“Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”
“I tap my red pen inattentively against the draft sitting before me. After some silent musing, I finally drag a line of ink through a phrase and reword it in small, loopy letters above. As a final thought, I circle the space between two words. My writer forgot the Oxford comma. Again.
The Oxford comma is the comma used after the penultimate item in a list. I learned about this majestic piece of punctuation at an early age and wondered how anyone could advocate against it. How could anything that adds so much clarity, while requiring so little effort, be controversial? When I joined my school’s newspaper in sophomore year and learned that AP style does not use the comma, I was shocked. Therefore, when I became Managing Editor my senior year, my first initiative was reinstating it.
Others might find this to be a trivial concern, but you know what they say about the devil: he lives in the details. It is part of my personal philosophy that details are the most essential part of any plan or project; they are what separates the bad from the good, and the good from the great. Details are vital to my work as a copy editor. Occasionally, writers groan when they hear that I will be the one editing their story, but that’s how you know you’re doing a good job.
An effective copy editor will do more than correct punctuation: they’ll detect structural problems and predict questions that readers will ask so the writer can answer them. Writers may not love having to make so many changes, but they finish the news cycle with a product they are proud of.
My attention to details, like that elusive comma, does more than make me a good worker: it makes me a good communicator. I listen carefully to people, to details, and I think they matter. I like to share my own opinions through writing and photography, but more than that, I like to share the stories of others. This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet a number of community workers and write about them for the regional newspaper. I got to meet and tell the stories of a couple who owned one of the last free community pools and taught kids to swim without taking out a salary, and a woman in her twenty-second year of running a volunteer event which grants underprivileged children access to new clothes and school supplies. Being able to give these local heroes the spotlight they deserved was more rewarding than I could have ever expected.
What makes me unique is that I don’t just notice details, I care about them. I think clarity of communication is the most vital and most neglected aspect of a functional society. That is why I believe journalism and communication are important. You can’t move someone who is stuck in their ways by spouting facts and figures at them. You convince people by telling stories, stories that appeal to our shared humanity.
Reporting is community building, and we definitely need more of that in this day and age. By listening to details and sharing observations, I can sometimes help two people who were not able to find common ground see past their differences. I believe this is an important part of being on the newspaper staff and even of being a good friend. And that is why I care about communication, and by extension, the Oxford comma”
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