2007 Breakfast of Editing Champs
Professors & the pros come together in D.C.

The top good-news line of Breakfast of Editing Champions 2007 came from Ju-Don Roberts, managing editor of washingtonpost.com: "Copy editing is the single best role I've had" to prepare for working in online journalism.

Her comment brought a sigh of relief from many of the editing teachers gathered for the annual meeting, but it was hardly the only important point that was brought out. This year's gathering concentrated on online concerns: developments at the intersection of traditional editing and the world of multiple platforms and Web-first publishing.

The consensus of the capstone panel was that there is still no consensus on workflow issues in the multi-platform newsroom, such as speed vs. accuracy and all-day vs. print focus.

Still, repeated calls for teachers to emphasize the fundamentals, in matters as diverse as house style and the quality of sourcing, struck a familiar chord for the audience.

Panelist Erika Compart, chief copy editor at Politico.com, pointed out that just because something - such as a particular spelling of a name - pops up 10,000 times on a Google search doesn't mean it's correct. Before the breakfast, Compart shared the following anecdote about the importance of good sources:

When I was editing for U.S. News, an intern sent me a short blurb for the Web site containing a "quote" from the movie Titanic. "Iceberg - dead ahead!" it said.

"Are you sure about this?" I asked him. "I could have sworn it was 'Iceberg - right ahead!'"

"I'm pretty sure," he said, "but I'll double-check."

A few minutes later, I received another e-mail from him, in which he insisted that he was correct because he found hundreds of Web pages using "Iceberg - dead ahead!" and only 40 using "Iceberg - right ahead!" A few producers piped in, as well, saying that it was correct as written.

This still didn't sit right with me, because I distinctly remembered hearing "right ahead" in the film, so I did a quick search of my own. His numbers were correct, but I came across a RealAudio clip on PBS's Web site, in which the actor in the film can clearly be heard saying "Iceberg - right ahead!"

So we ended up changing the blurb to include that wording, and I reminded the intern that, in fact-checking, the quality, and not the quantity, of sources is what matters most. It was a good reminder to me to trust my instincts, as well.

The panel was moderated by Ryan Thornburg, who at the time of the breakfast was wrapping up his tenure as managing editor of U.S. News & World Report's online operation before joining UNC-Chapel Hill's faculty. Roberts and Compart were joined on the panel by Arwen Bicknell, senior Web producer at Congressional Quarterly, and Sue Lancaster, copy desk chief at the Cincinnati Enquirer. The breakfast was sponsored by the Hearst Journalism Fellowship.

The exchange of teaching ideas also focused on interactive ideas, such as the use of podcasts to hone interview techniques (from Macon McKinley). Leslie-Jean Thornton offered a set of "new" things for student editors to learn that also combined traditional skills - the ability to write narrative cutlines and multiple forms of the same hed - with such modern ones as search engine optimization.

- Fred Vultee

You'll find handouts from the panelists as PDF downloads to the left, under Resources.

Contributions from the Teaching Idea Exchange can be found in EditTeach.org's collection of teaching exercises.

Check out the 2006 Breakfast of Editing Champions.

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