On editing: Ben Parker, The Independent
Deputy Travel Editor of the Independent talks to us about his edit process.
Formerly at The Telegraph and after a brief stint away from the traditional travel media, Ben Parker has returned to our industry as Deputy Travel Editor at The Independent. Here’s the inside track on how he edits and how to pitch him.
What's your edit process like?
I start by reading each piece as a whole, in order to see the bigger picture: How it begins, what weaves through it, how it all connects to a pay-off at the end. This reveals anything clunky with the structure and ensures that it matches the brief. Then I dive in, line by line, par by par. Time permitting, I like to go through totally once and then come back after a few hours, or the next day, with fresh eyes.
What sort of things do you look out for when editing? What do you wish freelancers thought about before filing copy?
It’s important to remember the reader — don’t assume that they know what you know, as you’ve had your head stuck in the reporting and it could well be new to them — and make sure every word is working hard. Otherwise, cut it before an editor does! Plus, and I know this sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen, make sure you’re actually writing to the brief; if you’re unclear, ask.
It sounds obvious, but checking facts is crucial, as is spelling/grammar. Recently I had to send back copy that needed more detail, and some structural changes. It was littered with spelling errors. These things happen, but I was surprised by how many there were. I intentionally left them to see if the writer caught them — version two came back not only with the existing errors but more were introduced.
Is it ever OK to challenge an editor's decision?
Absolutely! A writer-editor relationship should be one of collaboration. Decisions are made to improve the writing, which I always enjoyed as a freelancer. There’s never any excuse for rudeness — think Giles Coren-esque outbursts — which I’ve seen from both sides. We’re all working to the same end, after all.
Do you ever include compliments as well as constructive criticism? If not, why not?
I certainly try to, though, like most busy editors, I can be guilty of jumping straight to the point. In calmer moments, I do try and tell contributors when they’ve written lovely pieces — I know how lonely it can be when freelance, and how much a grain of praise can improve a day.