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New York Times editor stresses the need for editors

By Carrie Niemeier

University of Nebraska- Lincoln

Lew Serviss; New York Times Editor

Lew Serviss is now an editor at The New York Times.

Lew Serviss is an editor for The New York Times. He has also served as a writer and editor in Paris and Washington during his 35-year newspaper career. His job now consists of managing copy editors, assigning them stories to work on, coordinating with the assigning editors and news desk and giving the last read to stories after the copy editors have edited them and written all the “hardware” − headlines, captions, A1 refers, web refers.

Serviss said he always enjoyed writing. He started out as a reporter for his college’s newspaper, and knew he had always had the desire to be a reporter. He got a Newspaper Fund summer internship to work as a copy editor in Buffalo, N.Y., and when he graduated the next year, the newspaper offered him a full-time job. He didn’t have a clue what copy editors did, but the Newspaper Fund trained him to be one before he started working. He applied to 155 newspapers across the country in search of a reporting job, but the only offer was to be a copy editor in Buffalo, so he went along with it.

Serviss said he started off working nights and weekends. Although he didn’t write stories, he could write headlines that he’d see people reading all around town the next day. An advantage of being a copy editor was being needed a lot more than reporters, and it was easy to move around. He said the copy desk in Buffalo was very fast-paced and had a high volume of stories. He felt as though he learned more about writing from editing bad copy than from anything else.

Now, Serviss works as a manager for copy editors making sure everything is in proper order. He has normal hours. He wakes up around 10 a.m., rolls out of bed, reads the “top news” on the NY Times app on his iPhone and reads through other news posts to see what the breaking news is of the day before he reaches his desk. He makes sure at the end of the workday that all the pages close in an orderly fashion and all the page quotas have been hit.

Serviss said the best part about his job is getting paid to read because he learns something new every day. On top of that, he gets to work with some astonishingly smart, talented people at The New York Times.

In an interview, Serviss answered these questions:

1. What are your biggest challenges?

Getting done by deadline is certainly the biggest challenge, especially when there’s a breaking story. We often get stories done very close to deadline. You have to be very focused and do as much editing as you can in one read.

2. What do you like about your job?

I like that I get paid to read. I learn something new every day. I got into journalism because I was curious about how the world works. In my opinion, journalists are supposed to explain to readers what’s really happening in the world around them.

3. What are things you dislike about your job?

It can be really, really stressful. The Times is a big place, and with all large organizations there can be bureaucracy and office politics.

4. How long does an average story take to edit?

Maybe an hour, but often you work a story in stages: read it once; take another pass through and do heavier editing; email or call the reporter with questions; when page design is done, write display type.

 5. What are some encouraging words for those who wish to pursue editing?

It doesn’t matter what the format is – newspapers or websites or blogs or ebooks – people will always need to be informed and entertained. That means we’ll always need writers and writers will need editors.

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