This blog will be on a holiday hiatus this month.
In the media’s tradition of year-end lists, I offer the most popular posts of 2012, as clicked on and read by you. Thanks for reading, and see you in 2013.
This blog will be on a holiday hiatus this month.
In the media’s tradition of year-end lists, I offer the most popular posts of 2012, as clicked on and read by you. Thanks for reading, and see you in 2013.
Ness Clarke Shortley is the editor of the News of Orange County, a weekly newspaper in Hillsborough, N.C. She previously worked as a copy editor and reporter at The Free Press in Kinston, N.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Shortley discusses her job duties and the outlook for community journalism in the Triangle region of North Carolina.
Q. Describe your job. What do you do on a typical day?
A. Since News of Orange is a weekly, I don’t have a schedule that stays the same day to day. But each week remains more or less the same with Tuesday usually being the craziest day. My weeks go Wednesday to Tuesday since the paper comes out Wednesday.
We have a fairly tiny editorial staff — it’s mainly just me and a staff writer — so I wear multiple hats. I write, edit, take pictures, lay out and proof pages: If it’s done at a newspaper and it’s not advertising related, I do it.
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are interview, transcription and writing days. I tend to slog through the insane number of emails I get mostly on those days, too.
Wednesday is great for planning the next week’s paper. The general manager and I meet with my reporter weekly for a budget meeting, and there we’ll talk about what we’ve got going for the week editorially, what advertising — and, therefore, our page count — looks like, and any upcoming special sections that require editorial input either with content or layout.
Over the weekend at home, I edit any photos (in CMYK, greyscale and for the web) or video I took that week and finish writing anything I didn’t get done on Friday. I usually rough edit whatever community submissions I got the week before over the weekend as well.
On Monday, I put together a TMC called the Northern Orange Xtra that gets delivered to residents of the northern part of the county. Our community calendar, one staff-written story and one staff-taken piece of art go into that.
Every other week, I attend the meetings of the Orange County Board of Education, since my beat includes the county school system. I usually put together the community calendar — we call it Word on the Street — and make final edits on community submissions, editorial page content and my reporter’s stories. I tend to write my column on Monday since that type of writing is so different from what I normally do. If I had a board meeting, I transcribe any quotes I didn’t get down accurately and create a rough outline for the story I’ll write the next day.
Tuesday’s production day; I get in early and tend to stay late. I’ll do final edits on any of my reporter’s stories that hadn’t already been edited. I lay out the front and any jumps and the church/social, sports, schools and town/county pages. Erin, my reporter, handles the opinion pages and crime reports.
After laying out pages, we proof them, make corrections, doublecheck to see we didn’t introduce new errors into copy while making corrections and then send them to the press up in Virginia. Before we leave, we set some up some of the Web content for the next day, and I upload the eEdition. We also put out a monthly tab in Durham, so on the third Wednesday of the month, we put that together.
Q. How does headline writing and copy editing work at your paper?
A. Erin and I write our own suggested headlines when we write our stories. Of course, once we get into laying out the pages, the suggested head may not work. It could be too long or too short for the space; it might break in an awkward place, or we might honestly just think of something better. We try not to get too cute with our headlines, and I just don’t like puns, so we try to avoid those, as well.
Copy editing is a multi-stage process here. Since Erin and I write everything and edit everything, we want to make sure we read it multiple times to give ourselves a better chance of catching errors. I tend to read content silently and then out loud for style, content and flow. Then, I read it backward sentence by sentence word by word to try to catch typos and grammatical errors.
After the pages have been put together, we proof hard copies of them. I also have our office manager and general manager look over them just to get extra eyeballs on the pages. Then, Erin and I make corrections.
We print out proofs again and go over our edits again to make sure we didn’t miss anything and to ensure we didn’t introduce new errors. We also doublecheck headlines, cutlines, dates, page names and numbers, and jumps.
Q. You are active on Twitter, and your newspaper has a Facebook page. What are your goals on social media?
A. I think social media is a great place to reach out to the community in a way that’s more informal than what’s allowed in the paper. When I became the editor, I made a concerted effort to be more accessible to people, and it’s a philosophy Erin has embraced as well.
Through News of Orange’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, we can engage with readers and post content that wouldn’t make it into the paper. If we’re at, say, the fifth-grade musical production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” at Pathways Elementary School, we can tweet a picture or short video to let people know. It gives the community the chance to see what we’re doing, see that we’re out there taking pictures of their kids or covering meetings or just doing our jobs.
When I worked at a daily, there was a conscious push for reporters to remain apart from the people we covered. That ivory tower approach to journalism doesn’t work at a community paper. When people talk to me about the News of Orange, they tell me what they like and dislike about their paper. They feel ownership, and they care about what makes it into its pages.
I made a decision awhile back to allow community members to friend me on Facebook and to unlock my Twitter feed for the same reason. It’s made me feel like a member of the community I cover instead of an outsider.
I’ve had people tell me they have found me more approachable as a result of some of the things I’ve posted. Sure, it means I have to be careful what I put out there. I don’t post anything political or controversial, and I watch what people post on my wall, but I think it’s a fair trade. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some fantastic people through social media and engage with a more tech-savvy segment of our readership.
There are, of course, pitfalls for newspapers and reporters using social media, but I don’t think not being out there is an option anymore. People expect us to be there, so we muddle through as best we can.
Q. These are tough times for newspapers. In our area, the Carrboro Citizen recently ceased publication, and layoffs have hit newspapers in Durham and Raleigh in recent years. What is the outlook for community newspapers like yours?
A. When I first started at News of Orange back in 2008, the media landscape here was fairly diverse. At school board meetings, there were reporters from the Durham and Raleigh dailies, local radio and TV stations, and even student journalists from The Daily Tar Heel. Now, it’s just me. It’s the same at Hillsborough Town Council meetings. That’s a trend that’s played out in all coverage areas.
I think that’s a strength of community newspapers in general and News of Orange in particular; you can’t find most of what’s in our pages anywhere else. As other newspapers have pulled back, we’ve tried to increase our coverage — though that can be tough to balance with financial considerations; most people don’t seem to understand that the number of pages we get each week is dictated by advertising, not by content.
Even so, we put out our first-ever mass mailing in April, which weighed in at 32 pages (a normal paper for us averages 14 pages); we’ve increased the number of editorially supported special sections on everything from high school sports previews to health and wellness; we took our sports coverage from essentially nothing to having a healthy section every week.
The expanded sports coverage isn’t just the big name sports —football, basketball, wrestling, baseball — but everything. It allows us to get the names and faces of lots of kids in paper each week, and people have really responded to it.
Community newspapers have a place in this changing media landscape; News of Orange certainly does as well. The people who read community papers deserve the same quality product that metro readers get. The editorial department at NOC — such that it is — tries to deliver that every week.
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.
Charles Duncan Pardo is editor of the Raleigh Public Record, a nonprofit news organization that covers the capital of North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Pardo talks about his job, the Raleigh Public Record’s role in the Triangle and the outlook for nonprofit news.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. I’m not sure if I have a typical day. I have two main jobs. In my “day job” for the Courthouse News Service I go to the Wake County Courthouse every day and Durham once a week to cover civil courts and track new filings.
I’m also responsible for supervising about 20 reporters spread out across the Southeast. I’m very lucky to have the Southeast Bureau Chief position with CNS because it gives me the flexibility to run Raleigh Public Record.
For the Record, my days typically involve assigning stories, talking with freelance reporters about ongoing stories and editing copy as it comes in. But I also spend a lot of time writing grants, maintaining the website, keeping up with everything that’s going on in Raleigh and generally taking care of all the tasks involved in running a small news operation. I even get to report a story every once in a while.
I typically spend half a day in the office and the other half downtown. I can’t work in one place for more than a couple of hours before my productivity drops.
But I also feel that as the editor I shouldn’t be stuck in the office all day. I should go work out of coffee shops and go to city hall and be able to talk to people, bug sources and check in on what’s going on around the city.
Q. The News & Observer and WRAL are the big players in the Triangle media. How does the Raleigh Public Record fit into that mix?
A. Our goal has never been to compete with the daily news organizations. Our goal is to complement. We don’t cover car crashes and drug busts. We seek out the stories that don’t get covered by the big organizations.
We have two focus areas. Raleigh city government has not had consistent coverage beyond city council meetings for quite some time. We almost always have the only reporter in the room for meetings like planning commission or the budget and economic development committee. These are important meetings where elected and government officials debate and make major decisions about Raleigh. We cover that lower-level news that has real everyday impact on the lives of people living here.
We also like to step back and be able to see the broader picture. Take the Wake County school board for example. The traditional news organizations do a good job of covering the day to day. But reporters covering that major story on a daily deadline can have trouble sometimes seeing the forest for the trees. Our job there is to get at the big picture. This is where we analyze the data, dig deep to give the analysis or investigate to get at the heart (and the facts) of a politicized debate.
Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at the website?
A. I or our assistant editor are very involved in stories from assignment through posting. For meeting coverage and short-term news stories, we talk to reporters when we make the assignments and then stories are submitted to me.
Depending on the reporter, the timeline and the deadline, sometimes we edit in person, and sometimes I will edit on my own. Then stories go to our assistant editor for copy editing, design and posting.
For longer stories I am very involved at each step in working with our reporters and making sure they are on the right track and asking all the right questions. Deadlines vary. For meetings and the like, we expect stories to be turned around same day, and they are typically posted that night or early the next morning.
For more involved reporting, we have deadlines that range from 24 hours to three weeks. I would much rather get something right and be thorough and thoughtful than get something online before it’s ready.
We have the luxury of not having to fill pages or time slots every day. We are also very cautious to make sure two pairs of eyes go through every story before we publish.
For headlines, we ask reporters to suggest headlines when submitting articles. I normally make changes to the headline or write a new one. If I’m stuck, I will send a short list of suggestions to our assistant editor, and she will help craft the right headline.
We have some constraints on headline writing just because of the layout of our site. In the top left column, for example, we can’t run a photo and a long word in the headline or the design comes out looking odd. So we try to keep them short and punchy, and we’re not afraid to have a little humor.
I will say that I despise puns in headlines. Sometimes I will let one get up, but I tend to groan when I see a pun in a headline.
Q. You’re part of a non-profit news organization. What do you see as the role of non-profits like yours as part of the future of journalism?
A. I think non-profit journalism is here to stay. What’s the role? We’re still working on figuring that out, at least here in Raleigh. But what we’re banking on is that the role of non-profit journalism organizations is to do the hard, sometimes tedious work that traditional news organizations either don’t have the staff for or can’t make any money from.
Covering the planning commission and doing local investigative journalism are two concrete examples. Our role is to be the local government watchdog, and we take that very seriously.
The next step will be to turn our track record of solid public service journalism for Raleigh into getting public support so we can continue paying for it well into the future.
Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Kevin Minogue is a senior journalism and political science major from Reston, Va. He is a staff writer for The Daily Tar Heel, as well as a former intern at The Fayetteville Observer.
Earlier this year, the success of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin brewed up a perfect storm for epic headline writers across the country. For those tasked with writing a paper’s front-page headline – better known in big cities as those snarky puns that persuade pedestrians to pony up two bucks for a copy of the day’s issue on their walk to work – Lin was the ideal subject of a clever play on words.
After all, how often does a Harvard-educated, couch-surfing, Asian point guard lead the New York Knicks to their most successful spell in recent memory? And how often does that hero’s name contain elements of a common preposition, prefix and suffix?
Not often, most New York headline writers concluded. The headlines during Lin’s roughly month-long reign ranged from the witty and original to the corny, the forced, the poorly contrived, the questionable and the … woops. After that last headline cost the ESPN employee who wrote it his job, the headline hubbub settled briefly.
But on Easter weekend, when a country bumpkin named Bubba used a pink driver to throttle golf balls more than 350 yards on his way to winning the world’s most storied golf tournament, the scribes of over-the-top headlines feasted once more. Most of the former Lin-obsessed headline writers in New York focused on Sunday’s big Knicks win, but plenty of smaller papers and online editions posted Masters headlines with ill-fitting wordplay.
I suppose this British paper felt obliged to use the obvious Sherlock Holmes reference, but it doesn’t work when nothing about Watson’s one-stroke, playoff victory was elementary. In fact, if not for a hooking moonshot from the trees that defied the laws of basic physics, Watson would have gone home wearing only his buttoned-up polo.
Many other papers, including this Texas publication and this Utah paper, made obvious references to Watson’s bubblegum-colored attire. While I get the attempt at wordplay, the story is about his victory, not solely his clothes. It’s also poor form to poke fun at the man’s outfit when he wore it as a way to raise money for charity.
These headline hiccups didn’t flop quite as badly as the Lin headlines, but they would be better served sticking to the main premise of the story. Headline writers can still use clever wordplay, and I, for one, hope that they do. But here are a few of my rules for ensuring that your witticisms are appropriate:
1. Make sure the headline is not offensive to any particular group. Wordplay is funny, but not if it makes fun of you. Your readership is generally composed of a mix of ethnicities, religions and sexes, so try to avoid wordplay that hinges any of these items. Otherwise, you may offend and alienate a significant portion of your readership.
2. Be original. The point of wordplay is to be creative, and clichés are short on imagination. You won’t get your desired result from a “clever” headline if five other papers wrote the same thing that day.
