Handbook of Independent Journalism (5) : Editing The Story

The newspaper must be printed on time, the newscast must go on the air, and mistakes cannot be allowed to go through.

But in newsrooms committed to coaching, editors don’t wait until the last minute to check a reporter’s copy.

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By working with reporters throughout the process, editors help reporters produce better stories that require less editing time at the end of the process.

Botswanan journalist Rodrick Mukumbira, currently with the Ngami Times, says he considers coaching a central part of his job as a news editor.

“An editor should not only assign a reporter and correct mistakes in the final draft,” Mukumbira says. “He should intervene in the reporting process — when the reporter is struggling with the lead — to save time on the final article.”

A coaching editor will talk to reporters before they leave the newsroom, when they call in from the field, and as soon as they return, before they begin to write.

The coaching editor asks simple questions that can help the reporter focus the story, such as:

• What happened?
• What is your story really about?
• What does the audience need to know?
• How can you make this clear?
• What do you think of your story so far?
• What needs work?
• What do you need to do next?
• How can I help you?

Editors who coach always look for something to praise and encourage in every story, and when they point out problems they focus on only a few at a time.

The Poynter Institute’s Jill Geisler says that when she coaches, she sits on her hands.

As a coach, she does not want to touch the reporter’s copy but rather to let the reporter talk about the story so she can listen for clarity and raise questions the writer needs to answer.

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