Note: I also posted this on my student media blog.

If you’re a new editor at your college newspaper, you know the difference between your and you’re, the correct AP Style for numbers one through 10 and the right use of the word “alleged.”

That’s cool. But your first editing night, all of that’s going to fly out the window. It’s just a lot of content the first time. Here’s how to sift through it.

Ask yourself this stuff first: 

  • Does the structure of this story make sense? Does it have a good lede, get to the point relatively quickly and proceed in more or less sequential order? If not, rearrange it.
  • To the best of your knowledge, are there any AP Style errors in the story? Fix them.
  • To the best of your knowledge, are there any grammar mistakes in the story? Now fix those.
  • Are there any potential AP Style errors you’re unsure of? Look them up.
  • Are there any potential grammar mistakes you’re unsure of? Call the most grammar-obsessed person in your newsroom and check.

Now fact-check. Pick out any discernible facts and verify them. Always, always check this stuff: 

  • $ amounts
  • dates
  • titles
  • names of public figures, students/faculty, athletes & coaches (your reporter WILL get it wrong, I promise)
Done fact-checking? Now make sure you’re not going to get sued. Ask yourself: 
  • Does it seem like a reporter is misrepresenting someone or creating a story that wasn’t really there? If there are very few quotes, that’s sometimes a tip-off.
  • Is everything sourced with legal, on-the-record information you’re allowed to use?
  • Have you checked facts are statements that are going to make someone mad over and over and over again?
  • Does anything about this story give you a bad feeling, even a small one?
Okay. Everything legal? If you still have time, ask yourself these questions. They’re what separates a good story from a great one.
  • Beyond just what happened, does this story explain the significance? The why?
  • Is the phrasing of this story engaging, or is it awkward? If you’d laugh while reading a sentence out loud to someone, rewrite it.
  • Is there a reason to run this story? Does it provide essential information? Is it interesting or entertaining? If not — and if you can — cut it.
Bonus: Grammar & AP Style That’s Easy to Miss
Make sure to/too, your/you’re,
their/there/they’re and other homophones are used correctly.
If you set something off with a comma, close it off.
“The student journo, Something B. Something-y, finished her first editing night.” 
Not: “The student journo, Something B. Something finished her first editing night.” 

Please do not do this: U of Wherever athlete, Bob Jonesus, is signing with the Whoevers.
It’s: U of Wherever athlete Bob Jonesus is signing with the Whoevers.
Multiple freshmen. Single freshman. (Much like how there are multiple men & a single man.)
Don’t say: the freshman were all over the quad yesterday.