The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Edit like a pirate

College football is in full swing, and with it, so are the rivalries and trash talk.

Here in North Carolina, East Carolina is emerging as the best team in the state. ECU smashed rival North Carolina 70-41 last weekend. It was the second consecutive win for the Pirates over the Tar Heels.

That resounding victory has apparently inspired this billboard, which is making the rounds on Twitter:

ecu-billboard

The sign includes the score of that game as well as a mocking reference to N.C. State University’s retired “Our State” slogan. ECU and NCSU are also rivals.

Some UNC fans have responded by questioning the billboard’s grammar. Shouldn’t the hashtag be “#beneathwhom” rather than “#beneathwho”? Technically, yes. But I reserve my who/whom distinctions for formal writing like cover letters and academic journals. I’ll give this casual usage a pass, though the hashtag’s meaning is a mystery to me.

My problem with the billboard is a different one. Happy pirates say “arrrr!” not “aargh!” And ECU fans are certainly pleased, not dismayed, with how their team is playing this season. (You can read more about pirate vocabulary at the Talk Like A Pirate Day site.)

Finally, we come to the question of whether ECU fans are trolling their rivals, as some on Twitter are suggesting. That depends on the billboard’s location. If it’s west of I-95, it is. If it’s east of I-95, it isn’t. Proximity to campuses and their fan bases is our guide.

The sign is apparently in Winterville, a town that’s east of I-95 and less than 10 miles from the ECU campus in Greenville. So this is an example of fans celebrating, not trolling.

I wish ECU fans well on the rest of the season. May you say “arrrr!” throughout the fall. But like Jerry Seinfeld, I don’t want to be a pirate.

Celebration days

This week brings us two days worth celebrating. Here they are:

  • First Amendment Day is Tuesday, Sept. 23, at UNC-Chapel Hill. Events will include a reading of banned books, a discussion of access to public records and a trivia contest. If you can’t be there, you can follow the fun on Twitter via the hashtag #UNCfree.
  • National Punctuation Day is Wednesday, Sept. 24, throughout the United States. I’ll mark the moment with periods, commas and (yes) semicolons.

I hope that you will join me in celebrating our freedoms and our language.

Q&A with Ben Swanson, associate editor at DenverBroncos.com

Ben Swanson is associate editor at DenverBroncos.com, the official site of that NFL team. A 2013 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, he previously covered the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team. In this interview, conducted by email, Swanson talks about his work with the Broncos, how he got into sports journalism and how the two teams will fare in their respective seasons.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workweek like?

A. Right now the typical work week has a bit of a rhythm to it. Game days are the baseline, our center of the week. Stories lead up to them, and after they finish, we recap and break down the action and look forward to what’s next.

We have recurring features to keep our readers coming back from week to week, including film analysis, a rundown of how our divisional opponents fared that week, a podcast and plenty more. It’s a hectic schedule this time of year, as you might imagine.

Taking care of all the bases and media availability can stretch you thin some days, like Wednesday when Wes Welker made his return to practice and spoke at the podium while Seahawks PR had Richard Sherman available via conference call in the media workroom. Naturally, it also requires extremely good communication between departments since we’re also responsible not only for just stories, but also updating website information for other departments.

As creators of our written content, we also have the responsibility for what goes in our Gameday Magazine publication, which is handed out to fans at the stadium at home games. Our terrific graphics, marketing, community relations and public relations departments come together to contribute what goes in (statistics, coaches bios, community stories, magazine layout and design) and our digital media department adds in editorial content: the cover story and Q&As with a player and a coach. We also proofread and edit the magazine before it goes to print.

This all goes on during the season, by the way. Mismanaging your time can really put you in a tough spot, but sometimes you can do everything perfectly and still find yourself in a crunch to put things together.

All that said, a lot of things don’t necessarily work out in that rhythm. We spend bus rides from the stadium after an away game to a waiting red-eye flight transcribing post-game interviews and sharing them amongst ourselves via email, flash drive or Dropbox, and then we write our stories on the flight.

Also, we too can get caught off-guard by breaking news. You’ve got to be ready for anything sometimes.

It’s a very trying work schedule, but an extremely fun and rewarding one.

Q. You established yourself in sports journalism with a blog about the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) of the NBA. How did that experience help you get your job with the Broncos?

A. Covering the Bobcats, though small-time, allowed me to cut my teeth and find my voice and stand out in a smaller market. I started covering the team while I was a sophomore at UNC, which meant I was learning about covering the team, writing in a consistent style and carving a groove as a unique writer covering the Bobcats, who had an extremely small media spotlight already.

