Posts Tagged ‘copy editing’

john e mcintyreJohn E. McIntyre has long been a source of wisdom for journalists, particularly colleagues at the Baltimore Sun and fellow copy editors.

He is a founding member (and two-time former president) of the American Copy Editors Society. I knew of him long before I met him, when he led a discussion for a seminar I was planning for news editors and copy desk chiefs at an American Press Institute workshop, probably in 2006 or so.

He’s a guardian of the language who enforces the rules that matter and debunks the ones that don’t. He may be an Old Editor, but he’s also a prolific blogger and podcaster, a witty tweep and he was the first person to point out that I was violating Facebook etiquette early in my social media days by syncing my Twitter and Facebook accounts so that nearly all my tweets posted to Facebook (way too often to post on FB, but an acceptable pace for Twitter).

I’m pleased to see that John has compiled some of his wisdom into a book: The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing.

John does not pretend that all the maxims are original. In the preface he handles attribution deftly:

Some you may find familiar, such as the Chicago News Bureau’s, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” some are adapted from the remarks of my own editors, some are from the general lore, and some – many , actually – are my own.”

I should add that I didn’t know the maxim about Mom (which I’ve used a time or two on my blog) had a known origin. It figures that John would know. Even the familiar and adapted maxims are delivered and explained in John’s authoritative voice and with his dry wit. This is very much his book, even if you’ve heard and read some of the wisdom before. (more…)


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Tom Barstow

As I’ve been suggesting new ways for Digital First journalists to work, I’ve been aware that my advice for copy desks has been incomplete. I made some suggestions for copy editors earlier this year, but I’ve been pondering something more meaningful for copy desks. Now I know what to say: Check out what the York Daily Record/Sunday News is doing.

A recent email listed the work done in the past week by the YDR’s Night News and Digital Desk. I asked for some elaboration and received multiple responses (lightly edited) from Tom Barstow, News Editor, Night News and Digital:

As you know, the YDR hasn’t had a copy desk in more than a year now. Instead, we are the Night News and Digital desk with multi-platform journalists on the staff. That nomenclature change has been important to re-define what we do daily beyond traditional page production and copy work. (more…)

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Some quick observations reviewing May’s traffic on my blog:

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John E. McIntyre

I am honored that the Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre, whose blog is a must-read for copy editors, has responded (at my invitation) to my advice for copy editors.

I encourage you to read the full post, A future for copy editors. But I’ll note some highlights here:

  • John supports my call for efficiency in copy editing, telling “middle-initial fetishists” and AP-style cultists to “Stop wasting time on things that don’t matter much.” What does matter? John answers: “Let me remind you that it is possible for an article to be perfectly grammatical and conform to every last guideline in the AP Stylebook and still be dull, unclear, superficial, plagiarized, fabricated, or libelous.”
  • John also agrees with me that copy editors overuse pun headlines that are lost on those humorless search engines: “On the printed page, you have elements, such as secondary headlines, photos, display quotes, and the like, to give a clever headline context.”
  • John and I also agree on the importance of copy editors training themselves in new skills.
  • I won’t quote from John’s private advice to copy editors (he asked the rest of us to step outside for a moment, but I listened through the transom), except to say it was right on the mark.
  • On this, John and I fully agree: “if you are serious about the craft and about continuing to practice it, you will have to take more responsibility for your own career.”

That last point is good advice for every journalist. And it always was.

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I have a fondness for copy editing and copy editors.

I learned more in my copy editing class than in any other course I took at Texas Christian University back in the 1970s (hat tip to my instructor, Jim Batts). I learned as much in my two years on the Des Moines Register’s copy desk, also in the ’70s, as I’ve learned any two years ever in my career. And I worked with an extraordinarily talented group there.

I got to be a pretty good copy editor and self-editor (I’m the only editor of this blog, though I often read a post to Mimi and occasionally she will read a post before publication). But still, copy editors saved me from embarrassment many a time in my reporting days (at the Omaha World-Herald, Sue Truax once asked gently about a drought story if I meant to say the city was encouraging water conservation rather than consumption. As embarrassing as that was, it was so much better than seeing it in print).

Copy editing is the quality control function of a newsroom, and quality matters. But the economics and workflow of the news business have changed, and copy editing must change, too.

Digital First newsrooms in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area have changed their copy-editing operations, as Steve Myers reported in some detail for Poynter. We’re trying two different approaches, each with fewer copy editors and fewer reads before a story is published online or in print. The Denver Post no longer has a copy desk; copy editing is handled by assigning editors (with some former copy editors moved to the assigning desks). The Bay Area News Group still has a copy-editing operation for all its newsrooms at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., but some stories will get only one read there, rather than two, after being read by assigning editors. (more…)

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Update: If you read this when it was posted initially, or after I updated Tuesday night with lots of responses, I have added more responses, plus my own recommendation.

When I was visiting the St. Paul Pioneer Press newsroom recently, some copy editors asked a perplexing style question: If we are creating content first for digital platforms, and trying to make a print product efficiently from that content, how do we handle references to “today”?

“Tomorrow” can be problematic, too. Newspaper journalists have traditionally avoided “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” making them “Monday” and “Wednesday” if you’re publishing on Tuesday. So it’s probably still a good idea to avoid “yesterday.” But “Wednesday” should really become “today” when that digital story is published in the next morning’s newspaper.

Is there a good solution that doesn’t involve changing every “today” reference between digital and print? (more…)

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A friend consulting for a small newspaper chain asked my advice on a copy-editing issue. He noted inconsistency in editing, with many typos and errors in grammar and sentence structure. Copy didn’t follow AP style. “The credibility of the writer and publication can hang on the cleanliness of their copy, even at small papers,” the friend told the company.

His client responded with agreement that the criticism was valid, but asked how to achieve better editing, given the staffing levels. The friend asked my advice. My response (expanded and edited a bit for this blog post): (more…)

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