It appears that nearly every day of the year is dedicated to one thing or another. Some of those days, like Mother’s Day, are fairly famous.
The United Nations has a host of days that it draws the world’s attention to: the day to remember bees on February 20, radio day on February 5, toilet day on November 19, day to remember philosophy on November 15, day of television on November 21, the day of the soil on December 12, the day of the mountain on December 11, the day to be neutral on December 12, and my all time favourite, the day of happiness on March 3.
These days are supposed to draw our attention to the importance of the event mentioned. For example, on March 3, we are supposed to focus on the issue of happiness and simply try to be happy. One may recall the Sunday school chorus: “If you are happy and you know, clap your hands”.
All those who are happy and know should, on March 3 just go around clapping their hands and helping others get to a point where they too can clap their hands.
There are countries that have taken this happiness issue very seriously. For example, happiness has been embedded in the national philosophy of the United Arab Emirates with a prominent street in the capital named Happiness Street.
While we have a day for the radio and TV and a day to focus on the freedom of the press, maybe we should have a day dedicated to copy editors. One may wonder why on earth we would want to remember copy editors.
However, unknown to many the piece of work that we come into contact with in a newspaper or book is actually the finished and polished version. The raw material is usually not as attractive and would actually put many readers off.
Many beginning writers find copy editors a distraction. The copy editors, like mothers who are seen to stand in the way, are accused of being too eager with the big pen to chop out this and that and to make the story unrecognisable. Maybe some copy editors do that. But that is far from what the majority of good copy editors do.
The work that lands on the copy editor’s desk, whether it is a book, newspaper or magazine editor, too often has many flaws that may have escaped the attention of the writer. It is possible that the facts are not accurate, that the sentences are not flowing and that the grammar is wrong.
These men and women, sitting behind desks, away from the glamour and excitement of a seat at the front of the action, would then shape the material so that the reader can easily understand the story.
They seek to go into the mind of the reader to ensure there is suspense, that the story is not told in one sentence, that a man who was born in 1920 in the first paragraph does not turn out to be 30 years old in the fifth paragraph and that the story has a catchy headline that draws the reader to the story.
If there is a pillar for the written word, that pillar is the copy editor. Just like we celebrate the important people and events in society we should, in journalism, dedicate a day for the copy editor without whom journalism and the overall written word would not be as exciting and as entertaining. Just a special day for the copy editor would be a start. — The writer is Dean, School of Communication at Daystar University