Category Archives: Shop Talk

Recommended Reading: The Editor’s Eye

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The Book: The Editor’s Eye by Stacy Ennis

The Take-Away: The Editor’s Eye is a great introduction to the craft of editing for authors who are writing a book and wondering how the editing process works. It also makes a compelling case for WHY having your book professionally edited is necessary to ensuring the tome’s success.

The Review: I have a reputation in my family for being ridiculously “meta,” so when I heard about this book – which provides an overview of editing a book – I knew I would love it. And in today’s changing publishing environment, it’s no longer a given that everyone involved implicitly accepts that editors are an integral part of the process.

The Editor’s Eye is aimed at first-time authors, but is studded with tips that can help more experienced writers find a good editorial team and can provide editors with new and powerful ways to explain what they do and how it adds value to a manuscript.

One of the biggest strengths of the book is that it is able to provide a reality check for those new to publishing. She provides advice that helps writers learn how to incorporate editing into the writing process from the very first draft – wait, scratch that, from the outline of the book – and devotes a chapter on how to find and work with an editor. Her guidelines, while not dictatorial or rigid, provide boundaries that can help would-be book authors know of they are on track … or not.

The Editor’s Eye is a great gift to a new author embarking on a project, an editor who wants to move into book editing (or explain what he/she does more clearly), or anyone interested in the process of how books come to life.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 24, 2013

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Photo courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski via SXC.

How To Write A Second Draft
Scott Berkun, author of Confessions of a Public Speaker and Myths of Innovation, provides a concise battle plan for how he was going to revise his forthcoming book, A Year Without Pants. It’s a great glimpse into one way to integrate line and structural edits with feedback from others. So much ink is given to producing first and final drafts, it was a real treat to see a post about the work that must be done in the middle.

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox | Write Articles, Not Blog Postings

I ordinarily wouldn’t post a story from 2007, but much of what’s been written by Nielsen, whom some would call the godfather of web usability, is still highly relevant.
In an era when content marketing is the hot trend, his reasoned assertion that quality rules over quantity is more true than ever:

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

He goes onto note that it’s not the fault of blogging platforms – it’s the focus on cheap, uninformed “me-too” content that degrades it to commodity status.

How Memoirists Mold The Truth

André Aciman, who teaches comparative literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, writes a dangerous and provocative essay about how memoirists create multiple versions of their past. I say “dangerous” because this piece will mess with you preconceived notions about memoir as a work of nonfiction. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about …

Writing the past is never a neutral act. Writing always asks the past to justify itself, to give its reasons… provided we can live with the reasons. What we want is a narrative, not a log; a tale, not a trial. This is why most people write memoirs using the conventions not of history, but of fiction. It’s their revenge against facts that won’t go away.

5 Tips For Transmedia Storytelling
Margaret Looney, writing on the PBS MediaShift blog, provides common sense advice for tackling a story that’s going to be deployed across multiple platforms. Each tip comes with several tantalizing examples.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for December 30, 2012

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

False Starts | Adam Westbrook

Was 2012 not quite what you were hoping, in terms of your creative output? Well, Westbrook, a sharp, talented UK-based multimedia journalist, has a little pep talk for anyone who’s ever started a project, only to see it falter. He lists more than half a dozen of his own false starts, and tells readers of his (recently) retired blog:

The point is, every one has false starts and stumbles. Everyone falters and fails, particularly on the way to doing important work. Although each of these were disappointing and painful at the time, I learned something important from each of them. Don’t be set back by your personal false starts. The people who make it in the end are the ones who pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and get busy again. As long as you learn something from them they haven’t been a waste of time.

The best in narrative, 2012: Storyboard’s top picks in audio, magazines, newspapers and online
The Nieman Storyboard blog, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, provides links to 34 pieces of narrative nonfiction in a variety of formats. The list provides access to a sumptuous feast to sate your end-of-the-year reading hunger, and it’s a great guide to writing/editing/producing excellent stories.

Five Things My Literary Agent Taught Me About Publishing Success

Tim Sanders of Net Minds publishing company discusses five valuable lessons his literary agent, Jan Miller, taught him. I like the point he makes about focusing on writing a strong book, rather than expecting promotional tricks to drive everything in terms of sales.

