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

Bread recipe serves as important lesson

By · Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 · Comments Off on Bread recipe serves as important lesson

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Like homemade bread? So does a former colleague — a highly respected, now retired journalist who posted a baguette recipe on social media recently. But he transposed two important ingredients. No problem. Being the professional that he is, he immediately posted a correction. 

Sunday, 3:01 p.m.: Recipe posted.

Monday, 1:13 a.m.: Correction posted.

It stated:

For the breadmakers who want to try their hand at the baguette recipe I posted Sunday, a small correction:

It should be 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt. Just noticed I had them reversed.


He followed the classic model for correcting an error by including: 

Errors happen. Knowing how to correct them can make all the difference, and that’s as essential as the all-important difference between sugar and salt.

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

In memory of journalist Richard Holden

By · Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 · Comments Off on In memory of journalist Richard Holden

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Richard Holden / Courtesy of

With sadness, we learned of the passing of Richard Holden on April 15 in Morristown, New Jersey, at the age of 70. We knew Rich when he was executive director of the Dow Jones News Fund, only one role in an illustrious journalism career.

His obituary describes a life dedicated to journalism, diversity and much, much more. This line encapsulates what we remember most about him: “It was a love for the editing craft and mentoring students to each’s individual success that motivated him.”

The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) has published a tribute by Merrill Perlman. In it, Perlman shares that the Richard S. Holden Fellowship will be “formally launched soon, (and) will be dedicated to advancing early- and mid-career professionals in their work as editors and aspiring industry leaders, and to promoting diversity and inclusion in our ranks.”

Rich’s passing touches us: One of us interned with the Dow Jones News Fund, and the other — like Rich — is a lifelong Cardinals baseball fan. That is pretty special.

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

You are at the center of this discussion

By · Wednesday, April 15th, 2020 · Comments Off on You are at the center of this discussion

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News judgment — and reader judgment — are at the core of a recent decision by The New York Times to publish a story more than two weeks after learning about an issue.

The issue is explained in a piece by Ben Smith, the media columnist for The Times, published under the headline, “The Times Took 19 Days to Report an Accusation Against Biden. Here’s Why.”

The piece begins:

On March 25, Tara Reade, a former Senate aide for Joseph R. Biden Jr., alleged in an interview on a podcast that Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had sexually assaulted her in 1993.

And it continues:

More than two weeks later, on April 12, The Times published an article by Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember that included an interview with Ms. Reade detailing her claims.

In a question-and-answer format, Smith relates to us how Executive Editor Dean Baquet explains “the decision to wait, and the decision to publish.” His answers put The Times’ audience at the center of the discussion.

This is one of those reads that needs to be absorbed in its entirety, and here are some key quotes by Baquet that we share with you to pique your interest. 

Why the wait to publish: I thought that what The New York Times could offer and should try to offer was the reporting to help people understand what to make of a fairly serious allegation against a guy who had been a vice president of the United States and was knocking on the door of being his party’s nominee.

What the decision to publish means: It means that there is enough about her case and her allegation to present to readers for them to make their own judgment.

What readers should believe: Sometimes I think it is OK to tell readers they have to make their own judgment. I understand that people want simple answers, but in my experience editing stories like this, sometimes there aren’t simple answers and sometimes you just have to figure that the reader is sophisticated, thoughtful, will read it, weigh it and make his or her own judgment. And I think in this case, that’s the best we could offer. And that’s a lot, by the way. We took two and a half weeks to talk to a whole lot of people to provide that information to the reader.

Take a moment to take in Smith’s piece , which delves deeply into the many facets of this story — touching, perhaps, on questions you might already be asking.

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

Close your eyes and look around

By · Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 · Comments Off on Close your eyes and look around

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Image via

Picture yourself in a picture. Wherever you are right now, look around. Up, down and sideways. Take it all in.

This is the first step in a process that can help you notice details and remember them.

Why is that important? Details bring a story to life. They naturally color the picture for you. Not only colors, but also sizes, shapes and all things that make up any scene.

During an interview, for example, these details can bring a person to life — by defining the office space, the home or where the person hangs out for coffee. Surroundings can help to identify personality traits, hobbies, travel experiences and more.

If you would like to proceed with the process we mentioned, here are the next steps.

How did you do? You might be impressed with your long list. You might be surprised by what you missed.

In the end, may you be ready to tell any story with great color and detail after merely looking around — for even 15 short seconds.

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

‘Maybe this year we’re the buzz saw’

By · Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 · Comments Off on ‘Maybe this year we’re the buzz saw’

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still THINKING …

Just published yesterday — a book that is sure to bring baseball to life while we wait for the coronavirus crisis to end and the season to finally begin.

“Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series” is written by Jesse Dougherty, beat writer for The Washington Post who is also a Newhouse School alum.

Publisher Simon and Schuster describes Jesse’s first book this way:

By May 2019, the Washington Nationals—owners of baseball’s oldest roster—had one of the worst records in the majors and just a 1.5 percent chance of winning the World Series. Yet by blending an old-school brand of baseball with modern analytics, they managed to sneak into the playoffs and put together the most unlikely postseason run in baseball history. Not only did they beat the Houston Astros, the team with the best regular-season record, to claim the franchise’s first championship—they won all four games in Houston, making them the first club to ever win four road games in a World Series.

“You have a great year, and you can run into a buzz saw,” Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg told Washington Post beat writer Jesse Dougherty after the team advanced to the World Series. “Maybe this year we’re the buzz saw.” Dougherty followed the Nationals more closely than any other writer in America, and in Buzz Saw he recounts the dramatic year in vivid detail, taking readers inside the dugout, the clubhouse, the front office and ultimately the championship parade.

Yet he does something more than provide a riveting retelling of the season: he makes the case that while there is indisputable value to Moneyball-style metrics, baseball isn’t just a numbers game. Intangibles like team chemistry, veteran experience and childlike joy are equally essential to winning. Certainly, no team seemed to have more fun than the Nationals, who adopted the kids’ song “Baby Shark” as their anthem and regularly broke into dugout dance parties. Buzz Saw is just as lively and rollicking—a fitting tribute to one of the most exciting, inspiring teams to ever take the field.

Many options exist for obtaining “Buzz Saw.” Congratulations, Jesse, on publishing your first book, and we look forward to what you might be writing next.

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

No shortage of coronavirus story ideas

By · Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 · Comments Off on No shortage of coronavirus story ideas

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still THINKING …

Coronavirus coverage is an extreme example of how story ideas are generated. Not only are the basics being reported, but also the fallout in every locality, every state, every country, every continent.

If you are looking to cover a new angle that has not been reported, consider the following:

Not a journalist? As news consumers, watch for these ways that journalists are striving to keep you informed. There is no shortage of stories that need to be told.

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