The Impact of Editing

I get the print version of three daily newspapers, mostly because I’ve been doing it for so long that my morning coffee would feel weird without them, but also because I like the way I read the print version versus online. Something about the ability to skim headlines, the way the layout of the paper causes my eyes to move from item to item, I find to be a better experience than the digital version. That’s why I was reading the print version of the Wall Street Journal this morning and came across an interview with UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chancellor Dr. Carol Folt. In it she came across to me as a little too PR-y, skillfully responding to questions with what I call “mush-mouth” replies. I thought I’d send the article to some journalist/ex-journalist friends to get their reaction, but when I pulled up the online version of the article I noticed some small differences between it and the print version that altered my opinion.

Here’s an example of one Q&A that was edited down for the print version. First the print version:

WSJ: Does the tension between athletics and academics need to be addressed at all schools?

Dr. Folt: People want to know if you can have big-time athletics and education, and if students that participate in athletics can still be considered credible students. That is the broader question.

If you look at the revenue sports [like football and basketball], I think something like 95% of students do not go on to become professional athletes. Even if you go on and play in the NFL, you’re going to spend most of your life not as an active football player. We are preparing students for a lifetime career. 

That’s why the reforms [in academic advising] could help everybody. We could do a better job in our advising, do a better job in helping them be successful in developing throughout their career.

Now the digital version:

WSJ: Does the tension between athletics and academics need to be addressed at all schools?

Dr. Folt: People want to know if you can have big-time athletics and education, and if students that participate in athletics can still be considered credible students. That is the broader question.

If you look at the revenue sports [like football and basketball], I think something like 95% of students do not go on to become professional athletes. Even if you go on and play in the NFL, you’re going to spend most of your life not as an active football player. We are preparing students for a lifetime career. To the student who comes in fencing and wants to go to the Olympics, we can say ‘Great, but what do you want to be [after]?’ That’s the tension.

That’s why the reforms [in academic advising] could help everybody. We could do a better job in our advising, do a better job in helping them be successful in developing throughout their career.

The two sentences that are in bold type were edited out for the print version. To me they didn’t really change the substance of her answer, but they did serve to add some context and that second sentence, “That’s the tension” to me was particularly important because without it she almost seems to be dancing around the question. It’s a minor thing, but boy did it highlight to me the impact that what is, or is not, included in a story can truly change the reader’s perception.

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