A book must “work”.  Promotion just gives it a chance to work – (Jan) learned this working with all of her authors over time.  Her point is that books must connect deeply with readers, so the reader tells all of his friends to buy the book. While you sleep, your book is working, promting itself via its quality. Without word-of-mouth or BIG media, books languish in obscurity. Marketing and promotion places the book into enough hands for the resulting word-of-mouth to make a big difference.  To write a book that works: Write what you know and then show us who you are.  Be generous, helpful and provocative.

Can You REALLY Make Money Blogging? [7 Things I Know About Making Money from Blogging]

Darren Rowse, creator of ProBlogger, offers his opinion on the blogging-for-money question, based upon his experience and those of the people with whom he interacts and works as the owner of a blog about blogging professionally. I found the post very matter-of-fact and grounding. Here’s a sample of what he has to say, in this case about whether there is a single formula to follow to make a living as a blogger.

From time to time, people have released products that claim to be formulas for success when it comes to making money online. They outline steps to follow to “guarantee” you’ll make money. In my experience there is no formula. Each full-time blogger I’ve met in the last ten years has forged their own path and has a unique story to tell. They have often acted on hunches and made surprising discoveries along the way.

There are certainly similarities in many of the stories but each blogger has their own personality and style, each one is reaching a different audience, and each niche tends to monetize differently. The key lesson is to be aware of what others are doing and to learn what you can from each other, but to also be willing to forge your own path as well!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for November 12, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC.

A Professional Editor Takes on Self-Editing | The Book Designer

Book editor Linda Jay Geldens provides indie novelists (and other writers pursuing options beyond traditional print book publishing) with a compelling argument for finding a way to have a professional editor supplement their own self-editing of their manuscript. She does a wonderful job of outlining why self-editing by the writer can only be partially successful:

Now, self-editing is fine. Going through your manuscript’s rough drafts several times over a period of weeks searching for errors and omissions, perhaps even reading the text aloud to catch awkward phrasing or redundancies or overcomplicated construction, is certainly not going to hurt—and possibly might even improve—your writing. But let’s face it, there’s only so much self-editing an author can do. Frankly, you as the author are too close to the subject matter to be objective, even if you take a break from the material and come back to it later.

“The Power of Storytelling,” Part 2: Jacqui Banaszynski on the future of stories and Evan Ratliff on digital entrepreneurship

A long, wonderful compilation of two presentations from the Power of Storytelling conference that occurred in Bucharest, Romania, last month. Banaszynski is one of my editing role models, and her presentation on what will happen to narrative in the future is amazing and eloquent.

Here’s just a brief sample, in which she is talking about the continuity of storytelling from the preshistoric past until the present day:

I see the connection between that history in the past and what I do now. The troubadours, the scribes, the people who carried fire from camp to camp in Indian tradition because they carried the stories along with it. I also now see that future, that need to recognize that stories are as eternal and essential as humanity itself. We too often in our anxiety confuse the means of delivery with the essence of what we deliver. Sure, how we tell our stories matters. And we must master as many ways of telling stories as there are stories to tell. But the center that will hold is the story itself. Stories will survive and be needed as long as human beings survive.

Ratliff tells conference-goers about his journey into entrepreneurship when he launched The Atavist, which publishes narrative nonfiction that is sold on Kindles and Nooks as e-books, as well as in apps on iPads. He reflects on the success of his business, which took him in some ways far from where he expected to be as a nonfiction writer:

So, lawyers, accountants, investors. That’s the way I spend most of my time now. It was very difficult for me because here I am, fancying myself a writer, and trying to make it in the world of narrative journalism, and suddenly I’m doing all these things I became a writer not to do.

I think the lesson here is one that I’m still grappling with. I think that sometimes you just have to get over yourself, and sometimes you just have to survive. And this is what we had to do to survive. We had to do things that we were not ready to do and I think that is true for a lot of journalists who want to strike out as freelancers, who want to write things that are different from what your editors want you to write, and you want to go out in the world and find new magazines and find new homes.

