Avoid Libel

Prior restraint states that the government cannot tell the press what they can’t publish due to the first amendment. The government is allowed to protect their secrets due to national security, but most prove it with evidence before it is ruled as a threat. They must prove a link with publishing the information to a specified harm, like death or injury to soldiers. Then they must prove that the harm will come immediately after publication. Lastly. they must prove that the nature of he harm will be irreparable like death, injury or destruction of property. Journalists are expected to know how their publications can function as watchdogs on the government, and how to avoid violating the individual rights of the people they cover.

The first amendment is not absolute, however. Laws concerning libel, privacy and copyright are not considered inconsistent with the first amendment guarantees. Offended people who think published statements infringed on their personal rights can take action again a publication. They can ask for a clarification, correction or retraction be published for their sake. Informal attempts are usually made with the offended people to resolve the conflict. If these approaches do not work, a civil lawsuit may result.

Libel is a false statement that exposes people to hatred, ridicule or contempt; lowers them in the esteem of their colleagues; causes them to be shunned; or injures them in their business or profession. A person who sues for libel must prove the following with evidence:

  • The statement was published
  • The plaintiff was identified in the statement
  • The statement was defamatory
  • The statement caused injury
  • Publisher was at fault in publishing the statement

The defense against a libel case will typically argue every defense that potentially applies. Libel defendants advance the constitutional defense if the published statement is false but was published with insufficient fault. The following common laws defenses might be argued:

  • Fair comment: Protects opinion about matters of public interest or things that have been put on public display
  • Qualified privilege: allows the media to cover privileged situations

Another issue can stem from privacy laws, which are meant to give legal redress for mental anguish, and suffering caused by an invasion of personal privacy. Invasion of privacy has four legal wrongs:

  • Intrusion upon physical solitude – can take several forms like trespassing, or using hidden cameras
  • Publication of private information – publicizing a private matter that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person
  • False Light – plaintiff must prove that publisher knew the information was false
  • Appropriation – unauthorized use of a person’s name or likeliness for commercial gain

Copyright laws also provide opportunities for lawsuits. These laws provide the right to control or profit from a literary, artistic or intellectual production. They both protect and restrict the media. An important note is that facts and ideas cannot be copyrighted, and are therefore not a threat in articles. Issues can arise within the work place, due to the “work-made-for-hire” doctrine which states that the publication rather than an individual employee owns the copyright on published material. This hinders any employee who composed the work, and wanted to make money off of it by selling it themselves. There is some wiggle room, like that found in the “fair-use” defense, which allows publications to use brief quotations from a copyrighted work for the purposes of critical reviews or scholarly work.

To avoid lawsuit, a publication must be very diligent with its proofreading and fact-checking. There are a few things a copy editor can do when an article passes into their hands. They can publish the story, because it has no errors. They can choose to kill the story, because it is libelous, invades privacy, or infringes copyright. They can choose to edit the story, and remove any offending passages. Lastly, they can publish the story anyway, fully expecting a lawsuit to occur. The decision to publish a story that could bring on a lawsuit must be made with extreme planning and caution by the entire publication, going through the chain of command to receive approvals to proceed.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles and Diane L. Borden

Editing for Facts

Facts are the most important part of the story, so they should be correct at all times. The most frequent errors found in articles are names, dates, locations, and descriptions of past events. Reference books are very beneficial in helping to fact-check for stories. Journalists should be cautious of every source they use in their stories, especially on the internet. When searching around for facts, journalists can turn to publishers of reference works. They are reliable because they have established reputations, even in online forms. Journalists can employ search engines, metasearch engines and directories to help them sift through the internet for sources.

