Laura E. Davis, assistant professor of professional practice in the journalism school, created Stylebot along with lecturer Jennifer de la Fuente, as a solution to an ongoing issue in USC Annenberg’s Media Center: grammar, punctuation, capitalization and word usage mistakes. The first attempts — stylebooks laid out on desks across the newsroom, followed by a cheat sheet of the student-run newsroom’s top 11 errors taped to editors’ desks — weren’t working.
Using the instant-messaging platform Slack, Stylebot provides students with automated responses to their common copy-editing questions. This encourages students to engage with copy editing in a more accessible and intuitive way.
“Basically, we married an old-school newsroom skill with modern technology,” Davis said. “And now we’ve started to create a new culture around copy editing. Our students need to be prepared to do much of their own editing at a time when newsroom credibility is a question mark for a lot of Americans. As a result, every single thing a journalist writes is being scrutinized. Not messing up on basic grammar and punctuation is low-hanging fruit.”
As de la Fuente set up the backend infrastructure for Stylebot, Davis, with the help of Henry Fuhrmann, an adjunct instructor and former assistant managing editor for the copy desks and standards at the Los Angeles Times, came up with the copy-editing rules. They started with the same 11 top mistakes and tested the tool with students.
Since late 2017, Davis has written or edited more than 900 original entries and expanded Stylebot to serve seven outside newsrooms across the country. While user inputs are anonymous, Davis monitors the questions people ask Stylebot. This has allowed the tool to adapt quickly to newsroom needs, focusing guidance where reporters need it most.
Read the rest of the story, Correcting grammar, one misplaced modifier at a time, which first appeared on USC Annenberg News.