2009 Breakfast of Editing Champions
Packed room at AEJMC gets a glimpse into copy editing's possible future

Copy editors are ...

- essential to high-quality journalism
- a dying breed
- curators of aggregated content
- badly named
- all of the above

The question was at the heart of this year's Breakfast of Editing Champions at the AEJMC convention in Boston. About 130 journalism educators gathered to talk about the craft of copy editing and its future in the digital age. The eighth annual breakfast was generously supported by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. Information is now available on the 2010 internship program.

Some questioned whether copy editing - as it has been traditionally defined, practiced and taught - has a future in the gateless online world of speed posting, aggregation and social media.

Guests Josh Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, and David Beard, editor of boston.com, started the discussion hours before the breakfast - by tweeting their followers.

Beard (Twitter ID dabeard) asked what should journalism professors know about the future of editing. What he heard went from bad to worse:

"Not sure a role for copy editors is even envisioned in the new mediascape," wrote Dan Kennedy, Media Nation blogger and Northeastern University prof. "A mistake."

From another Tweeter: "Sell blood."

Benton asked his followers what he should tell the gathered editing professors. The response was pure Twitterspeak: quick, fierce - and, of course, not always edited:

  • "They need to know that the need to get facts and tone right or lose market share is as sharp as ever even on web."

  • "Content will be increasingly independent of the environment where it was created; and unmoored from it's guiding, editing hand."

  • "That all texts should be edited with expectation of disaggregation. Readers may only encounter sentence, paragraph of final piece."

  • "IMO the future of editing is like software QA: mult. sets of eyes working anywhere in world on a test cycle run thru Web-based CMS"

  • "Decentralization and/or collaboration"

  • "1. Editors are not gods. 2. It's about getting the story RIGHT, gettng it first is gravy."

  • "How about: In the age of Twitter, it is more important than ever to be concise."

  • "Get it right when you're reporting. That makes editing easier throughout the process."

  • "for one thing, prepare them for what @rguareschi calls a fluency in multimedia narratives (seen as a culture, not a set of skills)."

  • "Editing has always been more than changing words/images. But in the future power shifts even further towards reader"

  • "Edit a story with an eye on cross-platform repurpose of that story--print, webinar, web, podcast etc."

  • "Future of editing: loss of control; learning to let go; and living, evolving content (not just wrapping tomorrow's fish and chips"

  • "J school students should be learning how to artfully integrate SEO into their writing"

  • "That line editing skills R now less important than social editing skills & producing info is now less important than curating it."

  • "How to use Google to check for plagiarism"

  • "Don't assume your writers will know how to spell or construct a sentence!"

  • "J-grads need to know practical basics: How to build a website. How to fact-check. How to edit images. How to QUESTION EVERYTHING."

  • "That it's important, no matter the media. Internet is no excuse for sloppiness."

  • "I thought that editing/copyediting is dead. Many places put no $ into it."

  • "Editing isn't just changing words/images. It's a sensibility. In a content-crowded world, curation is crucial."

  • "That the future of editing isn't editing at all - it's curating content, data and discussion."

  • "Endlessly arguing glories of semicolon no longer cut it. I say that w/ some sadness, but it's a faster world."

  • "That editors need to include their audiences in the editing process....somehow"

  • "Editors must think on multiple platforms"

  • "They need to do a better job teaching people the task."

  • "Let's remind journo profs to tell future editors: Less adjectives, stronger verbs"

  • "That it is still necessary. The web may be the downfall of printed newspapers, but unedited content still sucks."

Benton's Facebook friends also chimed in:

  • "That you need to be very versatile -- reporting, writing and video-fluent; plus tech savvy enough to Tweet, write, do photo/video and report from scene with your mobile device. Yes, even editors. I'm a reporter-editor who has to do that now."

  • "Death to the walking stand-up and all other tired conventions of TV news."

  • "Don't kill the voice."

  • "Blogging journalists don't need [editors] to tell them [what] readers want: They already know, because the readers are on their blogs telling them what they want - In this new relationship, editors are the middlemen being cut out."

  • "Teach those kids to self edit."