24 More Fabulous Tips For Writers, From Writers | Daring to Live Fully

Marelisa Fabrega shares two dozen quotes from writers that address how to write fiction, although there are plenty of tips among them that can easily apply to nonfiction writing, as well. Authors quoted include Issac Asimov, Anne Lamott, William Saroyan, and Joyce Carole Oats.

6 Tips For Getting Gigs as a Freelance Journalist | Poynter

Beth Winegarner provides practical advice and support for new freelance writer. I especially like her emphasis on how networking aids freelancers looking for work:

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with fellow freelancers has never been easier. Knowing who’s writing, and who they’re writing for, gives you a good sense of which publications are open to taking freelance work. Get to know other freelancers on social networks and, once you’ve built a rapport with them, ask them to introduce you to their editors. While cold-pitching works, your success rate will be much greater with a personal introduction.

The article also has a replay of a Poynter-sponsored web chat with Winegarner on this topic embedded with it, which is a nice plus.

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From The Archives: Can This Profession Be Saved?

Photo courtesy SXC.

Today’s post originally ran in November 2009, but is still just as relevant to the ongoing conversation about the re-invention of American journalism in 2012! Enjoy! – Liz

Can This Profession Be Saved?

I’ve finally read the synopsis of Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson’s report, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism, ” in the Columbia Journalism Review, as well as a number of reactions to it. I appreciate that CJR let the authors publish such a rich (30-page!) summary of their 100-page report.

Downie, a former executive editor for the Washington Post and currently a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, and Schudson, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, provide their take on what has led up to the current sad state of affairs at American newspapers, and to a lesser degree, at television and radio stations. They discuss the approaches of a number of new media operations (and are generous with links to the projects in question) and suggest several possible new business/nonprofit support models for the industry.

Whether you end up thinking the authors are offering sage advice to journalists, or are off in left field, you really should read the CJR synopsis or the report. It’s important that those of us working in the media have a say in what happens to our profession in the future, and the only way to do that is to be aware of where we’re at now and what people are doing NOW to adapt to the challenges and opportunities the Internet Era has brought us.

On the plus side

The report largely accepts that Web 2.0 and the other cultural factors that have disrupted American journalism are here to stay and cannot be magically “rolled back” by industry collusion (think simultaneous content firewalls on all major newspaper sites) or government mandate. I know this sounds mean, but this is a good sign!  I have been concerned about the number of journalists—including professors and veteran editors and writers—talking as if the Internet is something that must be, or even can be, “stopped.”

Downie and Schudson present a variety of options for fixing the current situation from across the business spectrum. They discuss multiple variations on publicly funded media, as well as foundation-endowed news projects and hybrid corporate/nonprofit news operations. By doing this, they are acknowledging that one model will not fit all in the future, and that journalists need to consider the context of their news operation or project when devising a funding plan.

The authors rightly identify local news coverage as one of the biggest casualties of the shifts in journalism over the past two decades, and do propose several ideas for reviving it. While local involvement and participation seems to generally be associated with our “bowling alone” culture, there are plenty of people who do care about it, and who now have fewer mainstream media resources for tapping into news about the community they live in.

On the minus side

I immediately noticed that there is almost NO discussion of the fate of the magazine industry, perhaps because that’s what my degree is in (magazine journalism) and because I have worked for nearly all my career as a journalist for magazines—either as a freelancer or a staff writer/editor. I believe that magazines had to face the decline of the so-called “mass media” far earlier than newspapers, after the death of “general interest” magazines such as Look, Collier’s and LIFE in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the time I was taking j-school classes in the 1980s, we were told that starting a magazine was much like starting a restaurant—if you know what you’re doing (business-wise) and can self-fund for part of the first five years in business, you have a good chance of making it. Notice that in that description there is no mention of whether the content (or the food) was any good, if competitors were using unfair tactics, or whether customers were reading (or going out for sit-down dinners) less and less. The focus was on establishing a niche and a business model first and foremost. Paying attention to the market, as well as knowing your craft well enough to produce a quality product, were also assumed parts of that model.

