Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Copy editors: How little do you care?

By · Friday, February 5th, 2010

The other night, we were watching a TV show, and someone said: “He could care less.”

Our heads snapped in each other’s direction. NO!

The expression is, “couldn’t care less.” It means that someone cares so little, that the person could not possibly care less. The phrase is commonly misspoken and misstated.

Why do I bring it up now, in connection with copy editors? Because copy editors do care — a lot — about their existing and pre-existing roles in newsrooms.

With more newsrooms cutting copy editor positions, the question comes up, “Why?” I don’t have the answer to choices that others make. But I can offer that, historically, copy editors tend to be looked upon as more of a nuisance than a benefit. Afterall, they read stories after several others have read the same stories, so isn’t that redundant?

Not if you consider that copy editors are trained for a purpose — to see what others don’t see. We teach them to visualize as they read. They remember name spellings from the lead through the last graph, no matter how long the story. They understand that they should know what they don’t know … and look it up. They should know what they do know … and verify it.

We could ask: Why cut the copy editors? Why not cut a middle layer of editors? Well, we aren’t out to promote cutting anyone. But let’s agree that copy editors are not redundant or irrelevant. While news organizations are evolving and adjusting, let’s hope that they at least appreciate — and maintain in some way — the role of the copy editor.

It’s not just that copy editors would like to save their jobs. It’s also that they care a lot about the quality of what the online and print audience reads and views.

Emilie Davis


Copy editors have been quite well protected in the last three years of cuts at USA TODAY. But that choice has caused some angst among those who have lost jobs…

“Could care less” is an increasingly acceptable idiom, and it’s often-obsessive attention to minutiae like this that makes people think copy editors are expendable.