Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Be a skeptical editor: Video

By · Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A lot of our video posts are inspired by everyday things. Something happens, and it reminds us of parallels in the business, particularly editing. Such was the case with my purchase of new coffee mugs to replace the (no doubt) lead-tainted ones of old. It’s a miracle they haven’t made us sick.

When I bought the mugs, I fell in love with the idea of buying a new mug and surprising Emilie, and with the look of them. They were simple but classy. I’d seen enough — purchase made. Emilie had a different reaction: She loved them on first sight, but she also immediately checked them out. As she explains in the video, they might look great, but there could be flaws.

A lot of times in the newsroom, you’ll come across stories — or ideas for stories — and you’ll fall in love. When the story hits the editing cycle, that “love” may blind you to flaws and may even lead you to forget to look for them in the first place. Good for your enthusiasm. But bad for editing. Every story needs a good edit, of course, but particularly these kinds of stories. They are the ones you are likely to quickly flag through, right to publication. And they are the ones likely to cause you trouble.

So proceed with enthusiasm, sure, but also with caution.

In the video, Emilie also mentions the idea of skeptical editing, a process where editors scrutinize stories, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, constantly asking questions and putting the story, as colleague Reid MacCluggage says, “on the witness stand.”

Questions like this:

Speaking of skeptics, some of them might think this sounds like an unreasonable, time-consuming and unrealistic process. We get where you’re coming from. Indeed, that kind of deliberate scrutiny can’t be taken with every story. (Although we’d also argue that this is exactly what we do — or should do — with every story. We just do it quickly with the so-called everyday stories and apply the process much more purposefully with others.) This kind of editing mindset leads to better attribution and more precise language, to name just two things.

It also leads to fewer heartaches in those love affairs you have with some stories. And fewer corrections and embarrassments.

You can download our latest video to your iPod or other portable device. Or, you can view it — and others in the archive — via our YouTube playlist, right off the Web, or in the player on our home page.

(As a “fun” little exercise that actually is a little disheartening, check the Net and find out how many times you find MacCluggage’s name misspelled.)

— Steve Davis

Comments

This is so true. Great advice. Now that I have launched my blog, I have come to really appreciate that “every story needs a good edit.”

 
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