If the Republican candidates were editors

I’m a sucker for political debates. In recent months, I’ve been watching the Republican candidates for president “spar” and “trade barbs,” as the headlines say.

As I watched the latest debate on CNN this week, I saw how this field of candidates might operate in a newspaper newsroom. So here are the Republican contenders, recast in their roles as editors:

  • Herman Cain: business editor
  • Rick Perry: sports/outdoors editor
  • Jon Huntsman: wire editor
  • Rick Santorum: city editor, religion columnist
  • Newt Gingrich: editorial page editor
  • Michelle Bachmann: health editor, parenting columnist
  • Mitt Romney: executive editor
  • Ron Paul: copy desk chief

Defining Black Friday

Creative Commons photo by Steve Rhodes
Black Friday at a mall in San Francisco in 2009. (Creative Commons photo by Steve Rhodes)

The annual Black Friday stories are already in the news.

The News & Observer, for example, offered this preview on the Sunday front page. By the end of this week, Black Friday will almost certainly be the top story on TV news, with the inevitable footage of shoppers milling around in malls and beating down the doors of “big box” stores.

But where does the term  come from? Why is the day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday? This article in Time magazine offers two explanations:

  • Because it’s the day that many stores expect to make a profit, or out of the red and into the black, for the year.
  • Because newspapers in Philadelphia began calling it that to describe the flood of shoppers in the streets and in stores.

If we are going to cover this as big news, we should at least define our terms. This can be done in the stories themselves or, better yet, in a separate textbox.

Happy Thanksgiving!

UPDATE: Ben Zimmer at Visual Thesaurus explains the Philadelphia connection to the term, and Bill Walsh of The Washington Post offers his viewpoint.

I’m breaking my silence about speaking out

I’m breaking my silence and speaking out: It’s time for headline writers to rein in the use of those phrases. We can do better.

In these examples from The Huffington Post, why not say what Obama said about waterboarding? A more compelling headline would be “Obama calls waterboarding torture.” And it’s better for SEO.

And what obligation does Gloria Cain have to discuss the allegations of sexual harassment against her husband? None. The “breaks silence” headline indicates that she does and is feeling pressure to do so.

Google News shows us that headlines are filled with these phrases. Wendi Murdoch, for example, is breaking her silence over a pie-throwing incident earlier this year. And Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Michael Jackson’s death, is speaking out. And so on.

Sometimes the phrases are being used interchangeably. Depending on the news source, Sharon Bialek either “broke her silence” or “spoke out” when she alleged that Herman Cain acted inappropriately when she asked him for help getting a job.

I’m not advocating a ban on these phrases. But I would suggest using them with caution. They have become shopworn and often obscure the news rather than illuminating it.

A goodbye in Greensboro

John Robinson, former colleague and current friend, announced this week that he’s stepping down as editor of the News & Record  in Greensboro, N.C. The news came as a surprise to many, and it prompted me to reflect on Robinson’s influence on journalism and my own career.

My first job after college was in Greensboro as a copy editor. Robinson wasn’t running the News & Record’s newsroom yet, but he was a city editor, assigning stories to reporters and working with them on those assignments.

Robinson was a friend of copy editing and would stop by to chat with those of us working on the nightside. Maybe it was a matter of timing and proximity — his office was adjacent to the copy desk, and he often worked into the evening.

But he had a genuine appreciation for our work, and his sense of humor fit the tone of our desk as well. For those of us learning the culture of a newsroom, he was a great role model: confident, diligent, fair and respectful.

Later, as editor, Robinson pushed the News & Record toward an increasingly local newspaper. He also established himself and the newspaper as prominent players in blogging and other social media. Again, Robinson served as a role model for me (even though I was no longer at the paper) and other journalists.

Robinson and I disagreed at times, most publicly on the need (or not) to copy-edit blog posts on news sites. In that discussion with me and in those with others, Robinson always kept his cool and expressed himself clearly and concisely — a rarity in online conversations.

Robinson also took the time to speak to my editing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill on several occasions. He was a natural in the classroom, engaging students in thought-provoking conversations about news judgment and other topics.

So, thanks, John, for all that you have done for journalism and for me and my students. Best wishes to you on the next adventure in your life.

UPDATE: Robinson is back to blogging at Media, Disrupted.

Q&A with Lindsay Naylor, editor at Law360

Lindsay Naylor is an editor at Law360, a website that focuses on legal news affecting the corporate world. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Naylor previously worked as a copy editor and page designer at the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. In this interview, conducted by email, Naylor talks about her job duties and her transition from print to online media.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’m one of eight editors on the copy desk. We edit the stories that go up on the company’s website and, most important, into the newsletters that are sent out each morning to the subscribing law firms.

I start work at 1 p.m. Sometimes there are a few emails asking the reporter and me to clarify something in the story we worked on. If the reporter hasn’t addressed it yet, I’ll go in and do it.

After that, I just start grabbing any story that is available in our editing queue. I read through the story first and then spend the bulk of my time on the headline, lede and tags. If I have a question, I’ll send a chat message to the reporter and work with him or her on it.

Sometime in the early evening, I take a dinner break. At 7, my boss counts out how many stories we each have left. By the end of the day, we each do about 15 to 18. Around 8, I look over the four newsletters I’ve been assigned to make sure there are no errors in the headlines and ledes and that the stories are in the correct newsletter. If I get done early, I’ll ask if I can help anyone else with their newsletters, and then I leave by 9.

Q. You’ve moved from a newspaper to a website. What has that transition been like?

A. It’s been mostly good. My job is less stressful now. There are deadlines, but nothing like at a newspaper. No one wants to make mistakes, but it’s nice to know that you can go back in and make changes.

My headline writing has improved a lot because it’s so important on the Web. Also, having to think about what to tag a story as and whether it’s obvious to readers why the story is tagged is a totally new way of thinking for me. Finally, it’s nice to have more job security. Morale is a lot better here because no one is worried about being laid off, we have better benefits, and they feed us lunch on Fridays.

On the other hand, it was exciting to be at a newspaper, especially during big news days. The atmosphere was louder and more interesting, and it was a tight-knit group. Because it was a small paper, I got to make a lot more decisions and had more of a leadership role. I liked the challenge of multitasking and having a lot of different things to do, and it was fun to design pages, which I don’t do now.

Q. You were an intern with the Dow Jones News Fund in 2008. How has that experience affected your career?

A. I stayed at my Dow Jones internship paper in North Dakota for three years. It put me in a place I wouldn’t have likely chosen to go to, but it was somewhere that taught me a lot. I also worked with the Dow Jones interns who came after me, which I enjoyed and gave me the opportunity to teach the things I’d learned.

When I’ve applied for jobs, a lot of employers have said they were impressed to see the Dow Jones internship on my resume. I’ve also kept in touch with some of the interns whom I attended training with. That’s actually how I decided to apply for my current position. One of my Dow Jones friends worked here not too long ago, so I knew some things about the job and was able to ask her questions about it.

Q. What advice do you have to journalism students who want to work at websites like yours?

A. Know AP style. I had to take an editing test before I could even get an interview, so without a good test score, you may not get very far. It was the same for other websites I’ve applied at.

As I mentioned before, headlines are important for the Web, so those skills need to be really solid. Newspapers are good ways to get the experience, even if you don’t want to be at one forever.

I wasn’t required to know anything about the law when I started, but they did ask about my experience editing for the business section, and several co-workers have been business reporters. So, if want to edit a certain type of content, it helps to show that you have an interest in it or have worked with it before.