The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: journalism education

Q&A with Rylan Miller of Business Insider

Rylan Miller is Contributors Editor at Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job and how the site uses headlines and social media to attract readers.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like at Business Insider?

A. I manage all of BI’s syndication partnerships and guest writers, which is an editorial job with some elements of business development mixed in.

My team has three main responsibilities:

  • We help choose the stories we will publish from our 370-ish partner publications, wire services, and blogs;
  • We package these stories so that they fit perfectly with Business Insider’s style;
  • And we act as the gatekeepers — I like to envision Gandalf shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when I say this — of every article that is republished on the site.

We ensure that editorial is following all of the partnership rules and industry courtesies when syndicating.

This job has a lot of moving parts, but for me, that’s part of what keeps it interesting. Some days I spend a lot of time talking to our point people at companies like Slate, Condé Nast, Wenner Media, and more. Sometimes I focus on teaching our editorial team what syndication is and how to do it the right way.

Other days I like to dive into setting up posts, which means formatting them so that they look great on BI, writing catchy headlines, and picking photos that really pop on the main page. Sometimes I tinker with formatting in our CMS, and I frequently study our analytics.

I have learned more about the world of online publishing from this one job than I ever thought possible. It’s really a fascinating mix of journalism, psychology, business, and management, and perfect for a generalist like me. It’s fun to know what’s happening in just about every section of the site, and — important job perk — people want you on their team for bar trivia.

Q. Headline writing for digital media is seeing a shift from SEO to “shareability,” as demonstrated by sites like Upworthy. What is Business Insider’s approach to headline writing?

A. One of our editor’s mantras is that headlines should “get clicks without being annoying.” It’s very easy to tease someone into reading a story online—I’m sure we’ve all fallen for the “7 Things That Will Completely Change Your Life” headline at some point.

But when you actually read the article and see that the headline is hyperbole, skewed, or a flat-out lie, you start to resent that publication. I think BI does a great job of getting people interested while also delivering a great story.

As a site that does breaking news, features, photo-centric slideshows, videos, syndication, and now longform, there really isn’t a magic formula for how we write headlines. Above all, we consider the reader and what he or she should know immediately before we think about SEO and “shareability.”

If a headline isn’t working for us, we can change it. The priority is still focusing on writing (or in my case, choosing) excellent stories that are worth sharing in the first place, and then pulling out the most interesting nugget or angle for the headline.

Q. Business Insider is active on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. What is the organization’s social media strategy?

A. Every single person on editorial puts in effort when it comes to our social media policies and strategies. Each section is responsible for maintaining and expanding their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and relationship with LinkedIn if it’s relevant. They also have to make sure their best work gets pushed out to BI’s main Twitter and Facebook accounts. We have a small bit of oversight at the top of this chain, but for the most part we rely on common sense and good news judgment when deciding what gets shared.

We’re constantly assessing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our social media strategies, and I think that’s served us well so far. Everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012. What’s the most important thing you learned there, and what have you had to learn on the job after college?

A. As someone who’s not in a traditional journalism job at a 100 percent digital news outlet, I’m surprised every day by how much of what I learned at j-school is still relevant to what I’m doing now. I’ve realized how important it is to have that solid foundation in place before learning new skills on the job.

Copy-editing classes taught me how to be nitpicky (in a good way) while reading through articles. My business journalism classes taught me basically everything I know about the industry I’m in now. Media law gave me a good understanding of where we can get photos, who holds copyright on freelance stories, and how to not get my employer sued for dumb mistakes.

I also cannot overstate how much I’ve learned on the job. I’d say most of what I’ve learned is in the technical and strategic aspects of how a news website functions. I’ve learned how publishers can work with each other to expand and improve, and I’m continually discovering what people feel compelled to read. Despite what you’re hearing, people aren’t solely interested in “reading” GIFs. And finally, I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Serial Comma And All-Caps Headline.

Follow Rylan Miller on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn. If you want to become a contributing writer for Business Insider, check out the Contributors FAQ or email contributors@businessinsider.com for more information.

What’s on the final exam in an editing course

It’s exam time at UNC-Chapel Hill and universities throughout the United States. So what’s on a final exam in an editing course? Here’s what I am asking my students to do:

  • Using InDesign and InCopy, edit a news story for everything we’ve talked about in class this semester: style, punctuation, grammar, structure, completeness, use of direct quotes, word choice, fairness, fact checking and legal and ethical concerns.
  • Write a caption for a photograph that not only describes the image but also connects it to the story.
  • Write a headline for the story for print media; this layout calls for a two-line, three-column, 36-point headline.
  • Write a headline for the story for digital media of no more than 65 characters.
  • Write a Tweet for the story of no more than 130 characters. (Leave some space for the link.)
  • Proofread a chart or map that goes with the story.

