Meet the new crew: Samantha Ricketts, left, Heather Greenfield, Kelsey Thomas and Andrea Rectenwald. Today marks one year since Andrea was hired, making her the last person to join the staff after the departure of four copy editors in about six months. Former copy editor Steven Gill is in the background. Photo by Craig Cunningham.
Imagine you’re the captain of a veteran hockey team that’s been battle-tested and has numerous titles to its name. Now imagine that you suddenly have to replace four of your six players. Well, a year ago today, the six-person Daily Mail copy desk replaced its fourth editor in almost six months.
As with any profession, staff turnover is a part of the job — new opportunities and life changes lead people elsewhere. Newspapers are no different. We consider ourselves lucky when we can make it a year without someone leaving, but even more so on copy desk because of the number of hats they wear on the job.
Their first job is, as the name implies, to edit copy. They read for errors factual and grammatical, sometimes even having to do math. They write headlines. They select stories from the newspaper wire services. They determine where stories go in the paper. They do page layout. They design section fronts. They upload stores to the Web. They occasionally write stories and columns.
When I was on copy desk, with each new responsibility I was assigned, my supervisor kept me on it for weeks on end until I’d seen every situation I could. This continued for three years until I was assigned to do Page One, the pinnacle of copy editor duties, or the face of the newspaper, as our former publisher would say.
So you can see the amount of training and seasoning that goes into making a veteran copy editor. And, hopefully, you can appreciate why losing just one has a cost that goes beyond missing a friendly, familiar face. Now multiply that by four and cut the time frame in half . We were in a pickle.
With normal attrition, you can count on a number of extra, experienced hands on the desk to help get the new hire up to speed. But from the middle of 2013 to the start of 2014, it seemed every time we got someone started, we’d lose another veteran. It’s hard to rotate duties when there are fewer parts to rotate.
Which brings us to today. In order, we hired Samantha Ricketts in August, Heather Greenfield (September), Kelsey Thomas (January) and Andrea Rectenwald (March). (And Cathy Caudill joined the desk in January.)
These young women had a lot to learn in a hurry to keep up with the demands of the desk. News editor and copy desk chief Ashlee Maddy had to accelerate the training, squeezing months of learning into weeks. Luckily, she had the assistance of the senior editor and designer Steven Gill to help bring then along. (And after that fast-tracked year, we lost Steven, who still sends good vibes even in St. Albans.)
As the saying goes, though, pressure makes diamonds. The new batch of copy editors has more than met the challenge of taking in all the information and assorted nuances associated with the job. Each is coming into her own as an editor and designer.
Sam and Heather have not only mastered the art of section fronts and 1A, but have also survived the gauntlet of “slot editor,” juggling staff and wire stories for placement in the paper, a position a former colleague likened to improvisational jazz. After just over a year on the desk, today is Kelsey’s first day to design Page One. We’re sure she’ll do just fine.