Why so few copy editors have joined ACES

April 25, 2004

American Copy Editor Society head honcho John McIntyre posted the following at the ACES discussion board the other day:

According to the latest numbers from ASNE’s survey of newsrooms, there are 10,708 copy editors/layout persons working for America’s daily
newspapers. So how come 10,000 of them are not members of ACES?

I could do a wise-ass Top 10 list of 10 things ACES could do to attract more members (“No. 7: Raffle off the right to flambe a photographer!”) but I’m feeling sober and serious all the sudden, so I’ll just play it straight and offer a few observations.

1) Gimme an incentive: For the longest time I didn’t feel like signing up because I didn’t think ACES had much to offer beyond the chance to get together with a few hundred other copy editors once a year. I’m thinking, geeze, I spend a third of my life w/these folks already — of course I adore them like family but still, I need really good reasons to take time away from my real family.

2) You built it, they ain’t comin’. Why? I wonder if it’s because somebody needs to make it easier for them. Somebody like the top newsroom executives who, to date, are clearly not offering strong incentives for joining ACES. Are they being properly cajoled and encouraged?

3) ACES is not cool. ACES isn’t jazz or rock ‘n’ roll to me. It’s easy listening. The outfit needs some verve; some inside skinny; some, dare I say, edge. I’m not talking cool for cool’s sake: I’m talking about reaching out to the young copy editors who have the most gruelling duty at the most godawful rags none of us high achievers would ever deign to work for. They need ACES more than just about anybody, but they’re the next galaxy over from the ACES’ elite, which draws almost entirely from major metro dailies.

4) It all comes down to money: Not the membership fee, which is a pittance. I’m talking about how newspapers get away with defying the most basic tenet of economics: if there is such a crying demand for copy editors, why isn’t it reflected in their paychecks? If ACES could demonstrate any kind of success at addressing copy editor pay, it would go a long way towards answering “what’s in it for me?”

7 Responses to Why so few copy editors have joined ACES

  1. Jeremy Verdusco on April 25, 2004 at 12:52 am

    I might add another there: affiliation fatigue. I’m an ACES member. Card-carrying NAHJer. And I’m signed up on the AYJ forum. When does the madness end?
    Not to put prospectives off from joining such groups – I find value in the tips, tricks and connections. Still, ACES competes with a lot of other demands for mindshare.

  2. Phillip Blanchard on April 25, 2004 at 7:03 am

    I’m reluctant to address John’s challenge because I might be asked to help do something to meet it, and I’m lucky I can get my shit together just to attend the ACES conferences. I know that many copy editors share my aversion to signing up for anything; I don’t even register to vote, for reasons other than Leonard Downie’s.
    I do not think the salary battle is ACES’s. The organization properly is instructional; there’s nothing any young copy editor can do to better prepare for life on the desk than to attend an ACES conference and its useful workshops and seminars. The problem seems to be one of expense. A good number of attendees at this year’s conference in Houston were there at company expense, but the sad fact is that very few newspapers are going to spring for a $1,000 tab to send people who make $25,000 a year to a conference at which, if they are any good, have a good chance of getting a job offer.
    The conferences are what make ACES valuable, and the vast majority of the nation’s 10,000 (is that a reliable number?) newspaper copy editors simply can’t afford to go.
    If John McIntyre held a box-cutter to my throat and demanded that I make one suggestion, it would be that the conferences be made more affordable. The Houston conference actually was one of the least costly. The Chicago meeting in 2003 was frightfully expensive.
    The first ACES conference was on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I liked the academic atmosphere. Early on, I understand, there was interest in making ACES a university-based organization. That would too closely affiliate the group with a journalism school, though, with its attendant competition and jealousies. Already, there is a perceived bias in ACES toward certain programs; UNC and Missouri come to mind. I’d like to see more participation from other schools, such as the University of Montana or other worthy programs that lack the prestige of North Carolina or Mizzou.
    Why not consider putting the conferences in less-expensive venues? I would vastly prefer to drop, say, $600 for a conference held in a summer-camp environment, or on a university campus , than spend $1,000 or more to go to Hollywood.

  3. tracy f. harris on April 25, 2004 at 7:33 am

    Also, are those 10,000 considering copyediting their career? For me, it’s what I’m doing while I’m in college (my career is a long story, just trust me here), in between writing gigs. For me, joining ACES would be entertaining, but not really worth the time or money in the end. Could it be there are others out there using copyediting as a part-time job?

  4. KP on April 25, 2004 at 9:00 am

    I like what Phillip Blanchard has to say above in a big, big way.
    And as an aside, from what I have read about the past ACES conferences, reporters would also gain much from checking them out… but that’s another entire story.
    It’s enough that copy editors are hard pressed to attend, be it because of the expen$e or because their newspapers won’t send any of them, or not send more than a handful.

  5. Vince Tuss on April 25, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    To some what echo a post now on the ACES board, I think it’s a quesiton of benefits. Does it mean anything for a copy editor to join ACES? For some, that comes up with the question of costs vs. the benefits. But what do copy editors get for joining?
    One other thing not mentioned: How much time do people have? A lot of copy editors I know aren’t in it for any broad causes, but for family reasons (either a paycheck or the schedule or all the above.) It’s a lot to ask them for anything past their duties at work and their family life. It’s the time that’s precious, not the money.

  6. M on April 26, 2004 at 1:28 am

    Excellent post. I’d like to join ACES, myself, but I don’t see many benefits aside from the yearly meeting with those much more in the know than myself, and I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to that anyway on the aforementioned miserably-small paycheck. I can’t even spare the membership fee at this point, and the paper I’m at would just laugh if I suggested they pay for anything.

  7. Mark J McGarry on April 28, 2004 at 12:46 am

    I joined ACES in its very early days, and didn’t re-up because the organization simply could not manage to process my change of address, nor was it able to sell me additional copies of one issue of the newsletter, which contained an article about yours truly. I made several attempts at both, with several people. I then gave up, figuring that ACES was not a good candidate to carry the banner if its representatives could not find the banner with both hands.