The task seemed simple enough: Read articles, fact check them, and fix any grammar, style, or spelling errors before the article is published, for two hours, twice a week. I joined The Daily Pennsylvanian’s copy department because copy editing seemed like the kind of job that I would enjoy. I like rules and fixing things, completing one task, and then moving right on to the next. In my first two years at the DP as a copy associate, the DP was a contained experience, merely one part of my life at Penn. Eventually, I went from copy associate to copy editor, and as I started leading the department, it became difficult to tell the difference between my life at the DP and my life outside of the DP.
Being copy editor took up a lot of my time. I was in the office nearly every night until midnight — and on production nights, later than that. I was to be available 24/7 to edit breaking stories and post them to the DP’s social media accounts. I couldn’t go even 30 minutes without checking Slack. Being copy editor was perhaps the toughest, most demanding experience of my life.
What’s more, nobody — outside of the copy department and the 138th Board — really knew the extent of the copy editor position. I probably read every article, social media caption, and newsletter published by the DP in 2022. Nearly every word passed through me before it was published, and yet, no one knew. In fact, save for an 11th-hour print photo essay that I helped write captions for, my name was never attached to any work that I had done at the DP. There was nothing from the DP that I could point to and call mine. This senior column is the first time I will have created something of my own for the DP, and really the first time I will have gotten credit for my work.
Writers get bylines, photographers and designers get image credits, but the copy department doesn’t get recognition when they work on something. That’s just the nature of the job — and I don’t have a problem with that.
Why? Because ultimately, I believe that we ought to serve, irrespective of the credit we might get for performing the service. It is always a good thing to be able to help others, and we should do it whenever we can.
Being copy editor — and having any position in the copy department — is really a service job. We fix and improve upon other people’s work, often without receiving any credit. To some, that might feel like it’s not worth it. But I liked it. I like to help, I like to fix things, I like to help people’s work be better. And working at the DP as copy editor allowed me to do all of those things.
And just because you won’t get recognized for your work doesn’t mean that your work is not worthy of recognition, or not worth doing at all.
I know — and the copy department knows — how essential our services are. We catch factual errors and spelling errors, and keep content consistent and accurate, ensuring the professionalism of the paper.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve come to see those services as so essential that we instead take them for granted. And I’m not saying it’s OK to take someone else’s service for granted. But I do think it’s OK to do work and not get credit for it. Imagine if people only ever did things they knew they would be thanked for. Things would fall apart, essential services would go undone, articles would be published riddled with errors. How quickly we would realize how essential others’ thankless services really are.
And maybe even then, thankless service would still go unthanked. That’s OK, too. At the end of the day, the goal of service is just that: serving others. Service shouldn’t come with an expectation of being thanked. I’ve found that simply performing service can be fulfilling in its own right.
Being copy editor grew in me a passion to serve others — one that I will carry with me as I return home to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career in government and public service. Or maybe my passion for service is what led me to want to pursue copy in the first place. It’s still hard for me to determine which came first.
But either way, it is a wonderful thing to be of service, and I am so lucky that the writers at the DP had the confidence in me to allow me to lead the copy department, and to serve them.
Being copy editor took a lot out of me. But I am also so proud of how much I was able to give.
Thank you to my predecessors Brittany and Hadriana, for giving me a great department to lead. Thank you to Julia and Allyson, copy editors of the 139, who, in only half of their time leading the copy department, have already done so much great work. Thank you to Jonah, who always expressed his gratitude for the copy department. Thank you to the copy editor who edited this column. Finally, thank you to the entirety of the 138. I am so lucky to have gotten to work with — and be of service to — you all.
I’m so grateful for my years at the DP. I did my best learning and growing here. I learned that for me, sometimes, serving others is the best way in which I serve myself. The countless hours and late nights, frustration and exhaustion, was all worth it.
I was performing a service. And I can’t imagine my time better spent in any other way.
SOPHIE APFEL is a College senior studying East Asian Languages and Civilizations and political science from Washington, D.C. She served as the copy editor on the 138th Board. Her email is email@example.com.