John E. McIntyre writing for The Baltimore Sun about staff cuts to his organisation:
One goal appears to be the elimination of Gannett’s remaining copy editors, in the interest of more immediacy between writer and reader, with fewer “layers” or “tiers,” or “silos,” or whatever the current corporate speak is for settling for quick, cheap, sloppy work because readers are assumed to be ignorant or indifferent.
He leaves reporters with the following advice, which I wanted to copy here in full for future reference:
Item: You are your own fact-checker. It’s up to you to get the names and dates right.
Item: Get a grip on grammar. Mignon Fogarty has assembled the excellent “Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist.” I suggest that you give it a place on your desk or desktop and consult it until you have internalized its categories.
(The one advantage you have in working without a copy editor is that your prose will not be distorted by some mossback Associated Press Stylebook literalist, such as objecting to the singular they in the headline for this post.)
Item: Pay attention to structure and organization. Get to the point fast, without throat-clearing. Make sure that your article is clearly about one main thing, with associated subtopics linked by transitions. I’ve published my own macro-editing checklist, if you want to have a look.
Item: Try to sound like a human being. Don’t mimic your sources. Shun copspeak, educationese, and bureaucratic jargon. Your writing should sound as if you are speaking directly to the reader across your desk. Try reading your stuff aloud; if it doesn’t sound right in your ears, it probably should be rewritten.
Item: Using the spell-check function is not beneath you. It should be the last thing you do before hitting “publish.” It won’t protect you from homonyms, but it will identify your typos and flag inconsistent spellings of proper names.
Item: Be prepared to write corrections. We are all mortal and prone to error. You cannot escape it, so fess up promptly, thoroughly, and clearly.
Item: Good luck. It is still possible to do good, responsible journalism. It’s just that the obstacles before you have gotten bigger.
Also for later reference, I wanted to note down…
Pilots use checklists before they take off. Surgeons use checklists before they operate. Checklists are a good idea, and copy editors might well benefit from them.
If the opening is a summary paragraph, does it say one thing clearly and directly?
If the opening is an introduction leading to a summary paragraph, is the opening short? Does it fit the subject? Does the summary paragraph say one thing clearly and directly?
Does the rest of the article match the opening? Are there elements in the opening that are not developed in the article?
Is the structure of the article (narrative, expository, inverted pyramid, etc.) appropriate for the subject and occasion?
Does the article get to the point immediately, without throat-clearing and tedious exposition?
If you made an outline of the article, would it show a series of subtopics clearly related to the focus? Do you see transitions from one subtopic to the next?
Is background information integrated smoothly, placed where the reader will most require it?
If the article is chronological, is the reader clearly oriented in space and time at every point?
Does the article conclude merely than trailing off? Does the conclusion in some way reflect the elements of the opening so that the reader is left with a sense of completion?
How much better would it be if it were shorter?
Does the article have more than one source?
Are sources clearly identified? Is evidence of their credibility presented?
Does the reader see clearly where each statement of fact in the article derives from?
Does the article make unsupported assertions?
Is the tone (serious, light, personal, impersonal, formal, conversational, colloquial) appropriate for the subject the occasion, the publication, and the audience?
Are metaphors apt and not belabored?
Is ornamental language present to illuminate the subject or to show that the author can write up a storm?
Is the level of abstraction excessive? Are concrete examples presented?
Are unfamiliar terms clear, either explained or established in context?
Has wordiness been pruned?
Legal and Ethical Concerns
Is any person in the article accused of illegal or improper behavior? If so, are the accusations supported by privileged or otherwise protected information?
Is there any evidence of plagiarism or fabrication?
Is private information about a subject presented wantonly?