The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: July, 2011

Why Butch Davis is front-page news in N.C.

Front page of N&O

The big news in North Carolina this week is the sudden dismissal of Butch Davis as head coach of the UNC football team. The News & Observer and other media played it big.

That emphasis led to the inevitable letter to the editor, arguing that news of a football coach’s departure should be in the sports section, not on the front page. The letter writer would prefer to see news of the debt ceiling and election redistricting there.

Some readers will never accept sports news on the front page. Entertainment news (“American Idol,” for example) always bothers others.

In my view, this sports story is different. Here’s why:

  • The firing was breaking news, and it came unexpectedly, just a week before practice was to begin for the 2011 football season.
  • It’s a local story, unlike the debt ceiling, and it involves the state’s flagship university. And on this particular day, not much happened with the debt issue. That will be the big story if/when it is resolved.
  • The Davis story was not about wins and losses. It was not only about an NCAA investigation, but also about the academic integrity of the university. Indeed, that is why Chancellor Holden Thorp decided to fire Davis.
  • The UNC athletics program has been relatively free of scandal for decades. This story changes that.

What to make the lead on a front page is always open to debate and discussion, by journalists and readers alike. As a reader and a journalist, I think that the N&O made the right call.

Editing an interactive film

For the third consecutive summer, I’m participating in the Powering A Nation project at UNC-Chapel Hill. This year, the students producing the site decided to create a “special report” called “Coal: A Love Story.”

My role this time was the same as previous years, serving as a coach for the editing team. As work began on the project, however, I realized that this iteration of Powering A Nation would have very little traditional text, if any.

Indeed, what the students envisioned was an “interactive film” that combined video with interactive graphics. They even created a storyboard in the newsroom to map out the project and how its different components and characters would complement each other. It felt a bit like planning a season of “Lost.”

Still, it became clear that writing and editing in a traditional sense would be not only necessary but essential for the project to succeed. Words matter.

We needed headlines, blurbs and tags. We even needed poetry.

“Innovation” is a buzzword associated with Powering A Nation, which is part of the News21 project to push journalism education in new directions. I’d add “collaboration” to that. The student staff, coaches and consultants worked together on every facet of the site, including the project’s tagline: “It’s more than a rock. It’s power. It’s people. It’s a relationship.”

I encourage you to spend some time with the “interactive film” and experience it as one story. It’s a bold experiment in journalistic storytelling, and I’m proud and grateful to have been a part of it.

Q&A with Bill Krueger, NCSU alumni magazine editor

Bill Krueger is senior associate editor at N.C. State magazine.  Before taking that job in early 2011, he spent nearly 25 years at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., working as a reporter and editor focusing on state government. In this interview, conducted by email, Krueger talks about his current job and the transition from newspaper journalism to academia.

Q. You’re a top-level editor at the alumni magazine at N.C. State University. What is your typical day like?

A. One of the things I love about my job is that there is no typical day. One day I may be interviewing the university provost, the next day hanging out with the university’s new soccer coach and the next day talking to an alum about some cool work they are doing.

I spend some of my time writing, some of it editing and some of it keeping our blog and social media outlets humming. I love being part of the creative process of working with other editors and our design director to come up with a set of stories and visuals that will make for a magazine that our readers find engaging and relevant.

And my workplace is a college campus — how cool is that?

Q. How does editing and headline writing work at the magazine?

A. We don’t have copy editors, as such, so all of the editors here do a combination of reporting, editing and headline writing.

We rely on freelancers for some of our writing and photography and contract with a couple of editors (including a former copy editor from my former newspaper) for some freelance editing and proofing. Those extra sets of eyes are invaluable.

Q. You have an extensive background in newspaper journalism. What skills did you take with you to your current job, and what did you have to learn?

A. I was a reporter and assignment editor at various times during my many, many years at The News & Observer (and, briefly, The Kansas City Star). Virtually all of the skills I honed during my newspaper years — reporting, writing, editing and working with designers, photographers and graphic artists —have served me well in my role at the alumni magazine.

The primary learning curve has been in figuring out how to operate effectively in an academic environment — learning who’s connected to who (whom? see, I need a copy editor), absorbing the culture of the university, understanding the opportunities and challenges in trying to communicate effectively in such a large and (often) disconnected environment.

Q. What advice do you have for newspaper journalists who are looking to make a transition like yours?

A. Know that most of the skills you have developed in your years at a newspaper will translate to communications jobs in other settings. In fact, your new employers are likely to be dazzled by the pace at which you work, your ability to juggle multiple responsibilities and your commitment to accuracy, clarity and fairness.

But potential employers may not realize that when they are deciding whether to bring you in for an interview. Instead, they may see you as the proverbial dinasour who works for a struggling industry, someone they would have to retrain to work the way they want you to work.

The onus is on you to help them understand how your skills will translate to what they are trying to accomplish. Don’t send them a resume that lists all your job titles — they mean nothing to many potential employers.

Instead, tell them what your skills are, what you have accomplished and how that will help them achieve their goals. If they’re looking for someone to help them with social media, who better to write effective Tweets than a copy editor who writes great headlines?

You have to make that connection clear to potential employers, in your resume, your cover letter and in any job interviews.

Q. You write and edit for a readership of NCSU alumni, but you are University of Georgia graduate. If the two schools meet in football or basketball, who would you pull for, Dawgs or Pack?

A. I’m tempted to say the team in red. But in football, it would definitely be the Dawgs. As for basketball, I’m not sure they play that at Georgia.

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