The value of slowing down

I was recently explaining triage editing to my students, telling them that when there’s a rush to publish, you have to concentrate on the big things first and not get bogged down in the things of lesser consequence.

So my hierarchy of triage editing is accuracy and clarity first, headlines (plus labels, decks … whatever your system calls them) second, grammar and punctuation third (when grammar and punctuation don’t affect clarity) and style last. Whether you capitalize a title has the least lasting impact.

Of course, triage editing depends on taking a quick read to make an assessment and then doing what you can in the time you have.

But sometimes, for some stories, it’s a good idea to just say “STOP!  Slow down. This story can’t be handled quickly. It’s better to get it right than be first.” reported Tuesday that because of two recent incidents, would be putting more emphasis on vetting stories and reassigning some editorial staffers to work on copy editing.

I particularly found this quote by Corey Gottlieb,’s general manager, interesting:

“We’ve made a pretty strong point about the fact that it’s OK to slow down. That we’d much rather not be first but get something right and be really thoughtful about it than rush to publish and bypass the discretion that should be required of any good content producer like ours.” —

In a perfect world, we’d have all the time we needed to edit every story, and plenty of people behind us to take a look at it as well. And, unfortunately, sometimes errors would still find their way into copy.

It’s even more unfortunate that the rush to publish these days means many stories are posted without any editing. Because no matter how conscientious writers are, they are apt not to see their own errors — and worse, their own biases and misunderstandings.

No matter how much you want to beat the competition, or how few people are manning your copy desk, it’s important sometimes to take your time. Two specific instances would be when, as a copy editor, you think a story needs a fact check and when you think it focuses on sensitive issues that need more discussion. (That’s one of the things we’ll be talking about during the ACES national conference, March 26-28 in Pittsburgh, which has the theme “Getting It Right.”)

As a copy editor, you need to develop your “slow down” radar and you need to speak up about the value of slowing down to the editors above you. Don’t be timid about telling the bosses that something needs more editing time and another look.

That’s a different side of a copy editor’s “do no harm” mantra.

Make sure your bosses know that many more people will remember who got it wrong than who got it first.

Fact checking is for all publications

Developing and using fact checking skills is a good idea for copy editors of all sorts — not just copy editors working on hard news.

If accuracy and clarity are at the top of the editing triage list, then fact checking is a skill you need for treating the patient.

I recently did an interview with Howard Rauch of the American Society of Business Publication Editors about the importance of skeptical editing and fact checking training. The story, “Time for in-house fact-checking course definitely has arrived, says ACES’ Berendzen,” notes that in the digital age, the need for fact checking is heightened because information — and misinformation — spreads so much more quickly and it is difficult to get corrections to all of the far-reaching tentacles of that article.

The ASBPE serves the business, trade and specialty press, particularly B-2-B editors. The organization’s Ethics News Update newsletter for January 2015 is all about fact checking. One good article is an interview with Jane Elizabeth of the American Press Institute’s fact checking initiative about steps to set up a fact checking process.

In his column, Howard Rauch wrote: “The ‘elephant in the room’ is that little formal fact-checking is done any more beyond reporters going over their copy, and the editor doing a better job of questioning things that don’t make sense. Finances don’t allow ‘real’ fact-checking.”

That doesn’t have to be true. And it’s good to see organizations and publications beyond those that cover the presidential race put a priority on fact checking.


Getting at the source of things

My American Copy Editors Society colleague Mark Allen offered everyone a New Year’s resolution Jan. 2 on the blog: Don’t get fooled again.

Mark offers this advice to reporters: “If you don’t know the source, don’t run the story.”

I want to expand that advice for copy editors: If you can’t determine the source, then you need to exercise your editing skills. Get in touch with the reporter and explain why there’s a problem. Then either edit or cut the passage. Or do some fact checking and linking until what’s written is sourced and responsible.

As copy editors, you have a responsibility to make sure a hoax, rumor or humor masquerading as news doesn’t find its way into a story.

Educate yourself in finding the red flags in copy when it comes to sourcing. And learn how to track information down digitally to the source. And then insist that what clears your desk isn’t an offender.

I’ll end with a shameless plug. At the ACES national conference March 26-28 in Pittsburgh, we’re scheduling a track on fact checking. I’ll be doing a session on finding the red flags in copy. And if you can’t make it, I’ll be posting my slide show after the conference.