To help assess which sources are more trustworthy than others, a journalist just needs to know internet domains, and recognize the purposes for individual web pages. The URL helps determine the domain. Information found in sites with .gov or .edu rank higher in reliability than those that do not. A web page’s purpose also helps a journalist figure out the trustworthiness of the source. A web page can be used for advocacy, marketing and news. It could also be a personal page, or simply informational. Extreme caution should be used with all web sources, and some should be avoided completely, like blogs that contain wrong information and opinionated work. Social networks can also be used as sources, but they should also be used carefully.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles and Diane L. Borden

Editing for Grammar

Good language skills are ranked at the top of every company’s hiring preferences. Overall, correct punctuation is essential for clarity. Proofreading for errors is different from the typical copy-editing job, because its main purpose is to catch typographical errors, ensuring that all the elements on the page are where they should be before publication. In order to be a professional writer, a reporter must have an understanding of the parts of speech, and how sentences are constructed.

Common issues that occur in writing that should be caught during proofreading include subject and verb agreement, where a subject and predicate must agree in number. Next, there’s the noun and pronoun agreement, which ensures the pronouns agree with the antecedents in person, number and gender. Reflexive and intensive pronouns require the “self” pronoun to be used when a noun acts on itself or when a noun must be emphasized. Pronoun case is another area of concern, which states that case refers to the use of a pronoun in a sentence, and can be either nominative, objective, or possessive. The choice between using “which” and “that” in a sentence depending upon whether it is an essential or non-essential clause. Proper usage of possessive nouns should also not be overlooked. Proofreading can catch any deviations from consistent tenses within sentences. It can also help to fix any irregular verb form errors. Subjunctive mood, which expresses a condition that is either contrary to fact or is purely hypothetical, must be consistent. Modifiers make writing more descriptive and interesting, and should also refer clearly to some specific word in the sentence. Modifiers that are not attached grammatically are called “misplaced” or “dangling”, and hinder the meaning of the sentence. Double negatives should be corrected if there are any present. Lastly, passive and active voice must be addressed while proofreading. Typically, active voice is preferred in articles because it makes the writing more direct and specific, whereas passive leads to wordiness.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles and Diane L. Borden

Writing Strong Headlines

Headlines are incredible important for a publication, because they quickly tell the reader the most important part of the article. They are meant to attract attention, which explains their size compared to the rest of the text. Online rules for headlines are different than those on paper. The headline is constructed to match anticipated word searches online, while print does not have to accommodate for that.

Headlines should match the tone or mood of the story. The placement and size help determine how important a news story is. They should use present tense to describe past actions, which give news immediacy, and utilizes less space than past verbs do. Within a headline, articles are usually omitted to also save space. Good headline characteristics include: accuracy in fact, tone, scope, and focus; emphasizes the main theme of the story; easy to read and understand; balanced and fair summary of the story; and legally sound.

Each letter, punctuation mark and space in a headline is a unit, or portion of a unit. These are important, because they help editors to layout the entire page in a very organized and precise fashion. Lowercase letters, numbers and symbols are all classified as one unit. Uppercase letters are one and a half units. Finally, punctuation marks and spaces are half a unit. These measurements are very specific to the programs used to format the newspaper articles. They all must be organized to fit on the page in a reader-friendly way. Headline counting is a term used to describe the way an editor goes about spacing out each headline for a story. Computer programs have significantly simplified this process, but it is still important to know the basics. In the program used, 72-pt type is one inch tall, so each line of a 30-pt headline would be slightly less than half an inch tall. Editors should know how to manually count headlines, because technology cannot always be relied on.

Concerning placement, headlines are normally placed above the story, covering all columns that the story takes up. There are exceptions to these general rules. If above the story is not an option, a side head can be utilized, which places the headline to the left of the story. This is useful for filling a wide shallow space at the top of an inside page. If a graphic is being used, “raw wraps” or “dutch turns” can be seen, which are simply columns of text without a headline over them. Publications can utilize “banner headlines” which extend across the width of the page and usually stand alone.

