The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: print media

Raleigh newspaper goes retro

birthdaypageThe News & Observer turns 119 today. To mark the occasion, the Raleigh newspaper published its front page in a retro style, and editor John Drescher wrote this column about its founder, Josephus Daniels.

The throwback design is a fun idea for a front page. A bit of old-timey language (“to-day”) is a nice touch.

It helps that the birthday comes on a Monday in August, a typically slow time for news. It’s a good opportunity to surprise your readers with something unusual.

The house ad at the bottom of page, however, feels incongruous in color and content. On a similar note, I knew about the retro page via Twitter before I fetched the actual newspaper off my driveway this morning:

Regardless, I wish the N&O a happy birthday. As a former editor there, I am proud to be a part of its history, and I look forward to reading it in print and online in the years to come.

UPDATE: The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has posted that first issue of the N&O from 1894.

Image courtesy of the Newseum.

Q&A with Jeff Gauger, executive editor of the News & Record

Jeff Gauger is executive editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. He previously worked as an editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. In this interview, conducted by email, Gauger discusses his transition to North Carolina and the News & Record’s future under new ownership. 

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

A. I’ve not met the typical day yet, which is one of the blessings of my job. The one constant, I suppose, is meetings — news meetings, small-group staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with staff, department-head meetings with my peers and the publisher, meetings inside and outside the office with people who want my attention or with folks whose time I’ve sought. Today, I’ve had two meetings, a light day. Tomorrow, four. The next day, seven.

I spend time daily reading our content before and after publication. I also read other news websites and news trade publications. I look for talent, even when we’re not looking to hire immediately. I interact with readers by email and phone.

There’s always nitty-gritty administrative stuff: handling vendor contracts, dealing with occasional personnel issues, etc. And I write for my blog and a Sunday column, although I have and spend less time writing than I’d like.

I try, with more success some days than others, to make time to think. It’s easy with the daily scrum in a newsroom to stay busy. It’s harder to discern what not to do now to make time for thinking — about content next week or next month, about how to meet the business challenges we face, about how to succeed in a competitive market.

Q. Before coming to Greensboro in 2012, you worked at newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. What has it been like to make the transition from the Midwest to the South?

A. I also worked for a newspaper in Illinois and for a handful of weekly newspapers in my home state of Washington. By far, though, I spent most of my career in the Midwest before moving to Greensboro.

The transition has not been difficult, with one exception. My newspaper career has taken me to five states and eight communities. I’ve learned that there are good people everywhere, good things about every community and problems in every community.

I’ve also learned that no one is harder on a community than the people who live there. I choose, consciously and deliberately, to like where I live. It isn’t hard. There’s always much to like.

The Midwest and South (with Greensboro and a few trips around the state as my reference points) have much in common, including a continuing appreciation for agriculture and the land. They share a hard-to-define sense of being places apart, proud of what they are and sensitive about hints of disdain from what they view as urban elites elsewhere.

In the Midwest, it’s sensitivity about what’s implied by the phrase “flyover country.” I’m less sure how to describe it for the South, so I won’t try to put words to it. Also, people in both regions embrace family and tilt red on the political spectrum.

There are differences, of course. Greensboro has more newcomers, more residents who have moved from other states, than the parts of the Midwest where I’ve lived. The Midwest has lots of churchgoers, but Greensboro has more. Labor unions, including those representing government workers, are a much bigger presence in the industrial Midwest (not in Nebraska, a right-to-work state).

Parts of the Midwest have stunning outdoor wonders (don’t knock Nebraska as a flat state if you haven’t seen its remarkable Sand Hills or Ohio as an industrial rust belt if you’ve never driven through the lush rolling hills of the Holmes County Amish country), but little with profiles as high as the Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Civil War remains a living presence in the South, which is a revelation to a newcomer, even to one who lived nearly five years in Ohio, which paid heavily in blood during that war. I suppose my surprise stems in part from my roots in Washington, which achieved statehood only in the 1880s. From Washington, the Civil War can seem an abstraction because the Pacific Northwest is so far from where the war occurred. The war is not an abstraction here.

