Friday, September 28, 2012

More eyes on your stories

It was always obvious to me; get as many sets of eyes as possible on every story. But many "professionals" don't do that.

I worked at two non-daily newspapers with small staffs. Someone would backread my page, I guess for libel, but stories didn't get a good once-over. (I later realized that I needed to hear what an editor thought of my writing. When I later got that editing, I improved.)

That changed when I moved to my first daily newspaper, one with 18,000 six-day-a-week circulation. The sports editor would read my stories, and I'd read his. We also had two former sports editors on the news copy desk, and they'd often backread our local copy. A huge improvement. And I got better as a writer while I was there.

My next newspaper, one with about 45,000 seven-day-a-week circulation, had one man who laid out the sports section. He read everything, and at least one other person would backread him. At least I did. When I took his place on his days off, I had less help; I wasn't there to help me. And my writing slumped. I didn't have anyone to point out the flaws in my writing.

My fifth newspaper, one with about 100,000 daily circulation, did it right on some days. We'd have as many people read a story as we could. We had one careless writer who needed as many eyes as possible. We might have six people read his stories, and the sixth person was still finding two or three mistakes.

There were days, though, when I'd lay out a page with my own story or column on it, and I'd have to beg my friends on news side to read it for me. I did not want to send out one of my stories without someone else reading it. As many someones as possible. If I got better as a writer during that period, and I did, it was because I was freelancing with magazines. It was good to hear their critiques.

The best thing about this paper editing-wise was the "fly." Someone would stay late to check final, and he'd look for errors. If one deserved fixing (this was an expensive proposition), he'd make the change on the fly. (It was called that because the press wasn't stopped.) I probably did a fly eight or 10 times in 10-plus years there.

It seems ironic now, but the worst paper I've ever worked for had the best idea. We had a small staff (eight or 10 men), but we'd have four to six people read every locally-produced story. No exceptions. We found most of our mistakes.

My other two newspapers, one large one and one small one, were hit-or-miss on editing. If a story came in early at the larger paper, the sports editor or his assistant would read it. Otherwise, one person might read a local story, and there were nights when we had to shovel copy. If a story came in late enough, only one person would read a story, and all he did was to catch anything obvious, cut it to fit, avoid widow lines and put a headline on it. There was no real editing.

With my ninth paper, we had a terrific editor. If he could backread my stories, I felt safe. Sometimes a young man would edit my stuff, and he did a nice job, too. But there probably were times when my pages went to the printer with only me seeing them. That's frightening.

The biggest problem with this terrific editor is that I couldn't convince him that he needed more sets of eyes on stories. The more the merrier.

And much, much safer.


(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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