Monday, May 24, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

This is the sixth lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth.

Here, Bremner is defining the duties of copy editing.
A copy editor is the guardian of his newspaper's character and reputation. And you can add a sentence to that that says he is also a Univac. You can explain what a Univac is and put a period there. And say he knows something about everything and everything about something and where to go to find out what he doesn't know.

What are the duties of a copy editor? Well, you know them. You'll find them listed in any textbook, though I don't use a text, but you can get them from a text. He corrects errors of fact. Excuse me, she corrects errors of fact. And she corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage. She makes the story a proper literary effort, in short.

She makes the story conform to the stylebook, be it the AP stylebook or a stylebook for a particular paper, and any supplementary stylebook that you may have.... Checks for libel. Checks for unanswered questions. Exercises news judgment, meaning, does the lead summarize the story? Is the lead substantiated in the story? And are both sides of the story represented, or several sides of the story represented in a controversial story?

What else does she do? She cuts the story for space, according to the
directions received from the desk. Have I forgotten anything, except
the two biggies at the end?

She writes headlines, which to me is the most exciting thing about being a copy editor. And, in most cases, especially on smaller papers, she's responsible for a lot of makeup.
More tomorrow, but I'm running out.


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