Friday, September 14, 2012

How I edit my reporters' stories

Yesterday, I promised a post about how I edit my reporters’ stories. Every editor is different but this process has worked well for me.

 First, I read through the entire story. I look at the big picture. Did he talk to enough sources? The right sources? Is the story structured in a way that makes sense? Is it fair? Accurate? Are all sides represented? Are key voices heard? Are the voices reflective of the community we live it?

I often describe this as looking at the story through a wide angle lens. As I continue to go over the story time and time again, my focus narrows.

 Of course I’m looking for misspellings and grammar mistakes, but I’m also looking to see that the reporter chose the most accurate verb to describe the action. Does he show and not tell? Is he raising any questions in the reader’s mind that he hasn’t answered? Is there anything in the story that we should break out in a sidebar or box because it weighs the story down? If it involves numbers, do the numbers add up? Always, always, always do the math!  

The story or column or whatever it is I’m editing will go back and forth between us. I don't catch everything the first or second time through. I won’t correct a misspelling or AP style mistake; I will note that it's incorrect and expect him to look it up. This isn’t because I’m trying to be a jerk but because I want him to learn, and if I correct all of his mistakes he won’t. I will leave comments and questions in the story. I will push for details that are telling and move the story forward.

Bottom line, I want the story to be the best it can be and my reporters do, too. Together, we work to make that happen.

Now, we can’t spend forever on a story. We’re journalists. We have daily deadlines. But we do the best we can given the time that we have. If a reporter is working on a long-range enterprise piece, we have more time for all of the above.

I’m often asked what I like best about my job, and I always say I love editing and working with my reporters most of all. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do as much of this as I’d like. But when I do have the time I try to make the most of it.

If you're a writer, what do you want from your editor? And if you're an editor, what do you want from your writer?

P.S. Maybe I'll do a post on editing a book. I've had the pleasure of editing books by Beth Vrabel, a fellow journalist and columnist who has worked for me in many capacities over the years. She's also an amazing writer and friend. 

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