Boothe's 4202 Blog

How the Internet and Technology is changing Editing

The cure for apathy in copy editing

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Week 3

Printing a fabricated or factually baseless story is every editor’s nightmare that may just come true.

Certainly, after reading stories like Eagle Snatches Dog and Jimmy’s World over the last couple weeks, the possibility of being duped by an unsavory source or writer seems like a possible, yet hopefully avoidable, embarrassment.

On a daily basis though, most editors don’t have to deal with very many weird and sensational articles like the ones listed above. Instead, they have to work in a grinding environment, where news can repeat itself and facts can be presumed.

Complacency is the worst enemy for an editor as well as his copy desk.

“The first piece of advice is the key to any good relationship: mistrust. Specifically, learn to mistrust yourself. When editors become complacent, errors are left to fester on the page. Instead of skimming through the copy like yesterday’s news, slow down and take a minute to doubt yourself.” (The Habits of Highly Effective Copyeditors by Brent Thomas)

While reading through Pam Nelson’s Grammar Guide, I often caught myself saying, “Well, duh,” as I read her 10 tips. Of course I need to “check it.” I need to check everything!

But the problem is, sometimes I don’t. I used to copy edit for the Alligator’s sports section a couple semesters ago before I started writing. During that time, I still watched a lot of Gators sports, so I was well aware of the scores and key stats to many of the game stories. While checking these articles, sometimes I’d breeze through or go glazy-eyed over the stuff I “knew” already.

It was a bad habit and luckily I had a great editor to help me focus through the 7-8 stories I’d check a night.

He’d keep me accountable by asking specific questions after I finished fact-checking a story a little sooner than he’d expected it should take. “So, there are 35 teams in this weekend’s tournament? Where did you find that, because I couldn’t earlier?”

There doesn’t need to be a separately assigned devil’s advocate or story overlord to keep copy editors and writers honest, just a diligent and curious editor.

What can also help is having a good chain of dialogue from writers to editors to copy editors and back again. While searching for tips and tricks for copy editors I stumbled across a book called “The Subversive Editor.”  It came out a couple years ago and received a good review from the NY Times. The author is involved in book editing, but she promised that it would help copy editors working in any style.

On a side note: I never realized how fact error unfriendly Twitter was. You really can’t correct Tweets or retract them. It’s either wholesale deletion or moving on to another 140 characters to explain your mess up further. Even then though, it could still go viral.

Journalists using the social media site to break news have to be careful. I think a safe rule to live by is only Tweet what you would feel comfortable putting into print at that same moment.


Written by jboothe

February 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Good. I would like to see a bit more aggregation.

    Also, you should avoid linking entire sentences – just a relevant word or two.
    7-8 = seven to eight — avoid the hyphen to indicate “to” unless it is a score.

    Ronald R. Rodgers

    February 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm

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