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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Don't Copy The Copy, But Don't Stray Too Far From It, Either

(Jeff Meyer/Flickr)
(Jeff Meyer/Flickr)
In my roles as web/graphics and video teammate, I've found that an integral responsibility of mine has been the text in the rundown. 

And from what I've seen, supervising the copy is perhaps the one responsibility all of the producers share. Perhaps that's why I think it's fallen through the cracks for me, because I know there are at least two other people checking it as well. 

When I do get down to copy editing, I try to do it with the multimedia journalist (MJ) right after he/she has written the script. When going over it, I make sure to read it out loud, and that usually helps the MJ self-edit. I like to read the scripts out loud for my own good, too. That way I know more or less how they will sound to the viewer when the anchor reads them. I've found that doing this helps get rid of clunky words, repetition and unnecessarily passive sentences.

But one of the biggest challenges has been ensuring that our newscast has a voice. When working off a wire story, it's easy to find ways to say the same thing the 400-word wire story is saying in just 20 seconds. However, when the source is a CNN script, things can get a bit tricky. Such was the case with the story about the threats the Mall of America in Minnesota had received from the terrorist group Al Shabaab. The CNN copy was already so concise and so well written that I was tempted to just stick the reporter's package into the show as is. 

However, for obvious reasons, I had to resist that. Instead of working off of an already abridged version of facts, I decided to read three to four articles on the same story, imbuing myself with information. I then wrote the story "free-hand," or off the facts that had stuck out enough for me to remember them.

I found that this helped me reshape the story into a structure that was slightly more relevant to our L.A.-based college audience. 

I then went back to the original copy and made sure to fact-check with the CNN video and the CNS wire.

Throughout my shifts, I've also found that consulting other MJs for help on scripts helps a lot. The other day I was revising a kicker someone had written but struggling to find replacements for a few words. I enlisted the help of two young, hip MJs to help me reword the story into a more fun, digestible capsule. 

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