Copy Editing: When Stories Fall ShortPracticing Skepticism; Story Framing Warren Watson Arizona State University 2012
Communication Is Our Business, But Sometimes It Just Goes Terribly Wrong!
What We Know About All Readers• Readers make connections • --They relate events to their own experience• Readers want context • -- So what? Who cares? I don’t understand.• Readers are intelligent • -- No need to dumb down• Readers appreciate news in various forms • -- Stories, photos, graphics, lists, charts• Readers read! • -- They will make the time if it’s worth it
Reporting and Writing Process• Focus: every story should have one main idea to which all other ideas relate.• Elements of good writing: • --- Dialogue • --- Background • --- Observation • --- Description
The Six-Step Writing Process• Generate idea• Collect• Organize• Focus• Revise• Rewrite A story can go awry at any step!!!
Reducing the Chance That Stories Won’t Meet the MarkWriting teacher Jane Harrigan of the Universityof New Hampshire lists six essential questionsthat every reporter should ask before completingand handing in a story:1) Who said so? Who else should know aboutthis? Who is affected by this? Who cares? more
Key Questions2) What is the news? What input will ithave? What’s the point? What else doreaders want to know?3) When did people say these things? Whenwill the impact be felt? When should we doa followup? More
Key Questions4) Where is the focus of the story? Where isthe information to support the lead?5) Why are we writing about this? Whyshould readers care?6) How do I know this is accurate? Howcan the information be confirmed? --- From Harrigan’s “The Editorial Eye”
Logic and Form• We also need to focus on the forest, not just the trees.• The big picture in stories.• Does a piece make sense?• Does a delayed lead work?• Is there sufficient context?• How much background is enough?
Background• What background is essential depends to a degree on the readership and section the story will appear.• News is more critical.• Sports and entertainment often assume some level of knowledge and can be less formal.• But reporters sometimes get too close to a subject.
Skeptical Editing: Prosecuting the Story“Sometimes it takes a fiasco or two to remindus that skepticism is a big part of the editingfunction. It’s our job to challengeinformation reporters bring back to thenewspaper, and to question conclusionsdrawn from that information.” --- Reid MacCluggage, former APME president
‘Cross-examine the story’“Put the story in the witness stand andcross-examine it. Tear it apart. Exposeits weaknesses. Raise all theunanswered questions. Cast doubt on it… Stories don’t need advocates. Whatstories need are adversaries.” ---Lou Boccardi, The AP
Tips for Prosecuting the Story• Are you looking at the totality of the story for completeness, fairness?• Guarantee accuracy, and truthfulness• Avoid zealot-like behavior: can you argue both sides of the story?• Answer your inner voice -- it always speaks when you try to cut corners.• Watch the use of statistics• Get fresh eyes to look at a story.
More Prosecuting Tips• Watch the use of statistics – it’s easy to manipulate them to make a point.• Get fresh eyes to look at a story.• Consider the previously unthinkable -- be as innovative in being fair as in getting the information itself.• If a story seems to good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Finding Winning Ideas: NPRÕ Technique s¥ The National Public Radio approach: * Think a story forward: * WhatÕ coming up next? s * Think a story backward * WhatÕ at the root of the issue? s * Think a story outward * How have others dealt with the issue?
What Copy Editors Should Ask¥ Is story grammatical? ¥ Is story organized?¥ Words spelled right? ¥ Is it objective?¥ Do numbers add up? ¥ Is it fair?¥ Names, titles correct? ¥ Is it clear?¥ Proper style used? ¥ Is it concise?¥ Things complete? ¥ Have quotes added to¥ Have we used the the meaning? correct lead?
Editor’s Role: Clarifying the Story• Copy editors handle 4 major tasks: * To improve stories * To prepare material for publication * To write headlines, captions * To answer 3 questions about each story: » So what! » Says who! » What does it mean!?
Self-Editing Checklist• Does your story have a clear • Check for proper grammar focus? • Proper punctuation?• Is your lead supported by • Check for AP and local style your material? • Check for wordiness and• Have you given enough usage problems: background? redundancies, misused words• Check for accuracy in these and phrases areas: math, names, • Are your sentences too long? spelling, dates, time
And the Big Three!• So What?!• What if?• What does it mean? A strong nut or context paragraph usually addresses these three points.
Tragedy in Colorado SpringsAn exercise in journalistic empathyÉ .
Story Framing• How stories are shaped, their point of view• Conflict often overused; in the real world, not all events are contests, with winners and losers• Watch out for the dispassionate observer frame• Choosing a frame for any story is the most powerful decision a journalist can make
A Reframed Approach to the StoryThe following is another version of the re-framed story, suggested by two editors fromThe Los Angeles Times
Ò They were the best of friends. Amy andAmanda, an athlete and an honor student. Ò They spent their weekends andweeknights together. Sunday morning, they diedtogether. Ò was the second fatal traffic accident to Ittake the lives of Falcon High School students sofar this year.
ÒState Patrol officers say they do not knowwhere 17-year-old Amy Fournier and 16-year-oldAmanda Brockman, both juniors, were headed asFournier drove her 1984 Chevrolet Chevette northon Curtis Road just before noon Sunday. ÒThey do know the Chevette ran a stop signand was struck on the right by a westbound 1993GMC Jimmy, driven by Duncan R. Pelham, 37, ofPeyton.