Monday, September 13, 2010

Newspaper editing

I asked my friend George Beetham Jr., a longtime newspaperman and the editor of The Review, if he would write a response to Ricky's post. He sent this reply.

Newspaper editors work with stories written by staff writers as well as news releases from a variety of sources. News releases from outside sources are very likely to receive heavy editing to fit the piece to the newspaper's style. While stories written by staffers should be ready to go into print, editors frequently need to rework stories. You will see evidence of this from time to time, particularly when paragraphs have been moved around by a copy editor who didn't bother to go over his or her own work very well. (For example, sources referred to in a second reference, or last name, before being introduced with their full name and title.) While the story may have required reorganization, an editor needs to be aware of what was changed, why it was changed, and what effects the change may have on the rest of the story. Stories that come in on deadline may get a cursory edit for that edition, but get extensive reworking for a later edition on the basis of information obtained after the earlier edition went to press. Ledes may be reworked to reflect new developments with earlier paragraphs repeated verbatim later in the story. At some point the editors may opt for a complete write-through to incorporate later developments and make a story more readable.

There really are no hard-and-fast rules for newspaper editing. It depends on the story, how well it was written originally, how much time the editor has, and how information comes into the newsroom. Invariably, copy editors working under deadline pressure ought not to undertake major structural changes unless they have time to go over the edited work thoroughly to avoid the glitches noted above. I have seen published accounts of a candidate running for public office with the office he was seeking not mentioned until late in the jump, by which time a reader would be seething at the incompetent boob who wrote the piece. It might not have been an incompetent writer, but an incompetent editor.

Last, it would be well for newspaper editors to go over the story with the writer to discuss changes and why they are necessary. Besides helping a reporter grow in the craft, it gets the reporter's expertise into the editing process to avoid editing mistakes. There is not always time for this process to take place, but there should be.

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