Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, Newhouse School, Syracuse University. Editing for print and digital, new media journalism.

Fears and tears? Write through them

By · Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 · No Comments »

not teaching,
still THINKING …

This memoir represents years of tedious writing and emotional perseverance. (Emilie Davis)

Memories. That’s what “the Goodbye Diaries” is about — a mother-daughter memoir published almost 20 years after the death of mother Sally Bardach. Writing began during her illness in partnership with daughter Marisa Bardach Ramel, who just published the book these many years later.

Marisa invited us to attend her book-signing event last week at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she graduated in 2004. She had been a student in Steve Davis’ class.

For more than an hour, Marisa casually — yet passionately — described her journey as a high-school teen learning of her mother’s pancreatic cancer, rejecting her mother at times, loving her, writing with her, learning from her and missing her. Marisa also interacted with the dozens of students in the audience, sharing her writing tips and advice — especially for those interested in writing a memoir someday.

These are our four takeaways from Marisa’s conversation:

  1. Write something. Don’t wait for the perfect thought to be perfectly structured before writing. Just write. You can — and will — perfect your story later. This will happen sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter. Writing is a process.
  2. Listen to others. Seek advice from fellow writers and editors, from trusted friends who know you well, from professionals you connect with through networking. Then adjust that advice to your personal circumstance. Don’t be quick to change your thinking. You must be comfortable with suggested changes to your writing and to how you are telling your story.
  3. Be brave. It is not comfortable at times to look at yourself and to write about yourself. You must be willing to let others see you as you were and as you are — everything. Your story will be true only if you are truthful.
  4. Don’t rush it. The passage of time can be a good thing. Sometimes you need space between the events in your life and your writing about them. Take that time, even if it means not writing at all. You will write again, and your story might benefit from your perspective later in life than in real time.

Listening to Marisa brought back many memories of writing and editing classes at the Newhouse School — and of the many students in those classes. We learned a lot from Marisa. You can learn more from her, too, by connecting with her on her the Goodbye Diaries website.

Marisa Bardach Ramel and professor emeritus Steve Davis reunited. (Emilie Davis)

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

Turn on and stay on — all the time

By · Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 · No Comments »

not teaching,
still THINKING …

If you pay attention, you can see the difference. (Emilie Davis)

Spaghetti supper one night recently turned into a lesson relearned in how we need to be “on” all the time.

The spaghetti saga starts with two cooks in the kitchen. Cook 1 boiled the water. Cook 2 added the pasta. Easy enough. But a simple meal took a nasty turn in the amount of time that it takes to cook pasta — al dente or not.

In a household where gluten-free eating is not a choice but a necessity, two cooks who were not paying attention almost ate gluten-laden thin spaghetti rather than gluten-free spaghetti.

They weren’t “on” at the stove.

As with any type of situation where quality control is essential, these two cooks failed miserably. The only thing that saved them was luck. Once the thinner, less yellow pasta was dumped into the colander, filling it to the brim, only then did they notice all the differences. But it was close.

Close calls are common in a deadline-driven profession of gathering, producing and publishing news and information. That’s why one of our mantras has always been: You have to be “on” all the time.

We acknowledge that it is a bit embarrassing to share this personal experience. But, then again, we also recognize that we learn from one another’s mistakes.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

3 new ways to think about credibility

By · Wednesday, August 21st, 2019 · Comments Off on 3 new ways to think about credibility

not teaching,
still THINKING …

In a nonjournalism setting recently, we heard credibility described as:

We agree. Credibility is a common theme we share because it is at the heart of everything we do as journalists. When we lose our credibility, it is difficult — and sometimes impossible — to regain.

As colleges and universities welcome new and returning students to school, now is a good time to think about and share the best ways to stay consistent, honest and courageous.

  1. Start with a credo. Write a few sentences that describe your personal mission statement, the values that guide you and that will keep you pointed in the right direction. Refer to this credo often. Rely upon it when situations cause anxiety or uncertainty. Remember that you know yourself best, and your credo will not fail you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fear of failure is known to be a major reason that people make dishonest decisions. Rise above this fear. Identify your best attributes and focus on what makes you strong. Remember that it is OK to say: “I don’t know.” People will respect your honesty.
  3. Stand up for yourself. You have a voice. Use it. Develop it. Nurture it. The most courageous people are not necessarily the loudest. They are, however, keenly aware of their station in life and what is expected of them. Remember that people are relying on you and your expertise. Have the courage not to disappoint them.

