Handbook of Independent Journalism (5) : Editing The Story

Coaching creates sharper journalism in a more humane newsroom. It makes dialogue a reward, not a punishment. And because people remember what they practice, coaching ultimately helps journalists do better work.

Headlines, Captions, and Teases
Besides editing reporters’ stories, editors are responsible for additional material that accompanies the stories.

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In newspapers and online newsrooms, editors write headlines for stories and captions for photos. A headline is both a summary and an advertisement.

It gives the audience a quick idea of what the story is about, and tells readers why they should be interested in reading the entire piece.

A caption is more of a label, telling readers what the photograph or graphic shows.

In broadcast newsrooms, producers may write headlines and also what are called teases, short descriptions of stories designed to make listeners or viewers want to stay tuned to get the full report.

Headlines, by definition, are short and catchy. A print headline summarizes the story, gets the reader’s attention, helps to organize the news on the printed page, and, through the use of different sizes of type, indicates the relative importance of each story.

When writing a headline, the editor simply does not compress the lead paragraph into just a few words.

Good editors try to capture the central point of the story in the headline, so they need to understand a story fully before trying to write a headline.

The editor has to read the story from beginning to end, and look at the photographs and graphics that will accompany the story.

If the main point isn’t obvious, the editor should consult with the reporter rather than guess and risk printing a headline that is misleading or wrong.

Besides, a confused editor is one indication that the story probably needs more work.

The language in headlines should be simple and straightforward. Use proper names and present tense.

It’s generally acceptable not to use conjunctions — articles like “the” — and to drop linking verbs like “is” or “were.”

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