Editorial policy and process

Purpose

The purpose of IWPR's editorial unit is defined by the Institute's primary objective, to strengthen local media in conflict zones. As such the unit has a dual role:

  • to publish reports from IWPR programmes to an international standard, and
  • to provide collaborative support and feed-back to writers as an integral component of the Institute's practical on-the-job training.

Both components are essential to the capacity of the Institute to meet its objectives under grant contracts and to retain long-term donor support.

Overview

IWPR enjoys an international reputation as a leading source of reliable reporting by local journalists from crisis zones. The Institute's editorial output is news, news analysis, commentary and features focusing on issues of war and conflict resolution, human rights and democratic development. IWPR provides an international platform for local voices.

IWPR reporting maintains a moderate, balanced and fact-based tone, seeking in particular to break down rather than reinforce grievances across ethnic, national, tribal or other conflict lines. In line with IWPR's broader goal of contributing to peace, editorial projects are designed to build cross-community confidence, support collaborative projects and develop regional and international information sharing. As the practical component of IWPR media development, the editorial policy forms a key part of IWPR's overall training strategy.

Training strategy

IWPR's training strategy follows the ten-point reporting/training dynamic, which delivers practical collaboration between international and local journalists to transfer skills and experience for the long-term.

The heart of this strategy is intensive on-the-job training throughout the journalistic process, from identifying local issues, to reporting and writing, to dissemination, debate and evaluation/feedback. IWPR trainers and editors support local participating journalists throughout.

The editorial unit is thus a core component of the overall training approach and must edit accordingly. That means achieving a balance between maintaining international standards and established outputs on deadline on the one hand, and respecting local voices and providing a nurturing communicative editorial environment on the other.

The overriding imperative is to ensure that participating journalists are brought along in the editing, recognise their work amid the process, and receive regular evaluation and feedback to drive home the lessons. The editing must deliver training.

Resources

The IWPR editorial unit is headed by the managing editor, with support from assistant editors and translators. The team works in full collaboration with programme staff, including programme managers, programme coordinators and field directors, as well as the training coordinator. All editors serve a training role, and as such will from time to time be required to travel to the regions to provide feedback and training to local project participants.

The executive director, deputised as required by the operations director, provides oversight, feedback and overall editorial direction, and responsibility in case of sensitive editorial material, such as potential libel or reports that may threaten correspondents or IWPR's local presence.

The budget for the unit is limited by income, as determined by grant applications developed by programme managers and the development department in consultation with the managing editor. As such, the managing editor takes a key role in assessing editorial needs in the project development and proposal writing stage. The managing editor is also responsible for keeping the unit to budget, based on regular reports provided by the finance department.

Editorial process

With substantial responsibilities and limited resources, the editorial unit requires an efficient and streamlined process to ensure standards of quality and targets of quantity of editorial output.

With the recent refinement of IWPR's overall objectives and training strategy, the editorial process must also be tuned towards delivering measurable training results at every stage. As part of that, a clarified editorial process must actively seek, through improved communication and avoidance of re-editing, to reduce the divide between authors and their texts as published.

The editorial process involves three main stages, with several steps within each:

  1. Field training & production: IWPR field staff build local networks of journalists and trainees, offer workshop-based training to strengthen basic skills, and provide intensive editorial support through the first stages of the reporting process. (The outlines of field training activities are based on needs and resources as outlined in individual country work plans.) With coordination from the programme manager/coordinator, this includes developing ideas, elaborating reporting strategies, and guiding reporting and follow-up reporting as required in the process of producing a reasonable draft for potential publication. For each particular story the author and editor/trainer complete a written agreement called the commissioning brief. The story version completed in this initial stage is the field edit.
     
  2. Programme staff coordination & editing: Editorial planning, story selection and commissioning are driven by the programme manager/coordinator and implemented in cooperation with the country director or other field staff. Drafts received from the field team are assessed, returned for further revision and reporting, or edited by the programme manager/coordinator as appropriate, working through the original language and/or English as convenient. This may include further communication with the author, directly or via field staff. Senior field staff are expected to deliver texts requiring minimal editing. The version completed in this stage is the programme edit.
     
  3. Editorial unit editing & review: The editorial unit brings texts received from the programme team to publication quality. The key is to break down copy flow into clearly demarcated steps to identify where an article is and therefore what precise manner of editing is required at any given stage in the process. This involves a six-step process:
     

    • a) Accept: senior editorial review to accept article and provide editing outline;
    • b) Edit: the primary edit, and the sole chance for extensive English revision, if needed;
    • c) Author: confirming changes and clarifying questions arising from above;
    • d) Sub: for style and proofing, and checking for sense and clarity (but not re-editing);
    • e) Approve: managing editor (or other senior editor, as required) review and final approval;
    • f) Evaluate: feedback from the process completed for author by primary editor.

