Three credits Steve Strasser
9:00 – 11:50 Wednesday Office: Room 407
Room 430 Cell: 646-831-9801
Editors are the leaders of a journalistic enterprise, establishing its culture and setting its standards. Good editors are prized by employers in this era of the information glut; they can enable a publication to make the leap from providing commodity news to producing quality news. This course will help you understand the editor’s responsibilities at all levels, from junior story editor to senior manager. And it will help you think like an editor, an advantage that will improve the quality of your own reporting and writing.
The course will introduce the skills of copyediting. Students who intend to specialize in copyediting will learn the essential techniques and develop a feel for the job. But do not expect this to be primarily a copyediting class. Above all, the course will emphasize two sets of leadership attributes appropriate for students who want to rise in the ranks of editors.
First is the editor’s role as the go-to person who uses sound judgment and makes good decisions under pressure. Second is the editor’s role as the top cop, ensuring high standards of reporting, writing and design.
Classes generally will be divided into three segments: a themed discussion of topics and readings; exercises and quizzes reinforcing the discussion points and demonstrating mastery of copyediting skills; and a workshop for developing the semester-long project outlined below.
In the semester-long project, teams of students will develop plans for digital magazines, putting the lessons of the course to practical use. In Week 14, each team will present its proposal to the class, demonstrating the principles of editing that we have discussed.
The work of the class will be conducted openly. As in any journalistic enterprise, much of our work will be accessible to our colleagues and shared among the group. A spirit of helpful criticism will prevail. An editor’s primary role, after all, is not to destroy the bad, but to enhance the good in every piece of journalism.
By the end of this course, students will be able to
- edit written copy with sensitivity, emphasizing brevity, correctness and style
– shape content for efficiency by compiling, editing and condensing stories
– display stories with maximum impact through use of headlines and media
– write effective captions integrating images into written stories
- practice the top editor’s function of choosing and ranking a mix of stories designed for a particular publication and readership
- encompass the needs and opportunities provided by diverse writers and news communities
- understand the top editor’s role in maintaining standards of fair, accurate and ethical journalism
Editors must be models of the highest journalistic standards. By attending this class, students accept an honor code that forbids absolutely any instances of plagiarism, falsification or other forms of cheating. Any violation of this code will result in serious disciplinary action, including possible dismissal from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Students are required to observe the honor code themselves – and to notify the professor of any perceived violations of the code among other class members.
Plagiarism – taking any material created by another person and representing it as a student’s own original work – is a serious ethical violation. Plagiarism may involve copying text from a book or magazine without attributing the source, or lifting words, photographs, videos, or other materials from the Internet and attempting to pass them off as a student’s own. Student work may be analyzed electronically for plagiarized content. Please ask the instructor if you have any questions about how to distinguish between acceptable research and plagiarism.
Falsification involves instances of fabricating, altering or inventing sources, quotes or any other information used in a story. It includes the use of pseudonyms and composite sources – taking information gathered from two or more people and presenting it as the experience of a single person. In general, every quote and piece of reported information in a story must be attributed.
Also forbidden are any forms of academic cheating. These include referring to available solutions or to a classmate’s answers on a quiz, and referring to published solutions in a classroom exercise.
Weekly quizzes, exercises and written reports: 30
Final project: 60
Class participation: 10
The New York Times daily
Weekly selections outlined in the syllabus
Assorted magazines as outlined in the syllabus
Week One: AUGUST 28
Discussion: Course introduction: This is a class on magazine and story editing, with a strong component of copyediting. Principles of the semester: 1. Editors are intelligent readers. 2. Editors make stories better and are decisive forces in the editorial process. 3. Editors are meticulous. 4. Editors work well in groups. 5. Top editors are the link between their publications and their readers. Other elements of the class include exercises and student-led readings, quizzes and peer reviews. The honor code. The semester wrap-up exercise.
Exercise: Copyediting mechanics and symbols.
Workshop: Students will form teams of five or more editors, assign responsibilities and come up with ideas for an original and unique online multimedia publication. Who is your readership and why do these readers need your publication? Introducing the first major assignment: writing a prospectus. Assign a site editor, a copy chief and a social-media editor.
Assignment: Examine the culture and content of various magazines. Student teams will read two assigned magazines from among those listed in the next paragraph and read them cover to cover, analyzing structure and content.
