To my horror in my first week, on-the-job training as a proofreader at Time meant starting work immediately as one-half of a two-person team. I found out later that only a few proofreaders were entrusted with the job of working with us rookies. Many of the 20-odd characters (I could say ‘20 odd characters’) working in that section in shifts had too many idiosyncrasies to be any use in the initiation of a newcomer.
All proofreading was done by teams, each of which included two proofreaders. Many of these partners had worked at Time for ten or more years. A proofreader friend from those days who has just retired after 39 years at Time eventually moved ‘up’ to copyediting. But in the 1960s such a progression was unthinkable. The various job categories were very much stratified. (1)
Some proofreaders even commuted from country locations beyond the famous satellite towns in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New Jersey that were home to conventional commuters. These longer-range commuters would spend two nights in hotels where they perhaps got special deals, or paid board somewhere for a two-night weekly stay. Most of them had professional or personal involvement in areas such as scholarship, writing, farming, philosophy or art. Their proofreading jobs fit in comfortably with those other pastimes. Some were kindly, some quirky, but almost all were fascinating to me, a young New England girl with little experience of such ‘characters’.
As each proofreading job was finished, the team was supposed to take the very next story on the top of the pile. The man who had administered my proofreading test, and who was responsible for progressing copy through the typesetting and proofreading process, would arrange the articles according to the priority which best suited the ‘make-up’ of the magazine’s layout pages.
As well as the conventional galley printout, typesetters simultaneously produced a perforated paper-tape version of the story – an early form of ‘memory databank’. It was this paper tape which, after corrections, would be used to ‘wire’ a final version of the story to the Chicago printing plant over dedicated phone lines. Older, experienced typesetters could even 'read' the perforated tape with their fingers and hastily patch in last-minute corrections by hand, instead of producing a whole new roll for each article. After typesetting, corrected galley proofs were used to make up precise layouts that would be airfreighted to the Chicago printing plant to show how typeset text and photos were to be laid out on each page.
The final draft was sacrosanct. Not a 1etter or other character could be changed without the approval of the relevant editor, writer, copyreader (or subeditor) and/or researcher. Indeed, everyone who worked on a story at some point added his or her initials to the final draft and/or galley in the appropriate place. There was no anonymity at any stage of the production process – though it was not until the introduction of the Time essay in later years that individual writers received any by-lines in the actual pages of the magazine.
(1) For example, all writers and editors were men, most of whom had ‘outside’ offices containing a window. All researchers were women and they worked in windowless ‘inside’ offices
In the next article in this series, I'll describe the tightly regimented process that proofreading teams were expected to follow for each article they read. In more than 40 years' involvement in publishing, I have never known a proofreading process of equivalent comprehensiveness.