Creating a copy editor's portfolio

Leslie-Jean Thornton | Arizona State University

Reporters, photographers and graphic artists have skills that are easy to display. Editors, who deal with the words, ideas and art of others, have more difficulty showing what they can do and what they know. It's difficult to get a sense of who they are as potential professionals. Scoring well on an editing test during a job interview is important, but often getting that interview depends on up-front material. An online editing portfolio can showcase the applicant's visual and word editing skills as well as his or her knowledge of the many talents needed to be a modern editor.

How does the assignment or exercise work?

The assignment relies on free, easy-to-learn blogging software, although the goal is not a blog but a site. Each student opens an account and, after hearing the goal, chooses an appropriate "theme" (design). These are easily customized class assignments teach them how to create those items in stages. An early goal in the editing class, which deals with visual as well as word skills, is to master Photoshop basics, for example. The creation of a site banner is a good lesson. Another task is to suss out blogs that deal with editing issues; that goes toward creating a blogroll or resource list.

Creating headlines and explanatory blurbs is key to being a good editor these days: the portfolio provides practice. They learn valuable computer skills, such as screengrabbing and working with pdfs, as they provide examples of how they edited and designed newspaper, magazine and Web story packages and pages using current AP stories and photographs. They demonstrate how they'd research a complex story to edit it knowledgeably. They find and interview an editor who does a job they'd be interested in doing, then write and package the story. Finally, they promote their and each other's interviews on Twitter.

How is the assignment innovative?

Even the smallest news organizations are expanding to the Web; often copy editors are required to prepare copy for both print and online. The portfolio presents the aspiring copy editor as someone skilled in that area, and its very creation ensures that the student understands many of the aspects of Web journalism and the limitations of working within content management systems. It's almost like learning a style guide. It provides reinforcement, allows students to immediately show off their good work, and can be the backbone of a professional portfolio that stays with them (and grows) for years.

How do you overcome pitfalls?

There is a temptation for students to show off work before its time. After noting a few of these instances, I made a point of requiring a review and revision period (and clearance from me) before the work could go public. Some of the students were nervous about creating a Web site, but patient coaching early on persuaded them that it really was surprisingly easy to do. Classrooms that don't have access to high-end editing tools, such as Photoshop, can find free or inexpensive substitutes online. These are more than sufficient for teaching the basics - and teach resourcefulness.

What is the impact of the assignment or exercise?

I debuted this exercise this past semester. I've had positive feedback from students who report having used their portfolios in job searches already. The editor interviews resulted in numerous invitations to "stay in touch." Editing students, who so rarely have "something to show," appear delighted with the new tool. I learned much about teaching in stages that have practical ends, and I plan to adapt several of the assignments (particularly the interview) to other classes. The portfolio format could be used for showing news literacy, for example, or basic editing, reporting and writing skills.

Two portfolios

Edited: A Copy Editor's Resource |
Cammie Sammartino |
The idea was the 21010 winning faculty submission in the AEJMC Newspaper Division's Teaching News Terrifically in the 21st Century competition.

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