The Unsung Art of PR Editing

It is not one of the more glamorous aspects of the job, but editing is a much and desired, little talked about and sometimes hard to find skill in PR.

This is especially true in light of the burgeoning need for written content caused by the explosion in online media and the corresponding downsizing of print publications.  More and more outlets are looking for article contributions; and all those blogs need fresh and interesting content.  Writing is a core skill, and editing rides one layer higher.

I was reminded of this while reading NY Times reporter Gretchen Morgenstern’s ode to long time Forbes editor James Walker Michaels, who recently passed. She wrote about him in her article Fair Game; A Taskmaster Who Changed Business News.

She described his "tough love" and repeated some of the acid comments that stung at the time but were very much on target.  I couldn’t help thinking that some of these comments could easily apply to PR content, such as pitches and press releases I have reviewed and edited over the years.

After all, we are in the narrative business as well, and need to be able to tell a good story.

Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

‘…He was certainly the best
business editor that I’ve ever seen,” Warren E. Buffett told me last
week. ”He knew the subject, he knew the writing, and you knew that
every story had been edited by Jim. He made them short, and he made
them sing.’…

And his reporters? He made them nervous …

”This is badly written and badly edited. It would be an insult to foist it on the reader.”

”This is a real snoozer, lacking in specifics. Why not just send them a nice lacy valentine and forget the prose.”

”’A good story turned into oatmeal by bad organization.”

”Please fix this quickest. It lacks most of the ingredients of a Forbes story. The quotes are room emptiers.”

”This is the kind of sentence that drives readers to stop reading.” 

”This is a paid advertisement. Did you forget to say he walks on water?”

”If I can’t stay awake editing this, how can a
reader stay awake reading it? What’s the point? If it has a point,
maybe we can make a story of it.”

”I can’t make head nor tail of this. There’s a story buried in all this confusion, but I can’t find it. Fix it or kill it.” 

”’Your initials are
on this so I suppose you understand it,” he wrote to one of his
editors. ”I don’t.” Atop another article, he wrote: ”Replace or run
white space”…

He regularly banned words and phrases he
considered overused. ”Fast track,” ”game plan,” ”bottom line” and
”superstar” were some examples. ”Upscale” was another: ”If I see
this word again I’ll upthrow,” he wrote.

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