You may use any resource you would have in a newsroom: the AP stylebook, your notes, the Internet. I will play the part of the reporter, photographer and graphics artist, so if you have questions, ask me.

Good luck!

Q&A with Deborah Strange, Dow Jones News Fund intern

Deborah Strange is a student in the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In summer 2013, she had a Dow Jones News Fund internship at the Regional Editing Center of The New York Times in Gainesville, Fla. She has also been an intern at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Strange talks about her New York Times internship and what she hopes to do next.

Q. Describe your internship experience. What was your typical workday like?

A. I worked on the news service side of the Editing Center, so I read stories formatted for The New York Times print and Web editions, and edited them for our newspaper and magazine clients. This involved editing headers so clients would know how to budget our stories and editing copy for AP style, since the stories came over in New York Times style.

My day would start at 3 p.m. with editing the more feature-style stories, which would usually be ready while other news stories were developing. We would have a small mix of hard news stories early in the day, particularly foreign stories because of the time difference. I would also proofread the Times Digest early in the day, and that did usually take New York Times style.

We would receive the stories that were running on The Times’ front page by around 7:30 or 8, and it was then a race to get those stories on the wire by 9 p.m. Glances, or 100-word briefs of national, foreign and business stories, had a 9:30 deadline.

Throughout the workday I would trim longer stories to 300- to 400-word versions and check stories for new material or corrections. Sometimes updating a story would be an easy “adds new graf here,” and sometimes so much had changed that it was essentially a new story.

Things would slow down by 11:30, and I would do one last check for updates before leaving at midnight.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. Working at a news service is different from working at a newspaper or in a classroom. There are so many steps in the editing process to make sure everything makes sense to clients.

Our story headers would have slugs, headlines, bylines, attention lines, contributor notes, art notes, trim notes, update notes, embargo notes. When editing the copy itself, taking out courtesy titles and periods in abbreviations became second nature. There are more obscure differences between Times style and AP, though, like the spelling of Russian and Arabic names.

It’s a lot to keep track of when preparing a story for the wire, and it definitely felt overwhelming at first.

It was very, very surreal to work for The New York Times Co. The internship was filled with opportunities; I learned from some of the best editors in the industry every day, and I got the chance to write a column for the International Weekly publication.

But there was nothing like finding and fixing a fact error before it went on the wire. It was even more rewarding to find a fact error before The Times’ print deadline, saving a correction both on the wire and in the print edition.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. Do apply for an internship, even if you might not want to go into copy editing. No matter your background — reporting, design, multimedia — there are skills you can bring to editing, and there are skills you can gain from it.

If you do apply, be confident and know your strengths. I had only reporting experience when I was applying, not including half a semester of a news editing course at UNC. But reporting and editing go hand in hand, and that’s what I wrote about in my essay.

Know your weaknesses and study them — and do study for the editing test. I’ve always felt solid in grammar and word usage, but I was more horrible at geography than I’d like to admit. I spent the weeks before the test studying maps and, not just events from the summer, but where those events had happened on a map.

And finally, know that there are real people grading your test and reading your essays. There are no Scantrons, and the organization isn’t looking for black-and-white applications.

Write down thoughtful questions when you’re editing stories during the test. If you know the answer to one part of a two-part question, write it down, and answer the other part to the best of your ability.

Show what you know. The graders don’t expect you to know everything.

Q. You are planning to graduate in December. What’s next for you?

A. I love both editing and reporting, so I’m looking for those jobs at daily newspapers now. This semester, I’m freelance reporting for The Chapel Hill News and tutoring elementary school students in writing, so I have fun ways to do both.

I’m also trying to develop as many new skills as possible, like HTML coding and economics reporting, as well as making more connections in the industry.

UPDATE: Deborah has accepted a full-time job with the editing center in Gainesville. Congratulations!

Take a look at Strange’s portfolio and follow her on Twitter.

Q&A with Lauren Brownlow of ACCSports.com and FOX Sports Carolinas

Lauren Brownlow is a freelance sportswriter with a focus on the Atlantic Coast Conference. She has also written for N.C. newspapers such as the Herald-Sun in Durham and the Sanford Herald. In this interview, conducted by email, Brownlow discusses her job, offers career advice and talks about her love of GIFs.