  • "That it's more important than ever that they teach editing, even as the ranks of editors and layers of editing are thinned, so that future journalists can at least learn better how to edit themselves"

  • "The importance of self editing is going to be crucial in the future of journalism. I feel like I need to edit myself better because of all the blogging."

Benton and Beard added their own perspectives to the comments to lead an energetic conversation at the breakfast. Doug Fisher's blog, Common Sense Journalism, carries a good summary of the discussion; here are some excerpts:

From Benton on future of editing: Many new ventures online are sole person not necessarily hewing to style. Large orgs like Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo have more editors than writers/reporters. But those editors see themselves as curators/aggregators. Some key features he sees of new editing jobs.

- A key feature of new jobs will be coaxing journalistic-quality work out of non-journalists. Actually, he says, that's always been an important skill on community papers, if you think about it.

- Solid headline writing with a good understanding of search engine optimization.

- Curation, much like the old wire editor who combined various stories into one comprehensive report - the ability to ingest large amounts of information and find the nuggets.

- Not so important: AP style, which tends to promote sameness, and the ability to shape multiple voices into one kind of house style.

Beard's key features are:

- An open mind

- Ability to reprioritize on a dime

- The ability to be what he calls an 'early steward/process maker' who can help build best practices in this new era that incorporate the best of what we have been doing.


Fisher's blog also carries a report of someone who left in protest of Benton's comments, which Fisher and Benton explore in the blog's comments section. The organizer of the breakfast and editor of EditTeach - that would be me, Deborah Gump (Twitter ID dgump) - encourages anyone who objected to Benton's comments so strongly as to leave to get in touch with me. Let's look for ways to more fully explore the concerns.


Leslie-Jean Thornton of Arizona State University (Twitter ID ljthornton), who filed a Twitterfeed through much of the convention, had these breakfast reports:

  • "From @jbenton: Importance of using, knowing AP style is likely to shrink as its purpose has partially disappeared."

  • "At Editing Champions session, @dabeard of Boston Globe said copy editing job has changed, title should, too. Curator?"

  • "Of growing value: skill in writing headlines. Heds need to do so much more these days."

  • "From @jbenton: Copy editors must harness & encourage great work from growing number of relatively untrained people."

  • "From @jbenton: Copy editors are more likely to be content producers than in past."

  • "From @jbenton: 2 major trends: Rise of sole practitioner & rise of editor as curator."

  • "From @dabeard: Step up to be a process maker for new thing that will happen."

  • "From @dabeard: Teach students to be audacious & entrepreneurial. It will make difference in jobs."

  • "From @dabeard: Students should build muscle memory for basic tasks; it will = speed."

The Teaching Idea Exchange

The breakfast also featured the annual Teaching Idea Exchange, moderated by Andy Bechtel of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the ideas were new ways to teach grammar and style, ease math phobias and point out the pointlessness of puffy language - with the help of George Carlin. Here's a full list of the shared teaching ideas:

In class with Carlin | Brian Baresch, University of Texas, Austin. The link will take you full details of Brian's idea, but if you can't wait to watch the video, here it is:

Breaking news online ' | Bill Cloud, UNC-Chapel Hill

Bringing blogging into editing classes | Amber Willard Hinsley

Math for journalists - and readersLINK NAME | Anthony Moretti, Point Park University

The grammar game | Maggie Jones Patterson, Duquesne University

Immediate feedback on headlines | Carl Schierhorn, Kent State University

A random act of kindness | Michael Ray Smith, Campbell University

Teaching AP Style | Jill Van Wyke, Drake University

The DVD Resource-a-palooza

Registered breakfast attendees go home with a DVD of resources collected throughout the year. This year's DVD included many of the PowerPoints and handouts used at the 2009 Maynard Multimedia Editing Program, "Daily Show" clips and links to dozens of Web sites. Many of these resources will be added to EditTeach.org, but in the meantime, here are two of them:

The Twouble with Twitters (Be patient; the embedded video may take a few seconds to show up.)

You Got Gumped

The other takeaways

The breakfast's editing champs offered these takeaways from the program:

  • Andy Bechtel, UNC-Chapel Hill: "I liked the discussion of what makes a good Tweet: Positively worded ones bring more clicks."

