Copy editing

Sun-Times copy editor helps save woman from drowning

Chicago Sun-Times

Sun-Times Media copy editor Ken Fryer was leaving work early Friday “when he heard several people calling for help” on a bridge he was crossing in Chicago.

Fryer “broke the glass of a case containing a life preserver on the north side of the river,” Sam Charles reports for the Sun-Times, and someone else threw the preserver toward a woman who had reportedly attempted suicide by jumping in. A diver for the Chicago Fire Department pulled her in.

“It was just her head above water,” Fryer said. “Thank God [crews] came here because I don’t think she had much left.”

Here are some photos from the rescue. Read more


Copy editors’ association advises Vice to hire a copy editor

ACES | Abraham Hyatt | The Washington Post

“People who don’t think online audiences see value in editing might be surprised,” Fred Vultee writes on the American Copy Editors Society’s website. “Readers are busy, but they aren’t dumb.”

Vultee thinks Vice should go ahead and hire the freelance copy editor position it’s advertising, despite advice to the contrary from Abraham Hyatt. Hyatt writes that hiring two copy editors at turned out to be a “train wreck“: The copy editors “slowed the publishing process to a screeching near-halt. And, even more importantly: No. One. Cared.” Read more

Brain activities

Why good copy editors are ‘abnormal’ humans

There are a multitude of factors that can come into play when a mistake occurs.

When I give workshops about the source of journalistic errors and how to prevent them, I point to big-bucket causes such as the tools we use, and the processes we follow. Soon I get to a very personal cause of error: the human brain.

Our brains are, as Yuka Igarashi writes in a lovely essay about human error for The Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog, “the original autocorrectors”. And she doesn’t mean that in a good way.

We see things that aren’t there and miss things that are. Yes, our eyes literally play tricks on us. We miss obvious typos. We’re prone to linguistic mistakes such as the anticipation error that causes so many journalists to speak of a man named “Obama Bin Laden.” Read more


Journalists declare war…on ellipses


The job description of the ellipsis has changed, Matthew J.X. Malady writes. His emails, his text messages…full of three-point shots. Clay Shirky hypothesizes to him that “people are trying to use alphabets like we’re talking, and it’s … hard. So we reach for the ellipsis.”

Awl Editor Choire Sicha tells Malady he’s defeated his own overuse of ellipses, retraining himself to “send emails in complete sentences, with proper punctuation, like an adult person.”

At The Washington Post, using fewer ellipses is now an institutional imperative, judging by a July 17 memo from Managing Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Multiplatform Editor Jesse Lewis. “We’ve noticed an overuse of the ellipsis recently,” they write. Read more

Michele Bachmann

Fact-checkers, copy editors on why they’ll be affected by Michele Bachmann’s retirement

U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann announced early Wednesday that she would not seek her seat next year, an announcement that will land hard on two constituencies: Fact-checkers and copy editors.

“She was great to cover because she was consistently and unapologetically wrong,” Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler told Poynter in an email. “But others will fill the breach, I am sure!” In a post bidding her adieu, Kessler wrote that Bachmann’s absence “will leave the Capitol a much less interesting place to fact check.” Read more


AP changes style on ‘underway’: Copy editors react

Two days after changing its style on the term “illegal immigrant,” the Associated Press issued a Stylebook update that’s significant but in a much quieter way:

One word in all uses.

OK, it’s a big deal mostly to copy editors, many of whom have spent a good part of their professional lives jamming a space into “underway.”

Here’s the old listing:

under way Two words in virtually all uses: The project is under way. The naval maneuvers are under way.

One word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla.

I surveyed a few copy-editing icons on whether the AP switch would occasion one at their organizations: Read more

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How text-to-speech technology can help journalists avoid copy errors

You’ve run spell-check and closely studied your story. Your editors have done the same and the copy desk — the last line of defense against mistakes — has scrutinized every word and line to ensure error-free copy.

And then the worst happens. You pick up the newspaper or open your online story. A mistake, perhaps several, jump out: misspellings, repeated words, missing ones, sources’ names spelled differently on second reference, any of several embarrassing screw-ups have made their way into publication.

You’re not alone.

Spell and grammar checkers are designed to flag misspellings, dangling modifiers, misshapen clauses and run-on sentences, but they’re far from infallible. Mistakes are easy to ignore on the page, but even more elusive on the screen where everything seems pixelly perfect.

There’s another, much more valuable, tool to cut down on creeping copy errors: Text-to-speech. TTS, which converts text into synthesized speech, adds another sense — hearing — that improves your chances of catching mistakes that your eyes miss. It’s a technological antidote to the mistakes that bedevil writers and editors, and make us look lazy, or worse, stupid. The feature is built into most computers’ operating systems. There are also third-party programs that provide the same function.

