Editing your own work


Being your own copy editor isn’t really a great idea, but it’s become a necessity for many journalists.

It’s always been a good idea to be your first editor, but a fresh pair of eyes on your copy is a good thing. So, if you have to edit your own writing, how do you assure your eyes are fresh?

I presented some tips and tricks for this July 26 at the Ag Media Summit in St. Louis. Here’s the presentation (click to download).

I gave this presentation on behalf of the American Copy Editors Society, and want to thank the board members for some of the slides.

Weather or not (context drives clarity)

It’s hot today. Hot enough that Nixel  — which defines itself as a communication platform that connects public safety, municipalities, school, businesses and residents — sent a text out warning about the heat.

Nixel suggested I stay hydrated. (If you know anything about Nixel, usually its texts advise avoiding I-70 — or some such road — for the next 30 minutes because of a traffic accident.)

The text made me think about the word “hydrated,” which is a perfectly good word, especially for short space, but which seems less than conversational. How many times did you mom yell to you before you headed out to the park, “it’s hot outside, stay hydrated”?

Yet, I couldn’t find any one-word synonyms for “hydrated” on any of my favorite dictionary websites. “Drink plenty of water” isn’t exactly thesaurus material.

Mom would probably really yell this: “It’s hot out, take a water bottle.” That implies a lot but doesn’t really say “stay hydrated.”

Meanwhile, think of the word “hot.” It has plenty of synonyms. Sixty-one on http://www.wordnik.com. But the problem there is that “hot” also has plenty of definitions. (On wordnik.com, 37; on Merriam-Webster online, 24.) And they’re not all weather words. For instance, two are “sexy” and “currently liked or wanted by many people.”

So as a copy editor, you have to think about context and well as definition when choosing a word. If I asked three people to explain the two-word sentence “he’s hot,” without context, I might get three explanations. (He has a high temperature; he’s extremely attractive; he’s angry.)

In a story, the context is probably clear. But that’s not always the case in headlines, tweets and other short bits of text. That’s why it’s important that headlines words that are both strong and unambiguous. (Search the web for ambiguous headlines and you’ll surely see this one: “Prostitutes appeal to pope.” Need I say more.)

Back to Nixel and the heat advisory text. I couldn’t find a better, succinct way to say “drink plenty of appropriate fluids,” so “stay hydrated” is fine with me. It’s clear and concise, even if it isn’t conversational.



Active duty for the undead

Sometimes I think journalists have an obsession with zombies.* (Or is it that the world at large has one right now?)

If you have a zombie thing, why not put it to good use as an editing agent. The zombie rule can help you determine if the sentence you are writing is passive.

I first heard about the zombie rule from American Copy Editors Society colleague Andy Bechtel, who said he wasn’t the originator. How does it work? If you can add “by zombies” to the end of a sentence and the sentence makes logical sense, then the sentence is passive.

“The parking ticket bill was passed (by zombies).” Get it? It’s a passive sentence. Whereas “The City Council passed the parking ticket bill (by zombies)” doesn’t make sense. So active sentence.

One of ACES grammar stalwarts, Lisa McLendon of the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas, just did a fun video about active and passive voice and the zombie rule. She demonstrates it better than I could. So watch it! (Yes, I used an exclamation point.)

* In addition to Lisa’s video, another ACES colleague, Fred Vultee, also mentioned zombies in his blog this week.

Cutting editing, cutting quality

I shared this Poynter article without comment on Twitter while I was on the go this morning, but I want to share it again with a few comments.

American Copy Editors Society president Teresa Schmedding says “The news industry can’t cut its way to quality” and she also notes she’s leaving daily journalism to become managing editor at Rotary International.

The upshot is without quality control, you can’t have quality journalism.

So, here are a few thoughts:

1. Journalism is losing a good person and a good editor. Unfortunately, journalism has lost far too many of them recently.

2. However, there are lots of ways to get and share information, and they need good editors, too. And as Teresa Schmedding said, right now many of those places put a higher value on the quality a good copy editor can bring.

3. On Saturday, I was one of many people who responded to a series of tweets from Tanzina Vega of CNN, who was reacting to a Business Insider article about newsroom cuts and the rush to publish and to “need” post a lot.

It’s time for a renewed push for quality control, and in organizations that publish words — and this includes all news organizations these days — quality control must include copy editing.

It’s great to see the growth of copy editing jobs in non-news settings. But to maintain trust, news organization shouldn’t be cutting their quality control.

Editing bookshelves and bookmarks

Just a note. If you want to build up your editing reference library, especially your home library, you might want to take a look at a Storify I did from a February ACES Twitter chat.

With more and more copy editors doing some sort of freelance work, building a good home reference library is important. But it doesn’t always take wads of money. Many of these references can be kept in bookmarks instead of book shelves.

Still, I’d recommend paying for a subscription or hard back to the stylebook you use most often.

Read the full chat at https://www.dropbox.com/s/vjxemuwhetxv97e/aceschat-building-a-reference-library.pdf?dl=0

A good editing topic for April Fool’s Day

As I awoke to tweets about April Fool’s Day on Friday, I realized I was doing the perfect April Fool’s Day thing that afternoon — talking to a group of copy editors at the American Copy Editors Society conference about how to verify information on social media and how not to get fooled by fakes.

A friend had posted a link to the Doobie Brothers song “What a Fool Believes,” but I immediately thought of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” So I made up a 34-second iMovie for the start of my session that featured the great opening riffs of that song behind a series of famous and not-so-famous fake social media posts and news.

Then I decided to share it a bit wider (even though I took the sound away so as not to run afoul of copyright laws. So you have to hum the beginning of the song.)

Here’s the rundown: The Tebow and Trump tweets are fake celebrity accounts that many have believed. Don’t be fooled by fake accounts.

The storm tweets feature photos not really from those storms — one is a real photo taken much earlier, the other is clip from a film that is put out as an actual event.

The tweet from me isn’t really me — I faked it on a tweet simulator. Wrong spelling of my Twitter name and I’m a big supporter of semicolons.

My favorite is the Anderson Cooper post about Clickhole. He was fooled. Clickhole is a fake news site.

So when working with news an social media. Don’t get fooled. You can check out my full presentation, with tips and tools, here. Of course, you’ll miss my witty banter.Slide01




Getting ready for ACES

Exploring Portland

The day before the opening of ACES2016 was about food and style.

  1. Making my lunch choice.
  2. Getting the conference bags ready.
  3. A new do, Portland style.
  4. Scoring some early swag.
  5. Finishing the day with some shwarma.
  6. A plate of Shawarma at Karam Lebanese and Syrian Cuisine in Portland. #ACES2016 https://t.co/BzCAZPftS6

    A plate of Shawarma at Karam Lebanese and Syrian Cuisine in Portland. #ACES2016 pic.twitter.com/BzCAZPftS6