Editing your work: tough but necessary

Part of an ongoing blog series of notes and tips from the 2017 College Media Association/Associated Collegiate Press national convention. Search by topic or “collegemedia17” on this site to find more, or #collegemedia17 on Twitter. 

From Neetish Basnet’s notebook: 

Session: Editing Your Own Work
By Gerri Berendzen, American Copy Editors Society Executive Committee member; University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communication @gerrrib

It’s now harder for publications to monetize what editors do. Why editing matters:

  •       People don’t like bad grammar.
  •       Dedicated readers have more higher standards.
  •       Periodic readers are more concerned about grammar than style.
  •       Style is not what matters. Consistency matters. AP style.

Writers are always better off by other people editing their copy. One do not see his or her own mistakes or notice as others would.

But you can and should be your own editor. Do fact-checking and grammar-checking.

Continue reading


Try this: Quick-hit formats for meeting and game coverage

It’s 9:45 p.m., and the volleyball team just finished a nail-biter of a five-set match.

Maybe it’s 8:30 p.m., and the Student Congress just wrapped up its weekly Tuesday meeting.

Maybe it’s not late at all, but you’re on a one-hour turnaround deadline, have a ton of information from a back-and-forth meeting, and aren’t sure where to start.

Enter the alternative story formats one of our guest speakers discussed during his presentation during Fall 2015 orientation. Continue reading

Style Q&A: Journals and promo tours

Shorties: The following questions come from Shorthorn Editor in Chief Laura Woodside. If you have a style question, please email me at bfrances@uta.edu. I’ll post the answer for the staff. Thanks, Laura!

Q1: Is a journal title put in italics or quotes? Like a scholarly journal full of articles?
Q2: And for some kind of promotional movie or book tour – would that need to be itals or quotes? 

Good questions. That’s all covered between existing AP and Shorthorn style.

A1: A journal is a book made up of a number of scholarly articles, basically a book with chapters. So, the journal title is italicized, as a normal book title would be, and chapters (or names or articles) are in quotation marks.

A2: The name of a promotional book or movie tour is simply the name of an event – so no special treatment. (We don’t put EXCEL’s Movie Night in quotations or italicize it, for example.) If the name of a published work (like a book or movie or TV show) is part of the tour title, that part would be formatted according to style … but not the whole title. So:

The Super Rad Promo Tour will stop in Funky Town on Friday afternoon. The tour is promoting a series of short films focusing on life as a college newspaper editor.

The Nelson Catches a Bird Tour will stop in Funky Town on Friday afternoon. The tour is promoting the movie, which captures the life of a dog and his loving owner.

Note that in both, a second sentence that explains what the tour is is added to the paragraph. That’s necessary to avoid confusion. (Never assume people know what a book, movie, TV show or other material is about.)

– BF

NatChat: Cutlines, cutlines, cutlines

Cutlines are one of the most critical pieces of display copy in a paper. Not only have studies shown that art catches a reader’s eye first (and therefore cutlines,) but cutlines can add enough interest to information that the reader will continue on to read the story. Rimmers are responsible for editing and occasionally rewriting cutlines, and designers must ensure that cutlines are given proper play in a publication. With that said:


1. Check to see if the information in each cutline is from the lede (wire photos will often paste the lede directly as a photo’s second sentence.) If so, note it out and type xyxyxyxyxy so the rimmer knows to write a cutline. Be sure not to use words that would pass spellcheck. Also, leave only the amount of space you want filled with cutline.

2. If there are multiple photos and all are by the same photographer, you only need the credit line on the dominant photo. The exception is if a secondary photo is played above the dominant (sometimes with centerpieces), in which case you can include it there as well. The key is to use it one the photo the reader would “enter the story at” first. Now, if you use art on a jump page, you will need to use the credit line again, but the same rules apply as before. Also, if the photo is a file photo, contributed art, courtesy, wire, etc., be sure to put that in the credit line.

3. In multi-photo packages, read each cutline for repetitive information. Often each photo will have a unique first sentence with who, what, when, where, etc., but second sentences will repeat. Be sure the “lede” information (5 W’s, etc.) are only in the dominant photo and that second sentence information does not repeat. If it does, note out the repeated information and leave xyxyxy to show the rimmer how much room they’ll need to fill. Remember, though, not to make cutlines on secondary art too long or you’ll trap the rimmer into repeating information.

