Learning to Edit News Stories Quickly

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Students in news editing classes get plenty of homework that involves - you guessed it - editing news stories. But the problem with homework is that it's often not due for several days, and as any experienced journalist can tell you, editors on deadlines must usually fix stories within a matter of minutes, not hours or days.

So one of the most important skills a student journalist must cultivate is the ability to work fast. Just as aspiring reporters must learn to complete news stories on deadline, student editors must develop the ability to edit those stories quickly.

Learning to write rapidly is a fairly straightforward process that involves building up speed by banging out stories and exercises, over and over again.

There are editing exercises on this site. But how can a student journalist learn to edit more quickly? Here are some tips.

Read the Story All the Way Through

Too many beginning editors try to start fixing articles before they've read them from start to finish. This is a recipe for disaster. Poorly written stories are minefields of things like buried ledes and incomprehensible sentences. Such problems can't be properly fixed unless the editor has read the entire story and understands what it SHOULD say, as opposed to what it IS saying. So before editing a single sentence, take time to make sure you really understand what the story is all about.

Find the Lede

The lede is by far the most important sentence in any news article. It's the make-or-break opening that either entices the reader to stick with the story or sends them packing. And as Melvin Mencher said in his seminal textbook "News Reporting & Writing," the story flows from the lede.

So it's no surprise that getting the lede right is probably the most important part of editing any story. Nor is it surprising that many inexperienced reporters get their ledes horribly wrong. Sometimes ledes are just very badly written. Sometimes they're buried at the bottom of the story.

This means an editor must scan the entire article, then fashion a lede that's newsworthy, interesting and reflects the most important content in the story. That can take a little time, but the good news is that once you've created a good lede, the rest of the story should fall into line fairly quickly.

Use Your AP Stylebook

Beginning reporters commit boatloads of AP Style errors, so fixing such mistakes becomes a big part of the editing process. So keep your stylebook with you all the time; use it every time you edit; memorize the basic AP Style rules, then commit a few new rules to memory every week.

Follow this plan and two things will happen. First, you'll become very familiar with the stylebook and be able to find things more quickly; second, as your memory of AP Style grows, you won't need to use the book as often.

Don't Be Afraid to Rewrite

Young editors often worry about changing stories too much. Maybe they're not yet sure of their own skills. Or maybe they're afraid of hurting a reporter's feelings.

But like it or not, fixing a really awful article often means rewriting it from top to bottom. So an editor must cultivate a confidence in two things: his own judgment about what constitutes a good story vs. a real turd, and his ability to turn the turds into gems.

Unfortunately, there's no secret formula for developing skill and confidence other than practice, practice and more practice. The more you edit the better you'll get, and the more confident you'll be. And as your editing skills and confidence grow, so too will your speed.

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Your Citation
Rogers, Tony. "Learning to Edit News Stories Quickly." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/tips-for-editing-news-stories-quickly-2073695. Rogers, Tony. (2020, August 26). Learning to Edit News Stories Quickly. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-for-editing-news-stories-quickly-2073695 Rogers, Tony. "Learning to Edit News Stories Quickly." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-for-editing-news-stories-quickly-2073695 (accessed April 2, 2023).