Newsrooms, your edit test is where being inclusive starts

Using a rubric, giving feedback: Here are 7 ideas for newsrooms to make the edit test experience a good one


This article was originally published at Poynter.

Newsrooms expect a lot from job applicants without giving much thought to what else could be going on in their lives.

A freelancer applying for your job is not working on a paying gig. An edit test you expect to be done over a weekend means that person working full time is not getting space for rest.

And the reward for all this work is: You might be a finalist—or you might never hear back.

If you’re a newsroom working toward creating an inclusive culture—one that values its employees and their time—this is the wrong way to make a first impression.

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for Poynter about how to make your newsroom editing tests less exploitative.

In June, I co-led a conversation at the SRCCON annual conference about this topic with Daric L. Cottingham, a freelancer and an active job applicant.

Cottingham has developed a kind of Spidey sense when it comes to recognizing exploitative hiring practices. In one case, he withdrew his application when the company asked him to create a contributor account to file his “test” story.

One of his most frustrating experiences has been the lack of feedback on edit tests that require hours of work. So he has a suggestion for newsrooms: If you don’t have time to give feedback on your edit tests, then it’s probably too much for the applicant. Or, if company policy does not allow you to give feedback, be upfront about that fact in the job posting.

Being upfront and transparent is one key way to make a good first impression. You, the company, want to show that if the applicant becomes an employee, they will enter a culture that gives consideration to their time and efforts.

By sharing informational power such as how long the interview process takes and what to expect at each step, you’re revealing the importance of transparency. This isn’t standard for our industry, but our industry is not our destiny.

This is tied to the necessary conversation about salary transparency. Historically, women and journalists of color have been underpaid, and knowing this information can help close that gap.

See this example from LifeLabs Learning, which gives an outline of its interview process. Already, I would feel prepared as an applicant for what to expect. Which is a sign of effective communication. Which bodes well for how the company functions.

The best part of the SRCCON session was brainstorming and coming up with more ideas about how newsrooms can reimagine the application process so that both the editors and the applicants save time.

Here are seven ideas.

Use short skills test to quickly assess abilities.

Have applicants do a short skills test along with the application. Based on your needs, you can immediately know who should move forward. Be sure to test for what the job requires. Be clear to the applicant that if they are qualified for the job, they can complete this test in 30 minutes. Ideas: Edit/rewrite 15 sentences for grammar and AP style; write a lead based on information from 3 paragraphs.

Use a scorecard or rubric.

Once you have a test, how do you gauge how well someone did? Does everyone on the hiring committee agree on what’s most important? This is why it’s highly useful to create a scorecard to assess test results so it’s not subjective to different opinions. Some values to measure can include: line-editing skills, story structure, lead writing, etc. Having such a tool can help the hiring committee focus on larger themes. It can also make giving feedback easier.

Pay for candidates’ time on longer edit tests.

I mentioned this in my previous column and it’s worth reiterating. If you truly value your employees, then you should show that from the start—before they become one. So if you expect an edit test to take an hour or more, pay for that time based on the hourly rate of the job they’re applying for.

If you’re giving the edit test as part of an in-person interview (example: pitching two to three story ideas, editing a short audio story for news broadcast), limit it to no more than 90 minutes. Give the applicant a gift card for their time.

Whatever you’re testing for, make sure it aligns with the job description.

Testing for skills that aren’t specified in the job description is a blazing red flag. Here’s how it could look to applicants: The job description could be misleading. Communication in the organization is poor. The organization doesn’t know what it wants.

Take the test yourself.

A great suggestion from Cottingham. Does it make sense to ask someone to edit a 2,000-word story when they’ll mostly be editing quick turnarounds? Does it make sense to ask someone to turn in three story pitches, write a 500-word story, and edit a 1,000-word story when they’re applying for a reporting job?

Ask a new hire what they thought of the test.

This is a great way to evaluate your process based on recent experiences.

If you can give feedback, make it solutions-oriented.

This is where having a rubric can really help. Solutions-oriented feedback could be: Our hiring committee was looking for stronger skills when it comes to story structure or headline writing.

Bottom line: You can say all you want about having good benefits or a supportive culture, but if you don’t show it with how you treat applicants, then all that telling won’t matter.


  • Kathy Lu

    Kathy Lu has more than two decades of experience in journalism as a leader and manager. She founded her consulting business, Audiencibility, to continue her passion for helping people succeed, especially in journalism. As the digital and social media editor for America Amplified, a public media initiative, she helped craft a playbook on community engagement journalism. Before that, she led features reporting teams at The Kansas City Star and The Roanoke (Va.) Times. She is a past president of the Society for Features Journalism and a current member of Asian American Journalists Association. Kathy is based in Kansas City, Missouri.


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