3. Make it subject-appropriate. There’s no sense in thinking up clever headline wordplay if it has nothing to do with a story. The reader might initially be drawn to your front page, but he or she will quickly lose both interest and respect in your publication upon finding that the title is merely for show. The purpose of a headline is to give readers a sense of what they are about to read. Don’t lose sight of this.
4. Don’t force wordplay. If it’s not there, it’s not there. The headline should instantly jump out at you as you’re writing. If not, don’t try to convince yourself that it works and end up with a headline that isn’t apt. As is the case with a bad comedian, once you have lost your audience, you’ve lost them for good.
Those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. Feel free to post your own or offer examples of other bad headline wordplay in the comments below.
I believe this is an altered image and that the headline in question never appeared in the Raleigh newspaper. Here’s why:
The upshot? Don’t believe everything you see in such lists. Besides, with plenty of real headlines to choose from, there’s no need to use fake ones to get a chuckle.
So where did the fake N&O page come from? A Facebook friend points to the Brunching Shuttlecocks, a defunct comedy website, as the source of this image. If you happen to know more, please add a comment on this post.
UPDATE: This PDF of the front page of the N&O from Sept. 7, 2001, appears to be the one that was altered. Note the differences in the actual centerpiece.
In December 2012, Lore Sjoberg contacted me via Twitter, saying that he had written this headline. Sjoberg, a humor writer for Wired magazine, then agreed to answer a few questions via email about the altered N&O page:
Q. Where was the mock headline originally published, and in what context?
A. The image was originally created by me and published on The Brunching Shuttlecocks, the humor site I edited and co-created, in 2001. It was part of a series I called “Untitled,” which were just random image jokes: http://brunching.com/untitled-datearchive.html
Q. How did you pick the Raleigh paper to use for this joke?
A. I was living in Durham at the time, and the paper was around the house. Sorry, The News & Observer!
Q. Has it surprised you that the headline has been passed around as real and for as long as it has?
A. Yes and no. I’m not surprised it’s been passed around, but I am surprised it became as popular, so to speak, as it did. I didn’t realize it until today when I clicked on a link to the Freakonomics site that I realized it had any currency. I do have to say I’m a little starstruck that George Takei posted it, even if he did so under a false understanding.
Thanks to the Park Library for assistance with this post.
The upcoming Michigan primary has put Mitt Romney in an awkward position. Conventional wisdom says that the GOP candidate for president should do well in his home state, but he trails Rick Santorum in the polls there.
Part of the reason for Romney’s struggles in Michigan could be traced to this column that he wrote for The New York Times in November 2008. The topic was the auto industry’s struggles. In the op-ed piece, Romney argued against a federal bailout for Chrysler, GM and Ford, proposing a “managed bankruptcy” instead.
The headline on the column read: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The accompanying illustration showed a recycling bin containing the logos of the automakers. Romney, of course, didn’t write the headline or create the artwork. Journalists at the Times did.
The column’s headline evokes another memorable one from the tabloid press of the 1970s: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Each headline implies a lack of sympathy, if not outright callousness.
In addition, “Detroit” is journalistic and political shorthand for the U.S. auto industry, but the casual reader could interpret the New York Times headline to mean that Romney is referring to the entire city.
So now, more than three years later and with the auto industry on the rebound, Romney is being questioned about his opposition to the bailout. And it’s the headline, not the column’s content, that shapes the discussion.
Romney probably wishes that the copy editor who wrote that headline had chosen different words. Indeed, earlier this week, Romney told the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press that he would have recast the headline this way: “How To Save Detroit.”
It’s interesting to see a presidential candidate talk about headline writing and even suggest rewrites. If Romney’s run for the White House doesn’t work out, perhaps he could seek work as a slot editor at a newspaper.
Today is the 58th birthday of Matt Groening, who is probably best known as the creator of “The Simpsons.” Indeed, Groening was recently honored for his TV work with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Although I enjoy “The Simpsons,” I often think first of Groening’s work as a newspaper cartoonist when his name is in the news. His “Life In Hell” comic strip in the 1980s was edgy and snarky at a time when those things were far less common in the media.
As noted in this 1987 profile, Groening began his career as journalist, working as a music critic and editor at the Reader, an alternative weekly in Los Angeles. It was then that he began the “Life In Hell” strip, which on occasion took on journalistic topics and even found humor in the passive voice.
Those comments on the media have continued in Groening’s influence on “The Simpsons.” From the fatuous anchor Kent Brockman to the absurd headlines of the Springfield Shopper, the show has served as a check on journalistic conventions and excesses.
So happy birthday, Matt Groening. Thanks for the laughs. Let’s hope that they continue for years to come — and even afterward.
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.
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.