The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: spelling

What I edit and what I don’t

This Tweet from Overheard in the Newsroom made me smile and cringe at the same. I smiled because it’s funny. I cringed because it feeds into a stereotype about copy editors.

I don’t edit e-mails from my friends, family and students. I don’t edit status updates on Facebook. I don’t edit Tweets (although some people do). I don’t edit comments on news stories (though some errors are admittedly amusing). And I don’t edit spoken conversation.

I do edit news stories, blog posts on news sites, cover letters, menus, speeches and billboards — anything that’s professionally produced and set into type in print, online or on screen. Even so, I don’t insist that these things adhere to Associated Press style. Style is a choice, not a commandment.

So for those of you with friends and family who work as editors: Relax. It’s OK.

Most of us won’t judge you for a typo in an e-mail or chat session online. If you don’t use the subjunctive mood correctly the next time we talk on the phone, I won’t stop the conversation to point that out.

We all make mistakes sometimes; I’ve made some doozies. That’s why we have copy editors to help us communicate better in professional settings for specific audiences. We want to help, not nag, and we’ll do so with tact and understanding, not mockery.

Got it? So give us a call, send us a text message or drop us a line by email. We’ll chat.

Q&A with Amy Goldstein, editor at ESPN.com

Amy Goldstein has been an associate editor on the copy desk at ESPN.com since February 2008. Before moving to central Connecticut, she completed a master’s degree in journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in linguistics at CUNY Queens College. She has interned at the Detroit Free Press, McClatchy-Tribune News Service and News 12 Long Island. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Goldstein offers a glimpse of what it’s like to be an editor at the ESPN site.

Q. Describe your job at ESPN. What is your typical workday like?

A. I edit 12 to 15 stories, blogs and photo galleries each day and am the copy desk editor who backreads subject page tops that are sent via e-mail. I also often assign priorities to stories in our queue system based on what’s expected to be featured prominently on our front page or on section pages. When time allows, I slot stories and coordinate copy desk reads of entire index pages.

We have a copy desk and a news desk, and the copy desk is responsible for editing features, columns, power rankings and other staff-generated items, while the news desk mostly edits headline news stories and game recaps. Most copy deskers work during the day rather than at night because the stories we edit generally come to us during normal business hours. Stories’ lengths vary significantly, as do their subject matter — I might edit a feature about an NFL player, then a Q-and-A with the creator of a sports video game, then a live blog about a poker event.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?

A. You were expecting it to be working against the clock, weren’t you? Well, not quite. If a story needs to be published right away (for example, right after the Masters tournament) it is, and then we’ll backread it as soon as possible. If it doesn’t, we’ll be expected to turn the story around within a reasonable amount of time, but there’s usually no rush.

ESPN is a reporter-driven environment, and that’s what enables our best writers to develop a distinct voice that is recognized on a national level. Our writers have a lot of editors — a story might be edited by two or three people before it reaches the copy desk — and we’re charged with maintaining our writers’ voices while making sure they don’t cross the line on sensitive topics. With so many hands on deck, sometimes it’s hard to appease everyone. My biggest challenge is deciding which battles to pick and how best to compromise.


Q. You have worked for print and online media. What are the biggest differences between them? What about similarities?

A. My work online might be a little less creative than what I did for print media, but that’s really a function of the workflow here. I typically don’t write headlines or cutlines or select photos, but section editors (who do all those things) ask me for headline and blurb suggestions several times a day. We also have two layers of headlines for most of our stories — the index page display text, which aims to get the reader to click on a story (and often has tight head counts, just like in print media!), and the headline on top of the story, which is often a summary type of head because the reader already was engaged enough to click through to that point.

As I hinted at above, there generally aren’t deadlines at ESPN.com, so I find working online to be less stressful than working in print. I try to finish a story as fast as I can, but I almost always have plenty of time to make it as good as it should be. At the same time, there’s little downtime during our workday. We always have something to do because our writers and section editors produce so much content each day.

As for similarities, the reality is that both print and online media work to tell similar or identical stories. A story published online might be longer, but the general rules of keeping a reader engaged still apply.