Meet “Alex,” a TTS voice that lives inside my Macbook Pro. I just select text I want him to read, hold down the control key and then tap the g key. Alex starts reading what I’ve written, or what I think I have, while I follow along on the screen. I usually plug in ear buds to block distractions.

In the three years that TTS has become part of my editing toolkit, Alex has improved my writing, bolstered accuracy and made my stories more graceful. Text-to-speech lets me hear my stories, simultaneously comparing them with the written version, allowing me to detect flaws of word choice, pacing and grammar that I can change on the fly.

When I listen carefully to Alex, he tells me when “know” should be “now.” He guides me to unnecessary sentences and paragraphs. I still rely on Word’s spell and grammar checker, but Alex always manages to find lingering mistakes. I relied on him for every word in my latest book that already had the benefit of a first-rate copy editor. Alex still found missing words, homonyms, such as “then” and “than,” and things I revised but then neglected to delete my original mistake. These days, I let Alex “edit’ my copy before I even activate spell-check.

Both Macintosh computers and computers running Windows operating software provide text-to-speech, but with varying simplicity. Text-to-speech on Macs requires selecting one checkbox in System Preferences and two keystrokes to make Alex talk.

Computer users running older Windows XP and Vista software need to select multiple options before the feature is ready to work. Fortunately, “Microsoft’s solution has improved significantly with Windows 7 and up,” Omar Schwanzer, a former member of Poynter’s technology staff, said via email.

TTS matters because copy editors are under attack by newsroom cost-cutters who have slashed copy desks and often transferred their crucial duties to editing “hubs” that process copy from multiple news outlets. These losses undermine the commitment to accuracy that news consumers demand.

Even small errors can affect a news organization’s credibility and cause readers to lose trust in us.

But it’s not just journalistic sloppiness at work. The brain conspires to keep us from getting things right. We make unconscious errors based on our kinesthetic memory that preserves motions and explains why we can ride a bicycle for the first time since childhood and, after a few wobbles, confidently pedal away. It stores keystrokes as well, which is why I habitually spell judgment with two e’s.

Procedural memory remembers rules — grammar, style, and punctuation. Writing “it’s” for “its” — those maddening misspellings on signs, menus and supposedly professional copy means that writers and editors don’t know the difference between a contraction and a possessive pronoun.

Inattention is another culprit. When we read, our eyes skip forwards and backwards over words, rapid movement known as visual saccades.

Typically, psychologists say, the brain sees the first and last letters of a word and automatically fills in the blank. That explains “then” instead of “than.” And “though” for “through.”

TTS fans include lawyers, novelist, screenwriters and educators who work with dyslexic children.

“I love the idea,” Vicki Krueger, author of News University’s “Cleaning Your Copy” course, said by phone. She believes that TTS “is especially valuable for those whose primary communication is not writing: photographers and other visual journalists, programmers and the millions who write for social media.”

Carolyn Jewel, a romance novelist, said in a testimonial to Text Aloud that hearing her work read aloud keeps her from “supplying meaning that isn’t really there. … Lots of writers recommend literally reading one’s work aloud because it’s a great way to catch clunky phrases and repetitive bits. I tried that once, but it’s pretty hard on the voice, and it still doesn’t solve the issue of your eyes and brain conspiring to ‘fix’ typos for you.”

More newsrooms would benefit from using TTS. Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editors Society, said she’s not aware of any newsrooms using it. But it’s time, NewsU’s Krueger and other copy editors say, for them to make friends with my digital editor Alex.

“We already use or should use, a dictionary, stylebook, spell checker and reference books,” Frank Fee, Jr., a veteran copy editor who taught the craft at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Ohio University, told me when I introduced him recently to Alex. “Why shouldn’t we add another tool to help us when the safety net of copy editing is frayed or vanishing?” Read more


Are question headlines too vague to use?

New York Times | Technovia

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan plunges into the never-ending debate over headlines that pose a question in Wednesday’s Public Editor’s Journal. A post on the paper’s opinion blog Room for Debate is headlined “Do Women Have What It Takes To Lead?

Plenty of readers had something to say about the original post, but the use of the perilous punctuation is what sparked debate with Sullivan, whose own blog post bears the headline “Is There Really Room To Debate Whether Women Can Lead?”

The editor of Room for Debate, Susan Ellingwood, responded to my question about the headline.

Raising a provocative question is our way of starting an interesting discussion. That title starts a productive conversation about gender stereotypes and leadership – even if, in the end, the consensus among the debaters is “yes, women do have what it takes.” Each post explored the question from a different angle. And as readers’ reactions show, the pieces sparked a conversation about an important topic. That’s our goal.

