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copy editing problem

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Smallpotatoes, Jan 10, 2007.

  1. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    Yesterday, I had to edit two pieces, one from a high school kid, one from a college kid, interns who came from local schools. Both pieces required a lot of heavy editing. I had to restructure paragraphs, move the final score from the end to the beginning of the story, restructure quotes, take out all sorts of homer stuff and things like "When I talked to coach Smith, he said..." etc.
    I don't blame these kids too much. They haven't been shown the right way to do things and when I'm off deadline I'm going to go over all this stuff with them. And if they keep making these mistakes, then we'll have a problem.
    The problem I had was that this afternoon, when our EIC is checking the pages before they went to press, she told me I need to be more careful editing their copy and this was after all the time I spent editing all of that stuff. Apparently for everything I caught, something else got through (mostly AP style stuff)I guess sometimes when you're working on fixing the big things, you can end up missing a lot of little things.
    I really took exception to that. I told her to look at the raw copy and see what work was already done. She replied it's my job to fix these things or teach these people the right way to do them no matter how terrible the raw copy was.
    Well, I thought that was what I was doing. I thought I did that, did it to the best of my ability and spent quite a bit of time and effort fixing what needed to be fixed. Had I not been careful, what she would have seen would have been far worse. I thought everything that needed to be fixed was fixed. I didn't just do a quick read and figure it was close enough for government work. If I had half-assed my way through it, I would have deserved to have been chewed out, but I resent being chewed out in cases like this.
    After all I had to do just to get those stories the way they were I resent being told I wasn't doing my job adequately. You can't let mistakes go, but that was never my intention.
    I understand in a professional environment there are standards. Effort doesn't mean anything. If you're not capable of doing what's expected of you, then eventually you're going to find yourself out of a job and that has happened to me once (in that situation I feel I was set up to fail, but that's a topic for a different day and I'm sure to some extent I had it coming. It was also 14 years ago and no need to get into it now).
    As much as I'd like to, I'm not going to quit. I need the health insurance as well as the money and I've been doing this for so long if I tried to do something else, I'd be lost. And if I can't handle this job then what else in this business can I handle?
    If anyone has any suggestions on how to edit really bad copy (maybe if you get it early enough, send it back, telling them what needs to be fixed and asking them to do it over), I'm all ears.
    Could it be that I'm just not capable of handling this part of the job?
    Also, would it be worth the trouble explaining to the EIC off deadline, as respectfully as possible, that I really was doing the best I could with what I had, perhaps showing the raw copy to make the point?
    Blonde Bomber, the kick me sign is on. Have at it.
     
  2. Gomer

    Gomer Active Member

    Well, I hate to say it but your EIC is right. You should always strive for perfection. If you're going to settle for something less, that reflects badly on you.

    I've edited tons of crap like the stuff you described. Made mistakes too. I beat myself up for every single mistake I make and strive to do a better job next time.

    Granted, your EIC is probably also an ass and that doesn't help, thus your frustration, but look at this as a challenge to improve. Push yourself.

    One suggestion is to edit the story, then come back to it a bit later and edit it again, this time looking for purely AP stuff. You know how bad the copy was initially; the worse it was, the more time you have to spend on it.

    Most importantly, don't get depressed over it. There's no reason you can't become a better editor.

    Oh, and take your frustration out on the interns...
     
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Smallp,

    In the future, if you are the guy editing this stuff and one of the problems is wholesale changes, can you have a conversation with the writers before the games and before they write?

    Go over lengths, imporant things to look, who to talk to before the game.

    Afterward, talk about how the lede may go, how they may structure the story, what the most imporant suff is.

    Then you might get someting you can just copy edit, rather than overhaul on deadline.
     
