Editor dilemmas

George Daniels, University of Alabama

As we discuss the culture of Journalism, no one is more responsible for knowing the culture of journalism than an editor. Chapter 12 (of Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) on Editors presents you with not only a list of traits good editors, but also some guidelines for how editors and reporters should operate. After reading Chapter 12, in the following scenarios, 1) Identify what trait the editor is lacking and 2) Diagnose what’s wrong with the reporter-editor relationship. Make notes on each of the situations and we will discuss them Wednesday.

1. A reporter for the Tempe Times turns in a story about teen pregnancy problem in Tempe, which lacks statistics about the state in which Tempe is located. New to the area, the editor is oblivious to the teen pregnancy rallies held each year and a new statewide campaign on teen pregnancy. After the article is published, a furious reporter storms into the editor’s office because a sentence is left out of a quotation from the manager of the local health department. The omitted sentence changes the meaning of the story.

2. A veteran local television news health reporter, whose contract is not renewed, signs on at the local newspaper as the features section editor. In hiring her, the executive editor cites the ex-TV reporter’s 20 years in the community. The next week the executive editor is forced to intervene in a dispute between the concert reporter and the new features editor over a story that was re-edited in a broadcast writing style. The shorter sentences infuriated the writer, whose style has been more traditional inverted pyramid.

3. Quake magazine, a publication for seismologists, hires a new managing editor from National Geographic. In pitching stories about the San Andreas Fault, the managing editor suggests running a graphic that gives the Fujita Scale. The day before the magazine is to be printed, the reporter notices the scale, which is actually used for hurricanes, and alerts the publisher to the new managing editor’s faux pas. The managing editor apologizes and instead suggests running a graphic of the Richter scale to help seismologists understand what it is.

4. An African-American educators’ news website hires an Asian woman to be graphic design editor for the website. Flurries of e-mails come into the website’s publisher after the design editor used Ebonics (a type of African-American slang) in a graphic about low urban enrollment.

5. The city editor at a small community newspaper gets in a shouting match over a reporter’s use of quotes from Blueberry Baptist Church. The editor wanted the reporter to use quotes from a wire story. The reporter was upset to find her quotes from Blueberry Baptist, the largest church in the community, replaced with quotes from a national news story.

(Posted Feb. 2, 2005)

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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