Q&A with Erica Beshears Perel, adviser to The Daily Tar Heel

Erica Beshears Perel, a former reporter at The Charlotte Observer, is newsroom adviser to The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Perel talks about her job, the paper’s new Web site and the changing role of copy editors at the DTH.

Q. What does the newsroom adviser to The Daily Tar Heel do on a typical day?

A. A little bit of everything, although I do not make editorial decisions. I provide daily feedback of the product in the form of a written critique of each newspaper. I praise the stories, photos, designs, etc., that I like while offering ways to improve the rest.

When I’m not critiquing, I’m working with editors and staffers, listening and giving advice when needed. I organize and provide training and enrichment opportunities, and serve as a writing coach and editing coach. I spent plenty of time this summer monitoring the new Web site, and right now, I’m busy with our massive recruitment season.

Q. The paper just launched a major overhaul of its Web site. What’s the idea behind the redesign?

A. Sara Gregory, managing editor for online, did a great job explaining the philosophy behind the new site here. But basically, we need a Web site that can grow with us, one that’s flexible, one that allows us to interact more with our readers.

Our previous site, hosted by the College Media Network, served us well, but we needed more flexibility to grow in terms of content and ad revenue. This one, while developed by professionals, should allow our student journalists tremendous freedom for experimenting, both with content and technology.

I’m personally excited by plans to publish more news as soon as our reporters nail it down, and by the tagging and topic pages that should help keep our readers informed.

Q. How is the role of the copy editor changing at the DTH, both in print and online?

A. Copy editors still perform a traditional function at The Daily Tar Heel, saving us from embarrassing errors and writing good headlines. But this year, they will be taking a more active role in the online publishing process.

They also plan to start writing more online headlines that differ from the ones that run in the print edition. Print edition headlines, constrained by space and dependent on other visual elements to make their point, often are hard-to-understand online headlines. A special online headline can be clearer and help the story pop up faster on search engines.

Q. Every weekday, thousands of students pick up a print copy of the DTH. Do you see a time when the paper is exclusively online?

A. I certainly don’t see that time in the foreseeable future. We say here at The Daily Tar Heel that young people read newsprint as long as it’s free, easy to pick up and full of relevant, interesting content. We work hard to satisfy all three components.

The DTH is an independent newspaper that gets all its revenue from advertising. And right now, the vast, vast majority of that advertising comes in print form.

The DTH is very lucky to have potential for growth on our site without harming the print product because we have a large audience outside our print circulation area. Alumni, parents and UNC sports fans everywhere can’t get the print edition, but they can really drive traffic to our site.

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