4. If it’s a wildart photo, be sure to place styled dummy text for a headline so rimmers can write one.


1. Check the photo credit. Make sure the photographer’s name is spelled correctly, that it’s identified properly as file, wire, etc., In multi-photo packages be sure the dominant has the credit line and others don’t if they are taken by the same photographer.

2. Check names, date/day, geography etc. against the story. Don’t assume the story is right. If information is different, CQ with BOTH the photographer and reporter.

3. In multi-photo packages make sure the “lede” information is in the dominant photo only. If someone featured in the dominant photo is in other photos, they only need a second reference. The exception is if a secondary photo is played above the dominant (sometimes with centerpieces), in which case you can include it there as well. The key is to use it one the photo the reader would “enter the story at” first. Also be sure information does not repeat across photos. If a photo is used on a jump, first references and credits must be used but again avoid repeating information from the front.

4. In wire photos, check the geography for unnecessary state references (example: “Laredo, Texas,” would only need to be “Laredo.”)

5. ALWAYS check every cutline on the page to make sure the cutline and photo match and that you’re editing the correct cutlines.

6. If you need to rewrite a cutline or add different information, choose something from the story that will add context and greater depth of understanding for the reader. It’s important to not treat secondary information in art as fluff.

7. For a wildart photo, be sure the cutline doesn’t just state what’s happening in the photo. Why do readers care about this glimpse into student life? What is its significance? Also be sure to write a 2-4 word feature headline.

8. Be sure if you have to add to or rewrite a cutline that you fill the space set by the designer.

9. In the cutline of a photo with multiple IDs be sure to start from either the left or the subject of the photo and then the left. Directional cues should be encased in commas after the person’s name.

10. Last but not least, give it the “no, $#!+” test. Don’t let a cutline through that says something akin to “Person Personson stands in a hallway in Preston Hall.” I have eyeballs. I can see that. Tell me what a glance at the photo can’t.


Sidesaddle cutlines: Sidesaddle cutlines should be used if you play the art at bastard column width so that the art plus the cutline maintain the story’s column grid. For example, if the story is laid out at 6 columns, the photo – let’s say we play it at 3 columns – would then either be shrunk to 2.5 or enlarged to 3.5 columns. The cutline would take up the other .5 column so together they would take either 3 or 4 columns on a 6 column grid. Here’s a 1.5K photo with a .5K cutline on a 5K grid.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 4.14.00 AM


You can apply the same to a story that’s on a bastard column width (like a 5 column story on a 6 column grid.)

Sidesaddle cutlines should only be used on horizontal photos, though, to avoid have awkward gaps of white space below the last line of the cutline.

Mugs: Mugs should be .5 a column from a 6 column grid and the face should be at least the size of your thumb. The type should include first and last name followed by the person’s UTA-relevant information. Do not use a mug of someone not used in the story unless you are doing mug and quotes. If this is the case, you should make sure it’s obvious this person’s relation to the story is purely their opinion. (And don’t mug and quote for a story when the tone doesn’t call for it.) Also, don’t wedge a mug in the dead center of a column unless you’ve for some reason sidesaddled the mugline. Otherwise, try to get the mug centered between two columns so the textwrap doesn’t look redonkulous.

In crime stories it’s important to NEVER put the suspect and victim together. They must be separated on the page.

NatChat: Proofing pro(ish) tips

Sorry for the hiatus! I’m back with several entries lined up, though, and hopefully some fancy visuals to boot. With that said, this week’s entry focuses on proofing. Proofing by no means should be considered the place to catch every error but I’ve caught some doozies while proofing (to include one person’s first name and another person’s last name getting squished together.)

Proofing is an extremely important part of the production process because it’s a complete look not at just one story’s package but at how the page(s) as a whole comes together. With that said, here are some tips I’ll pass along:

Proofing Pro(-ish) Tips

First, know how much time you have to dedicate to a proof before you begin. If there’s not a deadline on the page, you need to ask the designer when they will need the page back. No matter how little time you have, always check display type and jumps.

At a glance:

-Folio information (date, page number, property – make sure even page numbers are on the left, odd on right.

