The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: August, 2012

What Abe Simpson yelled at

Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican convention is the talk of Twitter and morning TV today. As part of his shtick, the filmmaker spoke to an imaginary Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair.

The chair has, of course, led to various online memes, including this one with a “Simpsons” reference:

Some people seem to think this is an odd coincidence, equating Eastwood with Abe “Grampa” Simpson. But I knew immediately that this was an altered version of a real “Simpsons” joke. Here’s the original:

How did I detect this? For one thing, my colleague Bill Cloud is known for giving students extra credit for headlines that include “cloud” references. Secondly, I’m a longtime “Simpsons” viewer to the point that I am probably in the 1 percent in “Simpsons” trivia.

So if you see that “Old Man Yells At Chair” image on Facebook or Twitter in the coming days, you’ll know it wasn’t the real gag. Changing an image for a news event is, of course, part of how memes work. That’s fine. And it’s harmless in that it doesn’t cast an actual person or organization in a bad light, unlike this one.

This is not the only time “The Simpsons” has used headline humor. More about that here.

The expanding media of Raleigh

Even as the so-called mainstream media seem to be contracting, two startups in Raleigh, N.C., hope to find audiences in print and on the air.

A lifestyle magazine called Walter hits stores, waiting rooms and residential mailboxes next month. Walter is a publication of The News & Observer, and its staff includes former N&O reporters Scott Huler and Mary Miller.

Walter is aimed at an upscale audience. People who lives in houses valued at more than $450,000 will get it for free. The rest of us can buy it on the newsstand or pay $24 for a year’s subscription.

Raleigh Little Radio, on the other hand, is a grassroots effort funded through donations on Kickstarter. I’m one of the contributors.

A pair of former staff members for a college radio station hopes to offer a mix of news, talk and coverage of live events from the downtown area. The station’s plan is start this fall online and go on the FM airwaves next year.

As a Raleigh resident since 2000, I look forward to reading Walter and listening to Raleigh Little Radio. The more local media, the better.

Q&A with Amy Bartner, social media editor at the Indianapolis Star

Amy Bartner is social media editor at The Indianapolis Star. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job, her transition into it from reporting and careers in social media.

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

A. My job is one part strategy and one part sitting behind the wheel of our main-branded accounts. Or, two parts strategy and one part account-manning (or the vice-versa), depending on the day.

I plan and brainstorm creative new ways for reporters to reach readers, wherever those readers might be. This ranges anywhere from a “check to see if you can find the subject of the story on Facebook” to a multi-faceted strategy for number of posts, fan engagement and acquisition like one we created for the Super Bowl.

When it’s not bigger-picture stuff, I’ll work to constantly feed the beast that is social media. It’s like laundry — it’s never done.

Q. You use a lot of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. How do you decide where to concentrate your efforts?

A. I’ll go where I know people are. Sound like a stupid answer? I have good reasons, I swear. If I hear multiple people (my friend? My family? If my mom knows, we’re too late) talking about a service, I’ll go there.

Then, I’ll watch the numbers. Number of users on any given site is tops, but number of interactions within the site is important, too. There are fewer users on Twitter than on Facebook, but the number of tweets sent out daily more than doubles that number of people with Twitter accounts, which gives it much more value.

Same goes for Google+ — its marketers/developers would have you believe it’s not as empty as we all might think, but the number of shares/interactions on it is pitiful compared with Facebook, Twitter — the big ones.

You have to also pay attention to new, rising sites. We should be early adopters, but there’s no reason to be first and waste resources. Watch the community for a little while — because, as we all know, each social media site has its own little ecosystem with built-in protocols and rules — and develop a start-up plan. THEN join. I’m not saying to wait months, but there’s no sense in rushing.

The next thing I’ll look at is the amount of traffic directed from those avenues to our site. A rising social media site will direct traffic to our news site, whether we’re there or not. Which brings me to the last thing to look for: It doesn’t matter if it does direct traffic to us. If our readers are there, we need to be there, too. Period. (And then figure out a way to get them to us.)

Q. You were a reporter before becoming a social media editor. What skills did you keep during that transition, and which ones did you have to learn in the new job?

A. I had heard all through college that it was important to be a reporter before moving to any other spot in the newsroom, and I don’t know that I really ever believed it until I became social media editor. But because of my background, I’m incredibly anal about the voice and tone of everything I push out on social media, whether it’s from my own account or The Star’s.

It’s in AP style. It’s in English. I triple-check every link I sent out. It’s vetted, verified and correct — just as it would be if it were in a story.