All of these stages are essential, and none may be skipped. The aim is to ensure an efficient editorial process which also delivers training benefits through to publication. The final version is checked with the author, given one backup read, or sub, and approved for publication while the author gets a short feedback against the commissioning brief.

The role of the first acceptance by the managing editor is to confirm that a text is publishable, alert the executive director to libel or other major risk issues, and write editing instructions. These are to indicate the article type (news, comment, etc), confirm the lead and story line, and highlight key problems of reporting, structure or tone. The managing editor then assigns the piece for editing. (In the case of rejection, the managing editor appends an explanatory note to the author.)

The editor assigned to a piece bears major responsibility. Choices of lead, structure, tone and wording are discretionary issues between the journalist and the editor and must be respected for reasons of authorial voice as well as efficiency. (This process will usually involve the (and/or programme manager/coordinator, as noted below.) If further editing is consistently required, it indicates a problem with the editor, not the article, and should be addressed at that level.

The author's review is both an key part of editorial best practice and a central component of the training strategy as outlined above. An overriding rule then pertains: non-essential editorial changes must be avoided, especially after the author's review.

The London editorial team, under the managing editor, will hold a mandatory weekly editorial meeting. This will include the editorial unit, programme managers/coordinators and others with editorial involvement, and the training coordinator. Attendees will come well prepared, and the meeting will cover three primary agenda points:

  • outputs: a brief line-up review for each region, an outline of forward planning, and post-mortem comments on recent publications;
     
  • process: a check on responsibilities for the week, scheduling and trouble-shooting production flow;
     
  • training: a report, by region, on main training needs towards adjusting priorities of the training unit accordingly.

Programme managers/coordinators are also responsible for setting up a monthly telephone call with field directors/coordinators for evaluation and planning. The call should include the managing editor and in most cases also the training coordinator.

Translation

The majority of articles are originally written in other languages. For training, dialogue and media development, purposes IWPR sets syndication in local language press as a high priority, requiring extensive re-translation.

Quality control for retranslations of articles is the responsibility of programme managers and coordinators. In general, the final English version is sent for re-translation back to local languages for delayed electronic publication and local syndication. In agreement with the managing editor and the executive director, qualified translators may produce "blended versions", incorporating primary editorial changes of the final English versions into the last stage language versions.

Working in translation, and at great distances, adds a further complication for the author's review. In cases where the primary editor cannot be readily in direct contact with the author, the programme manager or coordinator undertakes this responsibility.

This does not obviate the need for clearance of main changes with the author. Rather it is the programme manager/coordinator's responsibility to secure approval in the best manner possible - whether over the telephone, drafting a memo, forwarding the English version of the text, or serving as proxy. IWPR does not normally re-translate interim edited versions of texts for review.

Roles & practicalities

IWPR currently produces approximately three dozen original articles each week, exclusive of investigations and other special reports. Adding published translations this amounts to around 85 texts over five days. Two new services are in planning which would add ten more English texts and raise the total weekly output with translations to more than 100.

The imperative for efficient copy flow is self-evident. So is the need to maintain fresh eyes. Repetition and exhaustion are demoralising, slow the process and can impact quality.

To help balance the workload, all editors in the editorial unit will alternate between primary and sub edits. The managing editor, depending on workload, will also undertake primary edits.

This will leaven the burden, but will require a clear respect for the copy flow and the primacy of the primary edit. Any editor undertaking a primary edit bears the main responsibility for delivering a publishable text according to the editing instructions. But the same editor subsequently carrying out a sub edit of an article behind a colleague must respect his or her editorial choices. The second editor, regardless of seniority, does not carry out a second extensive (ie, primary) edit. A simple rule for sub-editing will help: questions, yes; re-editing or discretionary wording changes, no.

Texts will bear an tracking table on the top of the file, as follows:

Field Edit

Prog Edit

Accept

Edit

Author

Sub

Approve

Evaluate

Risk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

File saving conventions are as follows:

  • LastnameCOUNTRYtopic.fieldedit
  • LastnameCOUNTRYtopic.progedit
  • LastnameCOUNTRYtopic.primedit
  • LastnameCOUNTRYtopic.subedit
  • LastnameCOUNTRYtopic.finaledit

The next level file name is creates (via the "Save As" command) upon first opening a file to begin the next stage edit. Editors initials are placed in the appropriate boxes on the tracking table upon completing that particular stage. Only the managing editor is authorised to create a finaledit version.

Risk check is by the executive director or the operations director in the case of articles which are deemed by the managing editor to be potential libellous, or may create risks for personal or the Institute's capacity to work safely within a country. Note finally that all analysis and commentary articles by western contributors are to be reviewed by the executive director or operations director.

 30 October 2002