Before I was the managing editor of the SB Nation blog, I had written for the Bobcats’ team blog after being named one of their winners in a contest, and months later after I had landed the SBN editor spot, I was the Bobcats’ digital media intern, which gave me plenty of experience and insight into the workings of the franchise from the team side.

The other major component is that running the blog gave me important experience in a number of ways. I began hiring writers to contribute to the site a few years ago, which got me more comfortable with addressing writers’ stylistic or grammatical issues head on. Communication is so key when talking through concerns about writing or in regards to things that cross departments.

In regards to time management, managing the blog was a crash course. I mentioned earlier that I started running the site when I was a sophomore, and it wasn’t an easy transition because I was by myself at that point. When you cover NBA basketball from the East Coast and the team makes a West Coast road trip where they spend a couple of nights with 10:30 p.m. tipoff times, sleep becomes what you sacrifice. I would spend mornings in class and nights watching basketball, leaving myself to unintentionally fall asleep during classes.

As time went by, I realized I needed more help and reached out to a couple of fellow young writers. In the couple of years since, I learned to set a schedule on a weekly basis, assigning stories, game previews and recaps to our writers. Still, even with better preparation, I had to take some things on the fly, writing breaking news stories during some classes or getting game previews our writers might have forgotten written and pushed out in the morning of my 9 a.m. media theory class.

With over three years of experience cultivating my writing and voice as one of the most prominent covering the Bobcats, I’d learned a solid all-around skill set. I knew social media; I could write straight news, a feature story or a column with knowledge of multiple perspectives; and I knew how to communicate up or down the ladder and how to manage my time.

Q. Sports franchises and leagues are no longer reliant on outside media for coverage. They can cover themselves. Do you see a difference between writing and editing for the Broncos official site vs. doing that at the Denver Post?

A. The distinction is harder to make these days, and we’re no exception.

We’re present at the same locker room availability sessions, press conferences and everything. We have a columnist in Andrew Mason who can write independent editorials and we have people who write straight features like profiles or normal stories.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not all rose-colored glasses, though we do focus on who plays well for the most part. The Post, of course, is on a different level as an independent outlet compared to us, but we’re not all that different.

Q. Which team will go further this season: the Broncos or the Hornets?

A. Honestly, I’d say the Broncos. I’m extremely excited to see how the Hornets’ offseason moves come to fruition, but the Broncos went to the Super Bowl last year and the Hornets (Bobcats) got bounced in a first-round sweep.

With Denver already proving they can get to the deepest parts of the postseason and the Hornets still relatively unproven, I’ve got to go with the Broncos. But I’d be absolutely ticked pink if the Hornets somehow got to the Finals. I’d be there with bells on.

No time for trolls

troll

A troll can be annoying in role-playing games and on social media.

Twitter can be great for exchanging ideas and sharing links. It’s my favorite news source, a sort of wire service that I can customize and interact with.

It has its downsides, too. A big one is the problem of trolls — people who seek to harass, badger and engage in straw-man arguments. They’ve been an issue online for a long time, including in comment areas on news websites.

I’ve fallen into trolling traps on Twitter a few times over the years. Lately, I’ve been working on ignoring and, in some cases, blocking trolls. Here’s how I decide whether to respond to someone on Twitter:

  • How many followers does the person have? Less than 100 means it may be a troll.
  • Does the account have a profile photo and a link to more about the person elsewhere online? An egg avatar and lack of a link mean it may be a troll.
  • What is the name on the account? Is there a first and last name, or name of an organization? If not, it may be a troll.
  • What are the account’s other tweets like? If they are mostly replies to other accounts that take a hostile tone, it may be a troll.

I like chatting with people on Twitter. I’m open to constructive criticism and civil discussion. But I have no time for trolls.

Student editors deserve to be paid

In recent weeks, I have received two requests from authors looking for journalism students to edit book manuscripts. Neither writer, however, offered to pay them.

One author proposed mentioning the student editor in the foreword and, if the book made a lot of money, perhaps sharing some of those royalties. I responded that I would only help recruit a student to work on the project if it included compensation when the editing was complete.

Editing is a skill. It requires time and effort. But how much is it worth?

The short answer, according to freelance editors I know: It depends. Is the writer looking for copy editing or proofreading? Is fact checking involved? Does the writer want feedback on issues of story structure and plot?

My freelance friends charge from $25 to $60 an hour, depending on the job. (You can see more on editorial rates in this chart on the Editorial Freelancers Association site.) For a student editor with less experience, I would suggest $15 to $20 an hour.

Authors, we respect and appreciate what you do. We’re glad that you are interested in having editors work on your manuscripts. But our hard work deserves payment. Thanks.