Read more

Copy editing, page design jobs to be outsourced at Toronto Star

Globe and Mail
Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, is the latest to reduce costs by laying off copy editors and outsourcing their work for a fraction of the expense.

The Star will outsource page design and copy editing to Pagemasters North America, Globe and Mail media reporter Steve Ladurantaye reports. The cost savings come from efficient centralized production, but also lower pay for editors. “The top union rate for an editor at Pagemasters is $48,000,” Ladurantaye reports, “while the same job at the Star comes with an annual salary closer to $85,000.”

Pagemasters North America is owned by The Canadian Press news wire, of which the Star’s parent company Torstar Corp. is a co-owner. News & Tech reported in 2009 that the Star was in discussions to begin a small amount of outsourcing to Pagemasters North America, but did not. Other major Canadian newspapers including The Globe and Mail, do the same. And other branches of Pagemasters serve newspapers in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Read more

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How reporters can become better self editors

The accelerated pace of journalism means many reporters have to write, edit and quickly publish their work online, sometimes without the benefit of an extra set of eyes.

Given this reality — and the fact that there are fewer copy editors these days –  it’s more important than ever for reporters to become their own self editors.

Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself produce cleaner copy and avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Print out stories, proof them

Tom Orsborn, a sports writer covering the Dallas Cowboys for the San Antonio Express-News, often picks apart his own stories long before his editors have the chance.

Self-editing is one situation where exhibiting obsessive-compulsive tendencies can help, he said during a phone interview: “Sometimes I can’t let go of a story because I just want it to be perfect. It can take a toll on you mentally, but it also leads to clean copy.”

Orsborn said he tries to give each story at least three reads. He’ll read once for content and flow, once to check facts and again to check for grammatical mistakes and typos. “I’ll take a story apart sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph,” he said. Then, he’ll read the story from top to bottom and again from bottom to top.

Often, Orsborn said he’ll try and print a copy of the story then step away from his desk. “It can really help to take a walk with it, get a cup of coffee or something,” he said. Occasionally, though, there just isn’t time. And printers aren’t always easily accessible on the road, which is where he and many sports reporters do a lot of their work.

In those situations, Orsborn said he tends to develop close relationships with copy desk colleagues. “I’ll always call if I see any type of error in my stories,” he said. “I don’t worry about irritating people. Some young reporters may worry about calling the desk more than once or twice, but I say call them. I do.”

Still, he tries not to rely on the copy desk too much. “You have faith in the copy editors, but ultimately you’re responsible for whether there’s a mistake in the story or not,” he said, urging reporters not to fall into the trap of expecting copy editors to catch their every mistake.

Read stories out loud

Another option when you can’t print is to read a story aloud to yourself, said Poynter Editing Fellow Jacqui Banaszynski.

“When I read my own work out loud, I hear things that my eyes look over,” she said by phone. “I hear when sentences are getting too long or when I’m using adjectives or adverbs I might not need. I also hear when I’ve built in some lack of clarity.”

Still, like Orsborn, she also likes printing stories. She suggests going through hard copies with a marker to highlight verifiable facts and parts of speech whose use may be questionable.

“I almost always find a typo that I read right over when working on the computer,” she said.

Banaszynski also suggests narrowing the width of the copy on the pages you print. “When you narrow your columns, you might see more,” she said. “Otherwise, your eye isn’t going to be looking as closely at that stuff on the periphery.”

Find your editor persona

Meticulously editing your own copy before filing takes time. But savvy reporters can get faster with practice, particularly if they’re able to separate themselves from their stories. “The real key is to switch gears in your head so you’re looking at your copy differently,” Banaszynski said.

Los Angeles Times reporter Rick Rojas sees it as switching from his occasionally sloppy writer/reporter persona to his exacting and picky editor persona. “I try and go back to my stories with a different mindset before I file,” he said.

His editor persona tends to look for strong verb use, word choice and potential holes. “I’m looking at everything I can to see if the story can stand up to scrutiny,” Rojas said by phone.

“I am always a little paranoid that people are going to find something to quibble with in the story.”

He’ll double and triple check all facts, spellings and ages, particularly if a story has been in progress for some time. And he admits his weak spots to himself in the process. “I’m a terrible speller, so I have to go back and make sure that I spelled things correctly,” he said.

Switching between personas, however, can be a challenge. As a self editor, Rojas said, “You can’t look at a story like it’s your baby. You have to step back and distance yourself from it. Ask yourself questions like ‘is that nice phrase really accurate?’”

Putting yourself in the readers’ shoes can ultimately help you be a better self-editor, and a more thoughtful reporter and writer.

What tips would you add? Tell us in the comments section.

Related: Check out News University’s upcoming online group seminar, “Writers without editors: How to edit your own writing.” Read more


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