Copy editors for world peace

Noam Chomsky was accidentally credited online with being the gravest threat to world peace.

Noam Chomsky is the gravest threat to world peace, according to the headline of an article republished from the New York Times on

The web site could use some better and more thorough copy editors. What most people don’t realize is that the copy editor’s role extends far beyond correcting grammar and punctuation. While these tasks are important, “Creative Editing” asserts that duties of the copy editor include:

  • Making dull copy interesting and concise
  • Guarding against libel and legal issues
  • Writing catchy headlines
  • Keeping up with the newest technology

In fact, copy editors must be better writers than journalists, because they must know what pieces to tweak to captivate people and keep them interested. They are proficient in enhancing the style of a piece while keeping its unique tone.

But their jobs don’t end there. Good copy editors’ roles extend into the artistic arena, too. Their jobs may include:

  • selecting and cropping photographs and art
  • page layout
  • designating headline and body type style, size, width and leading

Guilty until proven innocent

Where were Alternet’s copy editors when they published “Noam Chomsky: The Gravest Threat to World Peace”?

The editors meant to attribute Chomsky’s detailed analysis of the Middle East conflict to its rightful author, but instead they attributed the Gravest Threat to World Peace to a pacifist cognitive scientist.

While the headline is grammatically correct, the copy editors made a critical error in judgment. Semicolons should be used sparingly, and one simple word could have made all the difference. What if the headline read, “Noam Chomsky on the Gravest Threat to World Peace”?

A line like that is simple, concise and straightforward. Copy editors need to constantly ask themselves, “what would the reader think?”


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