In This Digital Age,
ALL Journalists Are Editors
This is a dis-aggregation of a longer piece on changes in editing in the contemporary newsroom by Steve Buttry,Director of Community Engagement & Social Media, Digital First Media. I pulled this section out because this is good advice that essentially says reporters can no longer rely on some anonymous copy editor to save their butts. To read the complete essay go this link. – Dr. R
If you’re a journalist who’s benefited from the multiple layers of editing that newsrooms traditionally had, you need to take more responsibility for the quality of your content.
If you’re tweeting or blogging, you probably already are publishing content unedited (and probably have suffered the embarrassment of some errors a copy editor would have caught). If we work out our editing systems right, we will give most non-live content at least one edit before publication, maybe more. But the inescapable fact is that your copy is going to get less editing than you’re used to. So you need to be a better self-editor (these tips also might be helpful for assigning editors who need to become better copy editors):
Master SEO headlines
You may be writing your own blog headlines.
You should be suggesting you’re own headlines for stories that you turn in. Writing headlines also helps you determine whether your story is well-focused.
If you can’t write a good headline, maybe you should work a bit more to get to the point of the story.
(Here is link to Steve Buttry’s tips on writing SEO-friendly headlines: http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/7-keys-to-seo-how-to-help-people-find-your-blog/)
Make one last read through your copy
Once you think you’re done, whether you’re writing a tweet or an investigative project, read it through yourself, not for rewriting or fact-checking (this comes after fact-checking). This final read is just for clarity, voice, spelling and grammar. For instance, in reading through this blog before publication, I caught the you’re in the paragraph above that should be your. I left it in to make this point. It was too good to fix in that particular spot.
I am sure I didn’t read that drought story aloud. Conservation and consumption may look a lot alike, but that’s the kind of error that jumps out when you read your work aloud.
Use an accuracy checklist
You are responsible for the accuracy of your content. Use a checklist to make sure everything is accurate.
Improve your grammar and word usage
Schools don’t teach grammar as well as they used to, so even the smart students with strong writing skills who go into journalism often have weaknesses in grammar, spelling and word usage. Yes, it’s better to learn these matters in your youth, but you can still improve as a professional. I have blogged on some grammar matters that confuse many journalists and the American Copy Editors Society has lots of resources to help with grammar and word usage.
(Also check out the link on this blog to Own Your Own Education – RRR)
Spellcheck (but don’t rely on it)
There is no excuse for failing to catch errors that your computer can point out to you. But don’t routinely change potential errors highlighted by your computer (some of them are right). And don’t make the computer your only spellcheck. Use the dictionary to check the spelling (and usage) of words you aren’t sure about.
I blogged last year with advice for writing tight copy. By planning to write tight, setting a brisk pace and being demanding in your rewrite, you can turn in cleaner copy. (Yes, I note the irony of making that point in such a long blog post.
The difference is that I write for journalists, not the general public. Experience shows me that my best-read pieces, with this audience, quite often are long. Still, it’s time to wrap this post up.)
And Now a Word for Copy Editors & Copy Editing
Blog column by veteran editor John McIntyre argues for holding on to a bit of journalism’s past for the sake of readers: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/bal-everything-old-is-new-again-20120619,0,1084176.story?track=rss
Everything old is new againBy John E. McIntyre / The Baltimore Sun
10:17 a.m. EDT, June 19, 2012Here’s a straw in the wind. One of my correspondents reports that the Times Union in Albany, New York, has returned to a slot system of multiple reads of copy. Evidently two beliefs came a cropper: the first that reporters can be instantly transformed into copy editing themselves, the second that a quick swipe from an overburdened assistant editor is all an article needs to become publishable.
Let me explain something. The traditional copy editing process was not set up as a public-works program for unemployed English majors. Copy editors were engaged out of a recognition of bedrock truths about writing and editing.
The first of these is that writing and editing, though allied, are separate functions. Not everyone is equally good at each. In fact, reporting, writing, and editing are separate functions, without an even distribution of skills. There are people who can ferret out all manner of information but are helpless to organize it in lucid English. There are writers who intuitively produce vivid work but have not developed analytical skills. There are editors who can zero in on the weaknesses of a text without the ability to produce a memorable one themselves. People used to be assigned to perform the functions they were best qualified for.
The second bedrock truth is that writers are not necessarily the best judges of their own work. Especially now that the pace has picked up in journalism and writers lack the time to put a text down for a while so they can come back to it, look at it with fresh eyes, and revise. I wrote a little piece about corrections in The Sun for the 175th anniversary edition of the Sun Magazine, and Anne Tallent, who edited it, plucked an element out of the body and made it the opening, a far stronger opening than the one I had written.* That’s what a proper editor does.
We all know that the old copy desk is not coming back. But when the managers heed some putz** saying that copy editors just tweak hyphens and commas and obsess over inconsequential style rules, and that readers don’t care anymore about errors, they put the copy editors out on the curb. They take the easy choice rather than the informed choice. They chatter about “feet on the street” rather than consider how to allocate scarce resources responsibly.
