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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Back to Basics

The approval. The go ahead. The thumbs up. Call it what you want, but copy editing is a crucial part of producing.

As video teammate this week, the lead relied on me to make sure all the content I was putting in her broadcast was up to her standards. This wasn't about simply assigning stories to MJs. You have to go a step beyond looking for spelling errors or checking for pad and CGs.

So what should you look for when you copy edit? Here's some tips you don't want to forget.

1. Watch out for spelling errors.

It's easy to skim through something and not look at the details. But a spell check is the most basic part of copy editing. Think of your anchors! When it comes to stumbling over words on air, many times it's because of a spelling error.

2. Look out for passive voice

This may seem a bit simple, but often times we forget how awkward passive voice can sound. While there are exceptions for when passive voice may seem like the better option, always keep an eye out for awkward sentences. Look for sentences that are clear and concise.

3. Past tense

What's the most relevant part of the story? What's the "today" element? Or better yet, what's happening TONIGHT? Our show airs at six, so often times what's relevant in the morning may not be so important a few hours later. So try not to START a sentence with the words "yesterday" or make the viewer think what they're hearing is old news. But don't abuse false present tense either. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to focus on the latest. For example, if a robbery happens and police catch a suspect? You may want to start with, "A suspect is in custody tonight..." instead of "A robbery happened this morning."

4. Write into the sound bite

When it comes to broadcast, we really focus on what we can see and hear. We have the opportunity to bring the viewer to the location of the shooting or the place of an event. So shape your words to what comes next. Make it an easy transition. Don't leave any room for confusion.

5. Write to your video

Sometimes, we're limited on b-roll. Other times, there are so many options to choose from! So before you write, look at the shots you like and write them down. Then, write your script with those visuals in mind. It's great to match your words to a picture.

6. Provide encouragement

At ATVN, we're always teaching and training the next generation of ATVNers. So when it comes to copy editing, don't just change things around. Make sure to tell the writers why you deleted a sentence or why you added a phrase. It's a learning opportunity for everyone. Also, make sure you state what you like as well, this way we all have a better understanding of what to do next.

We often get caught up in the busy environment of the newsroom. But before you approve something, whether it's on the web or for broadcast, look back on the basic things you learned back in your core classes, 202 and 203. Think of AP style or imagine you're explaining something to your mom. Often times it just takes a step back to clearly see what's right in front of you.

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