Aces in spades: Report on the ACES 2016 Portland conference

By Berna Ozunal

Aces in spades: Report on the ACES 2016 Portland conference
The iconic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Portland sign

What do you get when more than 650 editors from all over the United States and beyond get together in one location? Aces in spades. That’s what happened from March 31 to April 2 when the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) celebrated its twentieth anniversary in Portland, Oregon. And you can be sure that the whole event was run with unearthly precision and clarity thanks to the expert communication skills of the organizers.

Rose City

Okay, I have to admit that the location was a big pull for me this year. Portland’s the land of craft breweries, bicycles, trams, roses, food trucks, “tattoo ink that never runs dry,” handmade ice cream, and doughnuts… .

About the doughnuts: Blue Star is the best, while Voodoo has ropes and stanchions to control its hordes of doughnut-eyed tourists.

Though not without its problems, Portland is a pretty happening place where the dream of the future—not the 90s!—is alive. Residents are thinking ahead when it comes to Earth-friendly practices, plant-based diets, organic horticulture, and public transit (the long white trams are everywhere, as are cyclists).

What am I missing?

Oh yes, Portland is also home to Powell’s, the famous bookstore—a panacea for editors and chock full of cool books. And no matter where you are—the gas station or the priciest coffeehouse—the coffee is equally good.

With the coffee and doughnuts, beer and books, fresh air and food trucks, roses and lollygaggers—and let’s not omit the part where the weather was a beautiful sunshiny 15ºC–20ºC with brilliant blue skies the whole time—Portland’s the ideal place to get editors to show their faces.

Held at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, which is right in the heart of the city, the conference was a short stroll from the Pearl District, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and more.

Everywhere an editor

One thing is for sure: Editors are everywhere. Wherever you find people trying to communicate with others using written words, you’ll find editors—or you should find editors. They work in every imaginable industry, organization, and enterprise. They perform many different tasks, but one thing is true: editors are indispensable to any organization that wants to produce exceptional work.

At the conference, there were editors who worked in-house for the United States Army, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national trade organizations, small indie publishers, esteemed publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and popular websites, like The Onion and The A.V. Club. There were freelancers working in every imaginable subject, from chemical engineering to grant proposals to speculative fiction to erotica. There were a good number of academics, too, who teach editing at universities around the country and who presented a number of important sessions.

The program

There were more than 60 sessions offered on the latest information, tools, technologies, and practices to help editors become better informed and more efficient.

The day before the conference, an inaugural one-day digital editing boot camp was offered. This had a good turnout. Digital boot camp sessions will continue, along with editing boot camps, at locations across the United States this year.

Notable sessions that I attended included Washington Post editor Bill Walsh’s “Rookie Mistakes Even Veterans Make,” Samaruddin Stewart’s “Google Research Tools,” Laura M. Browning and Marnie Shure’s (managing editors for The A.V. Club and The Onion, respectively) “Turdmonger Is Definitely a Closed Compound: Editing in Online Entertainment,” and Lisa McLendon’s “Sweat This, Not That: Real Rules vs. Grammar Myths.” The Google session was impressive, as Google has many research tools that editors may not be aware of.

Editorial resource representatives were present throughout the conference. Sponsors, like AP Stylebook and Merriam-Webster, were there, as were a number of software providers, like Lingofy and Grammarly, to answer questions and promote their products.

Other happenings

Afterwards, there was a lot to do. From cocktail parties to walking tours to the ACES Education Fund spelling bee, there was no shortage of planned activities. Speaking of spelling bees, this one was quite entertaining, and it was a fundraiser for ACES scholarships. It was all very official, and first prize was a Mac notebook—sweet! Words like geoduck and Connecticuters were the easy ones. I forget most of the others, but whoa, these guys were brave. They were competing in a room full of “wordies,” after all. Among the three top contestants, it looked like humility and sobriety were the two winning qualities exhibited—along with enviable spelling prowess!

There was also a tour of the Oregonian, Portland’s major daily newspaper. Its offices overlook the Willamette River, and the view is quite picturesque.

A literary walking tour of Portland designed specifically for ACES conference attendees was also offered. Karaoke and bowling were also on the agenda.

ACES 2017

Next year, the conference is in St. Petersburg, Florida, and I guess the question you’re left with as a Toronto-based editor is, Should I go? Well, that’s for you to decide, but here’s why I think you should consider it.

Given the new national partnership announced on April 6 between Editors Canada and ACES—and the fact that I’m pretty sure one day the United States and Canada will become one—it just makes sense. Why wait to get acquainted with your colleagues from the south?

(Oh, and there are palm trees.)

Whether you’re in-house or freelance, conference attendance can only improve your knowledge and the currency of that knowledge.

(And there are beaches.)

It’s a good opportunity to meet editors working in the same genre or industry, as you learn from each other.

(There’s the sunshine.)

If you’re a freelancer, it can give you new ideas and open up whole new markets for you, as there are a number of sessions on expanding your freelance business.

(Let’s not forget the mojitos.)

I’m pretty sure the whole experience is tax deductible to a certain extent, too.

(Plus, there’s the rest of hot tropical Florida right there. Are you thinking the Keys, as I am?)

So consider attending, because there’s lots of time. All the info and updates can be found on the ACES site. Hope to see you in St. Pete!

Berna Ozunal is a senior editor specializing in advertising, design, business, and corporate communications. 

This article was copy edited by Michelle Schriver.

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