I’m Marette Mendoza. I’ve been a copy editor at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com for five and a half years.
As a student at Arizona State University, my goal had always been to be a magazine writer. I thus focused most of my course load on print writing and had never really considered copy editing. How is it then that I became a copy editor? What have I learned from my experience?
I joined azcentral.com as an information specialist, a fancy way of saying I maintained a database of events and restaurants. I often expressed my desire to move into news, and pretty soon my supervisors promoted me to the news copy desk. At the time I was the youngest news copy editor at the newspaper. (Layoffs and buyouts have since changed that.)
Although I never expected to move into copy editing, I’m grateful for everything it has taught me. The most important takeaway has been that copy-editing skills are helpful not just for copy editors but for all journalists.
A basic tenet of journalist is to be accurate. Copy editing gets you into the habit of fact-checking. From July 2010, when a copy-editing accuracy database was created at The Republic news copy desk, until February 2013, I recorded more than 659 accuracy catches in that database. (And those were just the ones I had time to report; on many nights I fixed errors on deadline and forgot/didn’t have time to report them.) These mistakes were not style mistakes, they were legitimate factual errors in a story. Imagine if those errors, some hugely embarrassing, had made it into the newspaper? Our credibility takes a hit in the eyes of our readers with each mistake.
In my first year as a copy editor, I quickly discovered that one copy-editing class in college was not enough to prepare me for the realities of the newsroom.
First, you can memorize the AP Stylebook all you want, but some companies will have their own style rules or use a different style guide. Most of what I learned about copy editing happened on the job. I was initially dismayed to see that most of my headlines were changed by the slot editors (in case you don’t know, a slot gives stories a second read). To find out why, I asked for feedback. Lots of it. I kept a Word file with all of my headlines and what they were changed to and sent it to my supervisor regularly. He would then sit down with me and give me his take on why the headline was likely changed and how it could have been better. Without this help, I could not have improved my headline writing.
I encourage all journalism students to take a copy-editing class or seek out an internship. It’s an eye-opening experience to see how many things that were supposedly CQ’d turn out to be wrong or how often a typo can change the entire meaning of a sentence into something embarrassing.
If you want to go into online work, I would also suggest taking training courses on SEO practices and how writing headlines for print differs from writing ones for the Web. The best interns I’ve worked with accepted constructive criticism and sought to improve. Even if copy editing is not what you want to do with your life, soak in the experience and learn as much as you can. Even copy editors need copy editors.
Know that you will make mistakes (some even in big display type on a page) but learn from them. The race toward the finish on any night on the copy desk — especially with late-breaking news, when A1 stories might be sent to copy editing 10 minutes before deadline — teaches you to think on your feet while being as thorough as possible.
Working under pressure is something all journalists should be able to do. It teaches you to prioritize. Spotting a factual error, typo, libel or an unanswered question are more important than style when you only have a few minutes with copy.
To do the job well, copy editors must ask a lot of questions. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask what you think might be a “stupid question.” If something looks off, ask about it. Reporters should appreciate you potentially saving them from a blunder. But even when you make a huge catch, you may not get the recognition reporters and others often get for their work. Use social media, especially Twitter or a blog, to highlight your good catches and headlines. Enter editing contests regularly and join professional or student groups. Seek out the recognition you deserve.
As the field of journalism changes, I continue to believe that copy-editing skills are beneficial, but it doesn’t hurt to complement your copy-editing knowledge with solid reporting and online skills. I hope this post inspires some young journalists to look into copy editing.
If you’re a journalist who works with the web like me, you know exactly what the “pageview” is: The core number you look at in determining how much traffic your website (or, specifically, your story) is getting.
Every time a reader clicks on your site, that’s a pageview. Every time someone finds your headline on their Google News and clicks on it? Pageview. A photo gallery with 50 shots from the Tony Awards last night? Pageviews galore.
We’ve grown accustomed to using pageviews as a way to measure a piece of content’s success. And why not? Pageviews are easy and convenient to analyze. Thanks to photo galleries and “click-thru” presentations, they’re easy for news organizations to manipulate. And advertisers go ga-ga at the final numbers when buying online real estate.
But there’s a huge problem with pageviews when it comes to measuring success link by link: They’re lazy. Misleading. Worst of all, they promote faulty news practice.
Why? Consider this example.
You’re driving down the road and decide to stop at a restaurant for a quick bite. You’ve never been to this place. A quick glance at their menu and you find that they offer just about everything: Hamburgers, pizzas, quesadillas, french fries, fried zucchini, lasagna, the whole enchilada. You can have whatever you’re craving here! Seems awesome, right? That is, until you order the pizza and find out it tastes like somebody’s foot. It’s not even close to tasting like good pizza. It’s as if somebody quickly threw the ingredients together, tossed it in the oven for a quick heat and served it. Bleh.
Here’s the problem: This restaurant is trying to cater to every possible demographic by offering every comfort food known to man. In doing that, they put little to no focus in making sure those foods taste great every time they cook it. Quantity over quality.
Think of the best pizza you’ve ever had. Did that restaurant also serve hamburgers and quesadillas? Exactly.
That brings us back to pageviews. Many news sites will fall into this trap of quantity over quality: Trying to cover everything and the kitchen sink in the name of catering to every possible reader and to “increase pageviews.” Why? Because it’s fairly easy and generates easy numbers. As web editors, we’re all guilty of it to some degree. In some cases, it may be worth it to post that list of top 10 funny cat videos, only in the sense that it gives the reader what they want: Viral content that interests them.
However, it’s a slippery slope. More and more time is spent on easy, mediocre content rather than great, well-researched journalism. News organizations will look at a mediocre story as 1,250 pageviews they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They should look at a mediocre story as 1,250 pageviews that could’ve been used on great, unique content.
Think about it. You don’t know a story is low quality or mediocre until you click on it. And once you do, what do you think next? Do you stay on that website? Sure you have to pay that restaurant for that pizza that tasted like a foot, but are you ever going back there again? I’d rather attract the one satisfied customer who will come back once a week rather than the ten unsatisfied customers who won’t give me business again.
This is not to say pageviews aren’t important. They absolutely are. But “quantity over quality” is not the way to go about manipulating them. And there are other ways to analyze the quality of a page view when looking at your analytics: Bounce rate (how many readers are exiting your site after clicking a link?). Time spent on site. Click paths (how did readers get to your link? What did they click on next?). Engagement time.
So instead of spending time on posting as many possible stories as you can, pinpoint your focus on what you do best on your website and make it better. Add links to your staff stories. Add photos and/or photo galleries. Add interactive presentations. Add polls and trivia. Engage with your readers in the comments. As NYU professor Jay Rosen once said, give the reader more than they bargained for every time they come to your site.
Do that, and guess what? Those readers will keep coming back. They’ll share your content on social media and drive even more people to read and share your stuff. Suddenly, your content’s going viral — and it’s unique content they won’t find anywhere else. If you narrow down your menu and serve the best pizza in town, you won’t have a problem earning business ever again. That simple.
P.S.: While writing this post on pageviews, I saw this post by Sam Slaughter, VP of content at Contently, who shared a similar view on pageviews from an advertising perspective. A great read, as well.