Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Basic Instinct (Minus Sharon Stone)

The most important bits of copy editing – journalism, really – can’t be reduced to an instruction manual. Or a pithy blog essay.

Case in point: Instinct. Why do I feel the need to check out a certain name or date used in a story? Why do I hunt down a piece of information that seems trivial?

I feel it. I feel as though the information should be checked. How? I feel it.

Deadline pressures mean I can’t check everything. In a fantasy newsroom, I could spend hours fine-tuning every story. In a real newsroom, I might have a half-hour or less.


Thus, I scan through the story and pick up on the issues that seem weird. That’s what I check. Different aspects seem weird to different people. That’s why more than one person reads the story after the writer. We catch different things.

Instinct can be developed, of course. A thorough grounding in arcane trivia helps. So does keeping up on the news. A certain amount comes from reading the story closely. (How many wire stories find their way into the paper with a cursory skim? Too many.)

It boils down to this: Trust yourself. You know what seems odd to you. That’s a perspective that no other editor can bring to the story. Make it count.