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Ordinarily, to edit means to make something short or shorter. journalism, it means to remove unwanted matter in the news. It is an In important aspect of any media persons work irrespective of whether or not the person works for the print or broadcast media.


On successful completion of this unit, you should be able to: 

  1.  Define what editing in journalism is all about. 
  2.  Explain the functions and why editing is done in journalism. 
  3. Identify and use the copy editing symbols. 
  4. Identify and use the Proof reading symbols. 
  5.  Edit a copy for publication.


3.1 Copy Editing

Copy editing can be variously described. It can be called copy editing, news editing, or copy reading. They all mean the same thing. But before any meaningful editing can be achieved, the copy editor must have a good knowledge of the subject. He must be current as well as be an expert in the language being used.

Furthermore, the editor should be flexible and tolerant. He should be that person who is capable of appreciating the work of other people. In summary, therefore, a good editor must be versed in the subject in question, an expert in the language use, and others liberal arts.  Editing is done to eliminate unnecessary details. It is also done to effect corrections that are bound to be there. Such editing are often carried out in an editing room, using a specially designed table known as copy desk, with a slot man at the helm of affairs. A copy desk is that object around which copy editors sit. The slot man controls the activities of the team.

Writers of all sorts need editors even when they have had time to go over their own work. They need editing despite the fact that they took pains to read through such work. In short, such a writer does not exist whose work cannot be improved by the constructive vigilance of an editor, who is:
• Versed in what is written about.
• An expert in language use
• A flexible and tolerant person capable of appreciating values in the work of others.

Moreover, news writing has a special need for copy readers because most news writing is done at high speed. They are often written in haste. Reporters are usually under severe pressure. Consequently, are prone to mistake or bound to make slips and need some help in verifying and organising their facts. The quality of every newspaper is dependent on the array of its copyreaders. The copy desk is the heart of the newspaper and the character of the newspaper is determined by its copy desk.
The Copy Desk has three major functions.
• Creative function.
• Managerial function
• Policing function

3.1.1 Creative Function

This function largely centres around the following activities: First, the desk judges the news of the day and makes decisions about how it shall be presented. Second, it assembles single stories and spreads materials originating from a variety of sources. In this way, the desk from

editor is said to be creative when he can originate an idea merging two or more stories from different reporters on the same topic such as or related topic. Such write-ups carry peculiar phrases like: “in a similar development or” in another development “or” in another development”. Creativity also involves assembling and selecting related stories into a single story or a big spread. Copy editors write headlines, captions and outlines. Captions are found at the top making scanty details of the pictures while outlines are found below with more details. Another area of creativity deals with space management, which is the major problem of print media as against the problem of time in the electronic media.

3.1.2 Managerial Function

This function consists of the three activities enunciated below. One, the desk directs the work of the compositors and printers. This they through marking copy with the style of type the compositor is expected do to set it in. Managerial function can also be called function. The major divisions of a typical newspaper organisation are administrative the business, the editorial, and the production divisions. In the editorial division are the editor, copy desk, editorial writers and photographic section. Copy desk give directives to compositors in the production division. This relationship forms the major link between the two distinct divisions namely the editorial and production divisions respectively. Copy desk directs and adjusts stories. They also prepare fillers and time

copy. As the name implies, fillers are ready made stories deigned to fill up extra spaces in newspaper. These stories must as a specially matter of necessity, be fresh and timely. On the other hand, time copy are those copies that are funny and entertaining, and of general interest. Managerial function aims at avoiding waste and instead cries to adjust the volume of copy to the available space before it is sent composing room to be set in type. This managerial function also strives to the to meet emergencies with plenty of filler and time copy on hand at all times. In this way there are hardly open spaces.

3.1.3 Policing Function

The copy desk’s chief function is the job of policing the content of the paper. It is the most important of all the functions because it safeguards the paper against errors and libel. It corrects grammatical errors, crosschecks facts, and marked necessary interpretation to avoid ambiguity. Sometimes this policing function may slip the copy desk or it may decide to undermine the consequence in which case the newspaper may face libellous suits. In the light of the above, the desk checks copy against errors of facts and interpretation of ambiguous statements. Secondly, it guides the newspaper’s position against being sued for libel and other legal difficulties. Thirdly, it guides public confidence in the paper by ensuring objectively, fair play and good taste. Finally, it improves the flow and corrections of language so as to clarify the news and make it more meaningful.
The individual copy editor should have many things in mind as he works on a story. Among those things he must do are:

  1.  He must eliminate errors of spelling, grammar and sentence structure.
  2. He must be conscious of taste, style, fact and organisation. 
  3. He must guard against unwarranted reportorial bias, verbosity, repetition, incongruity, wearisome details, overlooked facts, zealous statements, and advertising in disguise as well as old and a grinding news.

3.2 Copy Editor Tools 

In a bid to do his work effectively and efficiently, the copy editor needs a set of tools namely: Physical and Intellectual tools. The physical tools come under specific headings including equipments, reminders, copy editing symbols, and references.

