12 August 2011

My time at Time: How proofreading was done

This is the fourth and final article in a series about my first job in publishing – in the editorial offices of Time Magazine at Rockefeller Center, New York City. It was 1965 and I had just moved to New York. Previous articles in this series were My time at Time: Getting a job as proofreader; My time at Time: A short, hectic working week; and My time at Time: Learning the ropes.
Each two-person proofreading team at Time Magazine worked according to a well-established and tightly controlled routine. There could be eight or more teams totalling 16+ people working on the two busiest days of the week. Each team had a small alcove in which to work, which only partly isolated the team from the sounds of adjoining teams.
In each team, one person read aloud from the edited draft while the other team member followed along on the galley-proof, carefully reading the typeset copy there and using appropriate proofreading symbols to indicate anything that the typesetter had not reproduced exact1y as per the draft. The long galley sheets contained white space on the left and right of the typeset lines, and in this white space the proofreader could note any corrections within the line. If a typeset line required more than one correction, then successive corrections would be separated by an oblique line. Corrections pertaining to the left half of each typeset line were written in the left margin; corrections to the right half of each line, in the right margin.

Straightforward corrections were written in one colour (red); queries in a second colour (I think this was blue); and later in the week, when final layouts were being assembled, proofreaders would note in a third colour (green) any optional additions or deletions which the story's author or editor had suggested. These options could be used or not, depending on the story 'fit', or number of lines available for that story in the page's layout. As no one except authors and editors were allowed to make such deletions or additions, having readymade options available helped to minimise the need to send 'copy' back up to the author during later stages in page make-up. In fact, the name given to these optional types of annotations came from the ink used: they were known as 'greens'.

The partner in each team who read from the original text read everything: punctuation ('bang' for exclamation point, I remember; 'pos' for apostrophe, 'query' for question mark), capital letters (cap-A etc.), spellings of most proper nouns, new paragraphs, indentations, quotation marks etc. So the first line of text in this article would be read as follows:
para cap e each two hyphen person proofreading one word team at open itals cap t time cap m magazine close itals worked according to a well hyphen established and tightly controlled routine stop
At the end of this first reading the person who had 'read' aloud from the original text (the ‘copyholder’) then took the printed galley from his or her partner and silently reread the galley, checking the partner's corrections and looking for anything the partner may have missed. The two then discussed any queries either of them wished to make about the story or passage (e.g. the spelling of the name of an obscure Indian village perhaps, or the accuracy of the description of some medieval re1igious practice about which the proofreader happened to have read a book recently). They might also consult with a proofreader working in a nearby alcove who was known to be an expert, say, on the sexual habits of one-humped dromedaries. Then the pair would return the galley and its accompanying story to the box holding completed jobs and take the next story from the top of the pile of stories waiting to be read.  
The corrected galleys went back to the typesetters for corrections. Later a revised galley, along with the marked-up first galley showing what corrections were needed, came back to the proofreaders for a reading of the corrections. Typesetters were as strictly regimented as proofreaders, so when proofreaders checked corrected galleys they only had to read closely those paragraphs that contained a correction, not the whole story. The typesetter would have worked from a paper-tape 'memory' to reproduce the revised galley. He (and typesetters were all male) would not have rekeyed anything except the lines that contained a correction. And if for any reason the typesetter had rekeyed lines that didn't contain a correction, he was expected to indicate this in some way on the revised galley. This would alert the proofreaders that these lines, too, contained ‘new copy’ (i.e. newly keyed copy). So these lines also needed to be read again. Otherwise, revised galleys did not have to be completely reread. But to be sure no lines had accidentally been deleted, the proofreader partner doing the reading would take the original galley in hand and, reading aloud to his or her partner who was checking the revised galley, go through all the lines again, but reading only the first and last words of each line, just to make sure that all lines in the original galley were the still t here in the revised galley.
Team members were supposed to take turns as readers and markers. I would be the 'copyreader', reading aloud from the original story on one job; on the next job, I would be the ‘copyholder’, marking up the galley while my partner read aloud from the original. Except for an incorrect word-break at the end of a line, the only contribution a proofreader could make to the content of a galley was to query some point. And queries were not made lightly. Honour was involved.
Writers and editors had it in for proofreaders – or so it seemed in those high-pressured closing hours of each editorial week. Most writers and editors at that time seemed to project (or tried to project) the image of a successful Ivy League academic (writers were all men, in those days). Except for some well established old-school journalists, writers and editors wore tailored suits during the week, and on Saturday (‘closing’ day of the editorial week) they might wear casual slacks and cashmere sweaters with Harris Tweed jackets. In those days, they never wore jeans or sneakers. 
Proofreaders, on the other hand, were a ratbag lot. They tended to favour orthopaedical1y correct handmade shoes from Greenwich Village shoemakers, fringed shawls, funny hats which they wore indoors and thick homespun Aran sweaters. Some were unashamedly homosexual and/or vege­tarian – this at a time when other corporate employees were discrete about such preferences. Proofreaders had PhDs in Eastern religions and East European literature. And they quite often knew more than writers and editors (except about getting ahead in American corporations). So when proofreaders queried something, they were almost always proved right.

Very occasionally, a galley would come back with a ‘thank you’ from the writer who had been saved from embarrassment by an astute query. But the proofreader whose query was found to be groundless was punished royally. Trailing miles of galley behind him, and maybe carrying a book from the exhaustive Time Library to show that his was the correct version of the fact in question, the writer would sail triumph­antly down the long 24th-floor corridor into the proofreaders’ windowless rabbit warren (only the writers had windows) and in a loud voice that everyone this side of the central elevator shaft could hear announce: ‘Thank you for your efforts but my version was the correct translation of that line from the Gallic Wars. You were probably confusing the dative and the ablative, but thank you anyway.' No wonder proofreading partners consulted carefully before querying.
I remained a proofreader at Time for about 18 months, I think. Occasionally I also worked upstairs at Time-Life Books, where the pressure was less and perhaps as a result, the proofreaders generally were less bizarre individuals. There, it was considered imperative that proofreaders not be distracted by too great an interest in a book’s story line, so all galleys were split into sections that deliberately did not correspond to beginnings and ends of chapters. Again, proofreaders were supposed to take from the top of the basket, but teams occasionally (and surreptitiously) exchanged jobs if a particular team wanted to continue reading from a book the pair was enjoying.
Tired of midnight closing hours, I left Time for a while to take a 9-to-5 job – setting up a proofreading system for a public relations firm. But news releases and advertising supplements were a great bore after Time-style excitement. So after a year I went back to Time as 'girl friday' to the production editor. That was when I began a really serious involvement with publishing and production, but that’s a story for another day.
Nowadays proofreading has all but disappeared as a publishing profession. Very few people know the difference between editing and proofreading, and many honestly (and to their peril) believe that computers can proofread as well as people. Knowing such things as the correct use of hyphens, en-rules and em-rules is no longer a marketable skill. And thanks also to computers, in my later years in the publishing industry graphic designers had become the ‘oddballs’ in the production team – though they usually enjoyed a lot more prestige than proofreaders ever did. But in my time at Time, proofreaders were the strange ones. And how lucky I was to have spent the formative years of my working life amongst these weird creatures.

This was the final article in a series about my first job in the publishing industry. In more than 40 years' involvement in publishing since then, I have never known a proofreading process of equivalent comprehensiveness. For that matter, I've never worked in any organisation that had such well-developed processes for the preparation and production of printed material.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.