One day during my Dow Jones Newspaper Fund editing residency (a weeklong editing boot camp before my internship), Bill Connolly came in to speak to us. Connolly, who used to be an editor for the New York Times and is mentioned in “How a Copy Editor Might Have Averted Disaster,” shared this story with us. I learned a lot from him, as well as how the mind of an editor should work. He read through the entire story with us, raising every question that popped into his mind. He questioned small details I had glanced over in my first read-through. But at the end of the exercise, I had learned that the best editors – like Bill Connolly – are skeptical ones. That’s what editors are there for. Who else is going to question the validity of a story, except, of course, the readers? Editors should be asking these questions so readers don’t have to.
Throughout the exercise, we circled aspects of the story that seemed questionable. By the end, my paper was littered with red question marks and circles. The first came in the first sentence: Doesn’t it seem a little odd that an African American boy would have sandy hair? There were many questions like this on little details that just didn’t add up (if he is living in the ghetto, how can he afford fancy running shoes and izod shirts?) Also, the mother seems almost impossibly callous to her son’s addiction. Even though Cooke writes that Andrea too is an addict, she seems unrealistically undisturbed by the situation. A lot of questions came up after reading about his spotty school record. As Connolly brings up in “How a Copy Editor Might Have Averted Disaster,” would Jimmy really have been in fourth grade as an 8-year-old if he rarely attended class? Also, wouldn’t his teachers have inquired if he was constantly missing school? Why didn’t the writer contact the school? These are all questions that should have raised a red flag in the editor’s mind. It’s scary to think that this story somehow endured through so many levels of editing without thought.