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Jeremy Halbreich, CEO of Sun-Times Media, told me Friday afternoon when I asked about this week's layoffs that he'd said long ago that once the company's new content management system was fully up and running "it would allow us to take advantage of significant synergies as we centralize our newsroom functions."
Well, he continued, that's happening. "As of two weeks ago all 32 Pioneer Press papers went up on the new system, and so we're in a position to move forward with these plans." To give me a specific idea of the way the company was moving forward, he said that for the last several weeks the daily News-Sun in Lake County has been edited downtown at the Sun-Times.
Halbreich said he had an "approximate" idea of how many copy editors just lost their jobs, but the number is proprietary. (The Tribune's Phil Rosenthal wrote that he'd heard there were at least nine.) Are you happy with the quality of your copy editing? I asked Halbreich. "Yes, absolutely," he said.
Thursday evening I happened to attend Career Night for the journalism graduates of Columbia College. Chatting with a couple of graduates who want jobs as copy editors, I wasn't sure what to tell them. They're a rare breed, needed more than ever in the nation's newsrooms but valued less than ever by the folks who give those newsrooms their budgets. It is wishful thinking to suppose that what they contribute to the product is invisible and expendable, but it is common thinking all the same.
A faculty member said that students in Columbia's copy editing class, who are assigned to copy edit the local daily papers and mark up the mistakes, prefer the Sun-Times for that task because mistakes are so easy to find. I asked the students if this was their experience, and they said it pretty much was. One recalled spotting "blatant spelling mistakes." The other described a sort of wiki-editing process: "Things would go up on the website without being well edited and you'd see lots of mistakes." The first few commenters would point out the mistakes, and then they'd disappear.