Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Diligence in our writing

Do you quit when your writing is 'good enough?"  Most of us revise our work three or four times and feel its ready to publish. I try to follow the good advice to set any piece of writing aside until at least the next morning.  When I read it over again, with fresh eyes, I almost always find another error.

That's what the professionals in the news business do too, although they have to work much faster. The following journalism fable comes from Carl Sessions Stepp, who marked 50 years of journalism with 50 lessons learned. Here is #49..

49. My favorite fable about journalism.
"According to John Hersey, in the New Yorker's early days a critic complained that unsophisticated theater audiences would "laugh at the drop of a ha on the stage." The pun on "drop of a hat" looked like a typo, so Editor Harold Ross determined to make sure it survived. He wrote "do not change" on galleys. He followed it through the production process. He even climbed into the press, read the plate to make sure "drop the ha" remained, and told printers not to change it. The next day, he picked up the new issue and saw "hat." The printers had changed shifts after he left, and someone proofreading pages had made the change.
The fable, Hersey said, offers two eternal truths. Writers should be willing to risk their lives by climbing into the press to save a word. And they should recognize that no matter what they do, the work will never be perfect."

See Stepp's full list of fifty items here at American Journalism Review.

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