This September, The Michigan Daily held its Bicentennial reunion weekend. Daily alumni from across the country were invited to return to our beloved newsroom and, among other things, mingle. As many of you know, “mingle” translates into “network” in hyper-competitive college speak. As one of my fellow managing editors so elegantly put it to me, fidgeting in her heels and with an air of resignation, “Come to happy hour if you want a job.”
And that I did. I went, drank a little wine to make myself more pleasant and talked. And after conversation after conversation with Pulitzer winner after Pulitzer winner, something became very clear to me: I was making a mistake.
According to everyone I met that night — extremely successful leaders in their fields, mind you — dedicating myself to copy editing was a waste of time. The job I’ve spent three nights a week at for months was not going to exist in a few years; copy editing, they informed me, was quickly becoming obsolete.
Another notable quote from the evening: “Oh, don’t go into copy. Can’t your design editor show you InDesign or something?”
I like my job. It’s demanding but rewarding, and I get paid to be nitpicky — something people, mostly ex-boyfriends, consider one of my greatest faults. I delete commas and I fact-check. I get to blithely inform writers that “people affected by the aftermath of the hurricane” could and should be shortened to “Hurricane María victims.” I like it, and I’m qualified for it. In considering post-grad options, a looming concern in my final year of college, I naturally gravitated toward copy editing. I thought it’d be a safe bet for an English/Spanish major who didn’t want to teach. It was, to put it lightly, a rude awakening.
I had been paying attention to the goings-on in my prospective field, of course, but not really; when I saw that The New York Times was doing away with their copy desk entirely I was sad (and I pulled my subscription, half out of support for those striking and half out of spite) but I considered it an isolated incident. What I hadn’t realized until that night, a few months before my graduation, was that newspapers across the country are downsizing their desks significantly.
This gem I found after falling down a massive research rabbit hole for this piece sums it up nicely. And people are noticing; “no other job classification has suffered so many losses as the news business downsizes,” CNN reported, and it’s the reason you’ve been seeing so many typos in online articles as of late. And while The Times’s corrections of misprinted facts may sometimes be funny, this mass disappearance of editors is representative of a much larger cultural phenomenon and one that has become especially prevalent since the 2016 election.
Facts just aren’t priority anymore. This is not a revolutionary statement; Donald Trump’s shaky relationship with documented occurrences has been well-reported. Post-truth was Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 word of the year. Alternative facts were not a one-time press gaffe but instead have become a cultural phenomenon. And not to perpetuate the whole “fake news” nonsense, but this shift manifests itself in the media as the sacrifice of copy editors, the ones whose job it is to make sure the facts are true and correctly represented.
With the omnipresence of the internet and its instantaneous refreshing, breaking a story before a competitor has become more important than ensuring its quality. Modern American media and culture have regressed to a place where fact-checking just isn’t important anymore, and it’s telling.
As for me, I’ll be fine. I’m currently working on “diversifying,” which you all know is hyper-competitive college speak for “starting at square one,” but I have some ideas. Maybe I’ll finally learn how to use InDesign. What keeps me up at night isn’t my personal professional instabilities but the larger existential questions they bring up: Do veracity and accuracy hold any cultural weight anymore? Can I fit in a society that blatantly disregards all I’ve been conditioned to care about? How do we determine truth if there is little punishment for a lie? How do we make sense of nonsensical daily occurrences? How did we get here? Do we care?