  • Michael Longinow, Bioala University: "Best thing for me was the discussion about Web and convergence by both speakers. Their comments about aggregating and curating was a mind-blower - and vital for us as faculty."

  • Susan Keith, Rutgers University: "For me the most useful thing was Jill Van Wyke's idea of dividing the AP stylebook into topical areas. I'm going to use that this fall!"

  • Douglas Fisher, University of South Carolina: "Not sure there were any new revelations for me (except for some great teaching ideas), but a reaffirmation that editing still has a future as long as editors embrace change but hew to the basic values of fairness, accuracy and diversity."

  • Frederick Vultee, Wayne State University: "Outstanding tips (as always) in the exchange ' the Carlin clip and the real-time Web exercise stand out. Also appreciated the view from the inside on what degrees of editing will be valued at which points of the process."

  • John Russial, University of Oregon: "I found several of the teaching tips the most valuable. I'm definitely going to look for the Carlin standup piece, and the Twitter thing puts some things in perspective. I also thought the two folks you brought in offered some serious food for thought."

  • John Beatty, La Salle University: "I still keep an ear open for tech stuff - software, hardware, Web sites that get mentioned. If I know it, I feel more grounded. If not, it's what I need to do. So, Bright Cove, Audacity, SoundSlides (still), iMovie from the trip to Boston.com. ... Also hearing that there may now be a better future for editing online ' that sites are adding staff, that some such as Huffington have mainly editors, rather than reporters. ... David Beard's 'codify, curate, steward' ... Richer-than-ever DVD, especially the resources, and teaching ideas for which there are examples provided (Bill's story, Amber's blog rubric, Jill's AP list by category)."

  • Jack Rosenberry, St. John Fisher College: "I think the idea that Josh Benton was offering about online editing being a shift to sorting, aggregation, verification and presentation of information culled from a glut of professional and audience created materials - akin to the old 'rewrite desk' function, as I tried to note when Andy was kind enough to hand me the microphone - is perhaps the key value-added function that news organizations can provide for their readers today. That was an important 'take-away' for me."

  • Michael Smith, Campbell University: "Over and over at the Breakfast of Champs, I heard that we are in a revolution but no one can see how it will end so the best approach is to experiment. That idea is wise counsel. In the days ahead, our students will try a number of experiments as we take risks for excellence."

  • Chris Roberts, University of Alabama: "The session now means I have to go back into my Intro to Editing course and change the AP style approach from alphabetical to topic based. Sheer genius from Jill Van Wyke."

  • Kathy Olson, Lehigh University: "I learned that the idea of retaining the voice of the author is more important than ever. Traditional copyediting tended to make everything fit into the institutional voice, and that was considered a good thing. Today, the institutional voice needs to defer to the individual author's way of speaking, even at the expense of consistency in AP style and - this one hurts - correct grammar."

  • Jim Sernoe, Midwestern State University: "The most useful point for me was when one of the panelists stressed that we still need to teach basics such as accuracy, ethics and solid writing skills, but at the same time, knowing a certain piece of software/tech. might be what gets a student the job."

  • Mitzi Lewis, Midwestern State University: "So you'd like the most useful info on one or two sentences? Sounds like you want us to practice what we preach :) The resources on the DVD are wonderful. From the breakfast itself, there was so much good info, but here's what I keyed in on the most:

    "Advice for students:
    - Know basics
    - Be tech savvy
    - Be curious
    - Knowing a specific piece of technology might get you hired
    "Have students teach."

The Future of Editing preconvention workshops

For a report on the "The Future of Editing," a five-hour block of workshops on Tuesday before the official start of the AEJMC convention, check out The Editor's Desk, Andy Bechtel's blog. You can also check out these tweets from three of the sessions.

The Future of News

Panelists were Felice Belman, executive editor, Concord (N.H.) Monitor; Leah Lamson, executive editor, Worcester (Mass.) Telegram-Gazette; Marty Baron, editor, Boston Globe; and Chazy Dowaliby, editor, Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass., and The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass. The moderator was Susan Keith, Rutgers. Most or all of the tweets came from Leslie-Jean Thornton, Arizona State University.

