For many reasons, but mostly because of a query about how a college-level class about copy editing could be structured, I have been thinking about how copy editing can be taught.
From this pondering, I have decided to start an infrequent series of posts that explore the basics of copy editing.
I have learned over time that the first thing a person who is interested in being a copy editor should learn is how to read information and know what it is about.
If there is to be any editing beyond simple punctuation and grammar fixes, the copy editor has to grasp what is happening in the article.
Breaking news and gamer sports stories are easy: an event happened. But news analysis and features can be more complex. If the copy editor cannot understand that the analysis has to do with superdelegates in the upcoming presidential election, they will never understand why a quote about Elliot Spitzer being a supporter of candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is important. Finding any significant, or even many minor, errors in the story really hinges on understanding the larger picture--what it is all about.
Being able to understand what an article is about is especially important for any copy editor who must also write display copy such as headlines and captions. A headline is the news story wrapped up in significantly fewer words, and not knowing what the article is about would leave a copy editor in the dark.
Is it easy to teach a person to read in this way? Perhaps. In really breaking it down, it is Critical Thinking 101.
At one point in my journalism education, I was taught to jot down key words as I read through and edited stories. Then, when it came to the headline, I had words to work with and build from. In reality, this also made me pin down what was going on in the story.
Another exercise I remember was writing one-sentence summaries for all of the news stories in a newspaper section each day. (Kind of sounds close to headline writing, huh?) At that time, there was a grade on the line. Now, there are thousands of readers grading my headlines, and I don't want to be the one to fail them.