Monday, November 8, 2010

Firsthand Tips from a Friendly Features Editor

Hey Edsters!

So just after I arrived at work this morning, the Features Editor rushed by and handed me a 16-page article. She apologized for the tedious project, but quickly explained that she couldn’t find the story’s original digital copy on her computer and she needed a transcription, pronto.

So I sat down with the article and started typing it out word for word. But I soon realized that as great as the topic was, the story wasn’t written in the typical Mag voice and it definitely included some odd sentence structure and a few grammatical mistakes. Obviously, it wasn’t my job to edit or alter the article in any way, but when I returned it to my editor, I did ask if she’d mind me asking a question or two about the piece.

She honestly surprised me by being super friendly and happy to talk about it, so I asked if the article was a freelance piece. When she confirmed that it was, I happily explained that I really enjoy editing and that it was pretty cool to see the raw copy that would eventually turn into a final print article.

But so here’s the best part. I must have caught her at a great time, because she literally responded to my interest in editing by handing me another article she’d written herself!! She explained that the Executive Editor had already read it through, but hadn’t been too thrilled with it, feeling that it needed a bit more heart and emotional connection to the subject. So she suggested I read it through and later that afternoon, swing by to brief her on my thoughts.
No joke, this may have been the most excited I’ve been working at The Mag (possibly second to my rocking iPad assignment).

So I read the article (twice), and took some notes so I’d be ready to talk it out. And as promised, at the end of the day, Features Editor called me in to her office, and (although slightly distracted by the insane view out her window!) I offered my feedback and ideas.

We chatted and brainstormed a bit (and she even took notes!!) but what was most interesting was that she admitted to making a few mistakes herself with this project. She explained that with all the craziness of the office, she had conducted the interview over the phone, but hadn’t read through her notes until a few days later, by which point, she’d forgotten some of the intimate details that bring most stories to life.

So here are some quick writing, interviewing and general tips hot from the Features Editor at The Mag.

• 1. Never get off the phone without really understanding what makes your interviewee tick. In other words, make sure that you really get why they do what they do, or why they have the relationships that they have. 

• 2. Read over your notes right away. That way, if something is missing, you can easily call back. Otherwise, “it gets cold,” and you forget the details and you lose the character of the story and personality of your subject. 

• 3. To emphasize, you should always follow up if you have any doubts or hesitations about anything. 

• 4. Features Editor personally thinks that the best personal stories, (“As Told To” as we call them at The Mag), are the ones told as if you were at a bar, pulled up a stool, and struck up a conversation with a stranger. It should be told chronologically with a background story, but including nothing more than what’s needed to understand, again, how this person ticks and why their story is interesting or important. 

• 5. Also, she advised that even if you love editing and aspire to be an editor, you still have to write. Write, write, write! And accept reviews, edits and criticisms of others (especially those with more experience) with an open mind. 

Pretty solid advice. Plus, it’s comforting to know that even the pros mess up every once in a while. I guess it’s all about accepting what you did wrong, fixing it, and never making the mistake again. Do you have any such stories? Share in comments!

Until next time,
Your Features Intern 

1 comment:

  1. That was great interviewing advice! I'm an intern at a small paper in North Carolina (aspiring for New York after graduation), and I'm always interviewing people over the phone. I've learned to do the same thing, basically just spend as much time with them as it takes to get the heart of what they're saying. My articles used to be factual, but now they have a lot more heart. I liked the advice about reading over the notes right away, I'm going to have to start doing that! Thanks!