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Design/copy editing at different size papers

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Sunshine Scooter, Jun 3, 2007.

  1. Sorry if this has been discussed before, but what are some of the differences in workload for copy editors and page designers at larger papers.

    I'm at at 15K daily and pretty much have to do both equally. I may write 10-15 stories a week and then design 1-2 pages a day depending on what's in season, important local events, etc.

    I've been here for about 3 years and know eventually it will be time to move on, but I'm kind of at a crossroads. Do I stick with design/copy editing or writing.

    I've got a good idea what being a writer at a 100K or 200K daily would be like, but what's it like for the desk and page designers? Is it normal to have separate staffs to read copy and do layout pages?

    Just trying to get a feel for what a "typical day" is like. Any help I can get is appreciated.
  2. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    We have a tabloid sports section. For our purposes, don't separate design and copy editing. You get pages on a section plan, with what's supposed to go on each page. You put your pages together, designing, copy-editing and paginating, then have another person on the desk proof the page.

    An average workload for me is 6-7 pages a night, most of them open. If I'm doing a special section, I might do up to 24 pages in a day, but that's only a few times a year.
  3. Smokey33

    Smokey33 Member

    I recently went from a 15K to a 100+K and the difference in workload is incredible.

    At the small paper, I was doing 4-8 pages a night, design and copy editing, toning photos, changing film in the image setter, dealing with ancient, shitty computers.

    Now that I'm at the larger paper it feels like I'm on vacation every day. I don't feel like I'm earning my pay (which is quite a bit more than at the small-town rag). I do three or four pages a night, many of them having lots of ads. I don't have to edit stories or write headlines. I don't have to tone photos. I don't have to serve as a prepress person. I don't have to deal with constantly malfunctioning equipment, and best of all, I don't have a murderous rage toward my publisher.

    There's definitely a huge difference in workload as you advance up the food chain. That time at the small paper will help you appreciate it that much more when you move up.
  4. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Really, it varies from paper to paper, and giving you a story count could be misleading. Two of the papers I worked on had very tight news holes and management at both placed a premium on editing so not an inch was wasted; we spent much of our time squeezing every bit of fat out of copy, when we trimmed we were not lopping off paragraphs but tightening sentence by sentence, removing unnecessary words and phrases, sometimes with such finesse that writers couldn't always tell 15 percent of the story was gone. That kind of editing takes time. You might only edit eight stories, but you were doing major work on all of them.

    Some large papers have only a couple of editions, some have quite a few, and you might be updating constantly. It would not be unusual to edit a staff-written pro file three times, a plugger for the early edition, running for the next edition, and a writethrough with quotes for the next.

    Some papers zone heavily and some don't. On one that zones a lot, the same story might have different lengths and different hed specs for multiple editions.

    The amount of deadline copy can vary from market to market. It is one thing to work in a market that has one MLB team, one NFL team, one NBA team and one NHL team, and it is quite another to work in a market that has two of each. You might not be very busy for much of the shift, but you need X number of bodies for the flood of deadline copy.

    The most prestigious newspaper on my resume was where I worked the hardest. Standards were high, there was a lot of fact-checking expected. There were seven editions. We zoned the preps. We had to cut most staff-written copy, sometimes by quite a bit. We didn't just choose a wire story, we took AP, KR, LAT-WP, etc., and merged them together to basically recraft it into a a story that combined the best elements of each. We ran a lot of breakout graphics, and the idea was not to create one that dupicated the story but something that complemented it. So the "duty roster" might have only eight items per person on it, but we were busy all night long.

    Another factor is that a good sports desk is a lot like communism: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. Meaning the workload won't be even. If you are fast, you might generally be assigned more work than the person sitting beside you. If you are going to work on an extremely complex story or design an extremely complex page, you might be assigned fewer files. I'm very fast, for example, but when there was a story that might take half a shift because it was very long and contained the potential for a lawsuit, well, I'd get fewer files so I could give that monster the extra care it needed.

    In short I disagree that your workload decreases when you move from a small paper to a big one. It may look that way if you go strictly by story/page counts, but if you are not trying to work at a progressively higher level and make it more difficult, you are cheating your employer, your readers and worst of all yourself. I found it got harder and harder as I moved to larger papers. You can skate by or you can push yourself, and if you want to reach your potential you will push yourself.
  5. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    shottie - how open is open? give me a percentage if you would.
  6. EStreetJoe

    EStreetJoe Well-Known Member

    At my paper (60k daily) we've changed how the workload goes.
    Before our merger and out-sourcing of pagination: 4 man desks: 1 person as slot laying out the entire section (7 pages for Tues-Sat. papers, 12 pages Sunday paper, 8 pages Monday). Slot person would design the section, select and size the photos (before giving them to the photo department for toning and sending into the pagination system), edit copy. 1 person strictly editing copy. 2 people splitting time between editing copy and pagination. Some nights we'd have a part-timer doing agate, other nights one of the paginators would do agate.

    After the merger: 2 person desk most nights, 3 person desk Saturday nights. 1 person as slot doing all of the above mentioned tasks, 1 person strictly editing staff-generated copy and compiling the youth sports roundups out of e-mail.
  7. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    TP, if we have a 20-page section on a given day, I'd say we have a 9:1 newshole/ad ratio. Perhaps lean a little bit toward 8:1, but not much and not often.
  8. Frank,

    Thanks, that post was very informative. I think if I weren't to go into writing, I'd want to be at a place that was either pure page design or at least a mix of design/copy editing, as I do now. I think it would be difficult to do nothing but read and edit copy for eight hours straight.
  9. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    just wondering what kind of workload you were referring to. thanks.
  10. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Even on desks where most people specialize, there will usually be some who do both. In my mid-20s on my first major metro, there were five possible desk jobs: slot (last eyes on copy), layout, wire editor, rim and laying out and editing the high schools pages. And many weeks I did all five, a different one on each of my shifts. The only frustration is that if you're still new at this, it's hard to reach your potential at any of them when you can't get in a groove.

    I think a certain amount of specializing is in the paper's best interest. Play to people's strengths, for one thing -- not everyone has an eye for design, and there are some pretty good designers who just aren't very good word people, but if you expect people to do both, your hiring decisions likely are going to result in solid people who aren't spectacular at either and it'll show in the product. But if you specialize, you can hire people who are great at one thing and they no longer have to expend a lot of energy doing work they really don't have at lot of aptitude for. The biggest problem that I've seen with having people edit copy for a page they're laying out is that most people are going to lean toward one skill over the other -- there are going to be times when decisions are going to be made on the basis of convenience rather than what's best for the story or best for the page. Over the years I've seen some word people do some really hideous things with design just to make writing a headline work or not have to cut a story, and I've seen design people flat-out butcher a story in order to make a design work. Ideally, you have word people who are sometimes willing to be an advocate for the writer and tell a designer, no, we really shouldn't do this, this story deserves better play or shouldn't be cut or should be cut or this design is pretty but the writer is really saying the opposite. The relationship between designers and word people shouldn't be adversarial [/wenalway], but occasional disagreement is good for the product.
  11. CarlSpackler

    CarlSpackler Member

    That sounds like a pretty crappy paper, for a page designer to even have interaction with the publisher.
  12. ColbertNation

    ColbertNation Member

    I've got to echo Smokey on this one. I was at a 16-20K recently, and I would sometimes go out and cover a game, then come back, write the story and do a five-page section (that didn't happen too often, just enough to bug me). I left there to take a job as a designer/copy editor at a 50K, and it has literally cut my workload in half.
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