Editing

Editor’s Note: I originally started this blog as a way to look at editing and the issues that journalists and editors face today. I made a few posts, but I’ve gotten off track (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Now, I’m going to write a rather lengthy post about editing.

Here’s a rather interesting article from American Journalism Review (AJR) about a fake AP Stylebook and the success it garnered.

I’m not sure what I think about it. On one hand, it’s too deceiving: millions of journalists rely on the AP Stylebook and some people could be caught off-guard. On the other, it’s pretty obvious from it’s content that it’s fake and is satire.

Here’s another interesting article from Poynter about journalists using emotion in their stories. I want to highlight a few paragraphs:

“People are moving away from more neutral, dispassionate, what we would call ‘professional’ treatments of news,” he told me, “and it’s kind of hard for those of us who have lived by and enforced all these standards to understand that. The book is an attempt to explain what’s going on in the audience and why people are responding in the way they are.”

Fuller explained that we’re drawn to scary images like fires and car wrecks for the same reason our ancestors kept an eye on predators: survival. When we see such images, fear courses through our brains and focuses our attention on what appears to threaten us. Our brains respond the same way that our ancestors’ did, even though we know we’re not really endangered by those dramatic images.

I agree with the  article. One of the reasons that Twitter, Facebook and blogs work so well as a form of journalism is that there is a person, a personality behind the Tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts. In essence, people are drawn to the personalities and the emotions attached to them attached to online journalism. What does this mean for journalism and editing? As Fuller explained in the article, we, journalists, must inject some emotion into our articles. The old mantra of being objective has to be thrown out the window in order to garner readership.

Roy Peter Clark writes a column for Poynter about the changes and evolution in language . What does this article mean for journalism and editing? We generally check the AP Stylebook and the dictionary for language issues. I think we should add– as odious as this might sound– Urban Dictionary to the list, given the evolution in our language. For example, when the tea baggers began partying railing against everything last year, they failed to use Urban Dictionary and discover the true meaning of their organization. I said in a previous post that journalists write at an eighth grade reading level, which bothers me. I try to write at a high school (ninth or tenth grade) level. To highlight this fact (not to mention my dorky side), I wrote my favorite words on an index card, which lies on my desk and I try to use as many of those words in my stories as possible. Those words include:

  1. myriad
  2. plethora
  3. shibboleth
  4. de facto
  5. deus ex machina
  6. gomorrah
  7. macabre
  8. exculpate
  9. denizen
  10. vitiate
  11. paroxysm

Here’s a blog post on Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) about words only journalists use.

AJR has an article about the ethics of using graphic photos. Personally, I’ve never bought the argument that news organizations shouldn’t run graphic images simply because of their graphic and disturbing nature. Look at the top Hollywood movies. How many of them are rated PG-13 or higher? Americans love gore, yet news organizations fail to see that.

Le Monde, France’s biggest newspaper (their NYT equivalent), has a piece about protecting sources. I’ll quote a bit of it and translate it (given that I’ve had 12 years of French, I ought to be able to do this):

En décembre 2009, un texte important pour la liberté de la presse a été adopté par le Parlement dans l’indifférence générale. La loi du 4 janvier 2010 sur la protection des sources était réclamée de longue date par les syndicats de journalistes. Elle modifie la loi du 29 juillet 1881 sur la liberté de la presse en y introduisant la notion de secret. Elle affirme qu’il “ne peut être porté atteinte directement ou indirectement au secret des sources que si un impératif prépondérant d’intérêt public le justifie et si les mesures envisagées sont strictement nécessaires et proportionnées au but légitime poursuivi”. En outre, “cette atteinte ne peut en aucun cas consister en une obligation pour le journaliste de révéler ses sources”.

Si l’on se rapporte à la loi, les journalistes de l’émission “Les infiltrés”, consacrée à la pédophilie et diffusée le 6 avril sur France 2, n’avaient donc aucune obligation de dénoncer à la police les membres de réseaux pédophiles qu’ils avaient rencontrés, ainsi qu’ils l’ont pourtant fait. A la suite de cette dénonciation, un conseiller municipal du Mesnil-Saint-Denis (Yvelines) va comparaître devant les tribunaux pour proposition sexuelle à une mineure. Il est vrai que l’article 434-1 du code pénal impose aux citoyens qui ont connaissance d’un crime sur le point d’être commis de prévenir les autorités judiciaires. Mais cette contrainte ne s’applique pas aux professions tenues au secret professionnel (article 226-13 du code pénal).

Basically (I’m summarizing the two paragraphs), in December 2009, an important text for the liberty of the press was adopted by Parliament.  The law on the 4th of Jan. 2010  on the protection of sources by the  organization of journalists (similar to our Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)). The law says that journalists don’t have the obligation to disclose their sources.

I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t like the fact that we can hide pedophiles like the church and get away with it. On the other hand, this is what free press is all about: free from government regulations and intervention.

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