Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My best tips for copy-editing clips

Prompted by an inquiry from Dr. Sumpter (thank you!), here are my top suggestions for putting together a great copy-editing application:


The best applications I've seen include a before-and-after of several stories. The “before” is a printout of the electronic version of the story showing all your copy-editing marks and your questions for the reporter. The “after” is the clip as it appeared in the paper, hopefully with your own headlines and such.

We can tell a lot from documents such as this -- things we can't tell from the printed story. For example:

* Did the copy editor flag any serious issues involving logic errors, math, libel?
* Are the changes made correct and clean?
* Does the copy editor catch bad writing and tighten redundancies? Or does the copy editor rewrite things unnecessarily?
* Does the copy editor assume what the reporter meant to say and change it, or instead mark it with a question and get more info?
* Which facts did the copy editor check or question?
* Does the copy editor have AP style down cold or is he or she just guessing at it?

Save as you go

“Before” versions of files vanish, so you absolutely must save them as you go. Once that electronic version of the file with your editing marks is gone, it’s gone -- reporters can pull their clips from archives; you can’t.
So get in the habit of hitting “Print” every time you think, “Hey, that was a good job.” Stick the printout in a drawer with a copy of the newspaper. You can do all the clipping and pasting later. For now, just bank it and move on.


Your best headlines may not be atop your best copy-editing samples. So send along a mix of your best heads, too. (Include what date and page they ran.) Again: Save as you go. Even with electronic archives, believe me, it can be hard to go back and find your best headlines. Every time somebody says “Good headline!,” stick a copy of that newspaper in a drawer.

In response to one specific question: If you wrote most of the headlines on a page, but not all of them, how do you gracefully point out the two you didn’t write? I suggest that instead of pointing out "Somebody else wrote these two heds," flip the statement around to the positive way, and say "I wrote the top three headlines plus the caption on the wild art, as well as laying out the page."


If applying for a job that involves both design and copy-editing, I'd choose my best copy-editing clips and my best design clips for separate reasons, unless they both happened to convene on the same pages.

More on design applications later, but one parting thought: If your current job involves more deadline speed than big fancy planned centerpieces, remember that's a skill bosses want too. There's always a way to showcase your strengths, whether you're designing fancy graphics or putting out a whole section by yourself and writing the headlines too!