The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: November, 2009

Q&A with Carla Correa of The Baltimore Sun

Carla Correa is a community coordinator at The Baltimore Sun. In this Q&A, conducted by e-mail, she talks about her job and her transition from the copy desk to social media. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Q. Describe your job at the Baltimore Sun. What is your typical day like?

A. My title is community coordinator. Community coordinators at The Baltimore Sun are responsible for generating loyalty, frequency and advocacy among Web site users through blogging, social media and other outreach tools.

It’s a new position, so we have the opportunity to shape our roles in the newsroom. On a typical day, I get to the office between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. I track page views and local visits to various stories, blogs, etc.

Throughout the day, I update the @baltsunarts Twitter account, and occasionally @baltimoresun. I help to update and enliven our Facebook account, too, and keep tabs on social news sites. Our team also works on special Web-side projects; helps organize and run live chats on baltimoresun.com; and assists reporters with social media, if need be.

Q. You’re active on Twitter. What makes for a successful tweet?

A. It’s important for journalists to remember that Twitter is a conversation. So, news organizations, in my opinion, shouldn’t set up an automated feed of their stories. Sometimes, automated feeds feel a bit too much like spam and turns off followers and potential followers.

Successful tweets are engaging, personalized and a bit humorous. Successful journalists on Twitter respond to questions, retweet others’ tweets, seek sources, etc.

Now, for the actual wording. Unlike most newsy headlines, tweets can be a random interesting quote or catchy fact — couple that with a link, and you’ll have something people might click on. Like a headline, you ideally want to use keywords so people can easily find news and comments that interest them.

Using a hashtag is also a good way to classify your tweet and to help people find it. For example, the hashtag #dixontrial has helped Baltimoreans follow what people are saying about trial of our mayor, Sheila Dixon.

Q. You started at the Sun as a copy editor. What skills from that time do you use in your job now?

A. Aside from the obvious — fitting important words in a tight count (140 characters or less!) — I think that the good judgment that I developed while copy editing helps me in my new position. I need to pick the stories that I think will appeal to users.

Time management is always important, too, and I don’t think there is a better place to learn that than on a night news copy desk. And good grammar and correct spelling are always applicable!

Q. Journalism students would probably like to have a job like yours. What advice do you have to them in landing one?

It’s a tough environment out there for journalism students. But they have an advantage because they grew up with the Internet, and they can offer news organizations and other writing-and-editing focused fields skills that more experienced journalists may not have.

I would suggest that students stay on top of social media, social networking and all the new, fun ways to tell stories. For example, students should experiment with live tweeting a hot story, using Google Wave or working with some kind of format that established news organizations haven’t thought of.

As far as actually landing a job, be persistent, flexible and creative.

UPDATE: Carla Correa now works for FiveThirtyEight.

As seen on TV

Frank Fee, a colleague at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, passes along this item, captured forever on DVR. It shows that yes, local TV news needs copy editors too.

Nominate an editing ace for ACES awards

It’s nomination time for awards from the American Copy Editors Society. Here’s how to enter two of the organization’s contests:

ROBINSON PRIZE: This award honors the copy editor of the year who demonstrates not only superior editing skills, but also mentoring and leadership ability. The deadline to nominate someone (or yourself) for the prize is Dec. 1, and you can do that with a handy online form.

HEADLINES: These awards go to the best headline writers in the country. There are six categories, including a student competition. Find out more about the contest at the ACES site. You can enter online this year.

Winners for all prizes will be announced at the ACES national conference in Philadelphia in April 2010. Online registration is under way, and I hope to see you there.

Q&A with Katherine Latshaw, book editor

Katherine Latshaw, a 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, is an editor at Stonesong Press in New York. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Latshaw discusses what she does, what it’s like to work with writers and what she learned in journalism school.

Q. Describe your job at Stonesong Press. What do you do on a typical day?

A. We are book packagers, which means that we turn rough-hewn ideas into either manuscripts or entirely finished book files for publishers. If a publisher hires us to create finished book files, we do everything from finding writers to editing manuscripts to making sure that photos to be included are in the correct high-resolution format. My job varies with each day, but I’m currently working on a six-book series on human diseases (talk about uplifting!).

Here is some of what I accomplished today:

  • Scoured the Internet, searching for appropriate photos for our tuberculosis title. For each photo I found, I wrote an informative caption to go with it.
  • Edited our influenza manuscript. Our client, an educational publisher, was worried that some of the text discussing flu vaccines was unclear, so I reworded the offending material. Because the flu epidemic is still ongoing and the facts are always changing, I also updated some statistics on H5N1 deaths.
  • Called a client to politely demand an overdue payment for a completed manuscript that we delivered.
  • Started developing a book idea I had, first by seeing if there were existing books like it on the market already (nope) and then finding editors to whom I could possibly pitch the idea.

Q. You recently finished editing your first book. What was that experience like?

A. It was a very interesting experience, not completely unlike editing a news article. I had to not only check spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but also ensure that the authors’ points were made clearly for readers. When there were issues with the writing, I had to edit carefully, making sure that the writers’ voices weren’t lost in the process.

