Wielding the Red Pen at the Rocky Mountain News

Thanks to buyouts and staff shrinkage via attrition, there are fewer editorial employees at the Rocky Mountain News than at any time in recent memory. As a result, management at the paper is having to focus even more than usual on efficiency, in order to insure that those who remain can cover their own responsibilities as well as those once handled by workers who've moved on.

That's the context of an August 17 memo about copy flow penned by Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple. Here's his note:


Today you should have received in your mailbox a copy of our standards for editing different kinds of copy from wire and syndicated services. This policy has also been added to our stylebook on the intranet. I hope the approach we outline is not a surprise. It reflects and I hope clarifies the approach we asked everybody to follow last spring when we examined our workflow to evaluate whether all our efforts were providing value to our readers. At that time, we decided that it didn't make sense that we were editing wire copy and locally-generated copy the same way. Why? For a simple reason: Wire copy has already been edited and includes a suggested headline before it ever hits our newsroom. For this reason, it seems logical that we can reduce the number of steps we take to put it into the newspaper.

This is a copy of the memo I sent out on March 30, 2006.


Just a reminder that April 1 is the deadline to have fully implemented our revised approach to editing wire copy - in all sections of the newspaper.

Essentially, no wire copy should be touched by more than three people, and whenever possible it should be handled by two. If three are involved, it would be an originating editor, a second editor who edits the copy and builds the page and a third editor who slots the work after reviewing it on proof, or in some cases in the Unisys system. A reminder of the reasoning behind this: Wire copy comes to us already edited.

If you're not handling wire copy this way, please alert your supervisor immediately. If you have any questions, please ask your supervisor.

I would be happy to discuss.



Yet over time it appears we've slid back into our old ways, and that means that in some cases we're spending more time editing wire copy than I believe is necessary. To be clear, my concern isn't addressed at our wire team. They've generally been flexible and creative in their approach. My concern is directed at our entire operation, from features to sports to business to news. I ask that you read the policy carefully and follow the basic principles we've outlined.

Thank you for your attention to the memo. If you have any questions, please ask your direct supervisor. But if you're still not clear or want to discuss the reasoning for our approach, please come and see me. I'd be happy to discuss.


There's nothing intrinsically silly about Temple's edict: It makes sense. What's also clear, however, is that copy editors at the Rocky are stretched so thin that if one or two of them spend a little extra time eyeballing a wire story, the entire production line may kink up. Maybe that's why restaurant reviewer John Lehndorff, who's on a doctor-prescribed diet in advance of anticipated hip surgery (see the second item in this Message column for details), will be doing some work on the copy desk before returning to eating professionally on a full-time basis.

The Rocky needs all hands on deck, because so many crew members have abandoned ship. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts