The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Fall break

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This blog is on fall break. Thanks for reading, and see you in November.

Q&A with Brian Long of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs

Brian Long is director public affairs North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In that role, he oversees the department’s communication efforts, including the N.C. State Fair. He is a 1988 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Long talks about his job and what to expect at this year’s fair.

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

A. Unpredictable. It doesn’t matter what I’m planning to get done on any given day, there’s always the possibility that I’ll end up spending my day working on something entirely different.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a lot of service and regulatory responsibilities, so there’s always a possibility of some issue popping up. The unpredictability keeps my job from being boring, but some days can definitely be a challenge.

I usually start my day reviewing news stories related to agriculture or other topics the department has some connection to. I spend a good chunk of time editing news releases, speeches and blog posts written by the other members of the Public Affairs staff. I also do a bit of writing myself, though not as much as I would like because I find myself pulled into a good number of meetings.

Q. It’s almost time for the State Fair. How does your job change in the weeks leading up to this event? In the aftermath?

A. We begin working on the State Fair in the winter, developing a theme and working with the fair’s ad agency on a media plan and creative concepts. We do some publicity during the summer — announcing the theme, updating the website and publicizing the concert lineup and advance ticket sales, which usually start in early August.

We get more focused on the fair in September, planning what I call “events within the event.” Our staff is responsible for organizing a pre-fair media lunch, a press conference focused on safety, an opening ceremony and the annual State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame induction. We move our office from downtown to the fairgrounds a week before the fair opens.

Once the fair opens, our duties involve responding to media requests and helping reporters with story ideas, publicizing winners of livestock and cooking contests and taking photos of the fair. After the fair, we typically deal with any follow-up media requests regarding attendance and our overall impression of the fair, and we announce any remaining livestock show results.

And before we know it, we’re getting ready for the next year. I also should mention that even though we’re absorbed by the fair, we still have responsibilities for assisting the rest of the agriculture department with any communications needs.

Q. Each year, the fair has a theme. This year it’s “the October Original.” How do those themes come about?

A. Caffeine and sugar usually play a role in our theme development. We get together and brainstorm ideas based on the fair’s characteristics.

We strive for themes that create a certain mood or feel. For this year’s theme, we wanted to play up the fact that the fair is a unique North Carolina experience.

Q. Unfortunately, the fair is not just fun, food and games. Last year, an accident on a ride injured several people. This year, a concealed-carry group said it wants to bring guns to the fair, bringing a political debate to the event. How does your office handle these situations?

A. We believe in transparency and accuracy.

When the ride accident happened last year, we immediately began gathering as many known facts as possible so that we could hold a news briefing and put out a news release. The initial focus was on what happened, because we didn’t know when the investigation would determine why it happened. By providing accurate information as quickly as possible, we hope to guard against speculation and rumors.

When situations like this occur, the relationships we’ve built with news media over time are invaluable. We have a track record of being accessible and helpful to the media, and there is a mutual respect for our respective jobs.

Q. Social media must play a role in the fair nowadays. Any advice for those of us visiting on how and what to tweet and post to Instagram this year?

A. Because of the popularity of selfies, we are rebranding our photo-op spots as “selfie stations” this year. We also encourage visitors to post about their favorite things at the fair, whether it’s the food, the exhibits, the rides, the animals or the entertainment. Use #ncstatefair or #octoberoriginal (this year’s theme).

Remembering Elizabeth “Bricks” House

I am saddened to hear of the death of Elizabeth House, a former colleague at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Elizabeth and I worked together in Greensboro from 1989-1991. My job on the copy desk there was my first full-time gig in newspapers. Elizabeth was always kind and helpful to newcomers like me, eager to show us the ropes.

Bricks, as she was known, did everything in Greensboro: reporter, sportswriter and columnist, copy editor and page designer. She was similarly versatile after moving to Hawaii, where she worked from 1993 to 2010.

In 2013, Elizabeth organized a reunion of News & Record journalists. I was able to attend and catch up with friends and colleagues from more than 20 years ago. The gathering took place on a perfect September afternoon in downtown Greensboro, and it wouldn’t have happened without Elizabeth.

Farewell, Bricks. You will be missed.

A show of hands in Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are front-page news around the world this week. This helpful primer on the BBC provides background on the reasons for the protests.

Tens of thousands of people took to the city’s streets and refused to budge. The demonstrations are reminiscent of the Occupy movement in the United States and elsewhere in recent years. There’s an #OccupyCentral hashtag on Twitter.

Some protesters have also held up their hands in a “don’t shoot” gesture. That has led some U.S. journalists to compare the Hong Kong movement to the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. Some have drawn a direct connection, as seen here:

handsup

I wonder whether such a link exists. Are people in Hong Kong aware of what has happened in Missouri? Are they using the “hands up” gesture in solidarity with protesters in the United States? Or is it coincidence?

Via email, I contacted three people I know who live in Hong Kong. Here are their impressions on this topic:

  • “Was wondering myself. Seems like a natural defense gesture to me. That story [Ferguson] isn’t as big in HK as in the US. Race relations and sensitivity are rarely debated, so that story wasn’t as prominent in local media.” — Eldes Tran, copy editor at the International New York Times
  • “That’s the word on the street, but I can’t say for sure. It would be a good story if so, but hard to prove the origin. There was also talk of police threatening to use rubber bullets Sunday, so it’s possible it was a coordinated show of peacefulness.” — Emily Matchar, author and freelance writer
  • “I don’t think there was any conscious move to link events here with Ferguson. Certainly no one I’ve spoken with here believes the issues at stake are in any way similar, except for the fact that police overreacted to demonstrators. It’s also worth noting here that the police force here is overwhelmingly Chinese and still viewed with some respect. While they overreacted, they’re not like the cops in Ferguson.” — Jeffrey Timmermans, lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong

I know that these are the views of a few. It’s possible that there is a Ferguson connection, but at best, it’s unclear. We simply don’t know, and it’s OK to report that uncertainty. But drawing concrete conclusions in news stories and tweets is irresponsible.

In the end, a firm connection between Ferguson and Hong Kong (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter that much. Each story is important in its own way, with its unique issues. I hope that journalists will continue to cover them both closely — and accurately.

Edit like a pirate

College football is in full swing, and with it, so are the rivalries and trash talk.

Here in North Carolina, East Carolina is emerging as the best team in the state. ECU smashed rival North Carolina 70-41 last weekend. It was the second consecutive win for the Pirates over the Tar Heels.

That resounding victory has apparently inspired this billboard, which is making the rounds on Twitter:

ecu-billboard

The sign includes the score of that game as well as a mocking reference to N.C. State University’s retired “Our State” slogan. ECU and NCSU are also rivals.

Some UNC fans have responded by questioning the billboard’s grammar. Shouldn’t the hashtag be “#beneathwhom” rather than “#beneathwho”? Technically, yes. But I reserve my who/whom distinctions for formal writing like cover letters and academic journals. I’ll give this casual usage a pass, though the hashtag’s meaning is a mystery to me.

My problem with the billboard is a different one. Happy pirates say “arrrr!” not “aargh!” And ECU fans are certainly pleased, not dismayed, with how their team is playing this season. (You can read more about pirate vocabulary at the Talk Like A Pirate Day site.)

Finally, we come to the question of whether ECU fans are trolling their rivals, as some on Twitter are suggesting. That depends on the billboard’s location. If it’s west of I-95, it is. If it’s east of I-95, it isn’t. Proximity to campuses and their fan bases is our guide.

The sign is apparently in Winterville, a town that’s east of I-95 and less than 10 miles from the ECU campus in Greenville. So this is an example of fans celebrating, not trolling.

I wish ECU fans well on the rest of the season. May you say “arrrr!” throughout the fall. But like Jerry Seinfeld, I don’t want to be a pirate.

Celebration days

This week brings us two days worth celebrating. Here they are:

  • First Amendment Day is Tuesday, Sept. 23, at UNC-Chapel Hill. Events will include a reading of banned books, a discussion of access to public records and a trivia contest. If you can’t be there, you can follow the fun on Twitter via the hashtag #UNCfree.
  • National Punctuation Day is Wednesday, Sept. 24, throughout the United States. I’ll mark the moment with periods, commas and (yes) semicolons.

I hope that you will join me in celebrating our freedoms and our language.

Q&A with Ben Swanson, associate editor at DenverBroncos.com

Ben Swanson is associate editor at DenverBroncos.com, the official site of that NFL team. A 2013 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, he previously covered the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team. In this interview, conducted by email, Swanson talks about his work with the Broncos, how he got into sports journalism and how the two teams will fare in their respective seasons.

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

A. Right now the typical work week has a bit of a rhythm to it. Game days are the baseline, our center of the week. Stories lead up to them, and after they finish, we recap and break down the action and look forward to what’s next.

We have recurring features to keep our readers coming back from week to week, including film analysis, a rundown of how our divisional opponents fared that week, a podcast and plenty more. It’s a hectic schedule this time of year, as you might imagine.

Taking care of all the bases and media availability can stretch you thin some days, like Wednesday when Wes Welker made his return to practice and spoke at the podium while Seahawks PR had Richard Sherman available via conference call in the media workroom. Naturally, it also requires extremely good communication between departments since we’re also responsible not only for just stories, but also updating website information for other departments.

As creators of our written content, we also have the responsibility for what goes in our Gameday Magazine publication, which is handed out to fans at the stadium at home games. Our terrific graphics, marketing, community relations and public relations departments come together to contribute what goes in (statistics, coaches bios, community stories, magazine layout and design) and our digital media department adds in editorial content: the cover story and Q&As with a player and a coach. We also proofread and edit the magazine before it goes to print.

This all goes on during the season, by the way. Mismanaging your time can really put you in a tough spot, but sometimes you can do everything perfectly and still find yourself in a crunch to put things together.

All that said, a lot of things don’t necessarily work out in that rhythm. We spend bus rides from the stadium after an away game to a waiting red-eye flight transcribing post-game interviews and sharing them amongst ourselves via email, flash drive or Dropbox, and then we write our stories on the flight.

Also, we too can get caught off-guard by breaking news. You’ve got to be ready for anything sometimes.

It’s a very trying work schedule, but an extremely fun and rewarding one.

Q. You established yourself in sports journalism with a blog about the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) of the NBA. How did that experience help you get your job with the Broncos?

A. Covering the Bobcats, though small-time, allowed me to cut my teeth and find my voice and stand out in a smaller market. I started covering the team while I was a sophomore at UNC, which meant I was learning about covering the team, writing in a consistent style and carving a groove as a unique writer covering the Bobcats, who had an extremely small media spotlight already.

Before I was the managing editor of the SB Nation blog, I had written for the Bobcats’ team blog after being named one of their winners in a contest, and months later after I had landed the SBN editor spot, I was the Bobcats’ digital media intern, which gave me plenty of experience and insight into the workings of the franchise from the team side.

The other major component is that running the blog gave me important experience in a number of ways. I began hiring writers to contribute to the site a few years ago, which got me more comfortable with addressing writers’ stylistic or grammatical issues head on. Communication is so key when talking through concerns about writing or in regards to things that cross departments.

In regards to time management, managing the blog was a crash course. I mentioned earlier that I started running the site when I was a sophomore, and it wasn’t an easy transition because I was by myself at that point. When you cover NBA basketball from the East Coast and the team makes a West Coast road trip where they spend a couple of nights with 10:30 p.m. tipoff times, sleep becomes what you sacrifice. I would spend mornings in class and nights watching basketball, leaving myself to unintentionally fall asleep during classes.

As time went by, I realized I needed more help and reached out to a couple of fellow young writers. In the couple of years since, I learned to set a schedule on a weekly basis, assigning stories, game previews and recaps to our writers. Still, even with better preparation, I had to take some things on the fly, writing breaking news stories during some classes or getting game previews our writers might have forgotten written and pushed out in the morning of my 9 a.m. media theory class.

With over three years of experience cultivating my writing and voice as one of the most prominent covering the Bobcats, I’d learned a solid all-around skill set. I knew social media; I could write straight news, a feature story or a column with knowledge of multiple perspectives; and I knew how to communicate up or down the ladder and how to manage my time.

Q. Sports franchises and leagues are no longer reliant on outside media for coverage. They can cover themselves. Do you see a difference between writing and editing for the Broncos official site vs. doing that at the Denver Post?

A. The distinction is harder to make these days, and we’re no exception.

We’re present at the same locker room availability sessions, press conferences and everything. We have a columnist in Andrew Mason who can write independent editorials and we have people who write straight features like profiles or normal stories.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not all rose-colored glasses, though we do focus on who plays well for the most part. The Post, of course, is on a different level as an independent outlet compared to us, but we’re not all that different.

Q. Which team will go further this season: the Broncos or the Hornets?

A. Honestly, I’d say the Broncos. I’m extremely excited to see how the Hornets’ offseason moves come to fruition, but the Broncos went to the Super Bowl last year and the Hornets (Bobcats) got bounced in a first-round sweep.

With Denver already proving they can get to the deepest parts of the postseason and the Hornets still relatively unproven, I’ve got to go with the Broncos. But I’d be absolutely ticked pink if the Hornets somehow got to the Finals. I’d be there with bells on.

No time for trolls

troll

A troll can be annoying in role-playing games and on social media.

Twitter can be great for exchanging ideas and sharing links. It’s my favorite news source, a sort of wire service that I can customize and interact with.

It has its downsides, too. A big one is the problem of trolls — people who seek to harass, badger and engage in straw-man arguments. They’ve been an issue online for a long time, including in comment areas on news websites.

I’ve fallen into trolling traps on Twitter a few times over the years. Lately, I’ve been working on ignoring and, in some cases, blocking trolls. Here’s how I decide whether to respond to someone on Twitter:

  • How many followers does the person have? Less than 100 means it may be a troll.
  • Does the account have a profile photo and a link to more about the person elsewhere online? An egg avatar and lack of a link mean it may be a troll.
  • What is the name on the account? Is there a first and last name, or name of an organization? If not, it may be a troll.
  • What are the account’s other tweets like? If they are mostly replies to other accounts that take a hostile tone, it may be a troll.

I like chatting with people on Twitter. I’m open to constructive criticism and civil discussion. But I have no time for trolls.

Student editors deserve to be paid

In recent weeks, I have received two requests from authors looking for journalism students to edit book manuscripts. Neither writer, however, offered to pay them.

One author proposed mentioning the student editor in the foreword and, if the book made a lot of money, perhaps sharing some of those royalties. I responded that I would only help recruit a student to work on the project if it included compensation when the editing was complete.

Editing is a skill. It requires time and effort. But how much is it worth?

The short answer, according to freelance editors I know: It depends. Is the writer looking for copy editing or proofreading? Is fact checking involved? Does the writer want feedback on issues of story structure and plot?

My freelance friends charge from $25 to $60 an hour, depending on the job. (You can see more on editorial rates in this chart on the Editorial Freelancers Association site.) For a student editor with less experience, I would suggest $15 to $20 an hour.

Authors, we respect and appreciate what you do. We’re glad that you are interested in having editors work on your manuscripts. But our hard work deserves payment. Thanks.

Q&A with Sarah Sessoms, community relations coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes

Sarah Sessoms is community relations coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team. She has also worked for IMG and the athletics department at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Sessoms talks about her job and careers in sports communication.

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

A. My job varies from day to day, and I have to wear a lot of different hats throughout the year. In a nutshell, I am an event planner, a writer, a planner, a PR person and a nonprofit worker in one.

A regular day consists of a lot of emails, phone calls and meetings with the Promotions and Hockey Operations team, as well as with fans and nonprofit groups. During the off-season (April to September), I am planning, researching putting the finishing touches on our in-season activities. For example, we have the Canes 5k on September 14th, and a charity golf tournament on the 22nd. I have been working to put together the plans and all of the final touches with my co-workers on these events.

In-season, I do a bit of everything. On a regular day, I will help fill donations for charitable organizations throughout North Carolina, send tickets to groups, or work on other projects. On game days, I work on filling the charity suites (donated by players such as Eric Staal), and finalize meet-and-greets with the players.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill with a reporting/editing focus. How have your news skills translated to your current job, and what new abilities have you had to pick up since then?

A. My skills from the j-school are consistently used every day. While I may not be the one producing the news, many of the things we do end up in the news, and it is very helpful to have a news background.

Writing and editing are crucial to my job here at the Canes. We are constantly writing items for the website, for press releases, Twitter and everywhere you can imagine.

The reporting sequence taught me how to write effectively — and it is something that definitely carries over. All of the material that we generate needs to be well-written, succinct and edited before it can be pushed out to the fans and the community.

I had a very strong base coming into this job, but had to pick up a few skills. For one, being the person interviewed, instead of the interviewee, was a new challenge for me. Luckily, our in-game host also comes from a journalism and news background and was able to coach me on how to be a good interview.

Other skills I’ve learned vary from new social media skills to being able to read autographs. It sounds funny, but being able to identify autographs with one look is really helpful here.

A final skill learned is working closely with the players and staff. Taking a player and explaining to them what is going on — whether at a community event or through a meet-and-greet with a kid from Duke Hospitals — is crucial. Prepping them for what’s coming makes it easier for them to relate to the fans. Prepping them well for everything is a skill, and something I was not quite good at until recently.

Q. Many students in journalism programs are looking for careers in sports communication. What advice do you have for them?

A. Working in sports is a blast all the time, but it’s not easy. If you want a career in sports communication, be prepared for long hours and bizarre things.

No two days here are the same, and I’ll wager it’s the same at any sports job.  Be willing to jump in and volunteer for everything and realize that no job in sports is a bad one.

If you want a job as a public relations person with a team but there’s only an opening in a different department, apply for it. Work in the other job and talk to the people who have the job you want. Getting a foot in the door and working toward your goal is a great way to land the job you want.

Q. Hockey season is about a month away. Any predictions on how the Canes will do this year?

A. The Hurricanes organization went through a lot of changes this summer. We have a new general manager, Ron Francis, and a new head coach, Bill Peters.

Our changes to the team are going to translate and show up well with the play on the ice this year, with a fast, high-energy team. It should be a very exciting year with a great new home atmosphere (we’ve changed a few things about the in-game experience) and with the new coach.

I’m thinking that we have a really great chance at a playoff run with this new era of Hurricanes hockey!

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