-Headlines, decks, kickers

-Cutlines and muglines

-Do stories end or is there runoff

-Jump tags

-Pullout/graphic/stock image type (GSSP and correct run date)


-Photo credit lines (there should always be one)


-In briefs, is the tagline there?

-Major design edits (spacing, unintentional packaging, do photos fill their frames, are story/ad placements questionable, etc.)

All of this can be done with a “scan” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thorough with it.

More in-depth:

-Underline every first reference to a name you come across in a story and each time you see a second reference, check it against its first reference (this will help you ensure every second reference has a first and each second reference is correct – or at least consistent.)

-Check cutline information against the story – all proper nouns and auxiliary information should be supported by the text.

-Check pullquotes against the text.

-Find a way to slow your reading. I tap my pen at the beginning or end of each line of text so I don’t scan over it too quickly. I also sometimes underline long or hard-to-spell words so I don’t skip over a misspelled word.

-When in doubt, check the stylebook.

-Read every headline literally to prevent unintentional double entendres.

-Try to learn what different paragraph styles look like so you can spot improperly styled text.

-Even if you read a story before, read it again. It may have a different trim or you may catch something you missed in round one.

-Don’t just read for standalone facts, read for logic within a sentence and text as a whole.

-Highlight or otherwise make your edits more visible for designers.

-Sign your initials on every page so the designer can clarify marks with you if needed.


NatChat: You don’t know what you don’t know

During a design training session, the session leader said something that really resonated with me: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

It seems so “Duh,” but it’s so true.

As some of you prepare to start internships, take on new projects, move to new positions or begin your professional career, remember that it’s OK to ask for help when you need it, and it’s better to ask questions than not. As you make whatever switch it is you’re about to, you don’t know what you don’t know – and that’s not only OK but expected.

I had been drafting a post about things as a copy editor and designer I didn’t realize I didn’t know until faced with learning them on the fly – and I’ll include those here – but I’ll also add things I didn’t know about my experiences both during my internship and starting my career at Scripps. Hope you guys find them of use:

In general:

1. Find at least two places nearby that serve good food fast. Even if you insist on bringing your own food, you’ll find a reason to go out for your lunch/dinner break.

2. Even if you’re shy, go out with your colleagues. If there’s a party or an opportunity to hang out outside work, do so. It’s the best way to befriend people in the office and greatly improves the dynamic between you and others.

3. Learn the temperature of your office. The building I’m in, for instance, varies between the peak of Mt. Everest and hot tar in July. Leave a jacket at work and maybe a desk fan, too.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s worse to do it wrong because you were to afraid to ask.

5. Don’t be embarrassed about getting something wrong. I’m still being corrected. Partly, it’s because I’m still new to this. Mostly it’s because it’s hard for those around me to know what I don’t know (and to remember what all is specific to Scripps that I wouldn’t know.)

6. Learn the chain of command. If it’s sources, editors or supervisors, learn who has the title to say what’s what. This is especially important in the office because you will have two people tell you two contradicting things. Go with rank and ask for clarity.

7. Learn who to call in case you get sick. Seriously. I had to use a sick day less than three weeks after being hired and wound up calling all the wrong people.

8. You may not do everything perfectly, you may not work as fast as everyone else, but a good work ethic shows and is well-respected by your peers. When in doubt, do your best.

Copy Editing:

1. Learn how to trim stories. It’s unlikely you’ll be taking full inches out of local copy (stories by staff or freelancers) but it has happened to me before. However, you will be expected to trim wire stories to fit, and sometimes that’s meant taking a 50 inch beast and turning it into a 10 inch story with a beginning, middle and end. If you’ve read any AP stories lately, they aren’t always inverted pyramid, either, making it much harder to just “cut from the bottom” like the good ol’ days. Get some practice by testing your skills on AP stories. Take a 10 inch story and trim it to a brief (and give it a brief head), take a 30-50 inch and trim it to a 10 inch.

2. Learn how to write cutlines. Most wire photos I’ve seen in packages are the lede pasted into every cutline textbox. As a copy editor, you’ll be expected to rewrite the cutline to fit. If the cutline isn’t a repeat of the lede, you’ll be expected to make sure the text is accurate, to style, and fits the textbox.

