M&K Consulting Services Inc.

 

Why Don’t We Edit Wire Copy?

 

(From a Posting on the American Press Institute Internet Page, by Kenn Finkel — finkelm@aol.com)

 

(The American Press Institute in Reston, Va., [http://americanpressinstitute.org] offers one-week courses on a variety of newspaper topics, using the API Internet page as a delivery vehicle. Each course includes a discussion area called the Off-Topic lounge, in which participants are encouraged to communicate and interact with one another, to get things off their chests, to discuss newspaper-related items that might be of interest to others in the class but are not part of the formal course curriculum. What follows is part of a posting by one participant, followed by a response from Kenn Finkel, the course discussion leader.)

 

. . . We do little to no editing here on wire copy, which kind of sucks! In fact, we even created some sort of time-saving “rule” recently that we shouldn’t read wire stories at all. . . .

 

I have to say that’s one of the most depressing postings that I’ve ever seen in these classes — but, unfortunately, it’s not all that unusual.

 

I feel bad for [the seminar participant], but she’s probably expressing the sentiments of a lot of editors and managing editors — who have short-sighted bean-counters breathing down their necks. Is it any wonder that readers are losing confidence in newspapers?

 

In fact, in an earlier go-round of this same class, I found this statement in a posting, which is almost exactly the same thing that [the seminar participant] said:

 

. . . the wire stories tend to get shipped through first and the local stories held up . . . .

 

I hear this a lot — in these courses as well as newspapers that I visit for seminars. I have never understood it. It’s a philosophy that guarantees a loss of credibility. Why should wire copy get less editing than staff copy?

 

Let’s face it: With staff copy, you know your source. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your people. You usually know what you’re getting. With wire copy, you have no idea. You rarely know who the reporters are or how good they are at what they do.

 

I have a lot of friends at the Associated Press, and I don’t want to imply that they don’t do a good job. They do, and it’s often unappreciated and anonymous. But editing material in our newspapers is our job — not the job of wire services.

 

When we allow wire services to edit our newspaper, we’re abdicating our responsibility.

 

Three of the six problems in Exercise 1 [of the copy editing course] involve wire stories. I have no doubt that they appeared in the newspapers in which I found them exactly as they moved on the wire. Sort of, “Oh well. It’s the AP. It must be OK. We’ll assume that the big questions have been answered — and we’ll just slap them in.”

 

One participant in another previous class reported something like this: “We pay the AP to get it right. Our management doesn’t feel that we have to question AP copy.”

 

To which I replied something like:

 

It’s your newspaper. Your credibility is at stake. Take copies of your paper into a restaurant in your city and ask people sitting at the tables there if they can identify staff copy and differentiate it from wire copy. Guess what? Most readers don’t know the difference.

 

More important, they don’t care.

 

And they shouldn’t. Most readers don’t even understand terms such as “wire copy and “staff copy.” And they shouldn’t have to. It’s your paper. Produce it for your readers.

 

Newspapers that forget the readers lose credibility fast. But that’s not your fault; it’s the fault of the people who control the purse strings. When readers question the credibility of your paper, those profits that the bean-counters like to point to will diminish very soon.

 

From Kenn Finkel, M&K Consulting Services.  Anyone wanting to use this material in a public forum should contact Finkel at FinkelM@aol.com .