8: Editors on editing

The more a newsroom evolves, the more it stays the same.
Copy editors are now expected to know HTML, Photoshop and their paper's protocol for posting to the web.
But, according to a 2006 Medill School of Journalism study, managers considered basic journalism skills paramount when hiring or promoting copy editors.
The report, by C. Max Magee, listed attributes such as attention to detail, news judgement, grammar and style, multitasking skills and the ability to work under deadline pressure as the most sought-after skills.
With editors now facing a deadline every minute, the desire to be first is strong. But most papers have backed off and don't let the competition dictate what gets posted.
"Readers will trust the accurate account; they don’t always care who got it first. It’s best to be accurate and first, but being right is better," says media expert Joe Marren.
Vancouver Province deputy editor Fabian Dawson concurs. "The Province website is an extension of the Province newspaper. . . . The thoroughness of the editing on the website must match the thoroughness of the editing that goes into the newspaper. . . . Accuracy must not be sacrificed."
Poynter columnist Joe Grimm decries the fact some of the writers at his paper, the Detroit Free Press, file directly to the web.
"That gets the material out fast, but it has mistakes in it."
Sure the web staff can clean the copy, but when RSS feeds pull the first version of a story, those mistakes are recorded forever, he laments.
Chris Wienandt, copy-desk chief at The Dallas Morning News, said in a Poynter article that he thinks leaving copy editors out of the process reflects an online model in its infancy.
"We're disrespecting online readers by not giving them the same level of editing," he said. "I think people expect a newspaper site to be an extension of the newspaper, so I think the quality of the editing and thoroughness of the editing on the website should match the thoroughness of the editing that you get in the newspaper."
One of the changes being implemented at the Province in a bid to attract more search-engine hits is the addition of placelines for local stories. "An 'Abbotsford' or 'Surrey' placeline will result in more Google hits," says Dawson.
Another aspect of journalism that is returning to the ways of old is the re-emergence of the inverted pyramid as the preferred style of writing for the web.
Although newspapers experimented with the "four paragraph rule" for a few years, no major site, outside of the BBC, seems to be using it. (For a while the BBC tried to write their web stories in the same manner used for Ceefax. The five Ws had to be included in the first 75 words. The BBC news homepage now runs only headlines, or in the case of major stories, heads and one sentence.)
Marren adds that today, web readers scan rather than read and by sticking to the inverted pyramid and simple, subject-verb-object sentences they will get the information they want. He also suggests the addition of bold words, subheads and bulleted lists as a way to assisting online scanners.
Of course, the old standbys of limiting adjectives and adverbs, writing in active voice, and using self-explanatory and useful headlines all go without saying.
So what's an editor to do if he or she wants to have a future in the newspaper business?
The experts at Poynter and OJR offered a few pieces of advice.
Gravitate towards work that can't be outsourced, advises Grimm.
He suggests working directly with other editors and reporters, dealing with controversial issues and even being a coordinator between the paper and overseas editors.
Vicki Krueger, editor of NewsU, writes that every paper's online product seems to be different. Learning a paper's protocols first hand is invaluable.
Poynteronline's Chip Scanlan adds that an editor needs to be an autodidact (a Greek word for someone who is self taught). "As new media pioneer Elizabeth Osder once described the autodidact's credo: "Everything I learned about the Internet, I learned on the Internet."

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