Dear George...Some advice on editing for a newcomer to journalism

George Osborne becoming editor of the Evening Standard is a little like me, a keen amateur cook, going straight in as head chef of the Dorchester.

I fear he will be a little out of his depth.

Today Osborne indicated that he has at least begun to master some of the journalism lingo when he told reporters on his first day in the job: “Now I’ve got to get in there – we’ve got a paper to get off stone so I better get started.”

I wish him well and to help him on his way here are some words of advice on the qualities and skills needed for editing as gleaned from the pages of Press Gazette:

John Witherow, The Times:

“An eye for a lie and a tooth for the truth; a willingness to get up the noses of authority; a wish to entertain and inform.”

Lloyd Embley, Mirror group:

“Tenacity, lateral thinking, a good contacts book.”

Sarah Sands, Evening Standard:

“Resourcefulness, adaptability, being technologically savvy.”

Paul Dacre, Daily Mail:

“An instinct to know when to be bold and when to be careful. Any fool can be either. It’s getting the balance right that’s difficult.

“An ability NEVER to forget that the rich and powerful only want to befriend you for two reasons: to get stuff into your paper or, far more likely, to keep stuff out.

“Boundless stamina, intuition and an eye for detail.”

Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian:

“If you are ruled by data that leads you into bad places. It’s the judgement between what to we think is important and what is actually working.

“You can’t do everything and you have to start making quite tough decisions about what it is that’s going to get you known or what you think is most important.”

Sir Harold Evans:

“Do not take up a campaign until you have done a thorough investigation, do not take up a campaign until you are satisfied in terms of truth, the law and your conscience that you are going to give absolute attention to criticism of the campaign whether factually or in opinion terms.  You cannot begin a campaign until you have fulfilled those two things.”

Richard Ingrams (formed editor of The Oldie and Private Eye):

“If you’re an editor your main task is to think up ideas, so you;’ve got to have a lot of time and a relative lack of interruption to be able to do that…

“My own policy, as far as it goes, is to try to ignore the reader. The way a lot of journalism is written now is marketing people trying to find out what readers want, what sor of  articles they want. That’s a great mistake – they don’t really know what they want until they get it.”

My own advice would be simply to buy himself a copy of MacNae’s Essential Law for Journalists and read it cover to cover. Because from today the name above the door at the Standard is George Osborne and he is legally liable for all the words that appear in print.

Experienced editors have ended up with convictions under the Sexual Offences Act for comparitively minor slip-ups in crime reports.  As a novice to the trade I would first want to make sure that I did nothing that led to me being personally sued or prosecuted.

 

 

Comments

2 thoughts on “Dear George...Some advice on editing for a newcomer to journalism”

  1. What about the famous Nicholas Tomalin quote “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability”.

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