  4. Some of this depends upon the size of your staff, copy flow, nature of story (filing on deadline or not). But on our staff, unless it's a deadline piece, the story should go through an assigning editor first. That editor should be working with the writer on major fixes, such as moving quotes, restructuring, eliminating the homerism. If the copy editor at your shop is the only gatekeeper, then my condolences, but your instincts were right. Talk to the writer off deadline about the (many) fixes you made. Otherwise you'll be making them again next story.

    Unfortunately, the criticism from your EIC is right, for two reasons. 1) You missed some stuff. 2) She can fire you, and you can't fire her.

    Is she being unreasonable and petty? Probably. But we've all had difficult bosses to work for. It goes with the turf.
     
  5. ColbertNation

    ColbertNation Member

    While I agree with Gomer that the desired result is a perfect section, I also know that those are not the norm. I also know that you're bound to get far more criticism from above than praise, so don't feel bad when you do a get a perfect section and it goes unrecognized. Bottom line: Each mistake is a learning experience. With these two guys, you might have to shorten their inch count or move up their deadline until they start turning in cleaner copy to give yourself more time to edit.
    I would also go over those specific stories with your writers. Show them there raw copy, the changes you made and the things you missed. If they are good writers, then they will work like crazy to minimize those mistakes on their next story.
     
  6. OTD

    OTD Active Member

    SP:

    What you planned to do with your writers is what your EIC was doing with you. You would probably be more diplomatic, but she was just pointing out things you'd missed.

    I know you'd worked hard on those pieces. Any of us who have worked on a sports desk knows that editing stringer copy is one of the most thankless jobs around. It usually comes in late, poorly organized and the only style book most of these people have seen is Martha Stewart Living. And you hardly ever get a "thanks for cleaning up my copy" from them; more often the wannabe Red Smiths are pissed off that you broke the flow of their ledes to get the score above the jump.

    If you've got time, go through the stories once, cleaning up the big messes. Take a break (probably meaning work on a different story for a bit) and come back with an eye toward style, spelling, etc. If you don't have time, do your best. If you find that your EIC is more concerned with AP style than substance, edit for that first, then get the flow straightened out if you have time. It's a shitty way to think, but she's the one signing the check.

    And, as always, have a resume and clips ready to go. Good luck.
     
  7. Editude

    Editude Active Member

    Believe me, this comes up with copy from stars as well as stringers. Each story is its own challenge, and there are times the editing won't be up to your (or your editor's) liking. Don't beat yourself up, but don't do the before-and-after game either. Results matter, and strive to get better results next time (and the next time ...).
     
  8. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    If you hit a thousand grounders at a Gold Glove shortstop, he's going to miss a few. There is no way around this as long as humans do the job. A boss who doesn't understand this likely has never done the job. My experience is that people like that will never understand, so don't waste your breath, just say, "OK."

    The best sports desk I worked on was in Miami, and the superb Read Over (last eyes on the copy, what some place call "slot") told me that her goal was to someday have a perfect section and that it never happened. Eventually I started doing her job and I never had a perfect section, either. Now I sometimes fill in when slots are vacationing, and I will not replate a page for second edition if the only thing wrong on it is a style mistake -- it's a waste of the company's money to burn a plate for something insignificant that no reader will notice. On a heavy night it's like a MASH unit -- we surgeons may leave a few scars, but if every patient survives it's been a good night.
     
  9. joe

    joe Active Member

    Yep.
     
  10. MTM

    MTM Well-Known Member

    If you have the time and the people, it's best to have someone else read the story after you've done such extensive work on it.
     
  11. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Rework the most vanilla gamer from the AP and give it to the stringers as a template to follow.
    And don't expect the stringers to file 20 inch masterpieces, count on 300 decent words from a 500-word piece, which is about one page in word, assuming that's what they write in. Tell them they can't exceed one-page. That will cut down on the clutter.
    Tell them if they don't follow the template, that it will get edited to conform. If something truly strange happened, then they need to call from the game and explain what the hell is going on.
    You might also considering writing the gamers in advance and having the stringers just report facts and quotes.
     
  12. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I never would have learned anything that way.
     
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