Q&A with Carol Carpenter, copy editor at the Times-Picayune

Carol Carpenter is a copy editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses recent changes at the newspaper and how those changes have affected her work.

Q. Describe your job. What do you on a typical day?

A. I’m not sure I have a typical day! A lot of things have changed since the paper went to fewer days a week.

All of our local copy hits the website first, and it comes to us, the print team, on a wire feed. The reporters — oops, I mean the content creators — photographers and most editors — now called managing producers — who make up the online team now work in a different building. Only the print team (about 20 people), a business office of two and the presses remain in our building. Our schedule has changed as well; we work four 10-hour days a week.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I select stories from NOLA.com (I am called a curator) and repackage them for print, for the Lagniappe entertainment tab that comes out of Fridays. I search for art, which sometimes involves gentle reminders to the online team that I need a high-res version for print.

I supervise a designer who makes up all the pages. I write headlines, edit and trim copy. I set the pages to the press and make sure they are all received. Many times only I and the designer lay eyes on the pages — scary.

Other days I might work on the op-ed pages, doing basically the same curation/art search duties, as well as editing. On those days I also serve as the rim for all the A1 stories.

Or I might curate the wire pages, and the sections are much bigger since we made the switch. Or I might curate the zoned metro sections, one for the north shore and one for the south shore.

The metro section and the wire section have page producers, who make up the pages as well as edit the stories and write headlines. I also gather stories and art for the religion page and sometimes for the travel section.

The duties are mostly the same, but the focus changes.

Q. Last year, the Times-Picayune’s print edition went from daily to three times a week. How does this transition toward digital affect you and other editors?

A. As I mentioned above, not only have the duties changed but so have our titles. We are still getting used to many new things, new employees, new ways of doing things.

One thing is, of course, that there is not a paper every day. But during the Saints season, we issue the Black and Gold tab on game day Mondays (strictly game coverage, no other news). We have a paper on Wednesday and Friday, and on Saturday we have an “early Sunday” edition that we call the pup. That paper is partly remade for Sunday. So it is really more than three days a week as far as working goes.

Probably the most difficult thing for me is trying to weigh coverage of events that happened between papers, for example between Sunday’s and Wednesday’s paper. Many news events can’t be ignored, but at the same time they are old.

We have a new feature called a Trends column in each section that was designed to highlight these “old” news items in a briefed format, but sometimes an event is too important for a brief — the inauguration, for one. There is also a lot of give and take between the Living and the Lagniappe sections about which stories go where — sometimes (not often) we both run the same items.

Now that reporters have no print deadlines or length restrictions, stories are a little iffier, the budget is more laissez-faire and the stories can be much longer than our pages permit. I find myself trimming stories a lot more.

Q. New Orleans often plays host to big events like the Super Bowl. What is it like to report and edit that kind of coverage?

A. Just like the police in New Orleans are world-renowned for crowd control because of Carnival, I believe that our staff is terrific at letting readers know what is going on in our town.

We are used to big events, and we have an experienced team covering all the angles. Jazzfest, Carnival, Essence Fest, Final Four, Voodoo Fest and the Sugar Bowl bring hundreds of thousands of people to town. We are used to it. We have a routine that works.

Q. You are a native of New Orleans. What is your favorite thing about the city and about the Times-Picayune?

A. Gosh, just one thing? I guess I would have to say what I love most about the city is its people’s creativity and determination to survive and thrive, no matter what hits us.

Within months after Hurricane Katrina, there were innumerable locally written, locally produced and locally acted theater shows about the storm. We come up with satirical themes for individual Carnival costumes and for entire parades. (the FEMA jokes after Katrina were scathing.) We celebrate precisely because we know that life is precious and must be thoroughly lived.

When the Times-Picayune’s owners announced that the paper would cut production, there were protests. Not just protests. Yard signs. Letters to the editor. Three different T-shirts with clever newspaper sayings were sold (The SomeTimes-Picayune). An organization was created to help those who were laid off, and a party (of course) was held to raise money for them.

One of the most revered philanthropists in town started an organization to get the owners to sell, enlisting the mayor, the archbishop, many luminaries. They passed around a petition signed by every favorite son you could think of, celebrities, some 10,000 people. It was a scary time but also a very heartening time to see how much people in New Orleans cherish the Times-Picayune.

And the Times-Picayune is staffed by those people, those creative and determined New Orleanians. People do amazing things for this paper because they know it’s important and because they know New Orleans needs and appreciates us. I love the tradition (175 years), the smart investigations and the snappy writing, the modern design, but mostly my co-workers.

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2 thoughts on “Q&A with Carol Carpenter, copy editor at the Times-Picayune

  1. Carol, thank you for a peek behind the curtain since I’ve been wondering how it was all working. What you wrote about the city is spot on; I’m glad you’re still with the paper trying to keep it alive and strong.

  2. Carol, yes, thanks for helping me understand how it works now – how local copy goes to the website first and then to the print team by wire, how the stories get selected, “curated”, for print. Until reading this interview, I didn’t understand who was making decisions about running “old” stories that the print paper hadn’t covered. I had no idea what the Trends section was until you explained it. And when I’ve tried to picture what things look like on the third floor of 3800 Howard Avenue now, I wasn’t even close. The entire print team is only 20 people? The change is staggering! I’m glad you’re there to tell the story.

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