The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: August, 2010

Q&A with Joy Victory, editorial czar at WordPress

Joy Victory is “editorial czar” at WordPress. She previously worked as an editor at About.com, and prior to that she worked at ABCNEWS.com, and several newspapers, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and The Journal-News in White Plains, N.Y. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Victory talks about her job, social media and journalism education.

Q. Describe your job. What does an “editorial czar” do on a typical day?

A. My job is half editorial and half project management — but it’s a weird, evolving style of editorial work that has to keep pace with the rapidly changing Internet environment. (Although I have a journalism degree and the word “editor” appears in my job title, I long ago stopped thinking of myself as a journalist.) Each morning I update the WordPress homepage with the best “Freshly Pressed” selections. I then start working with my team, which focuses on the new user experience, as well as some other big projects for WordPress.

For example, we recently launched http://learn.wordpress.com. If you look at that site, you’ll see it’s not at all journalism, but a how-to tutorial that we’ve tried to spiff up and make more exciting than your average tutorial. Good writing and good editing are still required, of course, but it’s its own genre of publishing.

I think it’s important to note that Automattic (yes, with two “t’s”), the company that owns WordPress.com, is entirely distributed — everyone works at home. I haven’t worked in an office since 2007. So we do all this creation entirely over the Internet, which I still find amazing. Even “phone” discussions take place over iChat or Skype.

Q. You mentioned on Twitter recently that you work closely with developers. What is that like?

A. It means that I have input from the beginning, which is so important. I see the process unfold and can give input at any time. But it’s definitely a learning process for me: Developers are really smart cookies and speak their own unique jargon that can be mystifying. They’re almost always men, too, so long gone are the days when I worked at About.com with approximately 15 female editors and a few male editors.

But I’m often in awe of what they do. The developers involved with WordPress have helped enable millions of people to publish. Journalists are largely ignorant of the complicated work that it requires to create a site and then to keep it running smoothly. You need to know who is behind the curtain and at least be vaguely aware of what they do. Better yet, work with them directly to create new products.

If it’s not already obvious, part of the reason I left traditional media is that I was really frustrated at how my fellow journalists almost seemed to despise the Internet, while I’m basically in love with it. Now, at Automattic, I finally feel like I’m working for a nimble, smart, fun company that also loves the Internet.

Q. WordPress recently added a Twitter button that lets readers easily Tweet blog posts that they like. What do you see as the relationship between blogging and social media?

A. We’ve discussed this a lot internally and even brainstormed a few analogies. People predicted blogging services would die with the rise of Facebook. But that hasn’t happened because they’re not similar services. WordPress.com is Web publishing, not social networking. What is created on WordPress is shared via social networking.

There’s definitely a movement afoot to make it more of a blended process or at least a more seamless process. But at the end of the day, WordPress is about full-on publishing and content management. As an example, check out what runs on WordPress: http://wordpress.org/showcase/wsj-magazine/. You can’t do that sort of production via social networking.

Q. You have a degree in journalism from New Mexico State University. What in your education helped you in your job, and what should journalism schools being doing to help students prepare for jobs like yours?

A. My degree helped me in that it was very internship-oriented. My internships really taught me so much and made me a good copy editor, which is a skill that comes in handy in many ways.

I also worked at the student newspaper, where I learned to paginate, which is basically an irrelevant skill to me now, but helped me understand some fairly complicated software programs and become comfortable computing all day. Reporting always came easy for me, but definitely taking classes about reporting and writing help sharpen your skills. I endorse taking creative writing/fiction classes to stretch your brain as well.

I have a sense that many professors are struggling to teach the current job skills. NMSU was always good about bringing in talented adjunct professors who maybe didn’t have a master’s degree but were actually out there working on a day-to-day basis. So, in this day and age, j-schools need to make sure they’re bringing in people like me to teach students.

