Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

This is the seventh lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. Click here for yesterday's.

Here, Bremner is defining the virtues of a copy editor.
The toughest thing to teach, you will find, is consistency. You have to learn what I call the thrill of monotony. Any fool can live on the thrill of novelty, but to get up and go to work and do the same thing over and over again -- day, month, year after year after year -- takes a special talent, takes a lot of patience, perserverance.

But a love of consistency -- I'm not holding up the AP Stylebook as the model. As some of you remarked earlier, the AP often doesn't follow its own. AP doesn't edit nearly so much as it used to, nearly so much as it should -- or the UPI for that matter. But it's your responsibility to see that there's consistency.

Suspicion, another virtue. Take nothing for granted -- in the newsroom. Outside the newsroom, trust everybody, outside the newsroom.

If I had to put an epitaph on a grave, I would say, "It is better to be fooled occasionally than to be suspicious constantly." I don't know any other way of going through life. ... Because you're going to be fooled anyway, no matter how smart you are. It's better to be fooled occasionally than to be suspicious, paranoid, constantly.

Except, ladies and gentlemen, in the newsroom. And you have to teach those young men and women in your hands to be healthily suspicious.

You need also a great sense of fairness -- whenever there's a story with more than one point of view, to make sure that all points of view get a chance to say something. Don't lie, and don't say "couldn't be
reached." Above all, don't say "couldn't be contacted," what a lousy verb. Students have to be saturated with the news.

The next thing I emphasize to you is that you have to be
thick-skinned. Because if it's your responsibility to correct -- and I don't just mean the writing, I mean the speech -- it's your responsibility to correct their language. And they have to develop
thick skins and take that criticism. If they can't take criticism as students, they'll never take it as adults. And those of you who worked at newsrooms, especially at decent-sized papers, you know that you have to take criticism or you get the hell out. Isn't that right, Mr. Thien?
Tomorrow: Bremner on quote changing.


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