How to curate content (aka be an editor)

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File photo: Ivo Ruijters

The recent furore surrounding the publication of a hoax blog post at Huffington Post SA has had me thinking – about hate speech (which I wrote about here), and about the process by which decisions are made about publication or non-publication of a particular piece of writing.
In years of experience at IOL, I had more unsolicited pieces of writing cross my email inbox than I care to think about now. Over time, I learned how to make fast choices about whether I wanted to use the content or not.
I thought it might be useful to write down that mental process, for the benefit of younger people wondering how this is done. I’ll take you through my own personal checklist (note – this was never a formalised policy at IOL, and I no longer work there and can’t comment on how things might now be done at that website).
The steps below relate to online publishing, rather than print. And there are factors in the process that would probably shock print journalists of the old school (especially the focus on “hits”). But I want to paint the picture as it happens in the real world.

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When is speech hateful – and when is it hate speech?

South African journalists (and perhaps some bemused bystanders) have been consumed for the last week or so by a chain of events centred on the country’s instance of the Huffington Post.

In brief, this is what happened: Huff Post SA published a piece saying white men should be disenfranchised. This duly went viral. Then things got sticky. It transpired the piece had been written as a hoax by a white man trying to make a point about the way in which journalists publish things that confirm their own biases (at least that is my understanding). In the fall-out, that man has lost his job, the editor of the Huffington Post has resigned and many, many opinion pieces have been written.

More importantly, the country’s Press Ombudsman has pronounced on the issue, declaring that the original article was, among other things, hate speech.

I don’t intend to add to the many opinions about all this. Rather, I want to look at the issue of hate speech – from the point of view of a journalism trainer.

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Little language tip: Distressed, distraught

I spotted this on a site which shall remain nameless*.

In an article about a musician who had killed two people in a car crash was this phrase, used as a subhead:

“Singer takes to Facebook to express his distraught”.

Distraught is an adjective and can’t be used in that place in the sentence. The verb “express” needs a noun, and the right one here would be “distress”. The singer, on the other hand, can be distraught (or distressed).

  • I never mention the sites or names of authors where I spot mistakes. My purpose is not to name and shame or score points.

 

 

 

How to learn new things

Letters showing the word yes

Assume you are capable of learning new things. Picture: Stephen Tainton, freeimages.com

My first foray into the world of training could not have been more fraught.

It was the mid 1990s and the afternoon newspaper on which I worked as a sub-editor was about to make the change from one production system to another. Editorial staff were already working on computers (the Atex system) but the newspaper was still being made up by human hand. Now, people were going to move to a fully electronic system, on Apple Macs, using the Quark system.

I volunteered to be part of the transition project, specifically as one of the people who would train colleagues to use the new system. We had a small training room (with Arctic air conditioning), six Macs and hope in our hearts. Continue reading