That’s what separates us from the rest of the world. We’ve been trained to be accurate and quick, above all else. I’m not sure why some view social media as a reason to throw all that we were taught in journalism school out the window, but it’s not.

As for skills I had to learn, I had to learn to be engaging and more or less (stealthily) demand the conversation. When I was a faceless byline on a newsprint page (or, even a webpage), I often didn’t see that conversation taking place.

So I’ve had to learn how our audience works and direct that interaction accordingly. And, speaking of interaction, social media is the epitome of a two-way street. Readers not only want journalists to be responsive, they expect them to be. This is a hard thing for many classically trained journalists who were never taught to be part of the story or to put their own voice in, or even to interact with readers.

Q. What advice do you have for someone looking to go into a career in social media?

This career is in great demand, and I don’t think we fully realize where it’s going to go. I’d love to have a team of people at my news organization who strategize and plan for each section of the newsroom and who are constantly on and interacting 24/7. Not only that, but because social media affects so much of our audience’s lives, I believe this is a missed beat opportunity in most newsrooms.

Many of the students I’ve met don’t know their value in this area and how much they can truly help journalists who were out in the field before social media. So, students: You’re invaluable and no matter how much you’ve been told that being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. is a waste of time in class, stay current and read everything you can. When you’re in the real world, you’ll become a resource. Seriously.

Follow Amy Bartner on Twitter.

What I did this summer

As a professor, I am sometimes asked: “What’s it like to have summers off? That must be nice.”

Indeed, the academic calendar is a kind one, especially compared with the night/weekend/holiday schedule that I worked for many years at newspapers. But summer in the academic world is not a long vacation consisting of sitting on the beach and drinking margaritas.

Summer brings a different sort of work, a lot of this and a little of that. Here’s a look at what I did this summer at UNC-Chapel Hill:

  • Revised and expanded a textbook chapter on copyright law that will be published soon in the North Carolina Media Law Handbook.
  • Judged entries in a contest that honors the best in travel writing.
  • Wrote a book review for Journalism & Mass Communication Educator.
  • Wrote posts and conducted interviews for this blog.
  • Served as “editing coach” for 100 Gallons, the latest edition of the Powering A Nation project.
  • Organized and moderated a panel discussion for  journalists visiting from South Korea.
  • Met with colleagues who are going up for tenure and promotion this year, offering guidance about their CVs, teaching statements and letters of recommendation.
  • Led a discussion on headline writing for the student staff at WhichWayNC.
  • Made a presentation on alternative story forms to Triangle-area writers and editors.
  • Taught a session about online headlines and Twitter at the North Carolina Newspaper Academy.
  • Served as one of three instructors at an editing bootcamp in Chicago sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society.
  • Learned Sakai, an online teaching tool that UNC is using in place of Blackboard.
  • Revised my syllabus (.pdf) and handouts for my editing course.
  • Prepared to teach my first online class, Writing For Digital Media, which is part of a certificate program in technology and communication.

It’s been a busy, productive summer, and there’s still a week to go before the fall semester begins. And there still might be time for a beach day and a margarita before autumn’s chill arrives.

A week in Chicago

Creative Commons image

This blog will be quiet for the next week or so. I will be in Chicago to attend two events:

  • An editing bootcamp sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society. I’m one of three presenters at this all-day workshop.
  • The annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. My main task there is to serve as moderator for the Breakfast of Editing Champions.

It’s my first trip to Chicago in 15 years, and I’m looking forward to it. While I’m there, I’ll avoid tired references to the Windy City, but I may try one of these lesser nicknames.

Perhaps I will see you there. If not, I will be Tweeting on occasion, and you can follow the conference overall there with the hashtag #AEJMC12.

Words and water

For the fourth consecutive summer, I am part of the Powering A Nation project at UNC-Chapel Hill. My role is editing coach, helping with anything to do with words. The project, part of the News21 initiative, gives students a chance to experiment with storytelling techniques.

In an approach similar to last year’s focus on coal, the student team this year chose water as its theme of the site, called 100 Gallons. Unlike last year, however, this iteration of the project returns traditional story text to a prominent role.

100 Gallons also has alternative story forms, interactive graphics and video. One challenge for the editing team was to write dozens of captions that pop up when the viewer pauses the video that serves as the hub for the presentation.

As in past years, I enjoyed the chance to work with talented, passionate students. I am proud and grateful to be a part of the Powering A Nation effort, and I’m happy that words, in display text or story text, are still essential to journalism.

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