On a related note, Downie and Schuder make huge assumptions about the audience for news content and how they will, or should, behave. To be fair, this is something I’ve noticed over and over again when I read essays of this nature written by newspaper-based journalists. The report doesn’t focus much at all on what readers/viewers/listeners are telling journalists about how they’d like to receive their news, or what sorts of news they’d consider worthy of paying for online.

The authors even go so far as to proclaim that “American society must take some collective responsibility for supporting independent news reporting in this new environment,” and wonder out loud in another section whether journalism is a “significant public good whose diminution requires urgent attention.” These are important issues, but this mindset, coupled with a lack of curiosity or genuine connection to one’s audience, comes across as preachy and pedantic—not the sort of vibe one wants to project to attract supporters to an important cause!

Finally, the report points out one of the largest challenges in journalism’s current crisis—we can’t seem to decide if we’re a profession best suited to entrepreneurial or philanthropic support. I like the fact that the authors include both for-profit and nonprofit approaches to new media, but the way in which they are presented serves to highlight the lack of business sense many of us in the field seem to exhibit. What is it that newspapers do? They’re businesses. Wait, no, maybe we should run them as nonprofits? Wait, maybe we can sell ads and get foundation grants, too?

Late in the CJR synopsis, Downie and Schuder use the term “independent news reporting” fairly specifically, and that’s really what they are concerned about, not so much journalism as an industry or business sector. As they note, “it may not be essential to save any particular news medium … What is paramount is preserving independent, original, credible reporting, whether or not it is popular or profitable, and regardless of the medium in which it appears.” (Emphasis in that passage is mine.)

It bothers me that so many of their suggestions rely on government intervention, although I share their opinion that stronger support for radio and televisions stations receiving money through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be a good thing. I am a huge fan of public media; however, I also believe that journalistic enterprises can be successful as for-profit businesses. It remains to be seen how that will happen in the future—my feeling is that the “large public” that the authors seek to have journalism’s best work presented to may have already been replaced by a series of balkanized niches, each one hungry for content, but only within a narrow spectrum of interest.

Please use the comment section below to chime in about your reaction to the report, or the state of American journalism in general.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for October 15, 2012

Photo courtesy SXC.

Longform Startups, New York and Beer | The FJP

Michael Cervieri of the Future Journalism Project interviews Noah Rosenberg, founder of Narratively, an innovative online/mobile start-up website that’s devoted to covering New York City in a fresh way. Rosenberg explains what the site is and how it works:

Narratively is a digital platform devoted to original, true, in-depth and untold stories. … Each week Narratively explores a different theme about New York and publishes just one story a day, told in the most appropriate medium for each piece. So, Monday might yield a longform essay, followed by a short documentary film on Tuesday, a photo essay on Wednesday, and an animation on Thursday. Fridays, we run a section called the “Park Bench” where we curate meaningful responses we’ve generated from our audience throughout the week, and we publish behind-the-scenes elements from our stories; the “Park Bench” is all about featuring different perspectives on each week’s theme.

He also explains the relaxed approach to editorial meetings that’s alluded to in the post’s title – and I have to say, this sounds good to me!

We like to refer to our weekly editorial gatherings as more “soiree” and less “meeting.” They’re very informal affairs that are as much about story-generation and feedback as they are about forming bonds within our passionate group of contributors. I’ve always loved bringing new people together and it’s been so rewarding to help foster friendships and connections all in the name of good times and great storytelling. The beer and the bar snacks are just a backdrop to some energizing discussions about important stories that would otherwise remain untold.

How Journalists are Using Soundcloud | Read Write Web

John Paul Titlow explains how radio journalists and many other writers are using Soundcloud, a social media tool that allows anyone with an account to share sounds with other users. Radio producers and podcasters are expanding their audience with Soundcloud; content experts such as Robert Scoble are publishing interviews with thought leaders, and The Huffington Post is using the service to crowdsource coverage of political robo-calls readers are receiving this election season. I am just scratching the surface of what Soundcloud can do, so this story was an inspiring prompt to dig deeper.

Best Book Editors on Twitter – GalleyCat

Jason Boog offers a list of editors, from a variety of genres and specialties, who have a presence on Twitter. It’s a great resource if you’re a writer or editor looking to make friends with social media folks who tweet, and the bios/intros for the editors on the list are instructive in and of themselves, in terms of how to be eye-catching in your introductory statement.