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

A. I’m a freelance contributor to FOX Sports Carolinas, and my contract stipulates that I do at least five articles a week for them. And with all the sports going on right now, I usually do more than that. And then I also work for GoHeels.com’s digital magazine as a freelancer (I do weekly stories for them), and my weekly previews for ACCSports.com. So it’s a balancing act.

But my main responsibilities are covering football and men’s basketball for the Triangle-area teams (and a little bit of general ACC thrown in) for FOX. So each week, I try to find a topic or angle I can take with each area team’s upcoming game and do one piece for each.

I can also come up with a more “fun” piece that doesn’t involve interviews or heavy analysis. For example, I did a piece on the various odd fashion choices from NBA stars back in June. And I did a piece on football “coachspeak” in August.

During football season, Monday and Tuesday mornings are usually filled with press conferences, and so I try not to schedule myself for any stories due on those days. UNC’s presser is Monday at 11:45 and N.C. State’s is at 1:00, so I usually have to choose one or the other. Duke’s is Tuesday at 11:30.

So basically, I spend most of the day (and night) on Wednesday and Thursday writing. Especially Thursday night, when I’m finishing my ACCSports.com previews (which go up as early as possible on Friday).

On Friday, I usually have a little more time off, and so I try to catch up on sleep, take care of things around the house, etc. Sometimes, I’ll write my GoHeels.com stories on Friday. Saturday, I cover at least one game and do a write-up afterwards — either a “Four Downs” recap where I talk about the four most important aspects of the game, or a straight-up column.

If a game is at noon, I’m usually not home and/or finished with my story until 8 or 9 or so. It’s a full day.

I get up early Sunday and do my weekly power rankings, and I also write up my budget for the next week with my five stories. If I have a GoHeels.com piece to finish, I’ll do that too.

And I watch the Carolina Panthers on Sundays and die a little inside with each gut-wrenching loss. After years of doing this, the Panthers are my last outlet for true fandom/homerism/etc., and thus it’s extra painful when they lose in the fourth quarter for the 1,000th time in the Ron Rivera era.

I also have Sunday Ticket, so I’ll flip back and forth to Red Zone. This isn’t work, per se, but I’ve somehow gained Twitter followers based almost solely on my nutso Panthers’ tweets, which are filled with rage and sadness.

Basketball season will change my schedule somewhat, and the overlap between football and basketball will be especially brutal. But right now, that’s my workweek.

Q. You are known for your “GIF-tastic” previews of the week’s ACC football games. How do you put those together?

A. Well, it actually takes awhile. I’m a procrastinator by nature, and I work best in the early-morning deadline hours (or so I tell myself), so I put off a good deal of it until then.

But I do a lot of it throughout the week, filling in a the teams/records/details first, then a narrative here or a prediction there if it crosses my mind, or even a player to watch or a key to the game. I have a very casual (and, I’d like to think, funny) approach to writing these, and so I don’t want to sit down and write a game preview when my mind is focused on finishing other articles or I’m not feeling particularly silly or goofy.

Jim Young (editor of ACCSports.com) sent me a template when I started working for them last year for the basketball previews. I’m using a scaled-down version of that for football, since there’s a lot more detail involved in each game.

It’s keys to the game for each team, a player to watch from each team, various random statistics from the game notes and then, everyone’s favorite, narratives. For instance, when UNC loses in basketball, it becomes an indictment on Roy Williams as a head coach. And thus, a narrative is born.

I can’t remember if it was Jim or I that came up with it, but I’ll give credit to Jim. I think we were trying to find another category for the previews and throwing around ideas, and he suggested it. I’m happy to credit my editor, either way. (Note to future journalists: Editors are your friend!)

Last year, the site wouldn’t load GIFs properly, so I would use images quite a bit for my “narrative” if a team won or lost. Image of a mushroom cloud of a dumpster on fire, for instance.

But this year, GIFs do load on the new site, and it’s really expanded what I can do. I can include a pratfall to signify the kind of fail it would be if Team X lost a game it was heavily favored in, or I can use a GIF of someone crying. Those tend to get the point across a bit better than a still image.

The GIFs are the most creative part of what I do, and so I enjoy that. What I’ve done is gone through one of the more organized GIF sites (giphy) and gone through various categories, bookmarking GIFs that I think I will use in the future. I already have one of a 2-year-old falling on his face trying to dunk on a toy basketball hoop that I’ll use for basketball season. But I prefer GIFs from great movies and television shows, if I can find them.

