The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: August, 2011

Editing with the flavor of south Louisiana

The American Copy Editors Society is headed to Louisiana twice in the next several months:

  • In October, the organization will play host to a one-day workshop in Baton Rouge. Topics include headline writing, fact check and editing maps and charts.
  • In April 2012, the national conference of ACES will take place in New Orleans. The program for that event is in progress, but you can register now.

As a native of New Orleans, I’m looking forward to combining some of my favorite things: visiting my hometown, attending the ACES conference and eating and drinking well. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Hurricane Irene: One photo, two audiences

When Hurricane Irene struck the coast of North Carolina this weekend, journalists were there. It’s dangerous work to cover a storm.

That’s what occurred to me when I saw this photo in a slideshow by The News & Observer shortly after Irene twisted its way across the northeast corner of the state. It’s a picture that captured the attention of many editors.

It appeared prominently on the front pages of several North Carolina newspapers, including the N&O and The Charlotte Observer:

Front pages for NC papers covering Hurricane Irene

Editors at the New York City tabloids also took note of the image as they put together front pages anticipating Irene’s arrival there:

New York tabloid front pages on Irene

It’s interesting to see how these publications cropped the photo and how the images interact with the headlines. One image, two audiences, different tones to the story packages.

Thanks to @RL_Bynum for noticing this and pointing it out on Twitter.

The star of the earthquake

The Eastern United States was surprised by an earthquake this week. The tremors started in Virginia and were felt hundreds of miles away, causing evacuations and general confusion.

Damage was minimal, but that didn’t stop newspapers in the region from making this the big story of the day. An earthquake in this part of the country has the news value of oddity, after all.

Several newspapers chose the same image of Susy Ward, a flabbergasted office worker in Washington, D.C. Here are variations on that theme:

Earthquake front pages

It’s the sort of photo that an editor loves: It has a regular person reacting to an unusual situation, and it has a bit of scene-setting. So Susy is a star for a day.

Not all newspapers went with that sort of presentation. Here are a couple of meta-centerpieces:

Front pages from East Coast quake

It’s a risky choice, even cheesy. If there had been fatalities, these newspapers wouldn’t have done this. But these front pages are serving the purpose of generating lots of talk on Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s what one friend said about the Star-Ledger: “It’s horrible, but I give them credit for trying to make people notice it. At least they’re trying something instead of standing around looking at each other while the paper dies a slow, painful death.”

UPDATE: For more front pages and analysis, check out this post on Charles Apple’s blog.

Where teaching and research intersect

With the fall semester just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about changes to the editing course that I teach at UNC-Chapel Hill.

One area I’d like to focus on more is what research tells us about writing and editing. The objective of academic research, after all, is to create knowledge and make discoveries that can be shared with the world.

For several years, I have mentioned eyetracking research done by The Poynter Institute and similar work by a UNC colleague, Laura Ruel. Students have said that they liked learning about how readers read pages, both in print and online. They have also taken an interest in Poynter’s research about alternative story forms.

This semester, I will add the important research by Fred Vultee of Wayne State University that shows that readers value editing. Vultee presented his findings earlier this year at the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society and again at the recent AEJMC conference.

I’ll also mention a study in the current issue of Newspaper Research Journal that found that grammar errors hinder comprehension and damage credibility. (The study isn’t published online, unfortunately.)

I believe that it’s important to let students — and working journalists — know about research that speaks to our profession. That’s the central mission of efforts at ACES to encourage and promote research about editing.

I encourage others who teach editing and writing to include research as part of your classes. And if you know of studies that speak to those skills, please share that knowledge. I’d love to pass that information on to the writers and editors of the future.

Q&A with John Clark, executive producer of UNC’s Reese Felts Digital Newsroom

John Clark is executive producer of the Reesenews project at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before taking that job this summer, he was general manager of WRAL.com, the award-winning website of the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Clark talks about his new job and what’s ahead for the project.

Q. Describe your job as the leader of the Reese project. What is your typical day like?

A. I don’t know that I’ve had a typical day yet. I’ve used my first month here to get acclimated with the project and the school. Most of my time has been spent getting ready for the fall semester. That has involved creating a new organizational structure, writing job descriptions and outlining what I’d like to see happen in the first year.

Q. Reesenews is entering its second year of existence. What do you see as the site’s successes? Shortcomings?

A. Interactivity has clearly been a huge success with the project (example: NCAA Probe: http://reesenews.org/2010/12/16/staying-in-bounds/7929/). I am amazed at the students’ creativity and skill.

The project also has the beginning of a vibrant social media presence. I know we will expand that in the coming year.

We do not yet have a mobile presence, and that is an opportunity. The advertising and revenue element is also missing.

Q. What changes do you see for the project, both in the near term and down the road?

A. The organizational structure will be a bit different this year. This year, we are creating an organization that mimics some of the more successful digital-only operations, and I’m looking forward to watching the students respond in that environment.

Mobile is a huge project to tackle, and it presents many challenges. We will have a mobile site formatted specifically for the most popular phones.

I also want to develop a mobile app for iOS and Android. That will let us develop and test content specific to mobile devices. Down the road, we’ll explore various financial models. That may be the biggest change from last year, but it is a necessary one.

Q. Part of the mission of the Reese project is to help other media survive and thrive, both journalistically and financially. What do you see as the future of news?

A. If you had asked that question to someone in 1911, I wonder how that person would have answered? More than likely, the answer would not have included televisions, computers or telephones.

The importance of news and information only grows. The Egyptian revolution, for example, shows us the importance of news and communication to spread and strengthen democracy. (Wired: Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt’s Revolutionary Friday, http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/)

The means by which we consume it is the challenge. Previously, the industry controlled content creation and distribution, so consumers would follow us. Now, consumers participate in creating and distributing content.

We have to figure out out how to balance the two and learn how to best engage consumers. We must create strong connections with them to collect and provide relevant news and information in the most effective ways possible.

Financially, we will rely on that relationship. If we are able to establish a trusted partnership with consumers around content, they will allow us – even ask us – to market, recommend and provide products and services to them. That is a much deeper engagement than traditional advertising. That’s also a relationship that will challenge our industry.

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