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Copy editor creates stylebook, edits home and self magazines

Jennifer Ramundt is the copy chief and assistant managing editor for Meredith Corp.

Jennifer Ramundt is the copy chief and assistant managing editor for Meredith Corp. Photo courtesy of Ramundt.

By Lizzie Moran
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Not everyone can say that they’ve created a stylebook.

But Jennifer Ramundt, copy chief and assistant managing editor for Meredith Corp., can.

For Ramundt, copy editing is ‘fun.’ The magazine content she edits is focused on family, home and self. Meredith Corp. publishes more than 120 publications a year. Some examples are: Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Diabetic Living and American Patchwork and Quilting, which is her favorite to edit.

“Meredith is service journalism at its finest,” Ramundt said in a phone interview. “Active people buy the magazines because the magazines are about how to do something like how to plant a garden or how to bake a cake.”

She ended up at Meredith after a lot of editing experience elsewhere.

Like many editors, Ramundt began as a newspaper reporter but moved to copy editing when she realized her love for it. Her copy-editing journey has taken her to another state and numerous newspaper jobs, but in the end, she returned to where it all began: Iowa.

Even in high school, Ramundt knew that she enjoyed journalism. She worked for her hometown newspaper in high school and later for the campus daily newspaper at Iowa State, where she received her bachelor’s degree in  journalism with an emphasis in print journalism.

As a university requirement, she interned with a hometown newspaper, then worked at a small town weekly newspaper after college graduation. She moved on to a twice-weekly newspaper, then landed a job in the Detroit, Mich., area at a trade association.

Ramundt received her master’s degree in communication from the University of Michigan, while she freelanced with a chain of newspapers in Michigan. Throughout all these jobs and internships, Ramundt realized that she liked to polish other people’s work more than her own.

Spoken like a true copy editor, Ramundt repeatedly said,  “words. I like the words.”

Ramundt gained important fact-checking and editing skills while working for a reference book publisher in Detroit that created a line of encyclopedias. She gathered, edited and sourced the information printed in the encyclopedias.

Ramundt and her husband returned to Iowa in Des Moines, where she applied for a job at Meredith Corp. She was a natural fit for the books division.

She has worked at the company for 25 years, where she is a full-time copy chief and assistant managing editor. Her division, the special interest division, consists of only four full-time and a dozen part-time editors.

A great accomplishment of hers at Meredith was creating the Better Homes and Gardens Stylebook, a guide to the style for content in the magazine. It started 20 years ago with Ramundt who helped develop the style for it.

“I’ve noticed that style evolves and changes as you work through a publication,” Ramundt said. “For example, a quilting publication uses inch marks rather than spelling out ‘inches’ because that’s their industry.”

Now, the BHG Stylebook can be found online at www.bhgstylebook.com for easy access and to accommodate for the shift to online content. A big change Ramundt has experienced during her time at Meredith is the technology shift and social media presence.

“It’s really nice to have our stylebook online and be able to update it,” Ramundt said. “I have it basically memorized, though, because I’m in charge of it— the ‘keeper’ of the stylebook.”

As the stylebook keeper, Ramundt stressed that clarity is important: “The words should serve the readers.” She makes sure that the content is clear enough so readers don’t have to pause while reading.

“Sometimes editors know it [the content] so well that they lapse into jargon or skip steps or make assumptions,” Ramundt said. “I have to rein in the editors, like the quilting editors, and make sure they list out every step of how to press a seam. Don’t assume that people know that.”

The deadlines for magazine copy editors, like Ramundt, are strenuous because her team is the last run-through before the magazine sends to the printer. Her job requires some juggling and prioritizing.

“A magazine has a longer shelf life because people rip out pages and keep them,” Ramundt said. “A newspaper’s shelf life is short.”

That’s why it is important to edit carefully. She doesn’t change the writer or magazine’s voice, but makes sure it is grammatically correct, has proper transitions, and has all the facts included.

She offers some advice for those who might be interested in a copy editing profession:

  1. Copy edit wherever you can. Any experience you can get is fabulous in this industry.
  2. Know all the stylebooks out there.
  3. Read lots.
  4. Write lots.

Her last piece of advice: “Those who are in this industry, we like words and like to craft it in a way that makes it easy for readers to enjoy. So if you like that, that’s where you should be.”


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