Not every publication is the same with how headlines are utilized. Newspapers follow very specific rules whether they’re print or online forms, while magazines utilize headlines in a very different way. First, within the magazine industry, the words “title” and “subtitle” have replaced “headlines”. The primary purpose of a magazine title is to draw readers into the story. The title should peak the curiosity in readers by giving them a hint of what the story is about. Titles are normally accompanied by subtitles that expand and clarify the ideas, serving to further hook the readers. The title is integrated into the page by using color, specialty type faces, and words superimposed over photographs or other elements.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles, and Diane L. Borden

How to Write a Feature Story

The difference between a feature story and a regular news story is that a feature article tells a story, expanding more on the subject being discussed than a regular article would. To begin writing a feature story, a reporter should pre-plan their overall message that they want to convey, and how they plan to execute that. An important step is finding a unique angle for the story, focusing on what the most interesting part of the subject. An outline should be created and followed so there is cohesion to the story and so it follows the same typical structure that every feature story does. The structure should be solid, and can be written in any form as long as there is a consistent flow throughout the entire story.

The introduction should be about 10% of the overall word count, incorporating a strong lead to hook the reader. This section discloses the “who?” and “what?” of the story, as well as the purpose for writing it. The body paragraphs unveil the “why?”, “who?” and “how?” points of the story. These sections support the introduction with facts and background information, and provide a unique voice to the story. The key to these sentences is to include stronger verbs which create imagery for the reader, rather than utilizing adjectives that do not stimulate the same creative picture. Finally, the conclusion should be treated with the same importance as the introduction. It should answer any questions posed in the beginning of the story. It should also repeat the main message, and wrap up the story nicely.

Source: Morris Journalism Academy

How to Write a News Story

The basics of a news story covers the who, what, when, where, why and how of the subject. Reporters have the inverted pyramid to guide them, which is a style of reporting that places the most important facts in the beginning and works down from there. The introductory paragraph should give a proper summary of the entire story with an interesting lead to hook readers, while any additional paragraphs should expand upon the beginning.

The key to keeping a story cohesive is maintaining a focus or the “big picture” within the article. Constantly keep asking, “What’s the story?” to remain on track. The introduction is important, so beginning with an interesting first paragraph can give a sense of scenery. Try incorporate a “What’s next?” element to keep the reader engaged. Featuring a great quote, and emphasizing the impact on readers is another way to keep people engaged with the article.

Having good quotes in the beginning of the story help to set up the rest of the information. Utilizing the nut graph is vital to the reader element. This model emphasizes such questions like, “Why are you telling me this?”, and “Why should I care?” to get into the reader’s mindset. This emphasizes the purpose for readers to continue reading the article, and allows the reporter to constantly address these questions in the writing. Lastly, never forget to give proper credit where it is due throughout the story.

Source: “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser

Typography and Page Design

The personality of a publication is expressed in the stories published, how they are written, and how they are presented. Type is ultimately the foundation for a well-designed publication, which aims to reflect the elements of a product’s personality. The typographical choices are interwoven with the overall design of the publication. The typography and layout choices combine to give an overall cohesive graphic presence.

The aim of the design for a publication is to attract attention, rate the importance of stories by size and placement, and provide organization to the publication. A designer’s job encompasses making choices that allow for easier and faster reading, while recognizing ways that type can be differentiated.

Type choices differ by size, style, and weight. Many are part of the same family, with many different variations available. The choice of type is very crucial to a publication, because it directly affects readability and consumption.

Concerning the design, there are basic principles that are followed to deliver a proper publication. Balance is introduced to the paper by forming unity through manipulating elements like the weight or sequence of design. Next is Contrast, which emphasizes one focal point with smaller contrasting elements. The dominant element conveys higher importance compared to the other smaller subjects surrounding it. Proportion is also considered, focusing on the ratio between elements on a page. Typically, the ratio used is 3:5 in the shape of a rectangle. Finally, unity is created through consistency with design themes on all pages and individual layouts. All elements of the design are related and interwoven to create the overall completed publication.

In order to layout pages properly, there are design elements to consider. The body type, display type, borders, open space, art and color are all elements that need to be controlled in order to create a unified piece. The body type is the specific format the text is in, like whether or not it is justified, and what size font is used along with line spacing choices. This elements balances with the display type, which is the headlines for the stories, and how their format affects the presentation. The borders are what help separate one page element from another, which contrast with the open space or white space and how it’s utilized. Then the accompanying photos, or art, that normally affect how the page is laid out must be incorporated. Finally, the color choices which draw attention and aid in readability must be introduced in the design.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles, and Diane L. Borden