Recently the New York Times staff protested cuts to the copy editor staff, saying in a letter to management that they believed such a move would damage the quality of the product.
One senior reporter described the copy editors as "the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.”
This is so true. Any journalist will tell you they sleep better at night when they've gone several rounds with a copy editor. Despite our whining, writers want to be challenged. We want to be questioned. We want to know that when a copy editor is finished with our story, it's concise, free-from-errors and makes sense.
It's typical in a newsroom to hear copy editors questioning reporters, ensuring they thoroughly understand the story before letting it be released to the public. These editors are fearless in asking questions (some reporters can be a bit, er, argumentative) -- and that is a quality that may be missing today in many organizations.
James E. Ryan, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out that organizations would be better served if leaders asked more questions. Just because you've been doing something a long time doesn't mean that you should stop being curious and creative, he says.
Ryan offers questions he believes are valuable for anyone in a position to lead or influence others:
1. "Wait, what?" Don't jump to conclusions -- ask for more detail to make sure you understand an issue completely.
2. "I wonder why....?" or "I wonder if...?" Is something being done because that's the way it's always been done? If so, is there a better way? This can help spark creativity and interest by others when you ask such questions.
3. "Couldn't we at least...?" This can help you get unstuck on an issue and help find a common ground when there are disagreements.
4. "How can I help?" Do you just jump into an issue, trying to save the day? By asking how you can help, you prompt the other person to think clearly about the problem to be solved and whether you can actually provide some assistance.