Skills for journalists in print and digital media

Q&A: Sloppy copy

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Question: One of my reporters has many talents, but turning in clean copy is not one of them. I dread opening up this person’s stories knowing I will likely face a maze of misspelled words, typos, style problems, and unchecked facts. How do you train someone to turn in clean copy? — J.H., Seattle

Answer: First off, do you have a clear standard for how you want copy to arrive? How would you state the expectation for clean copy? Even though you may assume its obvious, a first step is to draw the line of a clear expectation or “desired outcome.” Example:

All copy will be filed on deadline having been spell checked, revised for style, grammar and typographical errors, and all facts (anything that if in error would result in a published correction) properly CQ’d. Copy turned in on deadline, without those quality control steps taken, will be considered to have missed deadline and will be sent back.

Armed with a clear standard, if necessary, then spell out what needs to be done to achieve that standard. Such as actually running the spell check  program, taking one more read on a story just for style-grammar-typos, using the newsroom’s style book. And describe what steps to take to properly CQ names, locations, figures and other facts in a story — including URLs and phone numbers — and how to indicate in copy that each fact is CQ’d. If the person truly does not know how to produce clean copy, or was under the mistaken impression that is your job, then these are the steps to take to change that person’s performance.

Then the person will either improve, or you will know their failure to do so is not a training issue, but rather a management issue. That means training is not the solution. Instead, some form of  progressive discipline to underscore the importance of clean copy and what is at stake for the person who chooses not to meet that standard. Failure to respond becomes a personnel issue.

This will take some time and effort. But far less than you are now devoting to cleaning up bad copy.

And in what may seem like a small-scale example, the same process applies to all the skills and behaviors newsroom managers are trying to coach with their staff, all in a rapidly changing landscape of print and digital media. The need has never been greater to quickly frame evolving standards, describe how to achieve them, and coach for success.


Written by mroberts8

03/03/2010 at 11:21 pm

Posted in Newstraining, Q&A

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