Q. Many college students would love to have a job like yours. What career advice do you have for them?

A. Persistence was key for me in landing this job. A number of things had to fall perfectly into place for me to end up here, but if I hadn’t kept calling my boss during a seven-month period, I wouldn’t be at ESPN. In addition, knowing what you really want in a job helps you sell yourself, and internships help you refine what path you want your career to take.

In graduate school, I had several opportunities to learn Web programs, and I’m thankful for that because although ESPN.com’s publishing system is proprietary, I learned how to tell a story using interactive media. I share that knowledge with my colleagues whenever I think it might be useful. I suggest that college students take advantage of the opportunity to learn new programs — it’s fun and rewarding when you finish a project, even a quick photo gallery produced with Soundslides.

As seen on TV

Frank Fee, a colleague at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, passes along this item, captured forever on DVR. It shows that yes, local TV news needs copy editors too.

Presenting your credentials with style

Joe Grimm, a longtime recruiter at the Detroit Free Press who now teaches at Michigan State, recently listed common errors of AP style that he sees on journalists’ resumes.

Capitalization and abbreviations were among the violations. As Grimm pointed out, these are errors by people who say they know AP style.

Certainly, as noted here and here, mistakes on a resume or a cover letter can weaken your chances for landing a job, especially in journalism. But are the intricacies of AP style needed? To use a picayune example, are we going to disqualify a job candidate for using “persuade” when AP calls for “convince”?

Because I first heard about Grimm’s list on Twitter, I decided to ask fellow journalists there about whether AP style is essential for a resume sent to a newsroom. Here are some replies, written in Twitter style:

Gerri Berendzen, copy editor at the Quincy Herald-Whig: “Should journalist’s resume follow AP style? While it hasn’t been a deal breaker for me, I notice it. You should know audience.”

Cathy Frail, news editor at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.: “Correct grammar is more important than style. Once got resume from designer with no caps at all. too much focus on appearance.”

Ginger Carter Miller, professor of mass communication at Georgia College & State University: “I say yes! And I teach it that way for all mscm students.”

Jim Santori, publisher of the Mankato Free Press: “Recent dilemma: Friend sought PR job w/JSchool wondered — use academia or AP style in resume, cover letter?”

My view is that it can’t hurt to use AP style when applying for a job at a place where you will have to use it. But you shouldn’t have to worry about job recruiters marking up resumes and cover letters with red pens. Editing tests (usually given as part of an interview) will see what you really know.

The question about academic jobs is more difficult. Faculty members in journalism schools use a mix of styles, including Chicago and Bluebook, in their academic writing.

In an academic situation, any style is fine in a job application as long there’s a sense of consistency to the materials. Just don’t misspell the name of the school or the dean.

The new stylebook’s here! The new stylebook’s here!

ap-stylebookMy favorite scene in “The Jerk” is when Steve Martin exclaims, “The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!”

That’s how I feel when a new edition of the AP Stylebook is released. That time is now.

I prefer the stylebook in print, but if you like your style on screen, subscribe to the online edition. You can also follow the stylebook on Twitter.

Cover letters need editing

A recent Q&A on cover letters stayed near the top of the “most popular” list at the New York Times site for nearly a week. It’s certainly a timely article, with many people (including journalists) on the job market. And yes, those letters still matter in the age of the e-mailed résumé.

The last question in the Q&A is an important one. It’s about common mistakes in cover letters. Here’s part of the answer:

A cover letter with typos, misspellings and poor sentence structure may take you out of the running for a job. If you cannot afford to pay someone to review your cover letter and résumé, enlist a friend or a family member with good language skills to do it instead.

It’s true. Those things can take you out of the running for a job. I’ve seen that happen in newsrooms and in academia. If you are on the job market or want to go to graduate school, make sure those letters are clear and clean.

Let’s be fair

Is it fair to poke some fun at a sign at a state fair? Perhaps not, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this one because it has a misspelled word (“avaliable”) that could be a new legal term as well as “unnecessary” quotation marks. (For more of the latter, try here.)

This one doesn’t have an error, but its blunt wording made me chuckle as I walked into this building to look at the swine, mules and goats.

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