Copy Editing for Print and Digital

Copy Editing

As this semester went on, I found I got better and better at catching small errors in stories. Eventually, I was fully confident in my ability to catch grammar and sentence structure errors, and I no longer hesitate to call a reporter when I have a question. There were stories where I had multiple notes on every single line, and there were others where the only required change was replacing a single word in a headline. Here are some examples of my best work at the ICE Desk editing stories for both digital and print editions of the Columbia Missourian.

As this semester went on, I found myself getting better at catching small errors in stories. Eventually, I was fully confident in my ability to catch grammar and sentence structure errors, and I no longer hesitate to call a reporter when I have a question. There were stories where I had multiple notes on every single line, and there were others where the only required change was replacing a single word in a headline. Here are some examples of my best work at the ICE Desk editing stories for both digital and print editions of the Columbia Missourian.

Restructuring a list

When I edited this story for the Missourian’s special BoomTown edition of the paper, I knew immediately that I would have to make a lot of changes. Although the content was all accurate, the formatting was not consistent or well-structured. In a situation where we want to make things as accessible as possible for our readers — especially for a section directly targeted at an older generation — using concise writing is key. Keeping descriptions short and direct keeps the reader’s attention and draws attention more directly to the story itself, which in this case was just a a list of volunteer options for people over 55. The following is an excerpt from my weekly reflection about the process of reorganizing this list:

February 25, 2019: One thing I began work on this week that proved grueling was the BoomTown collection of stories. These stories are very long, and I spent nearly two hours rearranging a poorly-constructed schedule so that each event’s title had parallel structure. It seemed like the reporter was literally experimenting new ways to write the time, date and place each time.

Writing headlines for print

These are a few examples of the restructuring and rewording of print headlines I did. Finding succinct ways to describe complex stories can be a daunting task, and it took me several weeks before I felt confident taking on longer headlines and jump-heads. Having the opportunity to cut down the story and write a print headline for this consequential national AP story stands out to me as a highlight of the semester. Perhaps my favorite headline (which appeared the same way in print as it did online) was the one I wrote for the medical marijuana story. I was able to find an effective way to use a question in the headline, which I’ve always been advised against. The following is an excerpt from my weekly reflection about the process of writing the medical marijuana headline:

February 17, 2019: I wrote one of my best headlines I think I ever have this Thursday about a proposed bill that would make it legal for employers to drug test and fire workers for medical marijuana. I worked for almost an hour reworking the words and structure of the sentence in order to give it the weight I felt it deserved. It was an interesting process, especially because of the blunt language I settled on using. I just realized that when it comes down to it, describing the legislative stakes in this way was not really oversimplifying anything. The end result was something I’m very proud of, and I feel did a good job of communicating the crux of the story without over or under-explaining things.

The crucial role of copy editors

This was the story that gave me the most trouble this semester. It was riddled with factual errors from the first sentence forward, and I was forced to make several changes that required some serious critical thinking. Editing this story was the first time that I felt responsible for saving the public from misinformation — and consequently, the reporter and the Missourian from embarrassment. To give you a good idea of my thought process throughout the editing procedure, here is an excerpt from my weekly reflection from that week:

March 4, 2019: I read the first sentence and couldn’t go on without looking deeper into it. I just googled “Bluestem Missouri Crafts died” and found a Tribune article detailing how one of the founders passed away in 2013. I couldn’t find anything about any of the other founders passing away, even after in-depth search narrowed down by name. I ultimately decided, after confirming that the 2013 death was the only loss of the business’ founders, to rewrite the lead entirely based on my research. The way it was written was not only confusing but incredibly boring, and her rambling sentences desperately needed to be cut down to size. As I continued working, I found that this story had the potential to be an inspiring tale, and if I hadn’t had the chance to rip it apart, it could have been published and disseminated in a manner that renders the story and its stakeholders completely irrelevant. Editing this story gave me my first true chance to change a story for the better, and leave a positive thumbprint on the topic. It felt good to improve the sloppy way a reporter decided to tell someone else’ story.

Here are links to examples of my best copy editing work:

  1. Use medical marijuana? You could lose your job.
  2. Bluestem passes management to familiar faces
  3. Fears of racial profiling could stymy citizenship proposal