The Millions : Where We Write
The Millions, an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture, asked its readers who are writers to send them photos of where they worked. The photos are both a little astonishing (to me) and reassuring: from the writer who uses a guest bed to create a “writing nest,” to the scribe who created her own improvised standing desk to the gentleman who writes on a Royal manual typewriter and edits and transcribes on a Mac, each set up is quirky, individualized and tells a story about the storyteller.

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Recommended Reading: Mediactive, by Dan Gillmor

Image courtesy of  Mediactive.com.

I was lucky enough to grab an e-copy of Dan Gillmor’s book, Mediactive, on Amazon while it was 99 cents. Although the price has since gone back up to $5.99, the book is well worth it. It’s a great read for anyone who cares about the present and future state of journalism as it’s practiced in America, and works equally well for journalists and other nonfiction writers and those who simply wish to know about the world around them via the media.

Gillmor is the director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and the Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University. (And in interest of full disclosure, I’ve interacted with Dan in my day job at ASU, via a podcast on writing today and asking him to judge a writing contest for the magazine I edit.) Before coming to ASU, Gillmor wrote the book We the Media and was a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News from 1994 to 2005.

The main thing that makes the book so good is Gillmor’s ability to parse both the current state of American media and what skills citizens need to cope with the implosion of traditional journalism’s business models. As a consummate participant-observer in the new media landscape (and a veteran of the old-school newspaper industry), he’s well equipped to critique what went wrong with journalism over the past 20 years, why it hasn’t adapted well to the rise of the Internet and digital culture in general, and what exciting experiments are going on along the fringes that are poised to move to the mainstream soon.

Here’s what he says about the promise and the challenge of the media landscape in the early 21st century:

Welcome to 21st century media. Welcome to the era of radically democratized and decentralized creation and distribution, where almost anyone can publish and find almost anything that others have published.

Welcome to the age of information abundance. And welcome to the age of information confusion: For many of us, that abundance feels more like a deluge, drowning us in a torrent of data, much of whose trustworthiness we can’t easily judge. You’re hardly alone if you don’t know what you can trust anymore.

But we aren’t helpless, either. In fact, we’ve never had more ways to sort out the good from the bad: A variety of tools and techniques are emerging from the same collision of technology and media that has created the confusion. And don’t forget the most important tools of all—your brain and curiosity.

Mediactive is useful to both professional journalists and those who care about what happens in our society because he discusses skills needed by both media producers and their so-called consumers. He focuses especially intently on work being produced by those who are not traditional journalists, but who create media that gets into our virtual news feed, including bloggers or YouTube’s amateur broadcasters. While he often notes the shortcomings of such work, he generously praises citizen-journalists and nonprofit organizations for engaging in what he calls “almost journalism,” producing fact-filled background reports that shed light on stories the mainstream media misses.

I’ve read a number of articles and books discussing the state of journalism today, and I have to say that Gillmor surveys the media landscape far more clearly and less defensively than most of his peers. I particularly like his explanations of nuanced concepts. For example, he makes a persuasive case that media outlets should drop the charade of presenting themselves as bias- or viewpoint-free, and suggests reasonable alternatives. Here’s a sample of what he has to say on the issue:

Professional journalists claim independence. They are typically forbidden to have direct or indirect financial conflicts of interest. But conflicts of interest are not always so easy to define. Many prominent Washington journalists, for example, are so blatantly beholden to their sources, and to access to those sources, that they are not independent in any real way, and their journalism reflects it.

Mediactive is potentially useful to a wide variety of people who care about journalism and other forms of nonfiction writing – reporters and editors, new media creators such as bloggers and podcasters, and ordinary people who care about what they read in the news and want to ensure they are truly well-informed. Gillmor walks newbie media creators through the essential tenets of trustworthiness (and provides an excellent refresher for the rest of us) without becoming pedantic or stodgy.  The book, like the thinking behind it, is fresh, and Gillmor has used his http://mediactive.com site to make the book a living document, adding examples and continuing the conversation on these topics in his blog.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 9, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC.

