Case Study 4

8 Feb

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

A large part of an editor’s job is to make changes in stories, but sometimes they make seemingly small changes that actually change the meaning of the entire story.

Changes that could possibly affect the meaning of  a writer’s story are especially important to be aware of because it’s the writer’s name on the story, not the editor’s who made the change.

Papers have copy editing protocol to help keep awareness of the issue in editors’ minds, but of course assumptions are occasionally made anyway and stories are wrongly edited.  

Instead of making assumptions, editors should really contact the writer of the story before making changes that seem simple like changing “she” to “he” or filling in a “missing” word. I’ve personally had editors guess the attribution of a quote. They got it wrong.

Editing doesn’t just change the meaning of print, though. Manipulating photos can also easily change the entire meaning of the photo, even if it’s just a simple crop.

Similar to copy editing rules like never changing words inside a quote, those who deal with pictures have determined standards and rules to follow also.

The manipulated photos linked to above show that, in the right realm, editing is used to illustrate and make art. The original meaning of a photo is changed, but it’s clear that a change was made for artistic purposes.

So similarly, video and sound can also be edited to change meaning or create a whole new piece of art. In the “Scary Mary Poppins” video, lyrics were altered and video was edited to create a humorous, fake movie trailer.

Going back to editing within newsrooms, news organizations have a duty to deliver truth to their audiences. When a photo isn’t clearly an illustration, the organization is delivering false information.

And when a story is wrongly edited because an editor made assumptions, the audience again receives false information.

“Inserting an error into a story is the cardinal sin of editing, one no editor wants to commit. In other words, make sure what you are ‘correcting’ is actually incorrect.” That’s advice from John McIntyre, night content production manager at The Baltimore Sun, and I think it pretty much sums it all up.

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One Response to “Case Study 4”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 8, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Well done and edited – nicely aggregated – reads like a post out of Poynter – I would like to have seen a bit more explaining about the he / she change.

    Papers have copy editing protocol THAT WOULD BE PROTOCOLS

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