Editing matters

25 Nov

Wow. I definitely took a long hiatus from blogging. It wasn’t intentional. I worked full time over the summer and jumped straight from that into a hectic semester.

I’d like to get back into the swing of things, and I’m starting with a blog makeover. I’ve already updated my look. Next up is adding my current resume and samples of what I’ve been working on this semester.

For my first post back, I’m cheating a little bit. Below is an essay I wrote about editing for a scholarship. I think that it captures my philosophy on editing well, and I’d like to share it with more people than just the five members of the ACES scholarship committee.

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Everyone loves the glory of a byline. It’s true that most people don’t become journalists to become famous — there can only be so many David Carrs and Hunter S. Thompsons, after all. But getting a little recognition for your hard work is, quite simply, nice. Whenever I see my name in print, I always feel a little shiver of satisfaction run through my body — I wrote this, and everyone who reads it knows that. The proof is on the page.

It's probably best that we don't have more than one Hunter S. Thompson anyway.

Copy editors, on the other hand, don’t get this journalistic perk. And while most people know what role a reporter plays on a publication, they often have no idea what a copy editor does. Or they write them off as glorified spellcheckers, a task that could be easily — and cheaply — handled by a computer program. I’ll admit that, when I first heard about copy editors, I didn’t value them too highly. For me, to be a journalist was to be a reporter. So that’s what I decided to be.

And yet many people wouldn’t even read a story if it weren’t for a copy editor. An editor did, after all, write the headline that catches the reader’s eye and the deck that draws them further into the article. Other readers might question a writer’s and publication’s credibility if they were to run across a glaring grammatical error or misspelling, but, thanks to copy editors, those mistakes should be few and far between. And those subheads that break an article up into more readable — and less formidable — chunks? They were probably the work of a copy editor as well.

Unfortunately, this was also the work of a copy editor.

I discovered these truths, among others, in my first editing class. Editing, I found out, meshed well with my natural attention to detail and eye for organization. Writing headlines helped me develop a creative side that I never knew I had. These developments, coupled with the constant stress I was feeling in my reporting class, caused me to start considering copy editing as a viable future career. But I still had lingering doubts about this path — did it somehow make me less of a journalist? Was I the only person who preferred editing to writing?

These doubts began to fade as I continued to explore copy editing. Editors aren’t lesser journalists simply because they aren’t out in the field getting their hands dirty. They still exercise news judgment every night as they evaluate the reliability of sources. And check to see if reporters have represented multiple points of view. And ensure that stories have logical, effective flows.

Good editors are the dictionaries of the newsroom, striving to cultivate strong vocabularies and sharp spelling skills. But, more importantly, they’re the newsroom encyclopedias as well. They know a little bit about everything that’s going on in the world and in the newsroom. After all, they need to be able to speak comfortably about a variety of topics with everyone from reporters to photographers to production managers.

That's a lot of information, my friend.

Good editors are also a publication’s last line of defense. It’s their job to prevent everything from plagiarized content to a misspelled name — which could actually upset some readers more than plagiarism — from making it into the final version of a publication. This defense barrier is becoming increasingly important as more and more people online claim the title of journalist. Credibility is still a key advantage of professional publications. And copy editors must remain vigilant in order to hold on to that advantage — as publication turnarounds continue to shrink, mistakes and lapses in judgment are bound to increase.

Finally, good editors are stern yet gentle taskmasters.  They must adhere to the rules of style and grammar and their informed opinions while still respecting a writer’s voice and vision. I recently read something on Twitter that has stuck with me. The person wrote that the best compliment she’d ever received on her editing was when a reporter told her that she had made the article sound how the writer had wanted it to sound in the first place. A good editor does not make an article his or hers but rather the best version of what the reporter wrote.

A good editor is many things, and I’m far from all of them. But I know that, with time and practice, I will improve that skill set. I’m not scared to go into journalism, despite the cries that it’s a dying field. The old business model of journalism is gone, yes. But people want more information than ever before. And I want to be there to make sure they get the clearest, most accurate news possible.

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