The paired magazines are similar but not so similar: Esquire and GQ, Glamour and Vogue, The Economist and Time, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Fortune, The New Yorker and New York, The Weekly Standard and The New Republic, Harper’s and The Atlantic. To what extent do these magazines compete for the same readers, and how do they differentiate themselves?
Reading for next class: Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, Chapter 1 and part of Chapter 8. Editor to Author: Max Perkins to Fitzgerald, saying “don’t defer;” to Fitzgerald on Gatsby; to Hemingway on Wolfe; to Wolfe on editing. How did Perkins work? What characterized his relationship with his authors?
AP style for next class: Learn the standard editing symbols. Be prepared for an exercise on addresses, ages and capitalization.
Week Two: SEPTEMBER 11
Discussion: The semester assignment in detail. The prospectus. The audience and voice. Multimedia tools. Story lists and editing schedules. Peer reviews. Analyzing examples from past classes. Analyzing professional online publications.
Exercise: Students will write and edit linking stories appropriate for their magazines.
Workshop: Class feedback on ideas for new publications.
Assignment: Research models for your new publication and prepare to discuss them in next week’s workshop. Research a range of digital tools for journalists and be prepared to discuss them in next week’s class. Finalize a site choice, get it online (by September 25), and start populating it with news briefs, links and a blog.
Reading for next class: Layers of Magazine Editing, Chapter 8, Editorial Muscle: Checking an Article’s Fit and Tone. What is the voice of your publication? The Layers of Magazine Editing: Chapter 9: Beginnings, Endings, and All That Comes Between.
AP style for next class: Dates, monetary units, numerals.
Week Three: SEPTEMBER 18
Discussion: Story editing. The fundamental steps of editing and re-editing stories for publication. Reading a story for fit, for voice, for content, for structure, for accuracy, for grammar and punctuation, and for style. Editing stories as a whole, then sentence by sentence, then word by word.
Exercise: Consider the culture and audience of a news magazine. Edit a news magazine story for fit, voice and structure.
Workshop: Consider models for your publication. Identify features that would work in your publication and features that would not work. Formulate a social-media strategy. Start a style sheet. Develop a tools palette. Discuss an ethics statement.
Assignment: Bring to class five online headlines that caught your attention. Why do these heds work?
Reading for next class: Notes on Search Engine Optimization; are we editing for computers, not humans?
AP style for next class: Plurals, Punctuation I (apostrophes).
Week Four: SEPTEMBER 25
Discussion: The art of the hed. The tricks of writing heds that communicate the essence of a story instantly. The elements of sentence heds and label heds, news heds, feature heds and review heds. How web and search-engine optimized (SEO) heds have evolved from newspaper heds. Uses of links and tags. The next trend: SMO – Social Media Optimization.
Exercise: Write a hard-news headline and a soft-news headline for given stories. Subject each one to the class’s evaluation.
Workshop: Draft a prospectus for your publication, selling it to investors. Outline your publication, its working title, its rationale, its audience, its departments and a range of stories.
Assignment: Bring in examples of good and bad display copy (as defined in next week’s discussion topic).
Reading for next class: Discuss the structures of the following articles: Big Med, by Atul Gawande; Beyond the Battlefield, by David Wood; The Jockey.
AP style for next class: Punctuation II (brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses).
Week Five: OCTOBER 2
Discussion: The art of text and photo display. How photos and captions work together to attract and inform the reader. The ethics of using and cropping photos. How to add value to a display through its “furniture” – the headlines, decks, text blocks, graphics and captions that give a quick summary of an article’s contents.
Exercise: Add heds to given news and feature stories, then compare your results with the pros’ solutions.
Workshop: Finalize prospectus and submit to professor.
Assignment: Research story lists for magazines that serve as models for your site. Draft a list of the newsiest stories for your own site. Determine how to best display them on your home page. Decide on a theme and logo for your publication.
Reading for next class: Elements of Typographic Style: Chapter 1: The Grand Design. The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web. How does typography – and by extension all design – “honor content?”
AP style for next class: Punctuation III (periods, question marks, quotation marks, semicolons).
Week Six: OCTOBER 9
Discussion: The art of packaging. What an editor needs to know about design. How editors select and rank information on a page. How to arrange and pace stories to work well together in a publication. How to know when a page works well and when it doesn’t. An introduction to tablet layouts.
Exercise: Devise a table of contents for your publication.