Q&A with Sarah Sessoms, community relations coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes

Sarah Sessoms is community relations coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team. She has also worked for IMG and the athletics department at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Sessoms talks about her job and careers in sports communication.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My job varies from day to day, and I have to wear a lot of different hats throughout the year. In a nutshell, I am an event planner, a writer, a planner, a PR person and a nonprofit worker in one.

A regular day consists of a lot of emails, phone calls and meetings with the Promotions and Hockey Operations team, as well as with fans and nonprofit groups. During the off-season (April to September), I am planning, researching putting the finishing touches on our in-season activities. For example, we have the Canes 5k on September 14th, and a charity golf tournament on the 22nd. I have been working to put together the plans and all of the final touches with my co-workers on these events.

In-season, I do a bit of everything. On a regular day, I will help fill donations for charitable organizations throughout North Carolina, send tickets to groups, or work on other projects. On game days, I work on filling the charity suites (donated by players such as Eric Staal), and finalize meet-and-greets with the players.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill with a reporting/editing focus. How have your news skills translated to your current job, and what new abilities have you had to pick up since then?

A. My skills from the j-school are consistently used every day. While I may not be the one producing the news, many of the things we do end up in the news, and it is very helpful to have a news background.

Writing and editing are crucial to my job here at the Canes. We are constantly writing items for the website, for press releases, Twitter and everywhere you can imagine.

The reporting sequence taught me how to write effectively — and it is something that definitely carries over. All of the material that we generate needs to be well-written, succinct and edited before it can be pushed out to the fans and the community.

I had a very strong base coming into this job, but had to pick up a few skills. For one, being the person interviewed, instead of the interviewee, was a new challenge for me. Luckily, our in-game host also comes from a journalism and news background and was able to coach me on how to be a good interview.

Other skills I’ve learned vary from new social media skills to being able to read autographs. It sounds funny, but being able to identify autographs with one look is really helpful here.

A final skill learned is working closely with the players and staff. Taking a player and explaining to them what is going on — whether at a community event or through a meet-and-greet with a kid from Duke Hospitals — is crucial. Prepping them for what’s coming makes it easier for them to relate to the fans. Prepping them well for everything is a skill, and something I was not quite good at until recently.

Q. Many students in journalism programs are looking for careers in sports communication. What advice do you have for them?

A. Working in sports is a blast all the time, but it’s not easy. If you want a career in sports communication, be prepared for long hours and bizarre things.

No two days here are the same, and I’ll wager it’s the same at any sports job.  Be willing to jump in and volunteer for everything and realize that no job in sports is a bad one.

If you want a job as a public relations person with a team but there’s only an opening in a different department, apply for it. Work in the other job and talk to the people who have the job you want. Getting a foot in the door and working toward your goal is a great way to land the job you want.

Q. Hockey season is about a month away. Any predictions on how the Canes will do this year?

A. The Hurricanes organization went through a lot of changes this summer. We have a new general manager, Ron Francis, and a new head coach, Bill Peters.

Our changes to the team are going to translate and show up well with the play on the ice this year, with a fast, high-energy team. It should be a very exciting year with a great new home atmosphere (we’ve changed a few things about the in-game experience) and with the new coach.

I’m thinking that we have a really great chance at a playoff run with this new era of Hurricanes hockey!

But it’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction

A link to this article by Steven Pinker landed in my email inbox last week. The sender of the email bemoaned Pinker’s view that some grammar rules can be bent or even broken. Where are the guardians of the language?

Skimming through Pinker’s list, I saw the usual grammar flashpoints: split infinitives, that/which, who/whom and prepositions at the end of sentences. But another caught my eye: starting a sentence with a conjunction.

That topic had come up recently at an editing bootcamp in Montreal sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society. A participant at the workshop asked whether it is acceptable to start a sentence with “and” or “but.”

One of my co-presenters, Fred Vultee of Wayne State University, said yes, it is. He cited one of the most-read pieces of writing in world history: the Book of Genesis.

Indeed, the second sentence of the Bible has a sentence that starts with a conjunction: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

And no one seems to have a problem with that.

Q&A with Katie Jansen, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Katie Jansen is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. This summer, she had a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Jansen talks about what she learned over the summer and what’s next for her.

Q. Describe your internship experience. What was your typical day like?

A. My internship experience was very valuable. On my first day, I was shown the computer program and thrown right into the thick of things, where I was expected to write headlines, deckheads and cutlines.

I normally only did first reads so that someone more experienced could read behind me, but I really felt myself growing throughout the internship. I worked Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m., and by the third or fourth week I was already being trusted with some A1 copy.

