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

3 new ways to think about credibility

By · Wednesday, August 21st, 2019 · No Comments »

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.)

Privacy — heed these 7 cautions

By · Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 · Comments Off on Privacy — heed these 7 cautions

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Archaic is the word we’d use to describe cautions about privacy that we shared back in 2011 when “Think Like an Editor” was published. We say “archaic” now because privacy at that time was something that seemed able to be protected. Today, it seems, everything is public.

Yet those cautions are still valid today. Even more so. That’s because some things just should not “be out there.”

Here, again, are our cautions:

Ah, now there is where the archaic part comes in because today there really are no walls. The very essence of freedom to communicate is also the very thing that can upend all of your good work and your good intentions. Think first. Thinking will never be old-fashioned.

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

These key questions will lead to trust

By · Wednesday, May 29th, 2019 · Comments Off on These key questions will lead to trust

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Ask yourself this: As a news consumer, how can I trust information? As a journalist, how can I ensure news consumers trust what I provide?

The answer: credit.

Credit gives journalists and their work credibility. And three elements in a story — attribution, sources and substantiation — give credit in distinct ways.

Here are some key questions you can ask yourself about these three elements to ensure they are present in stories you write or edit or consume — and that they appear in the appropriate places.

Questions about attribution

Who is telling the news? Is it clear either in the lead paragraph or within the first few paragraphs?

Is there too little attribution? Does attribution appear in one paragraph but not in the next few paragraphs that follow? Paragraph by paragraph, is it clear where information is coming from and who said it?

Is there too much attribution? Is information attributed to the same person in each sentence of the same paragraph? Can that be streamlined by attributing the information once in the paragraph and making clear that the attribution applies to the entire paragraph?

Is attribution in the proper place? With a change in speaker after a quote, is there attribution at the start of the next sentence so a new speaker is properly introduced?

Questions about sources

Are the right sources in the story? Are they commenting on the right things?

Are the sources believable? Are they close enough to the story that they know what they’re talking about? Are they so close that they seem biased?

Are there enough sources? Are there various points of view? Is anyone missing?

Are sources fully and clearly identified? Are experts’ qualifications clear? Are there any anonymous sources in the story — and have the proper editors approved their use? Are the anonymous sources necessary? What other sources could take their place?

Questions about substantiation

Is any information in doubt? If so, why? What will remove that doubt?

Have assertions been verified? Has material from sources been supported with independent information? Or, has it been included unchallenged?

Is the content strong? Paragraph by paragraph, does the story stand up to scrutiny?

What’s missing? Should anything else be included that would make the story complete?

When you ask these questions again and again, story after story, you develop a natural and helpful habit — whether you are producing or consuming.

Your responsibility as a journalist is to end up with a strong story that meets not only your expectations but also those of news consumers.

Your mission as a news consumer is to ask these questions when journalists don’t.

This encore post is a modified version of a post originally published in July 2015 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.)