3. Learn how to fact check a story without CQs. Sometimes a reporter will send a story through with CQs, sometimes they won’t, sometimes half of what should be CQ’d is. It’s still your job to ensure the accuracy of all content you read. If a source is federal or state, there should be paperwork online to back up facts and figures. If it’s a business or group, check online for press releases or fliers.

Pro tip: If you’re not sure where to look on a site, go to your URL bar and type in your search phrases then “search:website.com”. For instance, if I wanted to search for a story about Student Congress president elections on The Shorthorn, I’d type “student congress president elections search:theshorthorn.com”. This is a quick and easy way to display that search on, say, google.

4. Spend time learning your local style guide. You may think AP is king, and for most style it is, but local markets are very particular about their own style. Pay special attention to proper nouns and cultural style (example: The Kitsap Sun in Washington state refers to “American Indians” as “Native Americans.”) This also includes broad rules of using or not using specific information (The Caller-Times, for instance, does not print the names of gangs to prevent growing their “fame”.)

5. Learn every deadline. You will probably be faced with proofing/reading two different things and will have to decide which is a greater priority. The almost no-fail way is to check the deadlines for each. The one due the soonest is the one that gets your attention first.

6. Learn the headline nuances. One of the papers I edit for – The Ventura County Star – has five editions for five different local covers because it spans such a large area. Because of this, headlines (or their kickers or deks) must include the city/town name to make it more geographically specific. Some of our papers care more that you don’t break phrases or end on prepositions than if you fill out a deck, others are the reverse. Each paper will be different, so learn the tricks to make the slot/local editor happy. (Think of it as learning how your professor wants you to write an essay and doing it that way to ensure an “A.”)


1. Learn the grid. Love the grid. Be the grid. You must learn how to design on a grid. Grid-based design is the foundation for news and magazine design everywhere. Once you’ve learned grid-based design, you’ll better be able to deviate and work in small surprises that can really make your work look fresh. But if there’s no order, it’s all chaos.

2. Learn how to choose and crop photos. It’s been my experience that the photo editor may wean the photos down to a manageable few, but it’ll be the designer’s call about half the time as to which art to use and how to crop it (wire stories only – don’t crop local art without talking to someone first, unless you’ve been given permission to.) Remember you want tomorrow’s art, not today’s or yesterday’s, and look for things that will read well played at the size you have set for it (for instance, a person’s face must be at least the size of a dime.)

3. Learn how to design based on headline hierarchy. Sometimes your “top” story’s headline isn’t at the top, left of the page. The reader will understand hierarchy more from size than placement. (That doesn’t mean put your least important story at the top of the page, though.) However, this opens up more opportunities in terms of dominant art being in a lower-importance story (play the art, not the headline, higher on the page.)

4. Learn design nuances. I’ve reported to four different people while designing now, and they each responded differently to what was probably the same or similar design layout. Doglegging around ads, bumping headlines, art looking off the page, widows/orphans, white space in headlines, etc. They each had things they didn’t care about and things they wouldn’t budge on. One person didn’t mind if heads bumped so long as they were more than 10 points different and spanned a different width of columns. Another would insist I use art or a pullquote or mug (or something) to break up the heads. It all depends, but it’s better to learn those nuances and train yourself to think around certain design “don’ts.”

5. Learn how to trim stories. There is a chance you may be asked to trim a wire story for one of your pages. You may even be asked to write a headline/cutline. Be prepared.

6. Learn deadlines and how to manage your time. When balanced several pages with different deadlines, it’s important to know how to track the stories on your page and deadlines for your pages. Often you will be able to choose when you take your lunch break, etc., so learn when the best time for that may be.

7. Learn how to use photoshop, illustrator and indesign to create graphics, skyboxes and more. You may be responsible for maps, charts and graphs if you don’t have a dedicated graphics team, and certainly the designers here are responsible for their skyboxes and cutouts of photos. So, learn.

8. Learn how to read dummies and runsheets. Dummies will show you where ads are, runsheets will tell you what the ad is and should include whether the page is BW, 1C or 4C.

-Also, learn the difference between 1C and 4C.

9. Learn the difference between black and white and color plates. Here, for instance, we try to send color early and then black and white closer to deadline. Also, when we fly a page, we can resend black only.

-May just be a good idea to have ADrew explain the whole press thing in general. It’s actually more intricate than I ever knew.