People need to trust us. Every day, we must earn that trust and build upon it.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

5 tips for handling photos responsibly

By · Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 · Comments Off on 5 tips for handling photos responsibly

not teaching,
still THINKING …

An unaltered photo. What you see is what the photographer saw. (Emilie Davis)

Freedom comes with choices, but how to know the right choice to make?

Since all of us share and view so many photos a day, here are 5 tips for good choices that benefit everyone.

  1. Do not electronically delete a person from the middle of a photo as if the person were never there.
  2. Do not remove an object — such as an unsightly trash can — between two people in a photo as if the trash can were never there.
  3. Do not delete a wide gap between two people in a photo to make it appear that the two people are standing closer together.
  4. Do not darken or lighten an image so much that people or objects in the image are no longer visible, as if they are not there.
  5. Do not reverse or “flop” an image so that, for example, a person is facing left instead of right.

Editing photos is so easy to do, and there is nothing wrong with cropping — deleting — the outside edges of a photo to focus more closely on the image we see.

But just as we don’t like to be tricked by others, we must be sure that any alterations we make to our own photos do not deceive the viewer.

That’s the best choice, always.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

Watch your words and your tone

By · Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 · Comments Off on Watch your words and your tone

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Editorializing is a word we don’t hear much, perhaps because everyone has a point of view and also has the means to share it.

But with news stories, editorializing is not considered a good thing.

Here’s why:

Consider these two examples of how editorializing can happen:

  1. Word choice. Some words are used commonly to mean one thing when they actually mean another. For example, consider the word “reform.” It is used often in stories to mean change. But Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “reform” this way: “To make better by removing faults and defects; correct.” So when a writer explains a plan to “reform” something, that writer is actually saying the plan will make it better. The word is subjective, not objective. A better word choice than “reform” would be “change.”
  2. Tone. A conversational tone can be refreshing, but it also can lead to editorializing. Consider this example: It’s about time the school board took a stand on teaching standards. Such a tone would be inappropriate for a news story because it sounds like the writer’s opinion. The problem could be solved by adding attribution: Parents say it’s about time the school board took a stand on teaching standards. An even better solution, however, would be to merely state the facts. Parents told the school board last night that they are pleased with the vote to raise teaching standards after several failed attempts over the past three years.

When we understand how editorializing can happen and why we should avoid it in news stories, we are also helping the audience to understand us. And that’s a solid way to maintain our trusted bond.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

Stay connected but practice willpower

By · Wednesday, June 19th, 2019 · Comments Off on Stay connected but practice willpower

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Eight years ago — and a day — we published a post that started this way:

It was an interesting morning here.

The post is worth sharing again because all these years later, the issue still remains — we need to use common sense when we use our phones.

So here is the rest of the story.

I had a 10 a.m. appointment for someone to come and take care of an annual lawn issue. He brought with him two young men.

“We’ll make short work of it today,” he told me. “I brought some helpers.”

Good enough. They all got to work.

The next think I heard was, “If you keep checking your phone, it will be staying home.”

I kind of chuckled to myself, thinking how universal that issue is these days. But I also noticed how the message was delivered:

Staying connected is a given, and it takes willpower and self-discipline to disconnect at appropriate times — just as it takes common sense to know when to make exceptions. A good example happened just yesterday, when a colleague set his phone on the table at the start of a meeting and said, “I’m going to do something I don’t usually do. My 89-year-old mother broke her arm last week, so if the phone rings, I need to answer it.”

We’re in a 24/7 world of news, information, social media and connectivity; there are a lot of positive aspects to that reality. But on the job, at an internship, in the classroom, at certain events, at worship and in meetings, it’s important for us to know when to turn off what’s “out there” so we can focus on people and happenings “right here,” in our present.

This encore post originally was published June 18, 2011 about an issue that is still important and relevant today.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)