Thursday, May 13, 2010

Writer and Editor Etiquette: Part 2

The following is Part Two 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 on what he/she wants in a story:


In another instance, two months later, I was reminded of how important it was to understand what the editor wants in a story. This happened with the North Shore 100 Magazine. I was responsible for profiling 16 people who were being featured.

By that point in my internship, I was so used to writing news stories that I almost forgot how to write feature stories. As a result, my start to profiling the 16 people was rough. I thought the point of the magazine was to profile the “good” the person did in the community. Fortunately, my editor caught this mistake on my first profile and explained that the magazine is supposed to depict the person behind the good work.

He coached me through the first two, reminding me to “humanize” the profile; taking a piece of their story and elaborating on that. My progress was clearly evident:

DawnMarie Corneau, 43, is the owner of the Corneau Wealth Management, where she has worked as a financial manager for the past 21 years. Since 2006, Corneau has been helping local business women through an organization she co-founded called Women in Networking Giving Support.

WINGS is a nonprofit organization of female business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals. Its mission is to educate and provide resources for businesswomen, and it also raises money for local charities, including Beverly Bootstraps and Windrush Farm in Boxford. “We are a part of this community, our clients are in this community, and we want to give back,” Corneau said.


It is obvious that I wasn’t witty and wasn’t creative. I finally got it right by the third person, Lisa Spence:

It could be humid, and it could be buggy, but Lisa Spence would still be outside harvesting fresh produce at Salem Community Gardens.

The 45-year-old wife and mother of two said it’s the “big smiles and appreciative people” that keep her watering and weeding at Palmer Cove and Mack Park.

Spence is the founder and co-president of Salem Community Gardens. The nonprofit allows gardeners to grow fresh produce and to plant a few plots specifically for food donations.
In this example, the reader gets the same amount of information but in a more appealing way. I would have never been able to write the way my editor wanted if it wasn’t for him clearly explaining what he wanted to see in each profile.

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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 1

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