The GIFs I use in my previews are generally from those shows, and when “Breaking Bad” went off the air a few weeks ago, I did a narrative for each team, win or lose, with a “Breaking Bad” GIF for each. It was well over 20 GIFs.

I do feel, though, that if I hadn’t started writing those previews, I never would have been able to fully develop as a writer. When you spend so much time writing fact-based content, it’s hard to flex your stylistic muscles, so to speak. And that’s also why I always enjoyed (and agonized over) writing features whenever I’ve gotten the opportunity.

But the previews are fun because they really allow me to be myself and write in my own voice. Writing a good feature, though, is one of the hardest things you can do in sportswriting (or just writing in general). When it’s good, you know it’s good. And when you know you could have done better, it haunts you. There’s never that self-doubt with my previews. It’s just me.

Q. Twitter seems to have changed sports journalism in a big way. How has social media affected how you and other sportswriters do their work?

A. I rarely ever knew another way, or if I did, I don’t remember it all that well. I’ve been doing this since the fall of 2005, and obviously Twitter didn’t come out until … 2009, maybe? That’s when I signed on.

I think it initially changed things for me by giving me a peek into the way other writers did their jobs. At that time, I was working for Tar Heel Monthly full-time, and I didn’t have a ton of exposure to that part of it. National, local, whatever — I got a glimpse into their world and how hard they had to work to be good at their jobs. (Or not, in some cases.)

But to answer the question, Twitter gave me the chance to write in my voice, so to speak, before I started writing the previews. I was restricted to 140 characters, obviously, so it was tough — but it also helped me become more economical in my prose, I guess.

Last year, I was just a freelance writer for a small newspaper and wondering if I would ever work full-time again. The more active I was on Twitter, the more people in higher places started to pay attention to me, and I think that kind of networking paid off, too. Also, if you’re funny and/or you know what you’re talking about, people will find you. I’d like to think that I’m both of those things.

Other writers tend to use it differently than I do. At a news conference or a game, I’m not going to inundate my followers with a quote every minute or so, or even with updates on the score or how many points a person has. There are traditional beat writers they can follow for that kind of information, and I am conscious of the need to avoid flooding people’s timelines.

I want to have the kinds of tweets from games that stand out. I’d rather observe something interesting (well, interesting to me anyway), either about the game itself or even about the mascots or something. I don’t want to be a Twitter user that people scroll through during games because they don’t care about an update on the action — they’re generally watching the action themselves.

So I’ll tweet a quote or two if it seems particularly newsworthy, or I’ll tweet an observation from a game. For instance, I think one of my more retweeted tweets from the past few weeks was “UNC’s defense is basically like the big paper sign that high school teams run through before games.” (This was during the ECU game.) It’s informational, but still tongue-in-cheek, and it gives you something different.

If you’re watching the game, you KNOW the UNC defense is bad. You don’t need proof. I was trying to get across HOW bad in a concise and (I’d like to think) humorous way. That’s how I like to use Twitter.

Q. Each semester, I have several students in my classes who want to go into sports journalism. What advice do you have for them?

A. I was very fortunate coming out of school. I won’t lie and pretend hard work and years of internships and fantastic grades landed me in this situation, because it didn’t.

I had Mick Mixon as a professor at UNC twice, and he was the first person who really believed in me as a writer. He recommended me for an internship to Adam Lucas (for what was then Tar Heel Monthly and TarHeelBlue.com), and Adam trusted Mick enough to take his word for it. I worked for him for five years, straight out of college, in a full-time position with benefits.

But in this business — much like in sports — you have to be lucky and good. You just do. And sometimes, you can be really good, and no organization has a good use for you or the money to hire you.

Sportswriting is changing so much that a lot of Internet outlets are cutting back more and more, either firing full-time employees or just having those employees cover most events from home, posting blog/wire updates. Newspapers will give young talent a chance, but it’s competitive and the work is extremely difficult.

My point is that it’s a hard world out there, and even if you’re really good, you might not get hired right away. Just keep at it, and something will open up.

I have spent two years already since I left college as a freelance reporter, unsure of what to do next or when (or if) I would ever make real money again, so I know that feeling. I’m lucky enough that my husband supports my career and believed in me enough to let me work ridiculous hours for very little money until the opportunity that I have now came up, but that’s not always practical for some.

