Student guest post: Three ways news editing is like tap dancing

tapdance

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Janna Childers is a senior studying reporting and global studies with a creative writing minor. She is also an events and exhibitions intern with UNC Global.

My dance teacher didn’t really like tap. And neither did I.

But from the time I was 5 years old until I graduated from high school, she kept giving us tap lessons every week. She told us it was good for our brains, that it would improve our agility and our athleticism. She made us take tap lessons even if we didn’t want to be professional tap dancers.

As a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill who still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she graduates, I find my dance teacher’s philosophy applicable to my current situation. While I may not want to be a professional journalist or news editor, that doesn’t mean that the skills I’ve learned at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism are not valuable.

In fact, I would argue the opposite. The skills I have learned are extremely beneficial, are good for my brain and will make me a better communicator and professional in whatever profession I choose to pursue.

Here are three similarities I find between news editing and tap dancing.

1. It’s all in the details.

Tap shoes have two metal plates on the soles of the shoe: one at the ball of the foot and one at the heel. In order to make sounds, tap dancers do small movements to tap either the ball of the foot of the heel of the foot on the ground. The movements are intricate and fast. And whether you are trying to stay in unison with a whole group of tappers or keep up the rhythm during your solo, it takes meticulous attention to every tiny detail for the taps to sound good.

Similarly, in news editing, details are extremely important. It’s the editor’s job to help shape the story so that the what the writer wants to communicate clearly shows through. Both the big picture of the story structure and the little commas have to be scrutinized and accounted for.

2. It’s exercise.

Tap dancing is quick and intricate. It gets your heart rate up, and it requires agility and balance. Not only that, but memorizing the long patterns of small movements improves your memory and is good for your brain.

I look at news editing the same way. Looking carefully at a mound of words in front of you and deciphering which hyphen has to go is a hard mental task, one that I don’t practice often as a student. Being able to pick apart a sentence, a paragraph, even a whole story and put it back together again with clarity, accuracy and of course, AP style, is a skill that works my brain in a way that sitting in lectures and writing essays does not. Add in deadline pressure with a 1,000-word story in front of you, and I’m pretty sure your heart rate would significantly increase as well.

3. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

I haven’t taken a tap lesson in four years, but I still find myself doing shuffles under the table after I’ve had my morning coffee. I flap when I’m waiting in line. I even remember a step from our tap dance from my senior year: flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank heel toe heel stomp. I do that one when I’m wearing my black boots that make a wonderful noise on the kitchen floor. Somehow or another, tap dancing has stuck with me all of these years.

News editing works in a similar way. I can’t go to a restaurant now without searching for a style inconsistency. When I watch commercials, I always comment on whether I thought their copy was clear and effective. And I get a lot of joy when I find a spelling error in a New York Times online article. A lot of joy.

Overall, I’ve loved getting to learn about news editing and putting those skills to practice. It’s something I enjoy and know is making me not only a better editor, but also a better writer and a better communicator. And although I may not want to be a professional tap dancer or a professional news editor, I do believe news editing skills will serve me well in my future whatever I choose to do.

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