Monday, March 29, 2004

Another Top 10 list

This is a handout from the ACES conference by Teresa Schmedding of Chicago's Daily Herald -- on "10 Things I Wish I'd Known."
1. Grammar and style are important; news judgment is more important.
2. What my company's overall goals are and how I fit in.
3. It won't hurt me to be nice to reporters; it's more important to coach them than to let them know how I saved them from looking like idiots.
4. Vertical and peer management are critical.
5. I'll live a lot longer if I take a dinner break.
6. How to resolve conflicts without crying or screaming -- or both.
7. Next month's paper is more important than the next day's.
8. You don't look stupid for not knowing something and looking it up.
9. Good copy editing starts long before the story leaves the reporter's hands.
10. The story is always the thing: Never put my own fears, pressures and personal opinions before readers' needs.
I learned several of these the long way -- not necessarily through egregious errors. But I didn't know them on Day 1.

I'd expound on a few and add a few of my own:
1. Read the whole story before you call the reporter. You don't want one question answered only to discover another, requiring another irksome phone call.
2. It's your job to find errors. Do it without gloating or pointing them out or expecting special kudos. But keep track of the good catches -- to read over when you're feeling discouraged or lacking positive feedback and to bring up during your yearly review.
3. Take pride in what you do, invest in your job, but don't work for free. You're working for a paycheck, and companies have the money to pay you -- despite their belt-tightening. Don't let your pay be one of the corners they cut. And if that means something doesn't get done, so be it. If it's really that important, managers will find a way to pay for it.
4. If something seems off to you, point it out. That's your job. You may be shot down; hell, you'll probably be shot down. But the two times out of 10 are worth it, for you and the reader. (And if a passage or fact hits you wrong, it'll probably hit readers wrong, too. You are the readers advocate. The Last Line of Defense.)
5. Bring up errors in fact, but make sure you know your shit. Find corroboration before you take the matters up, and make sure you're right. There may be nothing worse for a copy editor than editing in his own error.
Surely, that's enough preaching for one post. But feel free to add your own in the comments.


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