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English 711

Editing Spring 2010


Monday/Wednesday 2:10-3:30
Hamilton Smith 103

Instructor: Andrew V. Marsters


Office: Hamilton Smith 51C
Email: marsters@unh.edu
Office phone: Please place all calls to cell phone
Cell phone: 207-831-4726

On being an editor:

Precision, accuracy and clarity are essential to good communication. Heaven forbid the president of the United
States should mumble when he tells the general not to fire the missile at Russia. Oops! My bad! Can’t take that
one back! Write sloppily on any discussion list and sooner or later someone is going to write back, “Why don’t
you learn the English language? We might take you more seriously.” If you don’t make your order clear in a
restaurant, you may end up with liver and lima beans instead the linguine with lobster you were craving.
Applying for a job in Montana? Better not address your application to “Montanna.” Trust me. I know.

Journalism is the craft and art and business of communication. If we’re not understood, if all we do is confuse
the issues, then what’s the point? Worse, sloppy communication can get us in lots of trouble. Are you sure that
the guy charged with DWI spells his name Smith? Or was it Smythe? Get the wrong one, and you’ll have an
angry Smith – or Smythe – going ballistic at the other end of the line. If you write in your election roundup that
the candidate in tomorrow’s primary received a “dishonorable discharge” when it was actually an “honorable
discharge,” you may well cost him the election. Sorry won’t go far. Trust me. I know.

Accuracy matters. Editors make it happen.


Required reading:

Our primary textbook will be “The Editorial Eye,” Second Edition, by Jane Harrigan and Karen Brown Dunlap,
available at the Durham Book Exchange.

"The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual." An essential reference for any journalist. Available at the
Durham Book Exchange. Please bring both books to every class.

Other readings will be distributed in class. Helpful Web sites are on the UNH journalism site at
www.unh.edu/journalism. Go to “Links for Journalists,” under the headings “Reference” and “Editing and
Language Sites.” Course information, updates and other communications are also available on the class blog
at www.editunh@blogspot.com.

Course objectives:
This is a survey course that samples the many different aspects of the editor’s job in a rapidly changing
environment. Although there will be lots of copy editing, it is not just for copy editors – whatever kind of editor
you want to be, this is a good place to start. We’ll explore picture editing, design, content editing, assigning,
coaching, and numerous other aspects of the profession.

Course outline:
Editors are a publication’s last line of defense against boring stories, sloppy writing, inaccurate headlines,
ethical failures, dull photographs, uninspired design, flawed news judgment (no, not “judgement,” though you
see that misspelling often), and, perhaps most important, mistakes that can erode readers’ confidence in the
newspaper, magazine or Web publication, or even, through a successful libel (no, not liable) suit, put a
publisher out of business.

There’s much more, but you get the idea – editors need to be
experts in many things if they are to perform their jobs effectively.
Those skills, however, are useless if the editor does not know
how to work with people. Writers and photographers can’t do
their jobs well if the editors don’t speak their language or are
insensitive to the work they do or come on like Hannibal Lechter.
Good editors remain in the background and allow journalists to
do their very best work.

So we’ll cover lots of ground in the next 15 weeks. We’ll begin


with the nuts and bolts of grammar, usage and style, then move
on to content editing, editing for meaning, visual editing, and
ethical and legal issues. We’ll also spend time discussing the
evolving nature of the news business in the digital age.

The only way to learn this business is to do it, so we’ll have take-
home editing exercises due nearly every week in addition to
assigned reading and whatever other assignments are
announced in class. You won’t be writing stories. You’ll be fixing
stories.

Course requirements

Attendance: Attend class and get there on time. Attendance will be noted and considered at grading time. If
you absolutely must miss a class, let me know ahead of time.

Assignments: For all copy-editing assignments, use the marks specified on the inside back cover of the
textbook. Using standardized marks will keep us all on the same page, so to speak.
Any class assignments that involve writing must be typed and, since you are editors now, anything you hand in
to me should be spiffy clean and not need editing.

Deadlines: Meet all deadlines. Deadlines are everything in the news business. They are not to be toyed with.
Any assignment submitted late receives a zero, except in case of serious illness or emergency. Every
assignment counts. Every assignment will be graded.

Reading: Read all handouts. Read the textbook as assigned. Read the newspaper in print or online every
weekday. Explore the million journalism- and language-related sites on the Web. Read everything you can get
your paws on; that's how you develop a feel for language, not to mention an understanding of the world. News
quizzes, spelling quizzes and grammar quizzes are all likely.

Plagiarism: This warning applies more to the writing courses, but I’ll repeat it here: All work in this course must
be original. Plagiarism will be dealt with severely.

Fabrication: Again, applies more to writing courses, but fabrication of quotes or any material will not be
tolerated.

Five-minute usage lessons: At the beginning of each class, one student will make a brief presentation on a
particular point of grammar or style. I will hand these assignments out soon. It usually works best to use a
handout so your fellow students can follow along. First explain the correct use of the word or grammatical term
in question. Then give the class some interesting sample sentences to try. Do not simply parrot the textbook or
stylebook. Read about your subject in numerous print and online sources, and then distill the information as
interestingly as you can. The point is to help people remember "your" grammar point – so make it memorable.
Costumes, music and other props are not out of the question. Be creative.

As part of your usage lesson, please also do at least one of the following: (a) ask a news question, (b) ask a
"general knowledge" question, (c) teach us a new and interesting word your experiences. Stay tuned.

Grading: Your homework assignments will be graded. Additionally, you will have mid-term and final exams,
which will be in-class, open-book editing exercises. Of course class participation will also be a factor. You’ll do
fine as long as you meet all class requirements listed above and show steady improvement throughout the
course.

Bonuses: At least once during the semester I will designate an amnesty “assignment.” The grade you get on
that assignment will wipe out your lowest grade so far. The grade that's deleted must be a grade on an
assignment that you completed and handed in. Amnesty assignments are designed to reward students for
trying and learning, not to provide an out for people who don't do the work.
Class Schedule
Here is a tentative list of the topics we'll cover this semester. Note that you'll be doing copy editing all
semester, not just in the weeks when it's listed as the topic. We'll also be talking about any ethical or legal
issues as they arise. Remember that goods and bads are due every Wednesday. The reading should be done
before you come to class in the week listed. If the order of topics changes, the reading assignments will
change accordingly.

Jan. 27: Introduction. Ourselves, the course.

Feb. 1: More introduction and begin grammar studies.

Feb. 3 & 8: Copyediting.

Feb. 10 & 15: Copyediting.

Feb. 17 & 22: Coaching writers, photographers and other members of the team.

Feb.24 & March 1: Leads

March. 3: Content editing

March 8: Review for Mid-term

March 10: Mid-term editing exercise

Spring Break

March 22 & 24: Headlines.

March 29 & 31: Visual editing: Photography, cutlines, graphics.

April 5 & 7: Visual editing continued: design and layout

April 12 & 14: Libel and Legal issues

April 19 & 21: Ethics

April 26 & 28: Editing other publications: Magazines, books, Web sites, etc.

May 3: Review for final editing exercise.

May 5: Final Editing Exercise.

May 10: Wrap-up and go home.