Student guest post: Lessons from both sides of the editor’s desk

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 13th (and last) of those posts. Mimi Tomei is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a concentration  in reporting. She is a contributor for CollegeTown and works with the Yackety Yack, the UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook, as 2018 assistant photography editor and 2019 co-associate editor-in-chief.

This semester, I’ve had the unusual but rewarding privilege of simultaneously occupying both sides of the editor-writer relationship in my work in both John Robinson’s feature writing class and Andy Bechtel’s Advanced Editing course. In Advanced Editing, we edit some of the stories feature writing creates as classwork.

When I was finalizing my schedule at the beginning of the semester, I sent an email to both Professor Robinson and Professor Bechtel explaining that I had enrolled in both their courses explaining my situation. I thought it would be weird editing the work of my classmates.

But as the semester draws to a close, I’ve come to realize that my knowledge of the process of reporting and writing a feature helps me in my editing process immensely. It has its logistical advantages, because I have the opportunity to communicate with the writers I edit in person twice a week in class. In Professor Robinson’s course, I learn what makes a good feature story, which helps me look for these elements in the pieces I edit.

On the flip side, learning to edit has made me a better writer, too. Before I submit my feature stories to Professor Robinson, I devote time to running through my stories, checking AP style and catching as many small errors as I can. I want to let my editor focus on bigger picture things. Roy Peter Clark’s “55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” formed part of our lectures in feature writing. Tools like #37, “In short works, don’t waste a syllable,” can be just as applicable to editing as they are to writing.

Sometimes our roles as editors and writers aren’t as clear-cut as in these two courses. When we as editors curate content on a Wakelet page, create a photo slideshow or even produce layouts for the Durham VOICE, we consider things like story structure and paragraph and sentence length that are crucial to putting together an effective feature.

And the value of this experience isn’t just limited to news professionals. As part of our midterm in Advanced Editing, we read Carol Saller’s “The Subversive Copy Editor.” On her website, the first line of her biography is “As both a creative writer and long-time editor on the staff of The Chicago Manual of Style, I’ve seen it all from both sides of the publishing desk” – note the italics this Chicago style aficionado uses. Saller is an editor for the Chicago Manual of Style, a style more familiar to book authors than news writers.

Of course, there are things as editors that we won’t ever be able to learn from writers. The writers who create the Durham VOICE have a deeper understanding of the community they cover, Northeast Central Durham, than I’ll ever have sitting in a classroom in Chapel Hill. And with features, as with pretty much anything else I or my classmates will edit, we won’t have been there for interviews. This means we don’t have the memory of the interview to help guide us as we help punctuate quotes, for example.

Learning to understand what the other cogs in the metaphorical wheel of news media do is especially important as the media industry continues to require us journalists to have increasingly multifaceted skill sets. Perhaps as we do this, we can learn to harness this expectation and allow these skills to complement, not confront, each other.

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Student guest post: Three lessons from my publishing internship

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Jackson Smith is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior with a double major of editing and graphic design and history. He is an avid player of golf and tennis, and he enjoys hobbies in carpentry, woodworking and gardening. He has interned in news design and publishing, and he is training in SEC compliance standards in preparation for graduation.

In the spring of 2018, I started an entry-level unpaid internship as an assistant copy editor at a small publishing company. Through this internship I was able to gain many valuable experiences in editing that I have condensed here into three basic principles.

1. Don’t be set on that college stylebook

As a student in the School of Media and Journalism, I have learned a great deal about the editing processes of journalism, but the field of copy editing is vast and ever-changing. The positions are becoming less rigid in their structure, and the fields that editors work in are much more than just the newsroom today.

In publishing, as with many fields, the AP Stylebook is not always king. While at school we worked almost exclusively in AP style, at my internship I was quickly introduced to the wide range of style choices in academic media, most notably the Chicago Manual of Style.

The differences between these two stylebooks are stark. In the office, Chicago style relied heavily on the Oxford comma, and after years of being almost totally averse to using any non-necessary commas, to change in my thought process was difficult. My advice to the burgeoning editor is to be flexible on your principles of punctuation and rigid in your discipline, and the difficult change of style books can be greatly diminished.

