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You Don't Say

Everyone their own editor

The Baltimore Sun

Many of you have seen that the Gannett newspapers are in the throes of a reorganization, cutting the staffs,* and creating ludicrous titles for the remnant. 

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. (Remember how Al Neuharth used to say, "Gannett, the accent is on the net"? Hilarious.)

What this means for you reporters, and from this point I will be speaking to reporters, is that you are on your own. You will have to be your own editor. And though I will not be there to protect you, I can offer you some advice on protecting yourself. 

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. 



*Surely it is a mere coincidence rather than age discrimination that many of the people being let go are older and higher-paid, because age discrimination is illegal. 

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