This book was a humorous nonfiction guide to business writing, and the most recurrent problem I found was that the authors often repeated the same “Star Wars” jokes in different chapters. When that happened, I had to gently let them know that the multiple wookie references would need to go.

Q. You graduated from a journalism program known for more for news editing than book editing. How does that education help you in your job, and what do you wish you had learned more about in your coursework?

A. All of my courses taught me to write precisely and to consider words carefully, which are valuable skills for any type of editor. There were a few things I actually had to “unlearn,” discarding some AP Stylebook rules along the way. One example that immediately comes to mind is using that darned serial comma because publishing follows the Chicago Manual of Style.

Although I believe my journalism education was excellent, I do think it would have been helpful to have more direct contact with the writers whose pieces you’re editing. I occasionally get calls from writers who wonder why I made the edits that I did, and it takes skill to reassure them that, yes, they did a great job, but something they wrote just didn’t work. Then I have to explain why my edit effectively fixes the problem. I’m still working on that.

Q. Many students would like to land a job like yours. What advice do you have for them?

A. I have always loved words (when I was younger, I wasn’t chastised for watching TV during dinner, I was yelled at for surreptitiously bringing books to the table). When envisioning a career as a child, I wanted to be a librarian!

To have a career in book publishing, you need to harbor an enthusiasm for written word that goes beyond polite enjoyment. And when you’re on the selling side of the business as I am, you need to see a book in everything – that funny blog you were laughing at the other day? Book idea. That magazine article that was so fascinating? Expand it, and maybe there’s a book there. That celebrity whose favorite hobby is horseback riding? Pitch her to see whether she’d like to do a picture book on the subject.

Generating book ideas is an incredibly important facet of the job, so you must always be on the lookout for inspiration. Many people have romantic ideas about writers: They toil at their craft, tucked away in a garret (or perhaps a Starbucks nowadays), making sure that every sentence on their coffee-stained pages is perfect before sending their child out into the world to be judged by editors.

I hate to dispel that notion, but it’s not really like that for a majority of authors and their books. Motivated by popular trends of the day, editors and packagers very often invent ideas, write entire book synopses and then hire writers to execute their ideas. For example, the astoundingly popular “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was conceived by a packager in precisely this fashion (sorry, Ann Brashares).

If such a love for books is ingrained in you and you think you can regularly come up with exciting new book ideas, then go for it. Take as many internships that you can get because practical knowledge is the most valuable asset in this business. Whenever applying for an internship or job, let the person in charge know that you have great book ideas that you want to share. That’s what I did!

Q&A with Ken Lowery of Fake AP Stylebook

Fake AP Stylebook, a parody of the AP Stylebook, is a hit on Twitter and has been written about in Wired and The New York Times. In this Q&A, conducted by e-mail, co-founder Ken Lowery talks about how Fake AP Stylebook got started, how it works and what’s ahead.

Q. What inspired you to start Fake AP Stylebook, and why did you choose Twitter as the place for it?

A. Just a joke, really. I’d shown my friend Mark Hale the real AP Stylebook feed, and he remarked that he wasn’t sure if he was sad or relieved it wasn’t a joke, and that was that. We’ve done this sort of thing before (with @zombiehorde, @forevercon, @thisreallyhurts and others) but none quite clicked like this one did.

As for why Twitter? It’s a good place to throw out quips and keep easy track of your followers and the general response. It’s a very low-effort messaging system, which likely helped FAPS spread like it did.

Q. Newspapers and magazines typically have stylebook committees to hash out style guidelines. How does that process work at Fake AP Stylebook?

A. There are only a few rules. 1) Nothing too political or nerdy. 2) Nothing overtly antagonistic; we’re not here to piss people off. And 3) Profanity is OK, but don’t go overboard.

Otherwise, we just try to stay absurd and light and funny, not unlike an especially fine-tuned episode of “30 Rock.The contributors have a Google Group set up, and we exchange submission ideas, share questions people ask us that we think have good potential and other general reactions. It’s a bit like a writer’s workshop, with me and Mark as the benevolent dictators.

Q. In the spirit of social media, do you accept submissions?

A. We don’t. Before, this was because there were already a lot of us and we trusted the “tone” that we’d created, but now it’s a legal issue. If we accept submissions and make money off this later, we open ourselves up to lawsuits, whether they be just or not. S.O.P. for most working writers.

Q. Have you had any response from the real AP Stylebook?

None, though in the past day or so I’ve noticed they’ve gotten a little livelier and a little more interactive. Good for them.

Q. What’s ahead for Fake AP Stylebook?

A. A book. We’ve got an agent and many interested publishers, so we’re neck-deep in that right now. We’ve got 19 (!) experienced writers and designers on staff, so generating material has not been a problem so far.

After this, maybe something else. We want to build up an umbrella brand for future publications, because who knows? These contributors are some of the funniest and most talented people I know. They’re not going to be satisfied with just one book.

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