  • Future of Editing session about to begin at #aejmc. Chazy Dowaliby, ed of Patriot Ledger, up first. Readers feel ownership. 12:06 PM Aug. 4th

  • Felice Belman, ed of Concord Monitor, at #aejmc: Ownership, yes. Hard for readers to cope with change. Staff losses at Ledger, Monitor. 12:07 PM

  • Mart Baron, ed Boston Globe, at #aejmc: Hard to go beyond what we've experienced...12:08 PM

  • Jobs lost: Ledger, >50% in 10 yrs, most in last 6 mos. Monitor, 4 of 14 reporters, others. Lamson: dramatic. Baron c. 200 ppl #aejmc 12:10 PM

  • Leah Lamson, ed Worcester telegram & Gazette, at #aejmc: We formed watchdog team to help keep morale high w kickass reporting. 12:11 PM

  • Seminars, training, good stories, doughnuts, good stories, good stories, good stories: ways to energize newsrooms. #aejmc 12:16 PM

  • First question to interns from Belman: Are you crazy? Thank goodness they are enthusiastic. #aejmc 12:17 PM

  • Baron: Staffers excited about learning new skills, engaging w readers. This is new. #aejmc 12:17 PM

  • Audience growing, not diminishing. Even print growing slowly. Value for what we're about: Dowaliby. Tech of biz model will catch up. #aejmc 12:19 PM

  • Baron: Hate to throw water, but severe problems w biz model. Readers don't expect to pay for info online. No model yet that works. #aejmc 12:24 PM

  • Lamson: We had a pay wall, took it down. #aejmc Maybe wd work with niche areas. Baron: We must experiment. Cost for all, prob won't work. 12:26 PM

  • Headed toward variety of media products each org will publish. We keep getting asked for print components. Lamson #aejmc 12:30 PM

  • Dowalby: Variety, niche products, collaboration between media orgs -- nothing new. We're dressing it up for Wall St. Hello... #aejmc 12:31 PM

  • Does emphasis on soft information, shiny products, take us away from news? Still paying attention? Belman, #aejmc 12:33 PM

  • Baron: Can niche products produce enough revenue to turn the ship in meaningful way? #aejmc So far, too small. Focus on big pic. 12:34 PM

  • Baron: Big Pic: what we charge, managed circulation, new ventures . Hard! Twitter earns zero $$$ but creators = genius. #aejmc 12:36 PM

  • Lamson: Innovation should be to turn back the clock. Bad that we didn't charge for content. #aejmc 12:39 PM

  • Dowaliby: We might save ourselves b/c young are used to paying for what they want. #aejmc 12:39 PM

  • Baron: If I had a magic wand I'd create a magic wand. Need significantly more tech sophistication in newsrooms. #aejmc 12:41 PM

  • Baron: Tech savvy is needed urgently in our newsrooms. Need to understand how ideas are distributed in society. #aejmc 12:43 PM

  • If you don't see a story in every crack in the sidewalk, join another profession. Dowaliby #aejmc 12:45 PM

  • Lamson: I wouldn't hire myself today because I haven't got the skills. Haven't tweeted but have followers... embarrassing! #aejmc 12:46 PM

  • Have young people lost the ability to speak? Use commas? Basic fundamentals... Lamson #aejmc 12:48 PM

  • Baron: Young people have ability/chance to create journalism for new age. #aejmc But no job security. 12:49 PM

  • Baron: Copy editors play critical role in keeping us authoritative. Yes; we need them & need their quetions. #aejmc 12:53 PM

  • Lamson: We have fewer good content editors. #aejmc 12:54 PM

  • Baron: Why not turn off comments? Because we're in a different era and ppl want their say. Some categories, they are off. #aejmc 12:56 PM

  • Lamson: I get fewer nasty calls and letters now that there are comments. #aejmc 12:57 PM

  • Belman: Comments are often worth it, reveal another part of the story. #aejmc 12:58 PM

  • Audience: What shd we be doing that we're not doing as teachers. Loooong silence... #aejmc1:00 PM

  • Baron: Like that students have new media skills. Develop journalists who are more logical, critical, know math, ask questions. 1:02 PM

  • Belman: Students need to know How the World Works. All the basic things. Not journalism, but what j'lists write about. #aejmc 1:04 PM

