Washington Post Copy Desk Chief Talks Life in the Newsroom

By Jesse Johnson

For a short time at the University of Maryland, as well as other college campuses in the 1970s, there was a trend in which hordes of people participated: streaking. 

Vince Rinehart, an editorial copy desk chief at The Washington Post, attended the university when the fad became prominent. Rinehart said if streaking were to become a popular trend again, he already has a headline ready to run with a story. 

“‘It was a stark and dormy night,’” Rinehart said. “It will probably get rewritten to be more search-engine-friendly, but there it is.” 

Part of learning how to write headlines, according to Rinehart, is learning how to relax and be playful with writing them.

“Sometimes I see or hear phrases or words and I toss them around in my mind to see how they could be rearranged in quirky, funny ways,” he said. 

Headline writing is only one part of Rinehart’s job at The Post. His role of chief copy editor also translates to being a slot editor, or someone who edits behind other copy editors to ensure their work is done right and fix mistakes other editors did not previously catch so the story can meet the standards of the publication, he said. 

Rinehart graduated from UMD in 1976, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism. While at the university, he worked as a reporter for the Diamondback and said as a reporter, he learned to be curious and keep an open mind. Along with this, Rinehart said he tries to read more and stay informed on topics he deals with frequently, like politics and business news. 

The structure of the newsroom, according to Rinehart, is built around the different platforms of the publication like the website, print edition and the Washington Post’s social media accounts. Under the publisher and executive editor are managing editors, who have more defined roles like newsroom production.  

Following the managing editors, he said, are assistant managing editors in charge of different subjects the publication covers like foreign and local news. Following these editors are assignment and topic editors and lastly copy editors, who work with all aspects of the publication.  

In addition to his daily responsibilities, Rinehart said his work that stretches over a period of time does not consist of editing. To him, it instead means coaching and helping new editors “find their editing wings and fly.” 

“I sometimes sit over their shoulders and watch them edit and point out their good catches and their mistakes,” Rinehart said. “I try to explain all of what we do and the best ways to do it.” 

Rinehart started working at The Washington Post in May 1986 and said there was no social media and only a few direct competitors of the Post at the time. With the internet, he said readers of the Post constantly let the publication know what they think of what they are doing, with the role of ombudsman shifting from an individual to the readers themselves. 

“Now when I edit, I have, in effect, millions of people looking over my shoulder,” Rinehart said. “The web and social media amount to real-time feedback every time you hit ‘publish to web.’” 

One challenge in being an editor, he said, is knowing there are things in a story he did not fix or catch, or a headline that could have been written better. This stems from deadlines the editors are faced with, but Rinehart said the editors have more time with print stories than web-only content. 

“Every story is a balancing act with the clock,” Rinehart said.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.

Jesse Johnson is a junior journalism major and can be reached at rockerjj17@yahoo.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: