Boothe's 4202 Blog

How the Internet and Technology is changing Editing

How to Cooke a story

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Case Study 2

As a journalism senior just months away from hopefully graduating, I have probably read Janet Cooke’s story Jimmy’s World five or six times over the last several years.

Each time I peruse the piece, I enjoy what I read and think about how it should have been treated by the editor.

Like Washington Post managing editor Bob Woodward, it would be difficult for me to shoot down the story. It’s so well-written and unique compared to any other drug-centered article that I’ve ever seen.

But, unfortunately, Cooke and other reporters such as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass have taught us to temper our enthusiasm. A skeptical editor has to viciously attack his own paper’s stories these days, especially the good ones. It’s the best, and only, defense against receiving fabricated stories by trusted writers. Perhaps that is the real issue.

Can you trust anyone as an editor? You certainly can’t do so with sources; that’s why more than one is required.

As a writer, I don’t want my editor having 100 percent faith in my writing. It’s hard to explain, but the thought of having that level of freedom sounds terrifying. I try my damndest to create accurate and clean copy each night, but it still should be challenged and questioned by another individual’s logic and common sense.

If I was editing Jimmy’s World, here are some topics I’d want to investigate further or ask my writer about:

1. School enrollment records – As an editor, I would know Jimmy’s full name and could inquire as to what elementary school he was attending. If he truly missed as much class as the story claims, the administration would be looking into it.

2. Medical problems – I find the interview with the doctor on Jimmy’s drug use to be short-sighted. An 8-year-old boy taking heroin would be suffering from some serious health issues such as collapsed veins and infection. I would imagine his immune system would be pretty shot as well. The story paints a picture of a pretty vibrant child.

3. Quotes – They sound ridiculous and more like a bad stereotype of urban jive talk gone wrong. Jimmy’s words, in particular, read like Mammy from Gone with the Wind.

4. Sharing – I don’t think that heroin addicts would share their own supply. The mother clearly resents her son as a product of her rape, so why would her “live-in lover” dole out his hard-earned dope to a kid?

5.  Police and social services – The story said there was a heroin raid on the mom’s previous home. Did they find anything? Was she charged? If so, her child would have been taken away or social services would be checking in from time to time.


Written by jboothe

February 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Good. Follows well the Exceptional category on rubric
    As a journalism senior just months away from hopefully graduating, I have probably read Janet Cooke’s story Jimmy’s World five or six times over the last several years. THIS AMAZES ME – USUALLY MOST STUDENTS HAVE NEVER SEEN IT. SORRY FOR BEING REPTITIOUS

    Ronald R. Rodgers

    February 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm

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