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.”

Poynter.org reported Tuesday that because of two recent incidents, Boston.com 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, Boston.com’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.” — http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/314791/in-response-to-missteps-boston-com-tweaks-its-editing-approach/

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.

One thought on “The value of slowing down

  1. Thanks for the post. For what it’s worth, when I was a slot I sometimes practiced another kind of triage: I could sometimes buy additional time for a potentially troublesome story by going through the more feature-type stories first and a lot more quickly, checking each one for the basics, checking the headline, and sending it out. Of course, even then I still had to keep an eye out for potential traps that can sometimes hide in seemingly innocent stories. One rule of thumb: Never let a story about food pantries go into type without first doing a “find” search for “panty” and “panties.” (Yes, on one occasion, I did find a stray panty….)

    Like

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