Copy editor Pam Nelson started the Triangle Grammar Guide at the News & Observer in 2005 as a way to help readers, as well as journalists, understand the English language.
“Pam and Charles are a great one-two punch,” said Andy Bechtel, a former colleague of Nelson’s in Raleigh, N.C., and an ACES Executive Committee member. “Taken together, they represent so many aspects of what editors do.”
Nelson joined ACES when the organization started in 1997 and attended its first national conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. She also has been a presenter at ACES regional conferences over the years.
She studied English in college but got into journalism and, for 35 years and counting, she has never looked back. While she started out as a reporter, Nelson eventually began working on the copy desk.
“I was good at fixing other people’s work, fixing other people’s copy. I was good and fast about making decisions about news values,” Nelson said. “So that’s how I got into desk work. Once you get there, it’s kind of hard to go back to writing.”
Copy editing as a whole came very naturally to Nelson.
“I was really born to be a copy editor, I think,” she said. “It’s really what my real profession was meant to be all along.”
Her original blog — Triangle Grammar Guide — started when her then-editor, Will Sutton, suggested she start a blog for the N&O website. The guide was set up to help readers — more than journalists — understand why newspapers do what they do as far as grammar goes.
When a reader wrote a letter to the editor about something he or she thought the newspaper did wrong, Nelson would show the reader why it was right — or would admit to the error.
Earlier this year, Nelson moved from the N&O in Raleigh, N.C., and she is now a “universal editor” at the McClatchy Publishing Center in Charlotte, N.C. There, she edits copy for features sections of The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C.
After making the move, she had considered just doing her own thing with blogging. That’s when Bechtel suggested she move her blog to the ACES website.
Nelson has several goals with the launch of her blog on copydesk.org.
“I want to show regular people outside of journalism that people inside journalism think about these issues,” she said.
She wants readers to know that journalists really do try to pick up on the small details and they don’t just focus on the big things. She says that she has a teacher’s impulse to want to show people new things and this is a great way for her to do so.
She also wants “to give copy editors another forum for talking about grammar and usage and language issues, not just communicating the ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ stuff, but also the bigger issues of how the language affects the way we think and how the changes that we go through affect our language. It’s not the finger-wagging kind of site.”
Nelson said she hopes the blog serves as an open forum about language.
She admits she’s a little bit nervous about the launch of the blog on the ACES website.
“They’re sending me more people out there writing about language issues, and I’m just one little person,” she said. “But I hope that that gives people a reason to feel comfortable about bringing up things in the comments or wherever.”