Trying to find a way to explain how I got into editing as a senior journalism student is turning out to be about as hard as I anticipated.
Probably the biggest problem — why I had so many problems when I was editing — was because the journalism program has changed since Mount Royal became a university. Second-years, who are reporters for the community newspaper run by the journalism faculty, weren’t actually taught how to write a news story until second year, whereas in past years, they had practiced in first year.
The Calgary Journal has a really strict ethics policy, however, possibly for the exact reason that even though it is a community newspaper, it is still a teaching tool.
Part of that policy was that if you spelled a person’s name wrong, or made any kind of factual error, you were docked 10 per cent. One year I believe it was you were docked 10 per cent off your final grade in the class for every mistake you made — so if you made six mistakes in one story, you were docked 60 per cent of your grade in that class; the following year you were still docked 10 per cent per mistake, but it was of the story assignment grade, not your class grade. Which meant people who were making six mistakes per story still had a fighting chance at passing the class with a decent grade if they did a bunch of makeup work.
Editors were responsible for turning in any mistakes they found while editing — I didn’t report a lot in third year, mostly because my editing was focused on CP rather than fact checking. The year I was editor-in-chief, however, I learned a lot about fact checking, and subsequently reported a lot of errors.
I don’t know if it’s the same way for everyone, or especially amplified for me because that’s the way the program was — editors weren’t exempt from the 10 per cent rule, if we made a mistake in the copy we were expected to write over the semester, we were docked as well — but I am terrified of making a factual mistake. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but while most people struggle with reading their own work for errors, I like to think that I’m rather good. I had to be. I not only got really good at finding errors in other people’s work, I had to be good enough to find the errors in my own work, just in case someone else didn’t catch them until it was too late.
I get it that sometimes, we just get a mindblock about something. I’ve totally done it — spelled a radio DJ’s name wrong, consistently, throughout a story, because I had it in my mind that his name was spelled one way, and it never occurred to me to double check, because it was a fairly simple last name. It also took me a really long time to first of all realize, and then wrap my head around, the fact that streets in Lloyd run east-west, and avenues run north-south.
And yeah, this — copy editing — is what I want to do as my full-time job, instead of just two days a week. I’m probably crazy.
(Edited Jan. 18, 2012, for content)