10 dangers when you trim a story

By · Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Journalists and surgeons have something in common. Trimming a story is like performing delicate surgery. A surgeon wants to leave no evidence of a scalpel or sutures. Journalists, too, aim to trim stories without drawing attention to what has been deleted.

But trimming someone else’s copy comes with risks. Writers put their words together in particular and individual ways. Stories are full of nuances. When you trim, you might gain space. But you also might lose something else. Whenever you trim copy, ask yourself: “What, exactly, did I just lose here?”

Keep in mind these 10 dangers when you trim. There’s a danger that:

  1. You take out too much background, confusing readers who don’t know important history of the story.
  2. You eliminate the first reference to a person or thing.
  3. You eliminate follow-up to a critical point made earlier.
  4. You lop off a strong ending.
  5. You lose beginning or ending quote marks.
  6. You take out important qualifiers, either single words or short phrases.
  7. You “cheat” on attribution, losing it where you really shouldn’t and confusing readers about the source of some important information.
  8. You run sources’ quotes or comments together, creating confusion about what information came from which source.
  9. You shorten too many quotes, creating a stew of ellipses.
  10. You eliminate the lone critic or other view represented in the story.

Remember, too, that these dangers can apply when you trim your own work — not just when you handle the work of others. And you still must ask: “What, exactly, did I just lose here?”

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

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