Every few months I get asked to visit the Juice Academy in Manchester to talk to their social media apprentices about the work that I do. This happens in my own time and it’s not directly to my role as a digital editor at the BBC. So I talk about things I’ve learned across my whole career, and the one word that sums me up best is editor.
Nowadays in my work on the BBC Homepage I’m known as a curator. Before that I was a content producer. Going further back I was an interactive producer, a copywriter, a news sub, a blogger and a book editor. In my spare time I’m a writer; but in my working life I’ve pretty much always been an editor, no matter what you call it.
So I speak to these great young people at the start of their careers in media or content production about what I’ve learned over many years, being an editor first for books, then interactive TV, and finally online. And here are my five top things:
Get things right
Pretty basic, but it is the first rule of editing. If you make a mistake (and you will) it makes all the rest of your good work look bad. So check things twice before you publish, and get a second pair of eyes on them whenever you can.
Spelling weak spots are always going to be names and words you think you know but you don’t (for me this has been David Milliband and restauranteur).
Double check numbers, dates and acronyms carefully. And don’t forget the information in pictures. Is that really where you say it is, when you say it is? A lot of an editor’s time is checking, checking and checking.
Many errors are down to rushing. If you work in any kind of live production, there are events that you can foresee. Plan for these – make a coverage plan in advance and know who to contact when it happens.
Learn from your mistakes. I’m a better editor today because of the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Understanding why they happened and taking precautions next time around make me look like I know stuff, but mostly I’ve had to learn the hard way.
Ask: Does it feel right?
If a claim or fact doesn’t sound right to you, dig a little deeper and you may find out the truth. I’ve manager to steer clear of ‘fake news’ like this because I just didn’t like the content. The narrative felt too pat to me for UGC, and my instincts turned out to be right.
And on the flip side, fight like anything to publish content that you really believe in. Brave editorial wins readers, and your instincts are the most valuable part of you as a good editor.
Think of your audience
When Terry Wogan was asked how many people were in his radio audience, his answer was: one. In fact he had 8m. Thinking of how the audience will come at something has been my guiding principle. If I don’t relate to it, or think it’s weak, I know they will too. So just consider yourself as the average reader and you can’t go too far wrong.
Valuing your audience goes hand in hand with this. Who wouldn’t choose something good over something just OK? This is one of my favourite quotes, and I think of it often when I ask for something to be rewritten or redone. It’s from Mark Twain:
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
It’s always more than worth going the extra mile, and reworking something until you know it’s the best it can be. Your audience will know, trust me.
Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions I’d love to hear them. Thank you to @SandyLindsay and The Juice Academy for having me along on their wonderful adventure with apprentices and social media in Manchester.