Cherubs learn to edit like professionals

Cherubs use their AP Style books to edit. Photo by Joe Grimm.

Alexis White skims an unedited article, her eyes darting back and forth to catch mistakes. White has been an editor for her school paper, The Talon, since she was a freshman, and she will serve as editor-in-chief next year.

In Bret Begun’s Anatomy of an Edit class, White and her fellow cherubs learned to edit like professionals. Begun is a former cherub and the current editor for the Etc. section of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.

Begun had students edit in groups, then had a member of each group act as the “editor-in-chief” and present the corrections.

“This year, the students were impressive when it came to identifying the issues in the story and making sure that the major stuff was addressed,” Begun said in an interview after class.

Students developed their editing skills by learning where to spot mistakes, how to check for tone and how to speak directly to their audience through their articles.

For cherubs like Nora Crumley, the class was an opportunity to learn how to be meticulous and concise in her articles and edits. Crumley will be the editor-in-chief of her paper next year.

“I am a pretty bad editor,” Crumley said. “I know when stuff is really bad, but I am just not very good at grammar, punctuation and AP style.”

Although the class did not focus on copy-editing, Crumley said she learned how to edit actual content and organize it.

Begun said that line-editing, the method most young journalists use to edit, is a secondary “easy” step after the focusing on “larger, more substantive issues” such as organization, unclear information and inaccuracy.

The class gave a larger perspective of editing and helped students look at the story as a whole, a skill that can be applied to an entire publication, White said.

Cherubs learn the steps of a professional edit. Photo by Alexandra Chaidez

Cherubs learn the steps of a professional edit. Photo by Alexandra Chaidez.

Begun also offered insight into the life of an editor by sharing his own experience at Bloomberg Businessweek.

“You have to know the difference between editing and writing, and you have to like the idea of someone else having their name on the story,” Begun said. “You have to realize that you are going to do a lot of work in relative anonymity.”

Begun said that because of the lack of attention that editors often get, being an editor is not appealing to many. To students like Sarah O’Connor, the life of an editor is humbling and rewarding.

“I feel more accomplished as an editor because I am more skilled at picking things apart, and I like when writers get their names out there,” O’Connor said.

Crumley said the class was especially valuable because it instilled confidence in the students when they compared their edits to Begun’s.

“It was cool because he is a real editor, and we are high school kids,” she said. “To see that we have similar opinions on the piece was awesome.”