How I Write About Science | Wellcome Trust Blog

An interesting blog series that ran earlier this year on the blog for the Wellcome Trust, which funds health research, in which talented science writers (mostly from the United Kingdom) discuss how they report on complex scientific research topics.

When Should You Write Your Memoir? | Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner reflects on her reading of Cheryl Strayed’s recently released memoir “Wild.” She notes that Strayed experienced most of what’s in her book in the 1990s, but did not finish the memoir until years later. Gardner asserts that perspective is important to writing a good autobiographical account:

In order for your story to resonate with deeper truth, you should have enough distance from it that you’ve gained perspective. When you’re still too close to it, you won’t be able to write it well.

Rex Sorgatz: What the New York Times Should Do Next – Membership

Sorgatz, a digital media consultant, provides a detailed proposal for how the Times can survive the post-print, post-advertising business model. Using the NYT’s existing assets, he points out how they could be tweaked to form part of a compelling membership-oriented business.

Here’s what he has to say about how the newspaper could exploit their events division as part of a membership-driven model:

Access to Times events. As part of your membership, you get access to upcoming events with Paul Krugman, Yoko Ono, and Nathan Myhrvold. Did you see that David Carr did a live interview with Robert Pattinson and David Cronenberg the other day? Did you know they do these events all the time? Why isn’t this franchise — TimesTalks — as big as TED? NYT has the clout, the curatorial insight, and an awesome physical location, but TimesTalks is treated like a fringe product that isn’t even respected enough to get on the nytimes.com domain. Awareness isn’t even the primary problem — product integration is. It’s so obvious that these events should be bundled with digital memberships to propel overall growth.

Coders Can’t Put Writers Out of a Job Yet, But We’d Better Watch Our Backs | TechCrunch

Klint Finley reports on the wild, weird world of companies trying to develop applications that can find high-interest, low-coverage topics for editors to assign to writers, how “bots” are taking over some basic research duties from cub reporters, and the rise of Narrative Science, a business that is already having computers generate newspaper reports on Little League games and corporate earnings statements. If you didn’t think nonfiction writing could get outsourced to a robot, think again! And read this piece.

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Beyond Comma Patrol: 10 Ways Editors Can Supercharge Your Communications

Photo by Nicole_N courtesy of SXC.

I’ve known for most of my career as an editor that there was a whole lot more to what I was doing than copyediting. Yes, knowing how to copyedit is one of the basics for my profession – like knowing basic principles of balance and proportion if you are a visual artist, or having basic arithmetical skills if you are an accountant.

Yet being a crackerjack copyeditor doesn’t ensure that a journalist will be a good managing editor or editor-in-chief. Editors bring far more to the table than just checking your copy for stylistic consistency, grammatical correctness or compliance with generally accepted rules of punctuation. Here’s a handy list of 10 ways that an editor can improve your writing, whether you’re writing a 200-word report or a 100,000-word book.

1) Content curation - “Curation” has become a buzzword in the past few years, but editors have been evaluating, selecting and arranging content to appeal to their audiences for a long time. As the Internet spews skyrocketing amounts of information at us, an editor’s ability to filter and screen content and present the best/most appropriate materials will become increasingly valuable.

2) Content aggregation - Curation of content focuses on the selection of individual items; aggregation of content focuses on grouping materials together in meaningful ways. Before there were RSS feeds, there were wire editors, piecing together national or international news sections by aggregating content in a way that allowed readers to keep up on developments and remain well-informed citizens. I call my personal approach to aggregation “getting the mix right.” Whether it’s a collection of sports briefs or an entire podcast or magazine issue, my editorial focus is on grouping content in a way that forms a coherent whole.

3) Story organization - Some stories have an obvious structure – chronological, say, or a bulleted list (“5 Ways to Fresher Breath”). For those that don’t, an editor can help you dump out your reporting notebook and research files and build a structure that will help the reader pay attention to the story, not the way it is being told.