Here are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve received along the way, though. I don’t always obey them all, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth remembering:

Put the same time/effort into your work as you expect to get out of it. This is particularly true in freelance. This isn’t just about money, although that’s important. There’s no need for you to agonize over a high school football game story if you’re only making $30 or $40, for instance. But if that high school football game story will be on a high-traffic site like WRAL.com, then maybe you spend a few extra minutes on it.

Don’t forget that you can be paid in exposure, too, and that’s as valuable as a currency sometimes as money. If the right eyeballs are reading your stuff,  you can move to a higher-paying position eventually. That doesn’t mean you should turn down certain jobs because of how much they pay, though. Any experience you can get is very valuable. Exposure, experience and economics. The three E’s. (I just made that up.)

There have been plenty of times where I didn’t want to spend as much time on something as I did because I knew no one would read it, but then I remembered how much I was being paid to write it. That matters, particularly in our line of work.

It would be nice if those who pay more for good work get that good work in return. And sometimes, you have a great idea for a high-concept piece that you’re doing for an outlet that won’t pay you much for it (and that no one reads), and you end up wasting your day trying to research it when you could have been doing something else. That’s not a good use of your time.

Network, network, network. Make friends (or at least, acquaintances) with as many people that work around you as possible. For way too long, I never bothered to do that. After I did, I couldn’t believe I’d been so hesitant. Old, young, it doesn’t matter.

If it’s like sportswriting, these people are often the only other humans you see besides your family on a daily basis, and so why not be friends with them? This is especially hard when you’re first out of college and you think you need to hang on to those friends, but you have to move on.

One word of caution: You have to be very careful in our business — there’s plenty of backbiting that goes on, and so you should avoid being overly gossipy — but it won’t take you long to figure out who your friends are.

Be social. Go to lunches or out for drinks or to the hospitality room, or whatever it is that those people are doing. It will pay off down the road.

If one of those friends moves up to a higher position, they can put in a good word for you (and vice versa). Or they can pass along job openings when they hear it about from a friend of a friend from an old job in Nebraska, or whatever. And you can talk shop with them, bounce ideas off of them and what not. It just never hurts at all to have friends in this business.

Especially if you don’t have steady work, start a blog. I got this piece of advice from a friend of mine, and I don’t know if I’d still be doing this today if it weren’t for that (or for him). It’s a way for prospective employers to quickly get a sense of your writing style.

You can mix in more serious pieces with some funnier things — I did that for my blog, where I did my own version of the previews — but it wouldn’t take long for someone researching you to find out if you know your stuff.

Be able to be your own editor. I have editors at FOX, but often they don’t have time to parse over my writing the same way a newspaper editor would. And I have to create my own budget each week as well, for the most part.

I’m happy to do that, but you have to be able to generate your own ideas and edit your own work. This is becoming more and more of a problem in our industry, as outlets want to cut back on copy editors (particularly in the newspaper world).

It’s just a reality we all have to face, and if you want your story going out into the universe as a fully formed, grammatically correct piece of writing, then you’ll have to be responsible for that. I’m sure UNC is preparing you for those kinds of realities, but I know I thought writing would be a much more collaborative venture than it ultimately was based on my J-school experience.

Journalism students still read newspapers — sort of

At the start of each semester, I ask students in my editing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill how they get their news. It’s a good way to start a conversation about the state of the news media and where editing fits in.

This semester, that conversation took place shortly after this report mentioned that newspaper readership is down among journalism students. With that in mind, I wondered whether my students’ responses would reflect that finding.

Well, yes and no. As we went around the room, student after student mentioned familiar names: The New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. A few of them mentioned The News & Observer or their hometown newspapers.

But these students were referring to the websites, Twitter feeds and apps of these news organizations, not the print editions. The only print publication that got a lot of mentions was The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper. (It probably helps that the DTH is free, readily available and publishes a crossword puzzle.)

So journalism students, at least in my classes, are still reading newspapers. They’re just reading them in digital form.

What I am teaching this semester

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins in late summer, on Aug. 20. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks revising my syllabuses* and other materials. Here’s what I am teaching this semester:

Two sections of JOMC 157, News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. Each section has 16 students; the class meets twice a week in a computer lab in three-hour segments. Here is the syllabus for the course along with a handout on noteworthy names in the news.