It was always a thrill for me when I made a good catch or asked a question someone else hadn’t thought of. I once found a mistake in which the AP had written the entirely wrong country, and the slot editor called the AP and got them to issue a write-thru.

Also, I feel like it’s worth noting that everyone treated me with the utmost respect. They acted like I was a colleague instead of just some goofy college grad.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. The biggest challenge was probably just getting into the flow of what copy needed to be read when as well as trying to figure out which advance copy needed to be read first. Some times of the night we wouldn’t be very busy, but I tried to do things that would be as helpful as possible. That just took time and asking questions so I could learn about which sections had deadlines first, etc.

The greatest reward was definitely stepping up my headline game and seeing a lot of my heads in print. Every time I wrote a headline, I jotted it down, and then at the end of the night after deadline, I would check to see which heads had been kept and which had been changed. As the summer progressed, I became a stronger headline writer, and more of my headlines survived.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. I would say studying for the test is the most important. I kind of took the test on a whim and didn’t think I’d land the internship, but I did study for it because I was interested in improving my craft. The application process may seem kind of mystifying, but if you study for the test and make it into the program, they teach you so much from there.

My weeklong residency before my internship was a great professional experience. It gave me the opportunity to learn from professionals in the field, and I felt like I was improving as a journalist every day.

Q. So what’s next for you?

A. I have moved back to reporting for the time being. I got a job with The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., and I have officially been on the job for a week and a half. It’s going well so far but keeping me really busy.

I don’t want to say I’m done with copy editing, though. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to it sometime in my career. Even so, the Dow Jones training has also made me a stronger writer because now I’m more aware of things like transitions, repetitive words and what pieces need to be in a story to make it complete.

Telling the story of poverty in words and images

A Business Insider story has been bouncing around in my Twitter and Facebook feeds for the past day or so. The article focuses on the increase of poverty in North Carolina.

The topic is certainly newsworthy and worth discussion on social media. This state and others have struggled economically since the Great Recession hit in 2007.

The BI story cites a Brookings Institution report and another from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It quotes Gene Nichol, director of the UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. More sources would add context and nuance to the piece, but the ones used are knowledgeable on the topic.

Where the article falls short is in its selection of photographs and captions. Scrolling down the page, the reader sees images of hardscrabble scenes in Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

The photo of downtown Raleigh caught my eye first. It looks outdated, so I asked on Twitter whether anyone could identify when it was taken. Matt Robinson of Metroscenes.com responded that the photo is from 2005. Here’s a more recent photo of the city’s skyline.

The image from Charlotte is also misleading: The “old movie theater” is a music club called The Visulite. The place may not be pretty, but it’s open for business.

Each image appears to have been pulled from Flickr accounts. Not one has a person in it. The bare-bones captions don’t connect the images to the story text.

My colleague Jock Lauterer, who teaches photojournalism and other courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, suggests this approach to the visual side of this story: Find several people from various backgrounds who are struggling with poverty and unemployment. Take portrait-style shots that reflect their daily lives.

“For a documentary photo to be compelling, it must include the human element,” Lauterer said.

Andria Krewson, an editor at mediagazer.com and a Charlotte freelancer and consultant, reacted this way on Twitter:

Maybe it’s time to start teaching photo editing again. 1. Pick up phone 2. Call a local paper. 3. Offer to pay or swap, because Google search and Flickr search for Creative Commons free stuff ain’t cutting it.

I agree with Andria and Jock. Some news stories can be illustrated by drawing from repositories of free images. This isn’t one of them. Poverty is about people, not buildings. We need to see the faces of the problem to fully understand it.

Us and them — and her

Earlier this week, The News & Observer reprinted this editorial from The Charlotte Observer. The topic was judicial elections in North Carolina. It included this paragraph:

Imagine a voter getting toward the bottom of a long ballot and seeing 19 unfamiliar names for Martin’s seat, along with four Supreme Court races, two other contested appeals court races and a slew of district and superior court races. A rational person might just skip over them all and move on with her life, leaving the courts’ fates in the hands of an even smaller percentage of voters.

The last sentence caught the eye of a reader, who wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the use of “her.” The letter writer found it insulting to female voters.

I don’t think the editorial board of the Observer intended to use “her” as a slight. The writer likely intended the opposite: rather than use “him” as the default pronoun for a hypothetical voter, use “her” for balance. A quick edit to “pluralize” the sentence could avoid that issue, of course:

Rational people might just skip over them all and move on with their lives, leaving the courts’ fates in the hands of an even smaller percentage of voters.

That would have been my choice if I had been writing or editing that editorial. At the same time, I am increasingly open to the singular they in these situations. Most of us use it in conversation, and I have no objection to it in informal writing such as email.

Then again, I also like the royal we.

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