The exception to my otherwise comfortable transition to the South was a column I wrote just a month ago. The column presented fictional characters discussing issues undertaken by the N.C. legislature.

My presentation prompted criticism from readers who suggested I was an elitist outsider mocking North Carolinians. A “Condescending Ahole,” according to one email that now hangs on my wall. While many readers praised the column, the depth of the critics’ anger surprised me.

In every community where I’ve worked, in every state including North Carolina, people have said: “Folks won’t think you belong here until you’ve lived here for 30 years.” From the new scrapes and bruises of my recent experience, I think I can say that’s more true in the South.

I’m an outsider, and for my critics, I played to type. I learned a lesson.

Q. You’ve announced a reorganization of the Greensboro newsroom, including new hours and roles for some copy editors. What’s the reason for the change, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

A. We blended three separate copy desks — news, features sports — into a single “universal” desk. The goal was to reduce staff for print page-making and to reassign those positions to digital work and news-gathering. The change permitted us to create new positions for online news editors and a community engagement editor. We also added a business news reporter.

The changes were difficult, but necessary. Copy editing and page design are important crafts. They’re also more scalable, within limits, than news-gathering.

With finite resources, we must continue to find ways to devote a greater proportion of our human effort to making and presenting a digital report and to engaging with readers and consumers. Our changes got us closer to those goals.

Q. The News & Record was bought earlier this year by Berkshire Hathaway. What does that mean for the newspaper, and what do you see as the future of the News & Record in print and online?

A. It means resources. Unlike many newspaper companies, Berkshire Hathaway is well capitalized (newspapers account for little more than flea in its family of companies, hardly enough to make a blip in its earnings reports).

No one is handing out bags of cash, and there’s no less focus on expense control. But we have replaced worn-out equipment, and we are talking about investing in new print and digital products with a seriousness I haven’t seen in newspapers since about 2006.

It means standardization of some vendor relationships and consolidation of some back-shop functions that the consumer doesn’t see.

It means cooperation and collaboration among Berkshire Hathaway newspapers in North Carolina, which include the Winston-Salem Journal, the Hickory Daily Record and the Statesville Record & Landmark. Former competitors are beginning to share content. In time, we’ll see deeper, more meaningful cooperation.

Finally, and most importantly, it means focus on going all-in with digital. We’ll have a strategy and a roadmap for getting to the mountaintop, with technical support to provide the needed tools.

News on the radio

My friend Buck Rooster (no, not his real name) does a radio show each week on WCOM, a community-run station in Carrboro, N.C. The show is called Random Acts of Music, and each week, Buck explores songs tied around a theme.

This week, I will join him as  guest DJ, and the theme will be news. We’ll play songs about journalism, and we will also chat a bit about that topic and, more specifically, the newspaper industry. Print media have, as noted here, changed a lot since Rupert Holmes placed a classified ad in “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”

The show airs Thursday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. If you live in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, turn your dial to 103.5 FM. If you live outside the area, you can listen via the station’s website. I hope that you’ll tune in, and yes, we will be taking requests.

UPDATE: I regret to inform you that my gig as a guest DJ on WCOM has been postponed. We’ll try again on Thursday, June 27 Thursday, July 11.

FURTHER UPDATE: The show went very well tonight — good music and good conversation. Thanks to Buck Rooster and WCOM for your hospitality. Here’s a sampling of songs we played:

“Sunday Papers” (Joe Jackson)

“Mr. Reporter” (The Kinks)

“Fred Jones Part 2″ (Ben Folds)

“Want Ads” (Honey Cone)

“Six O’Clock News” (Kathleen Edwards)

“Yesterday’s Papers” (Rolling Stones)

“News of the World” (The Jam)

“Newspapers” (Stan Ridgway)

“Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley)

“On the Cover of the Rolling Stone” (Dr. Hook)

The option to crop a photo

On Facebook over the weekend, a former News & Observer copy editor posted an image of a front page from 2009. As you can see here, the centerpiece photograph that day was from a tea party rally.

uncropped-pubicLook carefully at the sign held by the woman on the left. You’ll see that she has made the dreaded public/pubic error. It’s a common mistake that can cause embarrassment and prompt apologies.

