Short-staffed newsrooms with increasing demand for quick-turnaround stories often force reporters to do what at first seems impossible: self editing.
That means double checking the spelling of people’s names and checking facts, but also checking quotes, which can be a tricky process. It’s against many news organizations’ policies and reporters’ own comfort levels to read back quotes to sources verbatim. And that could partly be because it gives a source an opportunity to try and retract what they’ve already said on the record.
“I’ll read it to them. What I usually tell them is it’s not for approval. I make that clear, but what I want to make sure is that we’re being accurate and that we’re also being fair to them,” says Detroit Free Press web editor Frank Witsil, who spoke at a panel discussion about self-editing at the 2013 Asian American Journalists Association Convention in New York. But ultimately, the best way to make sure a quotes are accurate is to record them, Witsil says.
“If you’re going to tape record it or record it in some way, make sure you have a counter … and you’re still taking notes so you can make a note.” said Dawn Wotapka, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. “That way if you want to go back and check the accuracy of that quote … you don’t have to transcribe it. Just as you’re writing, you go to that point and make sure the quote is correct.”
But self-editing is more than just about accuracy. Style is important, especially when you’re writing for a publication with a specific writing style and voice.
At Fortune Magazine, for instance, the editing process is a thorough one. Articles go through several rounds of editing that can sometimes be uncomfortable, says Katie Benner, who writes for the magazine and its Website. An editor might give harsh critiques on content and style for a magazine piece, but posts on Fortune’s website don’t go through such a rigorous editing process, she says. As a result, Benner says she takes any editing she can get very seriously and being edited is a discomfort that writers should cherish.
“It’s a humbling process and its so important,” Benner says.