2. You have to be a team player.

In the world of publishing, in the office or anywhere else as an editor, you will be faced with a variety of challenges when it comes to your coworkers. The process of copy editing is a long one, especially in the publishing field.

Starting at the initial look-over, the documents from the client can go through up to three edits, then composition, then proofing and indexing, then a final round of editing among various people to eliminate any mistakes, and improve the flow of the story. Among your colleagues in the office, many people can touch the proofs before and after they are formatted and converted either into an ebook or a PDF for final printing. This process is arduous, and takes many hours of reading and editing. Working with your fellow editors to know their strengths and weaknesses and being able to spot these in read-behinds is vital to all editors.

3. It is all in the details.

Editing is one of the most detail-oriented jobs in the media world. It is good to imagine yourself as an artisan of grammar.

In my experiences with copy editing at my internship, I realized that a book can have thousands of mistakes, large and small, that have to be corrected and reordered before the project is ready for publication. A young editor should be prepared to learn a great deal in a short time, and to put that knowledge to practice in the job.

Being diligent in your initial readings, light edits and read-behinds is vital, even if you have read the same five chapters of a book five times. Even when it is boring, or your eyes hurt, it should be your prerogative to look at every page like you have never read it before and are starting fresh. You cannot transpose that pesky quotation mark before punctuation mistake after printing.

Conclusion

Copy editing is a detail- and team-oriented job, with processes that require many stages of alterations. When you first start that internship or job, the best advice I can give you is to focus and not let the overwhelming materials get the best of you, and you will become a grammar artisan in no time.

Q&A with Dow Jones intern Alison Krug

Alison Krug recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship in Norfolk, Virginia. Krug is a 2017 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she did an independent study on stylebooks. In this interview, conducted by email, Krug discusses her internship and offers advice on how to get one.

Q. Describe your internship. What was your typical workday like?

A. I just finished up a summer as the Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at The Virginian-Pilot. DJNF is a program that provides interns with a weeklong training bootcamp to brush up on grammar, style, headline writing and page design — all to help you prepare for your summer on a copy desk.

At The Pilot, I worked Tuesdays through Saturdays, typically from 4 p.m. to 12:15(ish) a.m. As an intern, I worked as a rim editor, editing stories and writing headlines and cutlines before sending them to the slot editor.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. Learning the coverage area and all the local quirks was a huge challenge for me. Norfolk (where The Pilot is headquartered) is home to the largest Naval station in the world, so that meant spending a little extra time reviewing the newspaper’s military style guide.

The paper covers Hampton Roads, which includes southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Even at the end of my internship, I was still learning all the towns in the coverage area and all their quirks.

The greatest reward was probably every time I got a pun into the paper.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. If you’re going to apply for a Dow Jones News Fund internship (and you should), STUDY.

The DJNF application process consists of an online application and an editing test. The editing test includes sections on usage, current events and headline writing — and all previous tests (and their answer keys) are available online.

I took old tests, scrolled through some online grammar quizzes and had a lot of fun making a style and usage study guide for myself. (If making a style and usage study guide sounds fun for you, you might be a good fit for this internship).

What really sets DJNF apart is the training you receive at the editing bootcamp. It’s a great atmosphere and incredibly exciting to be surrounded by a group of other young copy editors passionate about grammar and AP style and all things copy. You end the week feeling very prepared to start your internship.

Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I just wrapped up the internship a week ago and am highly employable! My email is alisonkrug@gmail.com, my Twitter is @alisonkrug and my desire to talk about grammar is endless.

UPDATE: Krug has accepted a full-time position as an online editor for the Roanoke Times website.

Student guest post: How to build a better in-house style guide

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Alison Krug is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the managing editor and copy editor of Southern Neighbor magazine and the newsroom director and former copy chief at The Daily Tar Heel.

Last fall, I embarked on an independent study focusing on the construction of style guides. For my final project, I spent the semester rebuilding the in-house style guides for The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor magazine.

The DTH is an independent, student-run paper at UNC-Chapel Hill that publishes in print four days a week and online every day. Southern Neighbor is an independent, student-run monthly magazine that focuses on business, arts and education around Orange County, North Carolina. Both operate under DTH Media Corp.