Of course, you still need to know the basics of good writing, reporting, editing and production, but go after internships that are Internet-based. And keep a very professional Web presence — everything you say or do online can be tracked down. Maintain a blog, if not a full website.

Read technology news to see where the trends are going. I don’t really think a j-student needs to know programing language, but it doesn’t hurt to take a few computing classes to get a sense of how things work. Get to know computer engineering students, especially those interested in online publishing.

UPDATE: In late 2010, Victory took a job as a senior editor at About.com.

Regarding the renaming of fair maidens

A friend asked me recently on Facebook about “maiden name.” She made this plea, with a recommendation that “birth name” is better:

Dear Professor Bechtel: I’ve read three articles today that included the term “maiden name,” and I am irked. I am requesting that you use your influence as a member of the copy-editing world to lead the change to end this practice. Thank you.

I took my friend’s suggestion to my followers on Twitter. Here are some of their reactions:

  • I have a cousin whose maiden name isn’t her birth name. It’s her adopted name. Probably best for a new term altogether.
  • As Sly would say, “Go for it.”
  • Good idea. “Maiden name” is ridiculously archaic.
  • I always say family name.
  • In conversation? I haven’t seen “maiden name” in a news story for decades. Maybe I missed it.
  • Have never liked the word “maiden.” I’d adopt “birth name” instead.
  • Absolutely! I don’t think women have been maidens since 1400 … or at least 1920?

No one stuck up for “maiden name.” I’m giving the last word to @GRAMMARHULK:

  • MANY PEOPLE CHANGE NAME WITHOUT MARRIAGE: IMMIGRANTS, ABUSE VICTIMS, PEOPLE WHO JUST DON’T LIKE OLD NAME.
  • HULK THINK “BIRTH NAME” BETTER: MORE SENSITIVE TO TRANSPEOPLE, APPLICABLE TO ALL REASONS FOR NAME CHANGE.

OK, Hulk and the rest of you. Consider “maiden name” SMASHED.

Q&A with Grammar Hulk

Grammar Hulk is one of several Hulks on Twitter. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Grammar Hulk discusses Hulk’s approach to writing and editing.

Q. Why is Grammar Hulk on Twitter? What do you hope to achieve?

A. TWITTER WELL SUITED TO HULKISMS. MANY PEOPLE LEAVE OUT WORDS ON TWITTER, JUST LIKE HULK. ON INTERNET, NO ONE KNOW HULK NOT ACTUALLY A HULK. ALSO INHERENT HUMOR OF COMIC BOOK CHARACTER USING SOCIAL MEDIA AND TALKING ABOUT ERUDITE STUFF WITH BIG WORDS. ALL CAPS WRITING WORK BEST IN SHORT CHUNKS, LIKE 140-CHARACTER TWEETS. (THIS EMAIL GOOD EXAMPLE OF WHY ALL CAPS NOT WORK IN PARAGRAPHS UNLESS ONE NIGERIAN PRINCE EXPLAINING FINANCIAL OFFER.) LOTS OF HULKS ON TWITTER FOR THESE REASONS.

HULK ASSUME YOU MEAN “WHAT” RATHER THAN “WHY” IN SECOND QUESTION. [I fixed this, thanks. -- Andy] HULK START TWITTER ACCOUNT JUST FOR FUN. HULK ENTERTAIN HULKSELF BY PLAYING WITH UNIQUE HULK IDIOLECT–REFER TO SELF IN THIRD PERSON, ESCHEW PRONOUNS AND ARTICLES AND FORMS OF “TO BE,” ALL VERBS PRESENT TENSE–AND TALKING ABOUT GRAMMAR WITHIN NONSTANDARD GRAMMATICAL FRAMEWORK. THEN HULK START FOLLOWING OTHER GRAMMARIANS. NOW PART OF GRAMMARIAN COMMUNITY. HULK HAVE NO PARTICULAR GOAL BUT HANG OUT AND TALK, LIKE MOST TWITTER USERS. HULK APPRECIATE THAT HUMOR USEFUL WAY TO MAKE PEOPLE THINK BUT HULK NOT TRYING TO EDUCATE.

