Case Study3: Why Editors Should Never Assume

8 Feb

The importance of consulting a reporter before making editorial changes to a story is highlighted in the article “Fans welcome Lil’ Wayne to O’Dome,” written by Jessica Palombo.  In her original draft of the article, she quotes a woman named Leslie Manning, referring to her as “she.”  However, in the edited version of Palombo’s story, Manning is refered to as “he.”  This is a mistake of epic proportions.  The editor assumed that Manning was a man, presumably because the article mentions a “girlfriend” of Manning’s.  Not only is this mistake an embarrassment to the publication, but it would also be extremely embarrassing for Leslie Manning.

This mistake would have been avoided if the editor for this publication had followed simple protocol for editing news stories.  For example, The Charlotte Observer illustrates some fundamental precautionary measures to help avoid mistakes such as this.  One precaution that should have been taken with Palombo’s story is No. 4 on The Observer’s list of principles, which says,  “when we change a story, we must be absolutely sure nothing we do changes its meaning or tone or in any other way makes it inaccurate.”  In this situation, the editor should have conferred with the reporter to double-check the gender of Leslie Manning before automatically changing the “she” to “he.”

Generally, the copy editor won’t talk to the reporter directly, but will talk to the line editor instead.  The line editor will have knowledge of the story and should be able to answer any questions that the copy editor may have.  If it’s a matter of correcting grammar or reconstructing a sentence, then usually the copy editor will make those changes without consulting anyone, since this is part of his or her job.  This is the way that The Oklahoman conducts business.  Unless there is a chance of changing the meaning of a sentence or story, copy can be edited as needed without consulting the line editor.  However, if a reporter feels that a significant error was edited into a story, then the reporter should discuss the matter with the line editor to determine whether the correct protocol was followed.  In other words, the line of communication essentially goes from copy editor to line editor and then to the reporter, and back up the same way.  Typically the reporter will not communicate directly with the copy editor unless the line editor is not available.

All newspaper publications have protocols that are put into place for the reasons outlined above.  They are written to prevent any confusion or miscommunication about the proper way of handling errors in stories.  If the protocols are written correctly, they should leave no question unanswered.  Two excellent examples are provided by The Charlotte Observer and The Oklahoman.  They both give specific instructions and relevent examples of what is expected from each member of the publication — and both publications make it a priority to put the readers first.

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