Ask the copy desk

New York Times

Last week my friend James sent me a link to a New York Times piece from March 6, 2007: Talk to the Newsroom: Director of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman. I didn’t get to look at it until now, and wow, is it long—thirteen pages. Interesting, but long. And because it’s a series of Q&As, written over several days, somewhat a little bit repetitively repetitious. But for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. I made it only halfway through, plus some skimming near the end, but I’ve also had only one cup of tea so far today; I’ll come back to it. In the meantime, however, I thought perhaps you’d like to know what the Times copy editors do all day.

People often look at me like I’m nuts when I say that some differences between newspaper and book style conventions (e.g., quotation marks vs. italics) are most likely the result of technological limitations in the wire service, so I was interested to see this:

As an aside, the advent of e-mail and Internet addresses has caused some confusion for material that is transmitted over wires, but not the Web. For example, many transmission protocols have called for the use of a symbol like @bt to signal the beginning of a transmission, and @et to signal the end. At the Times News Service, where I used to work, we were sometimes puzzled because stories we transmitted were cut off in the middle when they arrived at client newspapers. Turns out we had used one of those symbols in a story we transmitted—something akin to a story talking about the movie “E.T.” establishing an e-mail account “”—and the transmitter obeyed the @et. The Associated Press, which operates the means by which many other organizations transmit stories to one another, still has a list of “nontransmitting symbols” that need to be avoided in text lest they be mistaken for computer commands. Instead of “,” for example, stories sent via The A.P. are supposed to use “asktheeditors(at)” and someone—usually a copy editor—has to change (at) back to (@) before it appears in the local publication.

So there.

Go on, geek out.

Photo: new new york by sashamd; some rights reserved.

Extracurricular Activities

Dress Code

Yesterday when I asked, “What does an ‘art director’ do?” Erin replied, “I dunno, exactly, but I do know they have a club!” To which I replied, in turn, “Those directors, and their clubs!”

Then, after work, I went out to have some beers with my club.

Which brings on this public service announcement: People, if you don’t live near a professional club, or if you don’t feel like the professional clubs in your area are the sort you’d like to join, start your own damn club. It doesn’t have to be clearly defined. It doesn’t have to be defined at all. It doesn’t have to even meet—maybe your blog friends constitute a club, as I like to think that mine do. But do try to have some kind of professional group you can call your own, however informal. It tastes good, and it’s good for you! Continue reading “Extracurricular Activities”

Excuse me—which way is the art at?

And speaking of directing art, tell me your trade secrets!

  • Where do you go to find free or nonspendy photographs?
  • How do you get ideas for photographs to illustrate stories that are, let’s say, totally and completely nonvisual? Are there tricks you use when you’re wholly uninspired?
  • How do you find that photo that you know exists but that’s just refusing to come up, no matter what keywords you use to search for it?
  • Where do you go to find illustrators?
  • How much guidance do you give to illustrators—to what extent do you just let them do their arty thing?
  • Do you generally deal with agencies or go directly to the artists?

We’ve mostly been using Creative Commons–licensed Flickr images, Associated Press photos, Photofest, Mary Evans Picture Library (which doesn’t seem to work with Firefox on the Mac—grrr), cheap stock places like iStockPhoto, behemoths such as Corbis and Getty, and specialty archives such as USHMM. I’ve recently started trawling through the listings at PhotoServe, but I haven’t yet used anything from any of the agencies I found there. I’d also somehow never heard of the mega-agency Jupiter until last week.

We haven’t hired any illustrators yet, but we’d love to. Some illustration agencies I’ve been looking at are CIA and Riley. Also, the DrawMo! dump. Any advice or recommendations are welcome (the only illustrations I’ve ever commissioned in the past are maps for fantasy books; I’m not sure that’s the look we want).

Heeeeelp meeeeeee!

What does an “art director” do?

Beats me. I’ve never worked with one in my life, but now this is my job title, so I’m trying to figure it out. What do you think it means?

My job so far seems to break down as follows:

  • 60 percent art wrangling, for print and Web. This includes photo research, chasing down permissions, cleaning up and sizing art, making more-or-less templated graphic doo-dads, and assembling stuff into online galleries.
  • 30 percent layout, which is to say, picking up templates (or tracing PDFs, when files aren’t handy) made by someone else, for stuff like invitations, postcards, business cards, and a sixteen-page semiannual magazine. There’s a single house font family and a very narrow house color palette, so very little “design” enters the equation. Print production and distribution management for same.
  • 10 percent Web, um, review. We’re in the final weeks of a relaunch, so we’re looking at a lot of new page designs. I’m neither designing nor managing; just mostly trying to help with quality control.

I’ve done this kind of work in the past, mixed in different proportions, under titles like “program associate” or “program director” or “webmaster” or “managing editor.” It’s not like my title matters to me—I’m going to do the work that needs to be done, regardless—but I do suspect that other people have expectations of what an AD does or knows how to do, and I have no idea how my skills and experience relate to those expectations.

Have you ever been or worked with an art director? What does the title mean to you?

Get What You're Worth

“Senior page monkey” Schizohedron has written an excellent post called Tips for Fair Workplace Compensation. It’s not specific to the design industry at all, but I suspect this is something a lot of (so-called) creative workers are especially bad at, as we like to think that our jobs are more fun than other people’s. Dude, your job may be what you like to do, but it’s still a job. Get paid for it.

There are so many good points in there that it’s hard for me to quote anything without just copying and pasting the whole thing, but I’ll limit myself to the rousing finale:

They employ you. They do not own you. They don’t govern the course of your career. Only you can decide when your work and your interests no longer follow the same track. Identifying and accepting this sort of discrepancy is not a mark of failure. I define a failure as someone who neglects to collect every cent of compensation and every hour of time off he or she has earned, who instead works weekends and Federal holidays because they think this will impress their bosses. Don’t work for your boss. Work for your professional development, for the satisfaction of meeting your goals, and for the means to enjoy a comfortable, well-rounded life. Work for yourself.

I am a failure. Continue reading “Get What You're Worth”