Both publications had existing guides that were in disarray, so I conducted interviews with copy editors at publications including The Technician (N.C. State University’s student paper), BuzzFeed and the Washington Post to get an idea of what makes an effective style guide.

By the end of the semester, I had two fresh in-house style guides.

Here’s what I learned are the steps you need to take when constructing an in-house style guide:

1. Read the (news)room.

Before I touched a single style entry, I conducted a few informal interviews with DTH editors and staffers to find out what difficulties they had with the stylebook. Based on these interviews and my experience as copy chief, I could assess which aspects of the stylebook were the most urgent and crucial to fix.

I discovered that the DTH staff wanted a new way to host the stylebook (the Google Doc it lived on was a mess) that was easy to share with staffers and didn’t involve logging in to anything.

It sounds simple, but after logging 80 pages of style entries for the DTH guide, I wouldn’t want to distribute it to the newsroom only to then find out I had to make some huge structural or content change to suit the staff’s needs.

2. Find an in-house balance.

The old DTH and Southern Neighbor style guides were gummed up with sections reiterating AP style rules over and over again. Both Southern Neighbor and the DTH use AP style and then use in-house guides to make additions to or overwrite the AP.

I realized about halfway through my construction of the new guides that I was not being consistent in my decisions to scrap or keep an AP style entry. I decided that because each DTH desk has an AP stylebook account, I wouldn’t copy AP entries unless they were a style point the newsroom often struggled with.

3. Find your structure.

The best advice I have for figuring out formatting is to cherry-pick from existing guides.

For the DTH and Southern Neighbor, I based my format heavily off of the 2008 DTH style guide. I began with a mission statement (the DTH prides itself to be a teaching paper, so the mission statement’s main purpose is to guide new copy desk staffers as they make editing choices), a quick rundown of AP basics, an A to Z of style points and then a collection of topic-specific mini style sheets (the 2008 DTH guide did something similar with mini style sheets, but I refined the format based on BuzzFeed’s meticulously organized guide).

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding on structure:

Who will be using the guide?

For the DTH, it would be a newsroom of over 200, including about 30 copy editors — many who would be brand new to journalism. This led me to make sure my AP basics section and how-to-copy-edit mission statement in the most visible spot on the first page. For Southern Neighbor, there’s often just one copy chief who is very familiar with the ins and outs of the publication, so a how-to-edit guide was not as crucial to prominently display.

What medium will the final guide be in?

Will it be printed? A Word file? I knew both guides I was creating would have an online home, so I put emphasis on making sure subheads for sections and individual entries could be found through a cmd+f search for keywords.

Where can I look for inspiration?

I found the guides of news organizations that shared the same news values or had the same copy desk difficulties to be the most helpful. If you’re writing an in-house guide for a college publication, get in contact with another college copy editor. You’ll probably find you’re facing similar problems, and it’s fun to talk to someone who works the same horrific hours as you.

4. Get input.

My preferred method of getting feedback was emailing iterations of the guides out to editors and begging for their input. A Google Form or JotForm might work better for you.

5. Be ready to be flexible.

All of my points listed above could be distilled to one takeaway: Do the groundwork beforehand so you don’t have to make major changes once you’re 50 pages into your guide.

But it’s a copy desk: Things happen. It’s good to have a plan to anticipate changes to the guide.

The N.C. State University student newspaper meets once a year to discuss style changes. A style summit like this might work for college papers and smaller newsrooms (like the DTH), while a larger operation or a publication where contributors don’t come in to an office (like Southern Neighbor) might benefit from a Google form or some other online submission form paired with a regular email on style updates from the copy desk.

Studying style

stylebooks

Some of the stylebooks in the collection at the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In addition to my usual courses this semester, I am working with a student on an independent study about stylebooks.

Alison Krug, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, has two objectives in mind:

  • analyzing how stylebooks come together
  • looking at how to better communicate style guidelines to journalists

By the end of the semester, Alison will revise the stylebooks for The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor. Along the way, she will interview editors at other news organizations about their stylebooks. She will also use the collection of stylebooks at the Park Library to learn about their history and evolution.

I’m looking forward to working with Alison on this project. You can follow her progress throughout the semester on her blog dedicated to the project.

Stay stylish!