Now take a look at this version of the same photograph on the same front page from that day of the Raleigh newspaper:

cropped-pubicSee the difference? For the final edition that day, editors at the N&O cropped the image to eliminate the sign’s error.

But was that the right decision? As one commenter on Facebook said: “It’s not a dirty word, and the woman was there to be photographed.”

Student guest blog post: Is news writing ready to graduate from junior high?

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Andrew Murray is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in editing and graphic design. He loves hockey, English football (soccer to most of you), and as an ex-chef, food. He’s figuring out how to use his soon-to-be journalism degree in one of them.

Every Wednesday afternoon in Seattle, a handful of white vans descend upon the city to fill newspaper boxes and racks with warm bundles of The Stranger, an alternative weekly that dubs itself “Seattle’s Only Newspaper.” Usually within minutes, well over half of each allotment has been snapped up by passers-by and nearby business owners and employees.

By the way the public clamors for it, you would think it really was Seattle’s only newspaper. And there’s a reason for that.

The Stranger treats its readers like they’re part of a club. As if the business of media wasn’t actually a business at all, but was instead concerned with the sharing of information in a way that made people want to read it, maybe even have to read it.

Some of the way they accomplish this is by doing an outstanding job of creating coverage that feels like it was actually written by fellow residents of the great city. Their peers, people who know the city, not the cold soulless journalism machines that too many universities, editors and media organizations have pumped out or molded over the years.

Their coverage creates a mutual understanding of the internal machinations of the city on all levels, from politics to arts and entertainment to the police department, and so on. Contained within that great coverage is the ability to tell the story in a way that effectively gets the information across in an engaging, enjoyable and educational way. They don’t “cookie cut” the news, and they don’t dumb it down, which is often the case.

One of the first things we were told in in our News Writing classes was that the general rule was to assume we were writing stories for an audience with an eighth-grade education. That we as writers or editors must always account for the lowest common denominator and take care to not write over the reader’s head. That we are always trying to reach as wide an audience as possible, especially if writing for a print media that continues its dance with death.

And there is a part of me that can understand that. But there is also a big part of me that sees the role of media as a form of continuing education and the eighth-grade level we’ve settled for is far too low.

In most cases, the audience we write for has varying levels of education and intelligence. What writing at an eighth-grade level does is, intentionally or not, lump them all together into a mass of junior high school brains and is extremely patronizing. It also gives writers every chance to think of their audience as stupid, which can then lead to condescension and will ultimately torpedo readership.

One of my favorite things to do while reading is to learn new words. I love to be able to finish a book and have picked up 10 or more words that I wasn’t familiar with when I embarked on the journey, or to pick up one or two in a well-written article. I view new words as more ammo for my arsenal, and I don’t have a problem turning to my dictionary to learn something new.

When done appropriately in news writing, however, people should be able to infer the meaning from context — no condescending explanation required. This requires a little more work on the writer’s part but as journalists, our prose and command of the English language should certainly be a portion of what sets us apart from the average writer, especially now at a time when the barriers to entry in the news spreading business are as low as they’ve ever been.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that perfectly good “regular” words be replaced by unnecessarily complex words. I don’t need to see the word  “synecdoche” crammed into a sentence because the writer has some sort of inferiority complex. But I do believe the writer needs to be able to use the words they’re most comfortable with, lest the writing becomes a chore.