3.2.1 Equipment

The copy reader’s obvious physical tools comprise the following:

  1.  A special editing pencil with broad and soft lead and slightly bigger than the normal ordinary HB pencil.
  2. A clean eraser for neatly cleansing any wrongly written words or sentences.
  3. Scissors and paste which are supposed to be used only when necessary
  4.  A typewriter that will be used only when it will do the job quicker than the other tools. 
  5.  A telephone within reach which will be put in use for communication with staff and non staff members to clarify facts and issues. 

3.2.2 Reminder 

Besides other physical tools the copy editor has certain reminder within reach. Some of these include the office style sheet and the schedule. Also included is a detailed headline count system, headline serves as a guide for the headline writing. which

3.2.3 Copy Editing Symbols

Another aspect of the physical tool available to the copyreader is the shorthand he uses always to tell the compositor how he wants original copy changed. The copy reading symbols vary slightly from the newspaper to newspaper and depends on what each organisation is used
to. The symbols are not quite distinct from one another. Here are some examples adapted from two sources.

3.2.4 Reference

Reference of any kind constitutes yet another set of physical always employed by the copy reader. The extent and appropriateness of tools reference materials like books available on the editing desk vary from one desk to another. However a minimum list of reference necessary in every desk consist of the following:

• An unabridged dictionary
• The city Directory
• The State Handbook
• City and area telephone director
• Good Atlas
• City, country and state maps
• Who is who in Nigeria
• The world Almanac
• Year Hooks
• Roget’s Thesaurus
• Book of Quotations
• Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
• Webster Dictionary with its rich information
• Other general references.

3.2.5 Intellectual Tools

The most important of the copy editor’s tool are the intellectual tools. It is assumed and rightly too that the present day copy editor is educated and literate person putting all the available tools to work for an the purposes of producing an accurate, dependable, well written and grammatically correct as well as interesting and sound newspaper. The list of the copy editor’s intellectual tools is inexhaustible.

In any case, the following may be assumed as the list of intellectual tools a copy editor often needs.

• Thorough knowledge of English grammar, sentence structure and style.
• Thorough knowledge of the copy desk current routine.
• Thorough knowledge of how to use the references available to him.
• Proper knowledge of the community the newspaper is expected to serve
• Broad general awareness and solid educational background.
• Common sense and even disposition as well as good sense of continuity of news.

The last two are crucial and fundamental as they are real assets to the copy readers. Generally, the copyreader must have respect for the viewpoints and special problems, of his co-workers and the reading public. As a matter of necessity he must have a feeling for what others  can and will read. He should have a sense of balance in all decisions he makes. Of course, cool judgement is probably the most major important of all intellectual tools. The phrase “Sub this story” means “edit the story”.

3.3 Editing Symbols

Typing Errors (known as typos):
• If you wish to capitalise a letter or word, underline it with two parallel lines, thus:Bob hawke condemned the usa.
• To turn a capital letter (known as an upper case letter) into a non-capital (or lower case letter), place a small slash mark through the top of the letter, to the bottom thus Set this in UPPER CASE
• To delete a word or phrase, draw a horizontal line through it. If, as is usual, you wish the space thus created to be ignored, place a bridge above and below the line to signify that you wish the space to be closed, thus:He says the bomb should not have been dropped.
• To take out a single letter draw the delete line vertically, thus:Never hand your copy inn before reading it through carefully.
• To insert space between words place an insertion mark, like this between the words. The Vice Chancellor h s warned students…
• In the print media, to insert a letter, word or phrase an insertion mark (or slash mark) is placed at the relevant point and the extra materials is written above the type, thus:
“It is not true that I w/rk for Rupert”. She said.
• In the broadcast media, a single letter must not be inserted. The whole of the incorrect word should be deleted with a horizontal line and the new word written out in full above. Also, insertion mark differs from that used in print, thus: the worked She said it was true that she wrked for Nupeng.
• In the haste to get a story down on paper journalists sometimes transpose letters, words or phrases. To correct this typo draw a horizontal S around the offending materials so that the letter, word or phrase below the S-line is placed before that above this line, thus:
The man dead is identified as … (NOTE: Some authorities say the S-line should be reversed e.g. for need then becomes for need. Others say this reversal should only happen when single letters are to be transposed. However, the subbing mark in this course will be the one above.)
• Most publications use abbreviations, particularly for titles. Some everyday abbreviations, however, are often not acceptable in some publications. What is acceptable and what is not acceptableon a particular publication is part of the publication’s house style. Most publications hand new journalists a style book that contains instructions on what is, and is not, acceptable. 

A journalist, particularly one recently arrived from another publication, can make a mistake on abbreviations. To correct this, the offending material should be circled, so that a word that

has been abbreviated will be spelt out in full, or a word that has been spelt out in full will be abbreviated, thus:
Col Wale said Tamuno Briggs was a twit. 

