Thomas Koetting

Assistant Managing Editor / Projects and Enterprise

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



Editing the Project or Series

Knight Summer Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors

University of North Carolina

July 2004



Two broad areas of interest:

I.                    Your role as copy editor (Before copy arrives)

II.                 Your mindset as copy editor (After copy arrives)





Beginning of project: The “launch meeting”

  • All should be represented – reporting, editing, graphics, photo, copy desk, design
  • Go over pre-reporting, sources, CAR work needed, pitfalls, legal problems, etc.
  • Copy desk rep should be chief, or someone already assigned by chief
  • Problems to avoid:
    • Copy desk not included in launch. It’s like a family planning a vacation without one parent involved, and then two days before departure telling that parent to pack everything up and be in charge of all the details.
    • Having one designated “project copy editor.” You wouldn’t pick same reporter for every project. Why pick same copy editor?


Evolution of project

  • Maintain role as part of team
  • Keep attending meetings (come in early if needed)
  • Do independent research
  • Develop style sheet if helpful (sometimes a glossary becomes part of package)
  • Suggest maps, graphics, sidebars
  • Begin developing headlines (can help shape project, become project title, etc.)
  • Problems to avoid:
    • Story veers in different direction (need to read drafts, which reporters should be filing every week)
    • Missing early deadlines, but keeping final deadline the same (dangerous to assume copy/design desk can make up for lost time)


Home stretch

  • Check on graphics, photos
  • Discuss headlines with editor, reporters (what is theme)
  • Talk to designer about plans
  • Problems to avoid:
    • Constant tinkering at tail end
    • Story being sent over, then pulled back, sent over again, pulled back…





Approach to project

  • Take deep breath; mentally separate yourself from daily grind
  • Study infrastructure of story
    • What are primary themes that need to be touched on?
    • Is all information grouped in clusters, or text blocks?


Good writing is good organization

·        Blocks in right order?

  • Holes that need to be filled?
  • Fat that needs to be stripped down?
  • Minimum Four Edits (print out / read out loud, at least once)
    • Critical thinking
    • Fact check
    • Style / grammar
    • Polish


Look for vulnerable points

·        Names

·        Numbers / always show in relationship

·        Graphic / Chart / Map / Story – match

·        Ledes (no nut, too long, clearing throat)

·        Endings (no need for bow and ribbon, one last point, ending that raises questions)

·        Absent photos

·        Be prepared to hit brakes – advocate for reader / don’t get swept up in excitement


Tighten, polish

·        Get all done, take 5% out

·        Trim widows (whether you need to or not, because the tightening will help)


Invite participation

·        Headline writing

·        Graphics / Photos

·        Trims

·        But ultimately force a divorce so you can do your work

10 keys to success for copy editing projects


·        Brought into the process early / part of the team

·        Involved in shaping effort (charts, graphs, reporting)

·        Reading / researching ahead

·        Given enough time to edit once material arrives

·        Welcomes collaboration in editing – to a point

·        Able to apply organizational thinking

·        Focused on large themes, especially in multi-day series

·        Able to act as mediator between practical / philosophical

·        Always advocating on behalf of reader

·        Polish, polish, polish