Protocols merely lend a hand to copy editors by prompting inquisitiveness, but are by no means substitutes for focus and mental acuity in deciding gray-area issues.
For example, protocols generally delegate copy editors the power to fix simple misspelled words.
Imagine you’re the copy editor at a college-town newspaper and a story comes across your desk with a quote attributed to a typically female name. The pronoun used on second reference is “she.” Then, additional material is attributed to that person’s girlfriend.
As an editor, do you assume the reporter made a mistake and invoke the power of the protocol – fixing the simple error and move on?
Or do you challenge that thinking? After all, it is 2010 and women do have girlfriends. The long-held tradition of deferring to the masculine pronoun when referring to an indeterminate person has fallen by the wayside, so why not traditional beliefs about relationships being primarily heterosexual. (I’m not making a social commentary on this.)
The best choice would be to recognize the issue and quickly consult the reporter before making a correction.
In soccer, the rules are called laws. Law 18 entrusts referees with the challenge of upholding the other 17, but to do so while using common sense and remembering the spirit of the game.
In journalism, the spirit of the game is producing the best publication possible and copy editors need to use common sense to make that happen.