The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: June, 2012

Vacation — all I ever wanted

This blog will be on vacation for the next two weeks. See you in July.

Q&A with Elizabeth Hudson, editor of Our State magazine

 

Elizabeth Hudson is editor of Our State magazine, a monthly publication about the people and places of North Carolina. The magazine is based in Greensboro and has a circulation of 150,000. Hudson has worked at Our State since 1997. In this interview, conducted by email, Hudson talks about her job, her use of Twitter and the outlook for regional magazines.

Q. What is your typical workday like at the magazine?

A. There’s an old saying that “a chair-bound editor is a dangerous editor,” and it’s a idea that I embrace. In a sense, my office is the entire state of North Carolina!

A typical workday really depends on where I happen to be. I travel extensively, often with the other editors and our art director, visiting the towns we’d like to write about, eating in the restaurants we want to cover, and meeting with local residents and people who work in the travel and tourism industry. We can’t effectively and credibly create an experience for our readers if we haven’t had the experience of a place ourselves.

So a typical workday could include anything from a visit to the Nasher Museum in Durham or Tryon Palace in New Bern, a drive along Railroad Grade Road in Ashe County, a morning in the back of a Mayberry-style squad car in Mount Airy. (Not all of these on the same day, of course.)

The one day people can find me in the office is on Mondays. We have a company-wide meeting every Monday morning at 8:30 a.m.; I follow that meeting with a smaller one of my own with my team of editors and art directors. We critique manuscripts that have come in for the week, and we have a round-table pitch discussion to review story queries, sometimes a half-dozen pitches.

On the days that I’m not traveling or speaking to a church or rotary group, I’m making story assignments, planning content for later issues, meeting with our sales, Web, or marketing team, or working with the art directors conceptualizing layouts and magazine covers.

Q. Many journalism students at UNC-Chapel Hill want to go into magazines as writers and editors. What advice would you offer them?

A. Become a student of magazines. No, scratch that. Become a voracious devourer of magazines.

Get an appetite for the beauty and literary power that magazines hold. Go to the library and pore through bound volumes of great magazines: National Geographic, Esquire, Texas Monthly, Saveur, The Atlantic, The New Yorker (and Our State, of course!).

Learn to think visually — a magazine is a marriage of great writing and great design. One can’t work independently from the other. And try to see the magazine as a whole — think about how the front of the book works with the back of the book — the heartbeat of the magazine — and how the feature well gives your magazine its soul.

Q. You use Twitter in both a professional and personal way. What do you and the magazine hope to achieve through the use of social media?

A. My Twitter account is an extension of my job and my life; I actually don’t really separate the two and, in fact, I don’t think you can if you work in a creative field. You don’t turn it off at 5:30 p.m.

Some magazine editors use Twitter as a way to extend the magazine’s brand — that’s why you see tweets about current content in the magazine; you know, recipes you should try from this month’s issue, for example. That’s fine, but my tweets are more an extension of my personality, which really fits the mission of Our State. Our magazine is intended to feel like a friend you’ve invited into your home; there’s a warm comfort to it, and Twitter, for me, is a way to extend that friendly conversation.

My posts rarely repeat content in the magazine; they’re just a reflection of my day. Sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane, but minutia is the basis for any relationship, really. It’s a nice, easy mixture of the daily. Twitter is a great place to stay connected to the daily.

Q. In an increasingly digital/mobile world, what do you see as the future of Our State and city/regional magazines, both in print and online?

I’m excited by the potential of regional magazine now, especially since the digital world causes everything to be so global. For so long, long-form journalism was king. Great magazines, and newspapers, too, ran 4,000-, 5,000-, 6,000-word stories.

Then, in the late ’90s, you started to see a shift toward shorter, tighter, blurb-ier copy. Many magazines lost their substance. And certainly there was an appetite for shorter, bite-size stories.

But that’s the beauty of the web and of mobile. It demands short, which means that magazines now are swinging back to their heyday of rich, long-form content. I’m seeing it happen, and it’s wonderful.

There will always be readers for whom story matters. And when you can get everything you need in the short-form online or on a tablet, you’ll create a craving for long-form elsewhere. Enter magazines. The perfect portable device for delivering the kind of content, at length, that people will start longing for again.

Charlotte still needs N.C. — for now

Creative Commons image of Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte, N.C., has an impressive skyline. But is the city known well enough nationwide to stand alone in datelines in news stories?

On occasion, I have shown students in my editing classes a collection of news stories that identify Chapel Hill, N.C., as the home of Duke University. The Wall Street Journal and CNNSi.com are among those making this error, which UNC-Chapel Hill students find unfathomable and even offensive. (For the record, Duke is in nearby Durham, and the campus is known for Duke Chapel.)

I thought of that problem this week when I read that journalists and PR people in Charlotte, N.C., are asking the AP Stylebook to recommend that Charlotte stand alone in datelines and stories as big cities like Atlanta, Houston and Miami. They argue that Charlotte has hit the big time, especially with the Democratic National Convention coming to town this summer. The stylebook campaign has its own hashtag on Twitter. I’ve even seen at least one call for UNC-Charlotte to rename itself the University of Charlotte.

The AP Stylebook editors responded on Twitter that it periodically reviews its list of standalone cities but didn’t plan to make a change for Charlotte now. I think that’s the right call. Here’s why:

  • When I was in Los Angeles in 2008, I was surprised at the lack of knowledge there about North Carolina. There some awareness of where UNC was located, and most people knew that college basketball is a big deal here. But there were lots of questions: Where did the Carolina Panthers play? (Charlotte.) Where did the Carolina Hurricanes play? (Raleigh.) And are those places in North Carolina or South Carolina?
  • A friend who lives in Washington, D.C., posted a photo on Facebook from the Charlotte airport with the mildly snarky caption: “Greetings from layover country!” The image was of a sign with this motto: “Charlotte’s got a lot.”
  • Another friend who grew up in South Carolina and now lives in Denver told me that she is often asked which state Charlotte is in.
  • On a recent trip to Miami, I was asked by the hotel concierge where I was from. I told him North Carolina. His response: “I was in Charlotte this year for a few days for a conference. Nice city. What state is that in? Is that North Carolina?”

Indeed, there’s confusion out there, and that includes in the media and in advertising. Charlotte suffers for two reasons: People mix up North Carolina and South Carolina, and they mix up Charlotte and Charleston, S.C. (The existence of Charlottesville, Va., and Charleston, W.Va., doesn’t help matters.)

Charlotte is not alone in that regard. The New York Times and other media labeled Greensboro, N.C., as a S.C. city in coverage of the John Edwards trial. It probably doesn’t help that Greensboro sounds similar to Greenville — and North Carolina and South Carolina each have a Greenville.

This is where a stylebook comes in. A style recommendation should be about clarity for the reader. Does this word choice, abbreviation or spelling improve understanding of the news?

I  think keeping the “N.C.” after Charlotte adds detail and clarity. Helping readers is more important than boosting civic pride.

I suggest that people in Charlotte do the opposite: Rather than rejecting the “N.C.” abbreviation after the city’s name, embrace it. Own it. Make it clear that Charlotte is in North Carolina and that it’s not the place where the Civil War started or where Thomas Jefferson built Monticello.

Use the media hype surrounding the Democratic convention to play up your connections to the state, not play them down. Show the nation who you are and where you are. Afterward, we can revisit this stylebook discussion. What do you say, Charlotte?

UPDATE: In August 2012, the AP turned down Charlotte’s request, saying that “more detailed datelines help readers overseas and elsewhere grasp news locations.”

Q&A with Jonathan Jones, editor of Carolina Blue Magazine

Jonathan Jones is the editor of Carolina Blue Magazine, which focuses on athletics at UNC-Chapel Hill. A recent graduate of UNC, Jones was sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel and had internships at CNNSI.com and The Gaston Gazette. In this interview, conducted by email, Jones talks about his job at the magazine, his use of social media and print vs. online journalism.

Q. Describe your job at Carolina Blue Magazine. What do you do on a typical week?

A. I’m the editor of the magazine, which typically means I’m an overseer. But really I like to get my hands dirty and do a lot of everything with the magazine.

A typical week during, let’s say football season, includes going to Larry Fedora’s press conference on Monday and talking to players throughout the week to get enough quotes for an advance on Saturday’s game. That’s when the express edition comes into play. Our online subscribers get a weekly PDF emailed to them known as an express edition. That recaps the week that was while looking ahead to UNC’s next opponent.

Just because I’m a magazine editor doesn’t mean I don’t do game stories like the other print/online writers. While I put together the express editions, I’m communicating with freelancers, planning the next issue of the magazine, designing the current magazine and putting together longer, more broad articles that can occupy the monthly publication. It slows down in the summer, but when basketball and football overlap come late September/early October, I’ll be underground.

Q, You’ve worked for both print and online publications. Which medium do you prefer?

A. It has to be print. I’ve known I wanted to go into sports writing since I was 5, reading The Charlotte Observer back home and subscribing to Sports Illustrated a few years later.

I have an affinity to print, and that undoubtedly makes me biased. Along with that, no matter how many articles I write, there’s always something special about seeing your byline on paper, and you just don’t get that same feeling online.

Furthermore, I like having a word/inches count. On the Internet we can all ramble, but print places a premium on your words, and I feel like some of that may have been lost in the shift from print to online.

Q. When you were at The Daily Tar Heel, you wrote columns that irritated fans at East Carolina University and N.C. State. What did you learn from that reaction?

A. The Russell Wilson article happened first, and I really wasn’t prepared for the reaction. I had gotten hate mail before, but in the past I had always known it was going to come. I wrote that column and honestly forgot it was in the paper the following day until Twitter started blowing up.

What I realized after that column was that I didn’t touch on every possible counterpoint. Rightly so, the critics exploited those holes, and from that I learned to cover the other side of the argument better when writing something that may irritate folks.

The reaction from the ECU column was huge. I had learned from the amount of comments on the NCSU column that I couldn’t, nor should I, respond to everyone. So that day as my email piles up with some thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) messages from folks, I didn’t respond. I also didn’t get into any Twitter arguments. It just wasn’t worth it.

That’s not to say I don’t interact with those who critique me. In fact, quite the contrary. Since my days from the Gaston Gazette in 2005 until now with Carolina Blue, when I get emails from readers wanting further explanation or what have you, I do take my time and get back to them with what I hope to be a thoughtful response. For the ECU column though, there was no calming the masses, and individual emails wouldn’t have done any good. I made a folder specifically for messages regarding that column — it has 103 messages, some of which are still unread.

Q. You are active on Twitter. What is the role of social media in sports journalism?

A. When I was the sports editor of the DTH, I had everyone on my staff get a Twitter. Some of them hated it because of the notion that Twitter is all about quick status updates on your day/life.

Twitter is an incredible tool for sports journalists. I’m about to go on vacation, and every time I get away, I tell myself I’ll stay off Twitter. But it’s so difficult because once you get invested, you feel like you’re so far behind when you miss a day.

So much content is shared via Twitter (if you follow the right people). Those I follow are mainly sports journalists in the ACC, but I also follow plenty of national writers who create and share interesting articles, YouTube links, pop culture commentary, etc.

But as a sports journalist, you have to find the right balance. I’ve tweeted less than 10,000 times, and I’ve had my account for three years now. If you factor in my live-tweeting during games, you’ll find that I appear on your timeline a lot less than people I follow.

Just like with the print product, I try to place a premium on my tweets. When I live-tweet football or basketball games, I try not to inundate followers with up-to-the-second stats. Instead, I try to look go inside the game, add an anecdote from an interview with a player earlier in the week or just try to be funny (that fails sometimes). After the games, I like to tweet some interesting quotes from the coach and players while saving some info (things I see, 1-on-1 interviews, etc.) for my story.

Q. Many students at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill have an interest in sports reporting and editing. What advice do you have for them?

A. This isn’t new advice, but it’s advice that should always be repeated: read. Read newspapers, read Sports Illustrated, read Mark Twain — just read good writing. The more you read and understand other writers’ styles, the more you can develop your own.

In that same thought, sports writing isn’t just about game stories. Anyone can write a game story, and in fact, even computers now can write game stories. When I crank out what I believe to be a good profile of a player or a team, that means more to me than a handful of front-page game stories.

That said, everyone has a story. That’s what I’ve told my staffers for years. And if you’re just starting out and you’re covering a non-revenue sport, don’t get discouraged. There are X players on that team, and each one has a story worth telling — and it may be a story that someone has yet to tell.

UPDATE: In August 2012, Jones accepted a reporting position at The Charlotte Observer, covering the Carolina Panthers football team.

Let’s have breakfast in Chicago

The Breakfast of Editing Champions returns to the AEJMC national conference in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 10. I’m the organizer and moderator for the event, succeeding the wonderful Deborah Gump in that role.

The breakfast, which will begin at 8:15 a.m., is free and open to anyone who teaches editing, appreciates editing or simply likes to hang around editing professors. That should be pretty much everyone, right?

This year’s breakfast is BYOB: Bring Your Own Bagel. I’m working on providing coffee for everyone. If you would like to attend, please RSVP by signing up here. Please do so by Monday, Aug. 6.

The agenda is simple, yet fundamental to journalism that matters: the future of editing and editing education. This year’s breakfast will include a panel discussion on the teaching of social media in editing courses. Panelists will be:

  • Amy Bartner, social media editor at The Indianapolis Star
  • Sue Burzynski Bullard, University of Nebraska
  • Scott Kleinberg, social media consultant, Tribune Company
  • Leslie-Jean Thornton, Arizona State University

A highlight of the breakfasts has been the Teaching Idea Exchange, in which we swap assignments and strategies. Jill Van Wyke of Drake University will again handle the exchange this year, so send your best teaching idea or tip to her at jill.vanwyke@drake.edu by Tuesday, July 31. Send her a few paragraphs on your idea and be ready to discuss it for a minute or two at the breakfast.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this year’s breakfast:

See you in Chicago!

UPDATE: Registration for the breakfast is closed. It will be in room Chicago F at the conference hotel.

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