Workshop: Prepare a complete story list for your roll-out issue. Assign writing and editing within the group. Each member of the team should submit at least one short article (300-500 words) and a variety of briefs. Additional articles may come from other CUNY classes. Briefs may be compiled and written from outside sources, with credit. Each story should come with a plan for photos, illustrations and graphics, as appropriate. Actual photos and graphics, if any, should be produced by CUNY students.
Assignment: Watch The Guardian’s coverage of The Three Little Pigs scandal. How does the role of professional journalists mesh with that of the audience and citizen journalists?
Reading for next class: Robert Gottlieb interview. The editor of a magazine v. the editor of a book.
AP style for next class: Titles.
Week Seven: OCTOBER 16
Discussion: The top-editor I: leader in a changing journalistic world. News judgment. Master of the story list. Staying ahead of the arc of the news. The new news environment. Professional quality at high speeds.
Exercise: Explosion on West End Avenue: Cover a breaking news story.
Workshop: Rough out a front page or home page for your publication, showing your strategy for prioritizing your editorial material and attracting readers. The home page should both attract readers and highlight the newsiest items.
Assignment: Research a recent case of plagiarism or falsification. How could an editor minimize chances of such missteps? Be prepared to discuss your point of view and to suggest codes of legal and ethical journalistic behavior.
Reading for next class: Digital Media Law Project web site (sections on intellectual property rights and risks associated with publication). Selection on Bernstein v. Woodward in All the President’s Men.
Week Eight: OCTOBER 23
Discussion: The top-editor II: Workplace issues: managing in a highly competitive, decentralized environment. Uses and limits of creative friction. Maintaining ethical standards.
Exercise: Students form teams, each of which comes up with a code governing stories, photos, audio and video elements of their publications. The code should take account of intellectual property rights, privacy rights, and laws covering copyright, libel and slander.
Workshop: Share your story list with the professor for feedback. Devise an editing process for your group based on a story list and editing schedule. Gather and write editorial material for your publication.
Assignment: Research revenue models for new print/online publications.
Bring to class an ad supplement; prepare to discuss how its articles differ from a publication’s independent articles.
Reading for next class: Woe Is I: Chapter 10, Saying Is Believing. How do you self-edit?
Week Nine: OCTOBER 30
Discussion: Kinds of stories: Breaking news, enterprise news, features, compilations, links, briefs.
Exercise: Compile a story from online sources for your online publication.
Workshop: Gather material for stories.
Assignment: Bring in two or more longer articles (original articles, if possible) that could be turned into briefs for your publication in next week’s exercise.
Reading for next class: Telling True Stories: A Writer and Editor Talk Shop; Care and Feeding of Editors and Writers.
WEEK TEN: NOVEMBER 6
Discussion: The editor as efficiency expert. Say the most in the least amount of space/time. Writing summaries, briefs and linked stories.
Exercise: Turn a longer story for your publication into a brief that leaves out no important information. Write a brief for your publication linking to a story at another site. Write a one-sentence summary of a longer story.
Workshop: Write and edit material for your publication.
Reading for next class: Layers of Magazine Editing, Chapter 10: How’s that again? The facts of fact checking. Checkpoints, by John McPhee. How could you integrate fact-checking into your editorial process?
Week Eleven: NOVEMBER 13
Discussion: For the next three classes we will emphasize the editor’s attention to detail. Giving importance to structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation and style is infectious. A publication that respects and masters these basics improves its quality and believability. This week: Fixing paragraphs and structure.
Exercise: Improve the structure of a given article.
Workshop: Write and edit material for your publication. Final design evaluation.
Reading for next class: Eats Shoots and Leaves, Chapter 1: The Seventh Sense. Are you a stickler for correct punctuation? Should all editors be sticklers?
Week Twelve: NOVEMBER 20
Discussion: Attention to Detail II: Fixing sentences.
Exercise: Cutting without slashing: Trim at least 20 percent of the words from a given story without losing substance or the writer’s voice.
Workshop: Write and edit material for your publication.
Reading for next class: Clark Hoyt on “So Many Names, So Many Corrections.”
Week Thirteen: DECEMBER 4
Discussion: Attention to Detail III: Fixing words.
Exercise: Copy edit a given article.
Workshop: Work on final presentations.
Assignment: Prepare for final presentations.
Week Fourteen: DECEMBER 11
Discussion: Class presentations.
Exercise: Semester review.
Workshop: Final presentation and exercise.
Assignment: Reading: Orwell on Politics and the English Language.