This chapter at a glance
• Editing is a way of thinking critically and reading carefully.
• Editors’ basic skills grow out of their own experience in learning to communicate effectively.
• Editors play a wide range of roles in print, broadcast, digital journalism and related fields; their skills are constantly in demand.
• Editors’ jobs change as technology evolves and new media emerge, but their basic mission remains the same.
• A knowledge of editing is valuable to writers, reporters, designers and other communications professionals.
Most of what follows in this book is based on a simple fact: Editing is about thinking critically and reading well. If you can read with care and under standing, you can develop the skills essential for editing in any news medium. In fact, you probably already have some of those skills. If you enjoy working with words, you will find that many of the ideas here are just more precise ways of expressing what you already sense about how people communicate effectively.
There are a few complications, of course. Without them this might be a one-page handout instead of a book. And those complications arise in part from the way
editor reads. It differs from the way we absorb a thriller at the beach, cram for a test or explore a site on the web.
Each form of communication differs in its goals, its methods, and the mental focus it requires — as anyone who has reluctantly closed a good novel to study for tomorrow’s history quiz well knows.
Still, all forms of reading also have something in common: A part of us remains passive as we receive and process the information. We are usually willing to accept the facts and the way they are presented as accurate and reliable. It’s no coincidence that the terms author and authority come to us from the same Latin root; as everyday readers, we put a great deal of trust in the written word without thinking much about it.
But what if something happens while reading that leads you to question that trust? What if you race toward the climax of that mystery only to find that the brilliant serial killer makes a stupid mistake so out of character that it ruins the book? What if you click on a web link that promises a biography of a favorite singer but takes you instead to an order form for her latest CD?
Suddenly you are suspicious. It is not just that a mistake has been made; it is that the trust you placed in the writer has been called into doubt. One error or abuse of that trust means more may lurk nearby. You begin to read with a wary attitude, a skeptical eye.
The editor in you has spoken.
The editor emerges
It’s a familiar voice. The editor within begins to develop at a very early age, at that point in childhood when we begin to develop language skills complex enough to tell stories and evaluate the stories we are told. As a child you may have listened to a friend’s wild exaggerations and decided to challenge them. You were asking of your friend the same thing a working editor asks of a reporter: the facts and a way to verify them.
The editor within evolves slowly, acquiring skills by trial and error. Consider the kinds of personal “editing” you now do routinely that, if you are a young adult, you were not capable of just a few years ago. When you take notes in class, you summarize large amounts of information clearly and prepare it for an audience of one — yourself.
If we set aside the specialized vocabulary and the technical skills required in a contem porary newsroom, in fact, the process of professional editing is often remarkably like the process through which we choose and organize information every day. The essence of the working editor’s job is really to make sure — like the editor within — that what we say and write is accurate, organized and relevant to the people we are addressing.
When you use the web and its wealth of interactive tools and formats, you are already carrying on a kind of open-ended personal editing project in which you regularly select, organize and critique information to fit your needs and interests. Many newspapers, broadcasters and websites now invite readers, listeners and viewers to help choose and present news stories. Thus as all news media become more interactive, a growing number of news consumers also are helping to produce the news, and so are becoming editors in a much more public sense than ever before.
The editor shifts from
So why bother with specialized study? It sounds as if we’re editors by nature, busily pro cessing, packaging and sharing news and other information without much conscious effort.
It’s not quite that simple. Professional editing may be rooted in familiar skills, but for all its value, the editor within can be notoriously sloppy, short-sighted and self-absorbed. It tends to think of me rather than we. It functions very well in getting us around and organizing our personal lives. But when we depend upon it to handle more complex exchanges — especially with people we don’t know — its shortcomings are painfully clear. Think of borrowing a classmate’s lecture notes rather than having your own. Can you count on their clarity and reliability? The editor within is not equipped to deal with such complications, but working editors are. Professional news editing requires specialized skills that make the process of informing others a great deal more accurate and reliable than the editing we do in the privacy of our own heads. This book is devoted to helping you build those skills.
Everyone knows what a reporter does, or a photographer. But what does it mean to be a professional editor? What exactly do they do? How do they prepare? What kind of career opportunities are they likely to have?
One reason editing is often an invisible job is that most editors work behind the scenes. But another reason is that the job title carries so many roles and responsibilities, it’s difficult to categorize editors at all. The senior executive who runs a magazine is an editor. So is the new college grad who just got her first job correcting stories and writing headlines for the local weekly paper. At a television or radio station, an editor is responsible for the technical task of creating a coherent story from pieces of audio or video; the more advanced editing work of organizing news coverage and arranging its presentation may be handled by an assignment manager, a producer or a news director. And the editor for a website — who may not be called an editor at all, but an online producer, content producer or webmaster — is likely to need knowledge of computer software and coding as well as language, audio and visual skills. No wonder few young journalists think about careers in editing; it’s an uphill battle just to figure out what editing is.
The concept of media editing that will unfold in this book touches on all those jobs and many others. It’s important that you know the differences among newspapers, broadcast and the web when it comes to revising stories, using images or audio, and working with reporters and other content providers. Public relations specialists, too, have their own guidelines. Each medium develops its own standards and requires distinct abilities. But you’ll also find, especially in the early sections of the book, that a core group of skills, attitudes and values links editors together despite the technical differences. This book aims to present contemporary editing in both its diversity and its unity. Editing may not be a single job, but editors share a single purpose: to get reliable, compelling news and information from the people who collect it to the people who need it. To do that, editors plan and oversee coverage. They help decide how the resulting stories are packaged and presented to the news audience. Many editors are language specialists who improve stories and write headlines. Others are design experts who balance words and pictures. Still others are at their best organizing and directing so that staff members operate smoothly and efficiently together. Editors, in short, are the people who take charge when news happens — whatever the medium.
|BOX 1.1 ||Editing tasks and titles |
Here are the basic news editing jobs in several media, along with a brief description of each job and the skills and experience it requires. Keep in mind that job titles differ from one organization to another and often depend on the size of the organization.
Copy editor (all media)
Copy editors check and improve completed stories and write headlines for them. Their duties range from checking facts, spelling and grammar to handling major revisions. Many copy editors also create briefs of various kinds, including news alerts and summaries. As headline writers, even novice copy editors can make an immediate impact; a great head writer is often considered one of the most valuable players in the newsroom. In broadcast, small and mid-sized operations seldom have copy editors as such; copy editing duties are shared by reporters and producers. That makes it all the more important for broadcast students to develop strong copy editing skills.
Video, audio editors (broadcast and online)
Video and audio editors choose and prepare sections of video and audio recordings to accompany news stories. Though largely technical, effective editing requires sound news judgment and creativity. Good editors often move into higher production jobs.
Design/layout editor (print and online)
Designers and layout editors create pages, graphic displays and web pages with strong visual appeal. At small and mid-sized news operations, copy editors are likely to double as designers and layout editors. Editors interested in design need strong visual skills as well as a technical knowledge of current software. But they should also develop basic copy editing skills.
News producer/writer (broadcast)
Producers are in some ways designers for television or radio. They create compelling news reports by combining videotaped and live reports or actualities with other elements such as graphics. Since they regularly work with reporters in the field, producers need management skills as well as creative and technical ones. Producers may also do substantial writing or rewriting of news copy; at some larger stations, writing is a separate job.
Related entry-level jobs (all media)
Some young editors are drawn to specialty jobs. Wire editors handle national and world news; they need sure...