Thursday, February 17, 2005

Distance learning

There was great stuff at the online copy-editing chat yesterday with the Washington Post's Don Podesta and Bill Walsh.

Podesta explains why the Post created his position and what he'll be doing:
The AME for copy editors is charged with improving standards and editing across the newspaper, making the lives of copy editors better and doing a better job of managing this group of journalists. There are also recruiting, hiring, scheduling and performance evaluation tasks. Other newspapers have similar positions for managing copy editors. The Post's newsroom has traditionally been a federal system with strong assistant managing editors running their own sections. It took a lot of research and study to come to the conclusion that centralized management of copy editors would be good for our newsroom.
Walsh covers one of my pet peeves:
"Age" is definitely preferable to "aged." (I don't like either, personally -- usually the fact that the number is an age is abundantly clear from the context. If it really needs to be spelled out, it can be "Two girls, both 12 years old.")
You'll also find advice on writing the jump hed, which I found interesting because there seem to be so many theories on how this shuld be done correctly. (Do you repeat the hed on the cover to make the jump easier to find? Do you just rewrite the hed on the cover, same idea but with different words? Or do you use the jump hed to advance the story, mentioning news that comes after the jump to draw in readers who might not have been interested based on the main hed?) Here's Walsh's opinion:
Ah, the jump head. It's a tricky balancing act. I don't like to see the exact same headline on the front and the continuation, though The Post does this sometimes. It's especially funny-looking if the story starts on, say, Page 6 and continues on the facing Page 7. Usually, though, the headlines must be different because they're laid out differently. The trick is to make it clear that the subject is the same while saying things differently enough that the reader doesn't feel as if we're forgetfully repeating ourselves (the little word that appears in the "turn to" and "continued from" lines is supposed to help, but I admit it is little). Some papers make a point of introducing a new element in the jump head, but that's confusing if it's too much of a topic change, for exactly the reason you cite.
And Podesta gives three things he thinks reporters should know about copy editors:
1) Copy editors are your friends. Their questions are not meant as challenges to your integrity but to make your story better and ensure accuracy.

2) That said, while copy editors can save you from yourself,don't expect them to do your fact-checking for you. Don't submit stories with holes in them and expect the copy desk to fill them in.

3) Respect the art of headline writing. The copy editor is pulling the reader into your story in just a few words that summarize the 800 words you've written, and it's not easy to do.
There's a lot more worth reading. I hope they do another chat soon.


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