  • Dowaliby: Wish professors would tell those who aren't cut out for it that they're not. #aejmc 1:05 PM

  • Need to differentiate Web from print product. Named, edited commentary in print is added value in suburban Boston. Dowaliby #aejmc 1:10 PM

The Future of Online Editing

Panelists were Lise LePage and Christopher Grotke, co-founders of iBrattleboro.com, a hyperlocal community news site; John Russial, University of Oregon; Damon Kiesow, managing editor-online, Nashau (N.H.) Telegraph; and Jeanne Leblanc, former online editor of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, now running the travel site Coach Class. The moderator was Leslie-Jean Thornton, Arizona State University. Most or all of the tweets came from Susan Keith, Rutgers (Twitter ID susankeith).

  • Excited about the Future of Online Editing session starting at the @AEJMC Newspaper Division's The Future of Editing workshop in Boston. 2:42 PM

  • For Christopher Grotke, Lise LePage of iBrattleboro.com, the editing policy is generally not editing. #FofEditing #aejmc 2:52 PM

  • Lise LePage: Improving writing on a citizen journalism site happens not by editing but by "peer pressure" from readers #FofEditing. #aejmc 2:56 PM

  • John Russial: Research shows little change between 2007, 2009 in how much online breaking news copy is being editing #FofEditing #aejmc 2:58 PM

  • Jeanne Leblanc: Web content management systems allow copy editors to edit breaking online news but don't provide time #FofEditing #aejmc 3:01 PM

  • Jeanne Leblanc: Newspapers aren't editing all online-only copy because they've gotten away with it so far. #FofEditing #aejmc 3:03 PM

  • LePage: A lot of what starts on iBrattleboro.com is picked up by the Brattleboro Reformer, which publishes pro version #FofEditing #aejmc 3:07 PM

  • @kiesow: Web news processes are changing so fast that it's hard for newspaper technology to keep up #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:10 PM

  • @kiesow: Rapid change in news Web processes isn't surprising, tho, given that newspaper online J is just over 10 yrs old #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:12 PM

  • Christopher Grotke: Technology will always be changing, but ability to write is a core dimension of journalism. #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:14 PM

  • Jeanne Leblanc: What gets you hired in an economy this difficult, in a news industry in trouble, might be technology #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:16 PM

  • John Russial: 1 prob w content mgment systems is standard formats don't allow for visually covering big news well #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:26 PM

  • Lise LePage: Problm for iBrattleboro.com; on a big news day, big stories can "roll off" the home pg, which holds only 10 #FofEditing #AEJMC 3:28 PM

The Future of Teaching Editing: What Should Students Learn?

Panelists were Rick Kenney, now at Hampton University; Andy Bechtel, UNC at Chapel Hill; Jill VanWyke, Drake; Emily Anderson, senior, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and summer 2009 Dow Jones Newspaper Fund copy editing intern at the Cape Cod (Mass.) Times; and Emily Ristow, 2009 graduate of the University of Missouri and also a summer 2009 Dow Jones Newspaper Fund copy editing intern at the Cape Cod Times. The moderator was Susan Keith, Rutgers. Most or all of the tweets came from Leslie-Jean Thornton, Arizona State University.

  • Panel 4 of #aejmc Future of Editing: What shd we be doing in classrooms? 3:46 PM

  • Jill Van Wyke, Drake U.: Broad skills to let them be adaptable. #aejmc 3:46 PM

  • Andy Bechtel, UNC: Be able to work in a "one-touch" system: faster w/ good standards. #aejmc 3:48 PM

  • Kenney: We'll be returning to enduring values. At some point, Sup Ct will have to decide how to protect "good name." #aejmc 3:50 PM

  • Van Wyke: Newsroom staffers have role in marketing, social media, teamwork. Editors are instrumental in getting through to readers. #aejmc 3:54 PM

  • 2 interns: Classes were newspaper based and didn't say how skills would translate to other genres. "Think broadly" didn't help. #aejmc 3:55 PM

  • Interns on panel: Emily Anderson and Emily Ristow, Cape Cod Times. #aejmc Don't stop at social sites where they are now. They'll develop. 3:56 PM