The thing we know about readers is that when they encounter dull, slack, unclear writing, they stop reading. Accuracy, clarity, and precision are achieved through editing.
It remains to consider how to produce verified, edited prose in the current environment.
Writers are going to have to take more responsibility for self-editing, because there are and will be fewer editors to protect them from themselves. But, as was discovered in Albany, just telling reporters to do this, like telling adolescents that they have to pick up after themselves, is not adequate to the purpose. Editing skills do not come naturally; they have to be learned.
That means writers will have to be taught editing skills, trained. Beyond that, they will have to be held responsible accountable for their work. No more skipping the spell-check.*** No skipping the accuracy checklist. No more indulgence over repeated lapses in grammar and usage.Supervising editors will have to supervise.
That will help, but more will be needed. The editor who works with the writer and helps shape the article, being too closely involved in it, is not necessarily the person to gauge how the reader will react to it. The function of the copy editor was to supply the place to the reader, to identify what the reader would find heavy going. A one-step process, writer directly to reader, is risky. A two-step process, writer to editor to reader, is better, but inadequate. A three-step process, writer to editor to whatever term under which you are going to conceal the function that the copy editor used to perform, is better suited to the production of journalism that someone might actually want to read.
*Do I wish I had an editor for these blog posts? Of course I do. I’m not an idiot. Someone to spot my typos and errors before publication. Someone to tighten the slack writing. Someone to challenge the assumptions and identify neglected or omitted elements. Someone to tell me when the jokes aren’t funny. Someone to spot miscalculations of tone. Anybody would benefit from that kind of attention, and I’m trying to do it all by myself, with mixed results.
**Lest you take offense at the vulgarism, let me explain that in identifying someone who is ignorant (that is, uninformed), stupid (uniformed and uninclined to become informed), and mendacious (willfully purveying misinformation), some strong term is required.
***You didn’t know that there are professional journalists who don’t spell-check their own work? I’ve encountered them by the score. And some who do run the spell-check insert Cupertinos.
Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun
Why Editing is Important
Now read this (click on cover):
1. How the role of the journalist is changing
The journalist has not been replaced but displaced, moved higher up the editorial chain from the production of initial observations to the role that emphasizes verification and interpretation, bringing sense to the streams of text, audio, photos and video produced by the public.
2. News can’t be thought of as a finished product anymore
In our interviews with working journalists, we were struck by the degree to which all news organizations remain trapped in a basic newsroom workflow that sees the ultimate goal of journalistic production as a singular, finished product. Rebuilt news institutions will design their workflow around a new, basic fact: News is never a finished product, and there is never a daily paper or evening newscast that sums up the work of the entire day.
3. What’s going away
The importance of news isn’t going away.The importance of dedicated professionals isn’t going away. What’s going away are the linearity of the process and the passivity of the audience. What’s going away is a world where the news was made only by professionals, and consumed only by amateurs who couldn’t do much to produce news on their own, or distribute it, or act on it en bloc.
4. Old way of doing business is history
News organizations should obviously do what they can to improve their income, but the reliable revenue, high profits and cultural norms of the news business in the 20th century are gone, and the ecosystem that reliably produced such effects is gone as well.
5. Platforms now break news first
The change in the ecosystem here is that functions previously executed among competitive news organizations, and especially scoops and breaking news, are now taken over by platforms. Any given news organization may set itself up to be faster at breaking sports news than Deadspin, say, or faster at breaking tech news than Scobleizer, but no organization today can consistently beat Facebook or Twitter on speed or spread.
6. Change is only beginning
That “End of an Era” story, though, is itself ending. We are living in the least diverse, least inclusive media environment we will inhabit for the foreseeable future, which is to say that the ecosystem forming around us will include more actors and actions than even today’s environment does.
7. Advice for journalists
If you were looking for an ideal mantra for a journalist, writer, analyst, media artist, data miner or any of the other roles and tasks that matter today,”Proceed until apprehended” is a good one. As an NPR executive said to Andy Carvin during his invention of the curated Twitter news feed,”I don’t understand what you’re doing, but please keep doing it.”
8. Advice for new news organizations
Our overall recommendation for new news organizations is even simpler than for journalists or for legacy organizations:
9. On the production of news
The production of news has moved from being a set of jobs to a set of activities; there will always be a core of full-time practitioners, but there will be an increasing amount of participation by people working part-time, often as volunteers, and distributed by people who will concentrate less on questions of what is news and what isn’t than on questions like “Will my friends or followers like this?” Increasing overlap and collaboration between the full- and part-time practitioners, and between the employees and the volunteers, will be a core challenge over the rest of the decade.
10. “A commitment to adapting”
More than any one strategy or capability, the core virtue in this environment is a commitment to adapting as the old certainties break and adopting the new capabilities we can still only partially understand, and to remember that the only reason any of this matters to more than the current employees of what we used to call the news industry is that journalism — real reporting, about whatever someone somewhere doesn’t want published — is an essential public good.