(NOTE: The rule is that when an abbreviation ends with the same letter as the full word, then no full stop should be used. If it does not, then use a full stop, thus:

Prof. John Brainstorm criticised Dr. Jane Bookworm).

The use of numbers in copy is also subject to house style. Some have to be typed in letters, some in figures. If the wrong style has been used, circle the offending materials, thus: He accussed the

2 teenagers of stealing one thousand naira worth of valuables
Punctuation Errors: While typos can be corrected in ink, punctuation corrections should be made in pencil. This is because the sub-editors may not agree with the punctuation. If it is in pencil they can rub out the reporter’s mark.
• To insert a full stop, place an insertion mark in the relevant place in the copy. Above the mark draw in a dot and circle it, thus: .“It is over/” he said “I will go no further” Some journalists use a cross in a circle. This is probably because the Pitman’s shorthand symbol for a full stop is a cross by itself.(NOTE: Use the same procedure for a colon, thus;The University Senate decided the following students: Ade, Bassey, Okonkwo..
• For a comma, place an insertion mark at the relevant place and draw in a comma above the line, with a small slash above it, thus:

“It is over/” he said. (NOTE: To insert a semi-colon, use the same procedure as for a comma. ;His uncles are/ Baba, Shalolo, Danjuma
• For an apostrophe, use the same procedure as for comma, but place the small slash below, thus: ,A journalists/ duty is to be accurate.
• For quotation marks, use the same procedure as for an apostrophe, but reverse the double commas where necessary, thus: “This is an accurate report/“ he said In some newsrooms the small slash mark under the marks is replaced with either a V or a Y quotation
• For a hyphen, place an insertion mark at the relevant place and draw above the line a short horizontal line between the vertical

lines, thus: The prosecutor said that this was not a run of the will case

  1.  Journalists should try to avoid using dashes. If, however, they must insert one, an insertion mark should be placed at relevant place and a short vertical line, followed by two short the horizontal lines and another short vertical line should be drawn above, thus: Journalists with some exception are good writers. 
  2.  Parenthesis, or brackets, should be drawn in at the relevant point, 

Nigerian reporters (known as pressmen) are among the best in the world.

  1. Paragraphs should be indicated in a reporter’s copy by placing a blank line between each paragraph. Any corrections, such as the breaking up of long paragraphs or the combining of short paragraphs should be left to the sub-editors. However, there are exceptions to this rule, so to indicate a new paragraph an L should be drawn in at the beginning of the first sentence, thus:

“Newspaper reporters who mark the start of paragraphs are bad news”. Said the sub-editor.
“They do not realise that paragraphs are sometimes broken up or combined to suit the design of a page”.
To combine two paragraphs draw a reversed S from the full stop of the first paragraph to the beginning of the second, thus:
“Newspaper reporters who mark the start of paragraphs are bad news”, said the sub-editor:
“They do not realise that paragraphs are sometimes broken up or combined to suit the design of the page”.
Note: • If your correction is wrong and you have used a pen, or, for any reason, you want the subbing mark to be ignored, place a row of horizontal dots below the offending correction, and write STET

above the line and circle it, thus:

Journalists who hand in inaccurate copy STET Will be boiled in oil Source: University of Southern Queensland Study Book, JRN 1000)

Proof Reading Symbols: Sub-editors are responsible for editing news stories, so proof readers are responsible for proof-reading typeset stories. While the sub-editors use editing symbols to edit news stories, proof readers use proofreading symbols to edit typeset stories.
The sub-editors are free to use pencils to write editing symbols anywhere in the copy. In the case of proofreading, proofreaders must use pencils to write their proof reading symbols only in the left and right margins of the proofs.

Some of the common proofreading symbols are:
(1) Use lowercase letter lc
(2) Use capital letter Cap
(3) Transpose
(4) Close u p
(5) Use boldface BF
(6) Insert space # #
(7) Use hyphen (-) here –
(8) Leave it as it was stet
(9) Take it out; delete
(10) Use a dash _ / _ -/-
(11) Use light face If lf
(12) Use question mark – ?/ ?/ 
(13) Use a comma if it is necessary ,
(14) Use a semi-colon – . ;
(15) Use a colon :/ :/ 
(16) Use a period – . or x . or x
(17) Use an apostrophe ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘
(18) “ Use quote marks “ “ “
(19) // Begin a paragraph //
(20) No // Do not paragraph. No //
(21) End of story. #/30 #/30
Source: Ogunsiyi (1989:82-83)


Editing function in the media house can be viewed as a watchdog role, and, the life of a newspaper especially, depends on it. Hence, highly specialised people carryout the technical work.


In this unit, you have learnt that:
 Editing is an important aspect of the journalism process.
We edit primarily to remove unwanted bits of information in the copy.
 Editing function does not just end with the use of mechanics or
symbols to instruct others, but also involves managerial, creative and policing duties.


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