’s really embarrassing when your paper has three different versions of something happening.
What’s your advice for aspiring copy editors?
Challenge yourself. Dive into the deep end, and trust you’ll figure it out. I’ve gotten a “baptism by fire” at a couple of my jobs, and while I was terrified of failing, I always came out fine. If there’s a job you want, don’t give up. It took multiple attempts to get the jobs I wanted. Once I was invited to take a copyediting test, and it took another year before I was hired. Be flexible, and you’ll be viewed as a team player.
Saint Joseph’s University students interested in post-graduate training opportunities in Tribune-owned newsrooms in Chicago or Los Angeles or for the digital news site tronc.com should visit the Metpro website.
—Kevin Kaufman, M.A. ’18