We’re told that in this “world of distractions,” we as writers/editors need to keep things simple to make sure readers can quickly and easily get the information they need and move on. And in some cases this is absolutely true. In a hard news story about a plane crash, simplicity and frankness should be your guide.

But I do believe there is room for a higher level of writing in most other forms of news writing, and it is in part because of this “world of distractions” that I believe this. I often want something a little meatier and complex to draw me away from those distractions, even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes while I’m on the train to work. I like being pleasantly surprised by a nice piece of writing about economics or politics or sports. The goal should be to write the best story you can in both message and style.

Now, the example of an alternative weekly that I used is obviously a bit different. Weeklies definitely have more leeway to write as they see fit because the content and the target audience is usually much more narrow than your average major media outlet. They can cater to their readership much more and they are rarely if ever writing hard immediate news stories.

But I believe there are some lessons in style that can be learned by both print and online sources from the alternative format. I believe there is still some room for the human element in average news writing so that the word “average” and “news writing” can be separated for good.

Perhaps rather than writing for the lowest common denominator, we should be bringing them up to, say, the 12th-grade level? Because if you’re the print media, what exactly do you have to lose?

Q&A with Wes Platt, news editor at the Herald-Sun

Wes Platt is the newly appointed news editor at the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, N.C. He previously served as a reporter covering K-12 education. In this interview, conducted by email, Platt discusses his new job, which includes writing editorials and contributing to the paper’s social media presence.

Q. Describe your job. What does a news editor do on a typical day?

A. Right now, my days are mostly atypical, because we’re in the process of replacing me on the K-12 education beat. Until that happens, I’ll occasionally throw my reporter hat back on to cover a school event or board meeting.

But on days that are close to normal, I start from home in Watts-Hillandale, posting news from the Herald-Sun website to our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Around 2 p.m., I arrive at the office and get caught up on what’s going into the next day’s paper. I talk with Bob Ashley, our editor-in-chief, about the plan for the night and what I’ll editorialize about. I start building a budget of national and world interest stories for Section C. I select and upload cartoons for the op-ed page.

About 5 p.m., the day starts blurring, because reporters are submitting copy for editing and I’m often writing an editorial. Once I edit an article, I upload it to our internal system for the page designers and then to the website. When I finish an editorial, I send it to Bob and our publisher, Rick Bean, for review and feedback.

As fresh material starts popping up on the newspaper’s website, I get busy promoting it through our social media outlets. I try to limit this to just a few links in each burst.

Later in the evening, I may be waiting for a reporter to file a late article from a government meeting or special event. That quiet time is often when I peruse the paper for editorial topics to explore in the coming days. But it’s also when I keep an eye on other media and our breaking news alerts.

After all copy is edited and uploaded everywhere it needs to go, I shift into air traffic control mode and wait to review the pages for the next day’s paper online.

Before calling it a day, I’ll send Bob an email outlining what’s done for the next morning if I am able to work ahead.

Q. What kind of a news town is Durham? What stories do you find most interesting?

A. It’s an eclectic town with so many interesting facets. I am always interested in stories that defy stereotypes and show real moments and genuine personalities.

I hear a lot of people painting Durham as a sort of “little Detroit” when it comes to crime. But while we do have rough areas, we’re also incredibly diverse, creative and forward-thinking, from our universities to the Research Triangle Park. I love to read (and write) stories that go beyond the superficial stereotypes.

Q. You also handle the editorials for the newspaper, which is not typical for a news person to do. How do you balance those aspects of the job?

A. It is unusual, but I don’t think it is intended to be permanent. I’m handling some reporting duties during this transitional period until a new reporter is hired.

As I noted earlier, although I write editorials, I don’t do so in a vacuum. These are intended to reflect the editorial board’s opinions, not just mine. Bob and Rick may offer feedback, suggesting a different tone or other changes that allow the piece to truly represent the newspaper.

Once we’ve got a new K-12 reporter, I’ll start writing columns to keep me out in the community and sharing my voice with readers. Beyond that, I expect my byline on objective articles to become an exceptional rarity.