HULK AUDIENCE COMPRISE EDITORS, TEACHERS, PEDANTS, OTHER FANS OF SERIAL COMMA AND SEMICOLON. MOST HULK TWEETS IN-JOKES ABOUT LANGUAGE. THE REST FUN NIT-PICKING. EVEN CORRECT USE OF “COMPRISE” IN-JOKE OF SORTS. ANYONE WHO GOT THRILL FROM THAT SENTENCE–OR REREAD IT TO MAKE SURE IT CORRECT–PROBABLY ENJOY READING @GRAMMARHULK.

Q. What writing errors does Grammar Hulk most want to SMASH?

A. ALL WRITERS MAKE WRITING ERRORS. HULK UNDERSTAND AND FORGIVE THOSE. HULK HAVE BIG CLUMSY FINGERS, MAKE TYPOS. HULK SOMETIMES USE WORD INCORRECTLY AND GET CORRECTED BY @EDITORHULK. THIS PART OF BEING WRITER. AS LONG AS WRITER LEARN WHY ERROR WRONG AND TRY HARDER NEXT TIME, NO NEED FOR SMASHING.

HULK RATHER SMASH PRESCRIPTIVISM. HULK DELIGHT IN PLAYING WITH RULES OF GRAMMAR AND SPELLING; THEY NOT SET IN STONE. HULK THINK LINE BETWEEN “WRONG” AND “NEW USAGE” VERY BLURRY, AND ALWAYS COME DOWN ON SIDE OF CLEARER COMMUNICATION. HULK SEE NOTHING WRONG WITH SPLITTING INFINITIVES, ENDING SENTENCES WITH PREPOSITIONS, USING SINGULAR “THEY.” HULK CHAMPION IDIOLECTS, DIALECTS, CREOLES. HULK CONNECT WITH NETSPEAK, LOL AT LOLSPEAK, FASCINATED BY TXT ABBREV. HULK SMASH PEOPLE WHO CALL ORGANIC LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT “BAD GRAMMAR.” HULK SMASH CENSORSHIP OF “BAD WORDS.” LANGUAGE BEAUTIFUL LIVING THING. SHOULD BE APPRECIATED IN WILD, NOT PUT IN CAGE. HULK SMASH ALL CAGES!

THAT SAID, HULK HATE WHEN PEOPLE NOT THINK ABOUT WORDS THEY USE. IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WORD ORIGINS, CONNOTATIONS, CONTEXT. “THAT’S SO GAY” FUNNY WHEN GAY PERSON SAY IT, NOT FUNNY WHEN STRAIGHT PERSON SAY IT. HULK FAN OF IRONY BUT NOT AS DISGUISE FOR CRUELTY OR CARELESSNESS.

Q. In the Hulk stories on TV, in comics and in the movies, the alter ego is Dr. David Banner. Are you willing to reveal your alter ego?

A. HULK STILL LOOKING FOR RIGHT PERSON TO WRITE GRAMMARHULK ORIGIN STORY. UNTIL THEN, HULK ORIGINS REMAIN SHROUDED IN MYSTERY.

Q. Twitter has numerous Hulks, including Feminist Hulk and Drunk Hulk. Can all these Hulks get along?

A. NOT MUCH CROSSTALK AMONG HULKS, BUT NO ANIMOSITY THAT HULK SEEN. FUN TO BE PART OF HULK COMMUNITY, THOUGH HULK PROBABLY HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH @FEMINISTHULK AND @BUDDHISTHULK THAN @DRUNKHULK OR @LONELY_HULK. THAT OKAY. IT TAKE HULKS OF ALL KINDS.

HULK APPRECIATE QUESTIONS! HULK LOOK FORWARD TO BLOG COMMENTS AND STUDENT REACTIONS.

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