A group of 20 college students standing in front of a gray stone wall with plant vines growing up the sides of it. One student is sitting in an electric wheelchair.
More than two dozen students are participating in VCU's Capital News Service program this semester through a collaboration between the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture's Capital News Service and Copy Editing classes. The students copy edit and write articles published through more than 100 news outlets that subscribe to the CNS wire. (Photo courtesy Veronica Garabelli)

This just in: VCU’s copy editing class is editing Capital News Service articles

Students in VCU’s Capital News Service provide high-quality journalism to media outlets across the state.

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After a one-year stint as executive editor of the Commonwealth Times, two semesters of the capstone course Capital News Service and now a copy editing class this spring, Virginia Commonwealth University senior Katharine DeRosa understands how much reporters and copy editors depend on each other’s expertise.

“As a reporter, I would get caught up in the story. As an editor, I have to make sure it reads well and gets the point across,” said DeRosa who is majoring in both mass communications with a concentration in digital journalism and economics. “As an editor, I am also thinking about how everything needs to be fact-checked, line by line.”

Being on the editing side shows how much detail reporters need to provide in each story, she said.

“Everything has to be as crystal clear as it can be,” DeRosa said, adding she is finding that a person’s writing improves after they have had to edit others. “The mistakes that stick out when you are editing, as a reporter, you hope you get right.”

DeRosa finds reporting exciting because she gets to conduct interviews and meet people, but she feels that editing is underappreciated work, she said. Taking both the Capital News Service class and the copy editing class shows has provided her with critical perspectives, she said.

“It gives you confidence,” she said. “Working the copy desk gives people an appreciation for how hard editors work. I would suggest taking copy editing before taking CNS so you know what editors are looking for.”

Sharing the responsibility of a newsroom

The copy editing class is now serving as the copy desk for CNS, a student wire service that produces stories for more than 100 news outlets throughout Virginia. Both courses are housed in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Veronica Garabelli teaches copy editing and Alix Bryan-Campos teaches CNS, which was established in 1994 by retired VCU professor Wilma Wirt.

“Capital News Service is the class where content gets published,” Garabelli said.

While in the CNS class, DeRosa’s stories were published in Virginia Business, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

Students in CNS now turn their copy over to the copy editing desk instead of relying on Garabelli or Bryan-Campos to solely edit the material.

“Before, they were basically practicing and now they have more accountability,” said Garabelli of her copy editing students.

“If we [have] to issue a correction, they are also responsible for that,” Bryan-Campos said. “It’s great for my students to learn what it’s like to work with a copy desk. They didn’t have that experience before. This is designed to be more professional now.”

Covering the General Assembly and fall elections

CNS puts out about 40 stories a semester. This semester, students have focused on the General Assembly, which adjourned Feb. 25.

“We see this as an important role as more newsrooms lack the funds for a Capitol reporter,” Garabelli said.

In the fall, students will focus on elections and public policy across Virginia.

“We try to take into account that our clients are all over the state,” Garabelli said.

When the General Assembly is in session, CNS students cover committee meetings as needed and conduct interviews.

“They almost always come back excited after they cover a meeting,” Bryan-Campos said. “This fall, all 140 seats in the Statehouse and Senate are up for reelection. There is no lack of things for students to cover.”

Capital News Service continues to expand as more newsrooms cut staffing.

“We hear how grateful they are for the coverage, and they are getting high-quality, in-depth coverage,” Garabelli said.

Having the two classes work together this year helps set the groundwork for having a newsroom at school, Garabelli said.

“We haven’t formally launched that, but this is a start to that bigger goal. We will launch our newsroom in the fall,” she said.

As programming in the school becomes more collaborative with other newsroom classes, Bryan-Campos hopes classes can learn from one another.

“When they start in a newsroom we don’t want students to be overwhelmed. We want them to be prepared because they have experienced it,” she said.

Seeing the size of the two classes combined caught Garabelli by surprise.

“To me it was mind-blowing, seeing them all together. Everyone was proud and excited about this new collaboration,” she said, adding that the overarching lesson for students is understanding that for “someone else to do their job, you have to do your job. We are driving that point home.”