Preparing students for their summer jobs as multi-platform editors
By Bradley Wilson
CMR Managing Editor
Twenty-one years ago, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas, Griff Singer, recognized a need, a need to train copy editors. Together with Rich Holden, then executive director of the Dow Jones News Fund, they created the Center for Editing Excellence to train interns. They all received two weeks of training before they set foot at media outlets such as Newsday, the Houston Chronicle, the Beaumont Enterprise, Stars and Stripes, the Dallas Morning News or, as the profession has evolved, worked in copy editing centers such as Gatehouse’s Center for News & Design, or for online media such as Buzzfeed.
Over time, they’ve continued to focus on the different levels of editing:
- LEVEL 1 — law, ethics, appropriate sources, different angles; edit upon conceptualization
- LEVEL 2 — organization, design, enough reporting; edit with drafts and rewriting
- LEVEL 3 — grammar, spelling, punctuation, style; edit at the last minute
In the last few years, the students have added to their skills in headline writing, trimming news briefs and designing pages and learn more about embedding video and best practices for Twitter. While now the training is only 10 days, it is just as grueling. Students, mostly college juniors and seniors, spend their last three days producing a six-page newspaper, a website and social media in real time with real publication deadlines — the Southwest Journalist.
The training center at the UT-Austin is one of six centers, two focusing on editing and preparing interns for their summer jobs as multi-platform editors. The other four, now led by Linda Shockey, managing director of the Dow Jones News Fund, focus on business reporting, data journalism or digital media.
Before they left each of the interns in Austin offered some advice for other copy editors. Here is their advice.
- Noah Broder, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Central Connecticut Communications — Copy edit everything. Articles, tweets, menus, everything. It may make you seem annoying when you are correcting everyone’s writing, but once you do it as your work, a skilled and well-trained eye will be appreciated.
- Emily Burleson, University of Houston, Houston Chronicle — Never get too comfortable with AP or in-house style. When I get too confident, I miss so many style issues. Question every new word you read in a story.
- Isabelle D’Antonio, University of Central Florida, Los Angeles Times — Push yourself. Don’t give up. And remember: everything you do counts.
- Yelena Dzhanova, Baruch College, BuzzFeed — Do not be afraid to fail. Journalism is difficult. It’s difficult because journalism is constantly in flux. All journalists today have had to find a way to adapt all they know and are in the process of learning about journalism to fit the rise of fake news and general public distrust of the media. Journalists today have to be more adept and skilled and have a lot more at stake when they put themselves out there. Make mistakes. Learn from them.
- Laurel Foster, University of Oregon, Omaha World-Herald — There are countless things to learn about copy editing and AP style. No one will expect you to know it all.
- Anna Glavash, University of Oregon, Newsday — Have a system for checking both micro and macro edits. Know how to switch from one to the other. And, as you edit, take notes. I like to pull out words and phrases to use in headlines as I read. I also like to jot down big-picture questions I have as a reader. Sharing these with the writer helps them to see holes and to make connections.
- Caroline Hurley, Columbia University, Stars & Stripes — If there is one overall theme that I learned this week, it is what a vibrant field journalism is, and how important copy editors are. Push yourself to learn multi-platform skills. Be confident in your years of accumulated knowledge, but not so confident that you don’t fact check when needed.
- Emily McPherson, University of Oklahoma, Tampa Bay Times — Don’t be afraid to branch out. Try your hand at reporting, at social media, at photography, at design. The more skills you build, the more doors you open.
- George Roberson, University of Missouri, The Augusta Chronicle — Always think of the reader. If you don’t understand a story about a state law or some economic turmoil, neither will the readers. If you wouldn’t click on a story without a photo, I guarantee you that the readers won’t. Understand what they know and understand where they are.
- Brendan Wynne, Midwestern State University, GateHouse Media — The skills learned as a copy editor can be applied to any career. You’d be surprised at how valuable those skills can make you
- Sorayah Zahir, University of Texas, Arlington, Beaumont Enterprise — Trust your gut and speak up. You know more than you think. You’re incredibly valuable to the newsroom. Use your power.
Oh, but don’t let them kid you. It wasn’t all work. Along the way, the students got to walk 15 blocks in the Texas heat/humidity to visit with the staff of the Texas Tribune, got to visit Community Impact Newspapers, a thriving newspaper operation in Pflugerville, ate Texas BBQ at County Line and Amy’s Ice Cream.