Case Study 3: Protocols

8 Feb

The onus of making judgment calls imperative to the integrity of a news story most often falls on the shoulders of the copy editor. Although this is stressful for those behind the copy desk, a publication’s protocol can help guide them through the murky river of uncertainty. These can also be especially useful for reporter-editors who do not spend the majority of their daily jobs making editing decisions.

The Charlotte, N.C., Observer and The Oklahoman have very specific guidelines for its editors to follow, such as outlining the specific role of a copy editor (and drawing a firm line in the sand between editor and proofreader), when to consult reporters and how to handle feedback. Although editing for grammar, spelling and other basics doesn’t usually require consulting with the writer, heavy edits like moving paragraphs and attributions around and trimming sentences could severely change the reporter’s original intent. A student from Ohio University compiled other protocols as well to add to a well-rounded idea of what newspapers generally look for in terms of editing guidelines.

Copy editing protocols are implemented to streamline the copy-editing process and make life easier for editors on copy and assigning desks alike.  – John Russial, associate professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, according to “Copy editing protocols” by Nick Juliano

Even some of the most seemingly innocuous changes could result in an unwanted fact error that was actually added in the editing process. For example, the common he/she gender typo can often lead to unwitting mistakes. For reference to the linked example, the error is small but monumentally changed the identity of the reporter’s first source — the reporter turned in the story with Leslie attributed as a woman and the edited version portrayed Leslie as a man. Did the reporter mistype “he” for “she,” or was Leslie actually a woman who happened to have a girlfriend? Making the assumption that Leslie Manning was a man without consulting the reporter led to a completely avoidable mistake that was likely offensive to the source.

The McCormick Foundation Civics Program released the Protocol for Free & Responsible Student News Media to guide students through difficult editing decisions. The best way to polish editing skills before getting acclimated to a particular publication’s protocol is to use this tool and your own best judgment to hone your skills. While protocol guidelines are imperative to being a reliable editor for your publication, it is just as important to have solid, responsible judgment on your own. Especially in the case of freelance writers, being able to make educated editorial decisions based on a standard can help in a sticky situation.

Because the role of a copy editor extends well beyond being finicky about grammar, protocols are imperative to ensuring a standard for good practice and open communication between editors and reporters.

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One Response to “Case Study 3: Protocols”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Excellent re Rubric. Good aggregation and it has voice.
    Needs a more SEO friendly headline

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