a mug of tea next to a stack of newspapers

News Versus Novels: Editing in Practice

Editing is the bread and butter of the written word. No matter who may argue against it, writing always improves with another pass over to find things you missed the first time. In both the book world and the news world, editing is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the text while ensuring understandability for the audience.

When publishing a book, the first step is often developmental editing. This editing process consists of suggestions from an editor that shape the narrative or structure of the work, while leaving aside small grammatical or other errors for later line editing (or copyediting). Developmental editing is usually a back-and-forth process, with the author in conversation with the editor, often undergoing multiple rounds of revision.

In news, however, developmental editing may be better described as content editing, which often happens alongside copyediting, or line editing, which focus on grammar. For most media outlets, the writer submits their piece and their hands are off of it once it lands on the editor’s desk. While novels and other published works will have an internal style guide for consistency and may be utilizing a style manual (like Chicago), news writing is held to an occupational standard (usually AP Style) that should be mutually intelligible across sources, though there are obviously house rules applied as well.

News editing focuses on clarity and immediacy of information, so past tense but active voice are prioritized. While audience is always a consideration for any written work intended to be published, news editing that uses AP style can access accepted shorthand that would be considered out of genre for books. For instance, all months should be abbreviated besides March, April, May, June, and July and single-digit numbers (zero to nine) should be spelled out while numerals should be used for numbers ten and above. Copyediting (or line editing) has the largest overlap between the two worlds, though as the copy chief for a newspaper myself, I often make sweeping changes to a piece that would probably require an author’s okay if it were a novel.

More generally, news editors that are conducting developmental editing, such as the editor-in-chief or section editor, are ultimately in control of the vision for the writing. They function as gatekeepers for the content, tone, and even the piece itself—cutting an article from a newspaper entirely is always on the table. For book editors, the author is still the driving force behind the work’s purpose and voice, as they aren’t always held to the uniform standard of a cohesive newspaper. This does mean, however, that while a newspaper may employ fact-checkers or have copyeditors perform fact-checking, the authenticity of a book manuscript may fall solely on the author.

Both news editing and book editing lead to some great insights. Perhaps news articles would be much improved if the developmental editing process were more collaborative and not so definitive, and maybe book editing would be a more streamlined process if developmental editing could play a heavier hand. Or perhaps things are better off as they already are! While the digital revolution has complicated the way publication functions either way, the work of editing is still a robust tool for ensuring that, whatever we are writing, the very best version of it makes its way to the readers.

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