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A few scribbly notes on editing

I’m a little groggy this morning, but am so glad I went for drinks (and snacks) with some of the…

By Megan Stewart , in Making the News: Focus on Canadian journalism , on January 28, 2009 Tags: , , ,

I’m a little groggy this morning, but am so glad I went for drinks (and snacks) with some of the crew from the Globe and Mail’s BC Bureau. And it’s a happy surprise that I can read the notes I scribbled down.

For two quick weeks, I’m interning at the Bureau and am starting to understand what it takes to get the paper on hundreds of thousands of doorsteps each day. I am a very small cog in a large, sophisticated machine of specialized skill, wit, efficiency and nerves. And personalities.

Reporters are ultimately responsible for their work, but there are editors that help keep copy clean and aim to address any unanswered questions in a story. But these editors are only working with what the reporter has put together and doesn’t have the pile of facts, interviews and research amassed during the day. Their task is knowing what questions to ask.

Yesterday I wrote about BC teachers and I asked the copy editor–who reached me by phone after deadline from the copy desk in Toronto–about the tone of the story. (My dad is a teacher and I have strong opinions on the issues I was writing about.)

She also questioned this phrase at the end of the story: Mr Roberts was unable to return phone calls.

“Why was he unable?”

“He was busy with others, and his assistant said he was in meetings.”

“So it was his choice not to call.”

“I suppose.”

“Then he was able. He was just unwilling.”

The notes I took over drinks yesterday had to do with good editing. Here is some of what Rod Mickleburgh, Wendy Stueck and Matthew Sekeres had to say:

1. The best editors make you better: they make the work better and they make the reporter better, too.

2. The best editors are smart, natch, but they are also focused, clear-thinking and flexible. A reporter can disagree with feedback, and the editor needs to consider what’s being defended and why.

3. The best editors keep their cool. Theirs are the last eyes to see the copy and although the work is ultimately the responsibility of the reporter, editors handle quality control under strict time pressures and need to keep their head on straight.

4. Editors are your friend. The mutual goal is to reach the highest standards and no one should ever forget that. An editor’s interest is in the strength of the journalism.

5. Mickleburgh is God. (At least that’s what someone wrote in my book when I was on the phone with the copy editor.)

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