Old style from New York

nytstylebook1962

On a recent trip to New York City, I visited The Strand bookstore. The store is a treasure trove of new, used and rare books.

One of my finds was a New York Times stylebook published in 1962. The author is Lewis Jordan; he was the first editor at the Times to compile various style guidelines into one volume. He wrote in the foreword:

If style rules do more than call attention to the need for precision in writing, they must inevitably improve it and thus open the way to clear communication. A piece of writing that is properly spelled and properly punctuated is off to a good start.

This stylebook undoubtedly helped editors at the time. But how does it look 54 years later? Here are some its musty recommendations:

  • It mentions companies (Mohawk Airlines, the DuMont television network and Gimbles department store, among others) that no longer exist.
  • It mentions technology that’s obsolete: Have you used an Addressograph or a Dictaphone lately?
  • It lists obscure royal titles such as Dowager Marchioness.
  • It advises that split infinitives “should generally be avoided.”
  • It discourages “boost” as a verb and condemns “hike” when used as a synonym for “raise.”
  • It suggests spellings and word choices that are peculiar now. For example, this statement would follow its guidelines: “I like catchup on my french-fried potatoes. Good-by.”

Other guidelines, however, hold up well. Entries on “gauntlet” and “proved,” for example, are similar to what you would see in stylebooks today.

I enjoyed reading this stylebook. It’s a time capsule of recommendations on spelling, abbreviations, capitalization, word choices and other matters. It’s also a good reminder that style isn’t stagnant.

Style, like language itself, evolves over generations. What made sense in 1962 may not make sense in 2016. And what we write and edit today may seem odd to readers in 2070.

 

 

Student guest post: editing Usher

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 13th of those posts. Rebecca Shoenthal is a junior majoring in editing and graphic design and minoring in creative non-fiction writing. She is a publicity intern at Algonquin Books and loves dogs, tacos and Netflix.

Last week when I was driving, flipping through the radio stations, one of my favorite throwback songs came on: “My Boo” by Usher, released in 2004. I turned up the volume, ready to jam out, when Usher’s beautiful voice came out signing, “There’s always that one person that will always have your heart.”

Add it to the list of grammar casualties.

Maybe The Associated Press style was different in 2004 (Well, of course it was; there’s a new edition every year.), but all I could think about was the “that, which (pronouns)” category in the AP Stylebook. I edited Usher in my head, changed the station and “went home proud,” as my professor Andy Bechtel would say.

“There’s always that one person WHO will always have your heart,” but I guess that person isn’t Usher for me anymore.

This is the life of an editor, or in my case, a student editor.

I correct song lyrics I hear on the radio, posters I see walking around campus and friends’ Facebook posts without thinking twice. My friends text me asking, “Can you help me?” and it’s never about relationship advice.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.39.00 AM

The other day, I was sitting with friends during lunch when the dreaded dilemma of among vs. amongst came up. “I think they’re interchangeable,” the table agreed before turning to me for a final opinion. “Among,” I corrected.

Later, of course, I double-checked my instinct against “Grammar Girl” who considers amongst “archaic and overly formal or even pretentious in American English.”

It’s not as if I advertise my status as an editing major, but once the word gets out that you’re good with grammar, it spreads quickly.

The thing is, I don’t know all of the answers. As my editing professor Denny McAuliffe once told me, “You don’t need to know the whole book, just where to look.”

But honestly, I don’t always use my AP Stylebook. In my day-to-day life outside of Carroll Hall, I don’t usually have it on me. (When will they release a pocket version like the Bible?) Usually, I refer to the previously mentioned “Grammar Girl” or, more commonly, I end up on “Grammar Girl” after a quick Google search.

Just the other night I needed to write a killer Instagram caption. I’d forgotten the rule for “each other” vs. “one another.” Which one was used for more than two people? Which one was used for indefinite numbers? (Spoiler: I chose “each other” even though I was referring to four people. The truth is sometimes you need to go with what sounds better.)

I’d hardly call myself a Comma Queen, but I do take pride in having an “Editor’s Eye.”

It does get in the way of jamming out in my car, though — like when I changed the station from Usher and the new One Direction song “History” came through the speakers. The chorus, “you and me got a whole lot of history,” made me seriously consider sticking to CDs. Do they even make those anymore?