What students can teach us about editing

I spent a few days in Boston this week at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. I participated in these sessions, met with the good people from NewsU and saw some old friends.

My favorite session was a discussion on Tuesday afternoon about the future of editing instruction. I was on the panel with Rick Kenney of the University of Central Florida and Jill Van Wyke of Drake University. Two students who are Dow Jones editing internships at the Cape Cod Times were also on the panel, and their candid comments were the highlight of the day.

Susan Keith of Rutgers served as the moderator, and she posed this question to the students: What would you remove from the editing courses you took?

One of the students described spending a great deal of time hearing about the role of journalism in the Watergate scandal, a topic that came up in several courses. “After a while, we get it,” she said. The other student said that her editing professor still taught students how to hand-count headlines with pencil and paper. Both wished that they had gotten more experience with online editing and multimedia journalism.

Perhaps there is still some value to knowing that an uppercase W uses more space in a headline than a lowercase i. And yes, journalism students should know about Watergate, just as every American should.

But the students were right: Those who teach editing need to rethink how they use their time in the classroom. How do we best prepare students for not just the future, but for the present?

We professors on the panel offered some ideas about how that can be done, and you can see some of our suggestions in this .pdf handout. Tim Lynch, a former Los Angeles Times copy editor, has some ideas too.

We don’t have all the answers, but it’s obvious from the students on this panel that editing instructors must constantly revise what they teach. That’s something every faculty member on the panel and in that room learned on Tuesday.


One Comment

  1. I teach headline counting with a unitary count so we don’t get hung up on the half counts.

    I teach it for a reason — it develops an innate sense of length – valuable, as you have noted, with doing SMS/Twitter. Besides, even when using a computer, I can often walk up behind a struggling student and suggest a headline that is about square, even though I don’t exactly know the count. (I can also then vary it for online to stress SEO.) Since print is still part of the mix, this is still a useful skill to have. I just don’t give it quite the emphasis we once did. I now put a lot more on fact, completeness, context, etc.

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