Week 3 – Editorial Issues

1 Feb

Does Editing Make You Go Crazy?

Editors have an unenviable position in the journalism world. My father, a former editor, still tells me of all the sleepless nights he had running over the facts from that day’s stories in his head. But stress is no excuse for a lapse in judgment.

I think the common thread between the eagle story and “Jimmy’s World” is such a lapse. Editors can sometimes feel so overwhelmed, they may latch onto a newsworthy story without realizing it, even when its veracity is in serious doubt. (Think Stockholm syndrome, but much less severe.) In the past this effect was mitigated by another editor laying eyes on the article, but that age has passed. With cuts to editors in many newsrooms, it’s becoming more important for the remaining editors to monitor themselves; it’s hard enough to check the reporters’ work without worrying about who’s checking it.

The Grammar Guide post and the class post from the Virginia Press both prove that this is a daunting task. With the meticulousness required in being a copy editor (attention to dates, addresses, and all of the math), it’s easy for an editor to lose focus on the story’s bigger issues. The Grammar Guide post’s note on quotes jumps out because this is precisely the point I saw raised multiple times in the case study – uneducated junkie mothers and their children in the slums of DC just don’t have the grasp of the English language that Cooke’s characters displayed.

This is where the class post from MaCluggage comes in. The points he raises amount to a restructuring of the current newsroom system more than a revamping, which is what makes them reasonable. When he says that editors need to distance themselves more from reporters, I am reminded of the point I made above about stressed editors, but I think the fact that we’re all co-workers comes into play, too.

During my time in Reporting, I was party to a fact error (actually several in the same story) in the Alligator. The editor at the time was one of my best friends; though I went through the story with her line-by-line, we neglected to cross-check what I had written against my notes due to a desire to get the story finished. I suspect that in one or both of the example stories this week, the editors subconsciously willed away their qualms about the facts in the face of the sheer news value.

This would be ironic, because I feel that both stories could have benefited from a little extra time at the editors’ desks. My fact errors occurred with a hard news story; while the eagle story also had a hard angle, “Jimmy’s World” has no such excuse. If the Post editors were concerned about getting the story out quickly, then as reasonable human beings they should’ve at least been somewhat concerned about Jimmy’s safety, as I discussed in my case study.

MaCluggage’s overall point is rather simple: editors need to be more skeptical, in all situations. This echoes the Molenhoff article from the case study. MaCluggage’s point is more focused, though – editors are essential to the newsroom not just as a check against bad style, but also as a deterrent to bad journalism. If Cooke’s editors had prosecuted “Jimmy’s World” as MaCluggage suggests, there’s no way the story would’ve run.


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