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Careful editing and consistent coaching : bringing credibility to YOU AND your news product. NCSMA SUMMER WORKSHOP 2014 Colin Donohue, Elon University. 5-Minute Sprint. On a blank piece of paper, respond to the following prompt as quickly as you can without stopping to think, correct or edit.

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Careful editing and consistent coaching : bringing credibility to YOU AND your news product

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Careful editing and consistent coaching: bringing credibility to YOU AND your news product

NCSMA SUMMER WORKSHOP 2014Colin Donohue, Elon University

5-Minute Sprint

  • On a blank piece of paper, respond to the following prompt as quickly as you can without stopping to think, correct or edit.

    • I want to write about …

Math for Journalists

  • Remember this equation: A+B+C+D=Q

  • Let’s focus on the ‘A’ primarily today (with a little ‘C’ mixed in)


  • Here’s one simple requirement I present to my students: Spell names correctly and don’t insert factual errors into stories.

  • Easy enough. But what happens when mistakes happen?

  • The penalty is stiff.


  • Here’s what my syllabus says:

    • “Accuracy and truth are the core principles of all journalists. Factual errors and misspelled names in your articles will cost you 50 points, forcing an automatic failure. Triple check all factual claims and names in your stories before you turn them in. As the old journalism standard goes, ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’”

Types of Errors

  • Errors of FACT(e.g., misspelled or wrong names, wrong phone numbers, wrong web addresses, wrong ages or dates)

    • “Of the 10 men and women who were interviewed, five favored the proposal, three opposed it and three said they had not reached a decision.”

Types of Errors

  • Errors of GRAMMAR (e.g., subject/verb disagreement, dangling modifiers, personification)

    • “Pleased with everyone’s papers, the class received congratulations.”

    • “Someone left their hat on the table.”

Types of Errors

  • Errors of STYLE (e.g., lack of parallel structure, internal inconsistency)

    • “She enjoys writing, researching and reading her published work is great fun, too.”

Trust Yourself

  • An editor once told Mark Twain never to state as fact anything he could not personally verify. Twain wrote in a story:

    • “A woman giving the name of Mrs. James Jones, who is reported to be one of the society leaders of the city, is said to have given what purported to be a party yesterday to a number of alleged ladies. The hostess claims to be the wife of a reputed attorney.”




Pendulum’s New Motto

  • The Pendulum: News so nice, they print it twice

Read Three Times (at least)

  • First read: Leave the text alone (respectful and practical)

  • Second read: Look for and fix faults in grammar and style

  • Third read: Consider structure and flow


  • But always remember: When you’re editing the work of others, you’re editing others’ work.

  • Talk to the reporter. Be gracious. Be constructive.

  • Start by listening.

  • Then, ask questions to draw out roadblocks/information.

  • Advise when asked.

  • Focus first on what works.

Leading Creative People

  • Tips for managing creative people:

    • Extract ideas, don’t dictate them

    • Coach ideas more than you coach execution

    • Be the reader advocate

    • Understand “red tie” issues and don’t get hung up on them

    • Make feedback clear and consistent

      • Tracy Collins, deputy managing editor, The Arizona Republic

Constructive Criticism

  • Criticism, even when delivered constructively, can sometimes be difficult to appreciate and internalize. Some tips:

    • Be prepared: Familiarize yourself with the content and the situation.

    • Choose a time and place: Scheduling matters.

    • Show restraint: Don’t overstate your dissatisfaction and avoid generalizations about the work. (Be careful about using words, such as “awful” or “disgraceful.”)

    • Stay focused.

Constructive Criticism

  • Acknowledge that it’s a subjective process: Use phrases like “It’s my feeling” or “It’s my impression.”

  • Get the other person involved: Make it conversation, not a “dressing down.”

  • Set reasonable goals for change and get a commitment: Criticism sessions should end with some shared agreement on what needs to be done in the future.

    • Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D.

In the meantime …

  • Motivate your staff:

    • Catch people doing things right.

    • Convince people they’ll do their best work here.

    • Treat people as vitally important.

    • Make time for face-to-face management (Management by Walking Around).

  • Communicate with your staff:

    • Practice candor.

    • Set clear, simple goals for you and your staff.

In the meantime …

  • Manage your staff:

    • Don’t deliver criticism by email.

    • Hold people accountable.

  • Manage yourself:

    • Don’t hold grudges.

    • Be skeptical, not cynical.

In the meantime …

  • Be a leader:

    • Remember your moods are contagious.

    • Apply energy to the newsroom.

    • Learn from your colleagues.

    • Live the values you preach.

  • “Best Practices: The Art of Leadership in News Organizations”

5-Minute Sprint

  • How did you respond?

  • How might you use this with your writers/reporters?

  • Other exercises:

    • Observation

    • Postcard

    • Write a 10-minute first draft



  • You can access this PowerPoint and all the materials I sourced today (and more) by going to

  • Or email me at for an auto reply with the link.

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