  • Bechtel: Wordpress worked well for a site where one class gathered, another edited. Caught plagiarism, other editing successes. #aejmc 3:59 PM

  • Bechtel: It really helps to publish in real time. End of class, it's published. #aejmc 4:00 PM

  • Bechtel: Giving "rapid-fire" experience is important. Kenney: Teach how to edit 1 story different ways. #aejmc 4:02 PM

  • Speed editing: hierarchy of priorities? Kenney: Have students figure them out themselves. #aejmc 4:03 PM

  • Professors rely on professionals to bring in current practices: Van Wyke. Bechtel: Find the ppl who left traditional press. #aejmc 4:05 PM A
  • How can professors implement teaching Web design in editing classes? Should they? #aejmc 4:07 PM A

  • Bechtel: Has requests from papers who need ppl who can design zone sections, inside pages. #aejmc 4:08 PM

  • Van Wyke: Have lunch with person who teaches capstone course (if you don't). You'll see the gaps in the curriculum. Quickly. #aejmc 4:10 PM

  • Anderson & Ristow: Wish we'd had more multimedia training. #aejmc 4:12 PM

  • Kenney: Get students to understand how broad copy editing for multimedia can be. #aejmc 4:14 PM

  • Generating content, SEO, keywords... oy. What do we leave out to fit enough in? #aejmc 4:16 PM

  • Interns: We spent a whole class on counting heds. Useless, of course. Don't need stories about j'lsm pioneers. We KNOW! #aejmc 4:17 PM

  • Interns: Take inventory of what your students know. They might know ethics, but not grammar. #aejmc 4:18 PM

  • John Russial (Oregon): Can't just deliver grammar in three weeks (or whatever). Hard to pull it out of editing classes. #aejmc 4:20 PM

  • Kenney: Students shop for professors who can teach them multimedia. #aejmc 4:21 PM

  • Bechtel: Dropped "cutting stories to length" and brought in Soundslides. #aejmc 4:22 PM

  • Van Wyke: Wrestle w/ teaching AP style, InDesign, difference between "that" & "which." What can they get elsewhere? #aejmc 4:24 PM

  • Van Wyke: Maybe if we told them what grammar they needed to learn, pointed them to resources... Would it work? #aejmc 4:24 PM

  • Doug Fisher: Tried it. Didn't work. If it's not in class, seems unimportant to them. #aejmc 4:25 PM

  • Russial: Students are as busy (too busy) as we are. We have to signal what's important. #aejmc 4:26 PM

  • Offer ed-flag reviews, teach resources, hold them accountable, say audience members. Don't allow them to talk poorly. #aejmc 4:30 PM

  • Can't just memorize. Must teach the reasoning behind language choices. #aejmc 4:30 PM

  • Teach how to open copy for the Web (bullets, effective links, SEO heds, blurbs, visual grammar). Fisher #aejmc 4:36 PM

  • Bechtel: I needed current skills. Went to LATimes to learn. Go to ACES, SND Quick Courses... watch ACES in particular. #aejmc 4:39 PM

  • @susankeith, Rutgers: Just because the industry isn't doing something doesn't mean students shouldn't learn it. Good tweets, maybe. #aejmc 4:40 PM

  • Anderson: Terrified I'd crash the system because that's what happened last year. Going home to read my CMS book after this. #aejmc 4:42 PM

  • Anderson: Love the ownership I feel when overseeing/editing Web site. Love constant changes. #aejmc 4:43 PM

  • Keith: Our student might be the only one in the newsroom late at night, doing the last read writing last hed. #aejmc 4:45 PM

  • Anderson: Hate when I see an error in something like a slideshow and I can't fix it (due to technology, process). #aejmc 4:46 PM

  • Van Wyke: One editor said when it came to layoffs, he couldn't hang on to veteran reporters who were carried by the copy desk. #aejmc 4:49 PM

  • Fisher: More newspapers requiring editing tests for reporter candidates. #aejmc 4:50 PM

  • Great tutorials available on Web. Helps profs as well as students. Soundslides are fabulous tool. #aejmc 4:51 PM

To receive an invitation to the 2010 Breakfast of Editing Champions in Denver, send an e-mail to breakfast organizer Deborah Gump.

Previous breakfast reports:

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