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

Follow a process when editing

By · Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Not long ago, we had a situation in our household: the case of the missing milk.

“Someone” had put the half-gallon of milk on the running board of the truck when he was loading groceries into the vehicle, and that was the last that he saw of it. Not a happy ending.

Compare that to the tale of the dozen eggs. Years ago, my father drove all the way home from the Regional Market — a distance of about three miles — with a dozen eggs on top of the car. All 12 eggs arrived home safely. A happy outcome that has been told and retold through the years.

What’s the point?

Whenever we perform tasks out of order or when we do things contrary to common sense, we set ourselves up for problems in the end. There are certain times — such as when editing — that we need to follow a process and conform to conventional wisdom.

We cannot allow ourselves to be comforted by those once-in-a-while victories when we stray from the process and things still turn out OK.

As editors, we must have a plan when we approach reporters to discuss their stories at every stage: before they report, before they write and when the story is finished. We also must have a plan when we approach a story. The most important step is the first one: Read the story without touching it to get a sense of the content and the context.

In “Think Like an Editor,” we offer a step-by-step process in Strategy 23: Treat Editing Like a Mystery: How to Approach a Story. We are not saying that every editor must follow this exact plan, but we do advocate that editors do follow a process.

Our goal is that editors do not “scramble” stories because they did not follow a logical, step-by-step plan.

Emilie Davis

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