Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writer and Editor Etiquette: Part 1

The following is Part One of a two-part series on (what I think) are the three most important characteristics you should have in a relationship with your editor.

In my 4 months at The Salem News, these three "etiquette tips" are what got me to the end of my internship with nothing but great respect and admiration for my editor.

After how many jobs can you say that you still liked your boss by the end?

An editor must be clear and articulate when critiquing the reporter's work:

The first day at my internship was more eventful then I was expecting. Immediately, my editor sent me to cover a story at Brooksby Village, a retirement community in Peabody. I was to meet with two Haitian employees who were affected by the earthquake in Haiti. The reporting went great; they were open to answer all my questions and were able to communicate their pain.

On returning to the newsroom, I was excited to start writing their story. The first draft—to me—came out well. When I sent it to my editor, however, he gave me different feedback.

He reminded me about what makes news newsworthy. He explained that the reason he could send me to cover the story—two weeks after the earthquake—was because Brooksby had just recently raised over $10,000. The news wasn’t Rodner Chery or Paul Louisant’s story. The news was about how much money Brooksby raised.

Upon him telling me this, I ran back to my desk and started reorganizing the whole story. I moved everything about Brooksby first and pushed back Rodner and Paul’s touching stories. I felt confident and re-filed my story. Once again, I would be wrong.

My editor came over to my desk and wanted to look over the story together. He said I had written a completely different story which was not what he meant. All he meant to say was to move the news part of the story earlier in the article, but keep the Haitian employees anecdotes as the foundation because that is essentially the most intriguing part to the reader. Basically, a simple sentence change was all he wanted.

This was my first taste at how important it was for an editor to be clear on what he wants in a story. My editor didn’t know how to communicate with me because it was only my first day but when he tried again, I understood exactly what he meant.

Check out the final product: Brooksby Helps Out Haitian Employees' Families

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If you find that this isn't a characteristic you and your editor have, work on opening up the lines of communication:

Journalism is a social business. If you can't talk to your editor, how do you interview complete strangers?

If intimidation is a factor, try looking at your editor as a coach and not a scary boss; His job is to help you write great stories. So as a part of his education, he was trained in how to communicate with a writer. If he's not doing that, it's because he doesn't know he's not.

You must communicate with him that you don't understand what he wants or what he is critiquing.

Read Writer and Editor Etiquette: Part 2

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