4) Story-crafting - When I discovered the story coaching method of editing, I had a major epiphany about what value editors brought to the writing process itself. Practitioners of story coaching, such as Don Murray, Jack Hart, Jacqui Banaszynski and Roy Peter Clark, actively collaborate with the writer, both before and after the story has been filed, to shape the story for maximum impact and readability. This skill, along with #3, are two prerequisites that will ensure content that is worthy of having “comma patrol” performed to provide a final polish.

5) Project management - No small amount of a managing editor’s job is being a traffic manager for a communications deliverable. He or she must ride herd over a small stable of writers, shape and polish the story, AND hand it off to design on time, all while remembering how the content in this issue fits with that of 3 issues down the road, and checking to make sure page folios are right and ads do not contain coupons or other offers that are expired. It’s possible to be an editor and be disorganized, but I am not sure it’s possible to be a good editor without a sense of how to move content through the system quickly and efficiently.

6) UX/usability expert – Not just for web geeks, the concept of UX or the user experience is something editors concern themselves with constantly. We are the reader’s primary advocate. If we can’t make sense of a passage or an idea, how will they?

7) Moderator/listener  - I am not convinced that journalists can be objective, but editors are charged with listening to all sides with an open mind. This assignment makes them good at orchestrating interactions between those who hold divergent perspectives, and also tends to make them good at listening for subtle things, such as that which is NOT being voiced during any given debate.

8) Creative consultant/innovator - Editors spend much of their day working within well-defined parameters, such as budget and the format of their publication. They are constantly challenged to make something novel and engaging out within a defined template. This require an ability to innovate and find a way to pour new wine into old wine skins and make it all hold together.

9) Historian - A good editor makes assignments and revises copy with a keen appreciation for the background of whatever topic he or she is working with. Most issues do not spring into existence with no frame of reference. Editors must understand that frame, and make it visible to the audience.

10) Contextualizer - closely related to #9, this role has the editor make visible all the elements, current and historical, that shape a given story. Readers who understand the full context of an issue will be far less easily swayed by sound bites and polemics.

Another view of what editors do: Who am I this time? Roles editors play

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Recommended Reading: “Help! For Writers”

The Book: “Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions To The Problems Every Writer Faces,” by Roy Peter Clark.

The Takeaway: This is a great book for nonfiction writers who are looking for specific strategies to combat common writing problems, such as organizing their material, selecting fresh, imaginative language to use in their stories, or how to complete a draft of their work.

The Review: Too many books about writing try to be all things to all people, when they really aren’t capable of the task. The author will cover everything from how to interview celebrities to how to hire a copy editor, lavishing many pages on his or her areas of expertise, while giving everything else a cursory glance. The result is often a lopsided, unsatisfying book.

Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, deftly avoids this trap in “Help! For Writers,” while still managing to cover vexations from across the entire writing process. His secret weapon is his approach – instead of presenting writers with his “master plan” for how to write and expecting them to fit themselves into his paradigm, he organizes his material, as the subtitle suggests, by addressing specific “trouble spots” that are frequently found on the writing journey, such as “my work habits are so disorganized” or “I can’t stop procrastinating.” (He also wins points with me for phrasing the trouble spots in language that clearly has come directly from the mouths of actual writers!)

The beauty of training this lens on the writing process is that it avoids one-size-fits-all solutions and makes the book useful to a broad spectrum of writers. For example, when responding to the problem “I hate writing assignments and other people’s ideas,” Clark suggests the following strategies:

  • Learn to turn an assignment into your story.
  • Treat assignments as story topics rather than story ideas.
  • Make it your own.
  • Send up a flare to express dissatisfaction with an assignment or to suggest something better.
  • Take what you think is a bad assignment and brainstorm with other writers to turn it into something special.
  • Use your favorite search engine to discover surprising connections.
  • If a story assignment points left, don’t be afraid to turn right.

“Help! For Writers” will be very useful to those looking for those looking for tips and tools to move them out of a writing bog caused by an issue that they can articulate and define. Newbie as well as experienced writers will be able to relate to the problems Clark addresses and benefit from his proposed solutions. It’s also a book that will continue to be useful to writers as they advance in their careers, as the situations that Clark pinpoints are ones that can challenge all writers, regardless of their experience level or professional status.

Learn more about the book

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