Even if you’ve never had anything to do with the creation of a newspaper you will know something about how a newsroom works: There are reporters and there are editors.
First come the reporters, running around the town, notebook (or, increasingly, laptop) in hand as they hunt out exclusive stories. The reality involves a lot less Lois Lane and a lot more sitting at a desk making phone calls, but you’d be correct in thinking these are the people who reach out to the community, championing causes, celebrating achievements and criticising the bad guys.
Then there’s the editor, popular fiction would have us picture an intimidating older man, yelling at cub reporters while they demand the latest story no matter the cost - or have I been watching too much Spiderman? They’re really not that mean.
Yes, the editor does have the weight of the newspaper on their shoulders, which can be quite a responsibility, but they’re also often the face of the paper, and it’s their interpretation of the news that can end up deciding the publication’s personality as reporters follow their lead. As you would expect, the editor edits all the news to be written, but they do so to choose which story is given priority, and how that story is told – is news about criminals being caught a positive one about successful policing or a fear-provoking one about danger among us?
While the reporter will have their say – and indeed all members of the newsroom can end up taking on elements of the different roles as needed – the key decisions rest with the editor.
So the reporters write the stories and editors make the decisions, we all know that, but the creation of a newspaper is not quite so simple. Somewhere in the middle of all the writing and editing is another group, the sub-editors.
These are a traditionally – but not necessarily – grumpy bunch, obsessed with grammar and the proper use of punctuation. They are the people who write the actual headlines, design the pages and check the facts, figures and spellings before the paper makes its way to the press.
Rarely named in the newspaper, their role is also to save the reporters’ blushes. Even the most talented of writers make mistakes, but with ten minutes until deadline it can be particularly easy for a there to slip in where their was intended, a zero to fall out of a deal worth £100,000, or an s to drop from Mrs Charlie Patterson’s title.
While such mistakes are rare, they can make a big difference when it comes to trust in a newspaper, which is the same for PR – send out an incorrect press release or forget to check your facts and the recipients will soon doubt you as a trustworthy source, not to mention the potential damage to both yours and your client’s reputation.
With an increasing number of journalists making the leap from press to public relations, from reporters to editors to sub-editors, it’s only natural that we remember the teachings of our previous career and put them to good use: Know the story, choose the angle, check the facts.
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