One section of JOMC 711, Writing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course focuses on different types of online writing, including blogging, digital headlines and social media. It has 22 students, and it meets all the time online. Here is the syllabus for the course, and you can learn more about the certificate program that it is a part of.

Feel to free to adapt, revise or ignore the materials here. You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school here, and don’t forget the syllabus exchange at Poynter’s NewsUniversity.

* I follow the Associated Press stylebook on this plural word, but if you like “syllabi,” it won’t bother me.

Editing and public relations

For the most part, editing courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I teach, are populated with students with a news focus. It’s rare that a student in public relations, advertising or broadcast enrolls in my classes.

That’s not to say, however, that editing isn’t relevant to public relations. It is. Indeed, PR requires writers and editors to do what their counterparts in news do: Put the right words in the right order.*

Here are two recent examples of where editing and public relations intersected:

  • Last month, I led a workshop on headline writing at the Raleigh offices of Gibbs & Soell, a business communications company. Besides the usual challenges of writing headlines for print and digital media, PR people also have to navigate the demands of their clients, some of whom want particular wording.
  • This week, the News & Observer reported that UNC spent more than $500,000 on PR consulting as the university dealt with an academic scandal. One of the PR tasks: revise a letter to the editor written by an athletics department spokesman.

In each instance, editing played a key role in getting the job done. It is, as John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun wrote recently, a portable skill. As lines blur between news and public relations and more people move between the disciplines, it’s important to understand that editing encompasses them both.

* Hat tip to Henry Fuhrmann of the Los Angeles Times for this summary of what we do. I quote him often.

Let’s have breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The Breakfast of Editing Champions returns to the AEJMC national conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Aug. 9. 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 open to anyone who teaches editing, appreciates editing or just likes to hang out with editing professors. That should be pretty much everyone, right?

This year, Howard Finberg of The Poynter Institute will be the breakfast’s featured speaker. Finberg has been leading a conversation on the future of journalism education, and he will offer his thoughts on how editing (in all facets) plays into that future. Is online education here to stay? Can AP style be taught as a MOOC? Should it be?

Another 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 Wednesday, July 31. Send her a few paragraphs on your idea and be ready to discuss it for a minute or two at the breakfast.

Coffee and tea will be provided, and perhaps donuts and bagels. The breakfast is free, but please RSVP by signing up using this online form. The deadline is Monday, Aug. 5.

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

See you in Washington!

UPDATE: Breakfast is over, and it was satisfying and nutritious. If you couldn’t be there, you can see what you missed, and you can read about Howard Finberg’s thoughts on the urgent need to change journalism education. Thanks to everyone who attended, and I hope to see everyone at next year’s conference in Montreal.

Editing your life’s story

The journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill held its commencement Sunday. This is a smaller ceremony that takes place shortly after the universitywide commencement.

This year’s speaker, Ken Lowe of Scripps Networks Interactive, concluded his remarks to the journalism school’s graduates with this observation:

You’re well prepared for the future, which is really about taking lots of facts, lots of information, lots of details, and editing them down to precise, usable and focused takeaways of information and, yes, stories. The world, in my opinion, belongs to you, the editors of our future.

When you think about it, just about everything in life is edited, isn’t it? This program today is edited. This building was edited. The streets on which you came over today were edited. The menu where you ate lunch today was edited.

Curation and the ability to take complex and sometimes difficult information and get it down to something that people can understand is very powerful. You have that in your hands.

It is a message to remember. Even in an age where copy desks are being cut and consolidated, editing is still an essential part of communication and, indeed, life.

Thank you, Ken, for your wise words, and good luck to journalism graduates across the country.

Why course evaluations matter

Earlier today, I received an email attachment containing my student evaluations for the spring semester.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, students are asked to evaluate their courses using an online form. I was happy to see that most of mine had taken the time to provide feedback.

Course evaluations are useful. Here’s why.

To the instructor: I read the evaluations carefully, taking time not only to see how students ranked various aspects of a course, but also looking for comments that can help me teach a course better the next time around. Over the years, I have adjusted readings and assignments based on student feedback.

To the department and university: Course evaluations play an important role in decisions regarding tenure and promotion. They are the primary method for assessing a professor’s effectiveness in the classroom. At UNC, tenured professors are reviewed every five years on teaching, research and service. Again, the student evaluations are essential.

Thanks to the students this semester for their kind words and constructive criticism. I’ll consider your suggestions.

I cannot, however, honor your most frequent request: Eliminate 8 a.m. classes. You’ll have to take that idea to the chancellor.

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