Q. You are active in social media. What are you and your newspaper hoping to achieve there?

A. Bottom line: We want people to put their eyes on the Herald-Sun website and print edition. Twitter’s an incredibly crowded breakroom with lots of people gathered around the water cooler. We want to be part of their conversation.

Through these outlets, we want people to know that their local Durham newspaper is still here, and we’re still telling great stories about their hometown. We want to connect with our readers so they can share more wonderful stories with us, and then we can shout about those on the internet too. It all helps feed the daily beast.

Q. It’s been a difficult period for the newspaper business, with staff reductions at the Herald-Sun and other publications. What do you see as the future of newspapers?

A. So far, the 21st century has been apocalyptic for many print newspapers. Really, there’s no way to sugarcoat that.

But it is truly evolution in action. I am optimistic that papers like the Herald-Sun can survive because of our concentration on local news.

Social media won’t be our salvation. To me, social media is the new billboard, a new sign on the side of a downtown bus, the little ad on the restaurant menu. It reminds the people who are listening that we are still here.

It helps spread the word and gets people talking about us, which is great (and inexpensive, which is also a big plus), but it doesn’t guarantee survival.

Our salvation will be readers who recognize and appreciate the local coverage we offer each and every day, and who challenge us to cover more and better.

Follow Wes Platt on Facebook and Twitter.

Warren Buffett comes to Greensboro

My first full-time job in newspapers was on the copy desk at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. I worked there in the era of pica poles, sizing wheels and composing rooms.

So last week, I read with great interest that the newspaper had been sold to Berkshire Hathaway’s BH Media Group, a k a Warren Buffett. So how did I hear about the sale of the News & Record? On TV or in the newspaper? No, on Facebook.

When I was at the News & Record (long before Facebook), the paper was owned by Landmark Communications. That company also owned daily newspapers in Virginia and Maryland, and perhaps most notably, the Weather Channel. During my time in Greensboro, there were occasional rumors in newsroom that Landmark would expand by buying other newspapers. The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., was often mentioned in that scuttlebutt.

That never happened, and in the 2000s, the company has contracted. Landmark sold the Weather Channel in 2008. In recent years, the News & Record and other Landmark papers have laid off staff members as a part of the drastic reduction in newsrooms across the country.

So what now for Greensboro? I defer on the details to my friend and former News & Record colleague John Robinson, who has been blogging extensively and intelligently about this change. I share his optimism (hey, BHM is hiring, after all) as well as his concerns that the company will be tempted to consolidate editing/design duties with the newspaper in neighboring Winston-Salem.

No matter what, I will always be grateful for my time in Greensboro. In a little more than two years on the copy desk, I learned lessons and made friends that have had a lifelong impact. I wish the newspaper well under its new ownership.

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 (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.

The Mideast and the media

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the news again, and with it, criticism of the media’s coverage.

Letters to the editor in The News & Observer claimed bias against Palestinians and against Israel. Readers of The New York Times were irritated by photo placement and wording of a caption. And Jon Stewart mocked a “winners and losers” approach to the situation in Gaza.

All of this sounds familiar. As wire editor at the N&O from 2001 to 2005, I heard similar complaints from readers when the Mideast was in the news, especially on the front page. I met on separate occasions from media watchdog groups in the Raleigh area: one saying our coverage was biased toward Israel, the other saying we were biased toward the Palestinians.

The lazy response is to say if both sides are complaining, then your coverage must be right down the middle. That is a cop-out. The reality is no coverage of any issue is perfect. Listening to constructive criticism from readers can be helpful.

My response to critics of what we published and why went like this: Follow our coverage for a longer period than a day or a week. If you look at it on a broad spectrum, you’ll see that we are doing our best to provide a fair view of the region based on the resources (mostly wire services) that we have. That’s all we can do.

Q&A with Ness Shortley, editor of the News of Orange County

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.


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