The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: story editing

Q&A with Katie Jansen, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Katie Jansen is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. This summer, she had a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Jansen talks about what she learned over the summer and what’s next for her.

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

A. My internship experience was very valuable. On my first day, I was shown the computer program and thrown right into the thick of things, where I was expected to write headlines, deckheads and cutlines.

I normally only did first reads so that someone more experienced could read behind me, but I really felt myself growing throughout the internship. I worked Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m., and by the third or fourth week I was already being trusted with some A1 copy.

It was always a thrill for me when I made a good catch or asked a question someone else hadn’t thought of. I once found a mistake in which the AP had written the entirely wrong country, and the slot editor called the AP and got them to issue a write-thru.

Also, I feel like it’s worth noting that everyone treated me with the utmost respect. They acted like I was a colleague instead of just some goofy college grad.

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

A. The biggest challenge was probably just getting into the flow of what copy needed to be read when as well as trying to figure out which advance copy needed to be read first. Some times of the night we wouldn’t be very busy, but I tried to do things that would be as helpful as possible. That just took time and asking questions so I could learn about which sections had deadlines first, etc.

The greatest reward was definitely stepping up my headline game and seeing a lot of my heads in print. Every time I wrote a headline, I jotted it down, and then at the end of the night after deadline, I would check to see which heads had been kept and which had been changed. As the summer progressed, I became a stronger headline writer, and more of my headlines survived.

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

A. I would say studying for the test is the most important. I kind of took the test on a whim and didn’t think I’d land the internship, but I did study for it because I was interested in improving my craft. The application process may seem kind of mystifying, but if you study for the test and make it into the program, they teach you so much from there.

My weeklong residency before my internship was a great professional experience. It gave me the opportunity to learn from professionals in the field, and I felt like I was improving as a journalist every day.

Q. So what’s next for you?

A. I have moved back to reporting for the time being. I got a job with The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., and I have officially been on the job for a week and a half. It’s going well so far but keeping me really busy.

I don’t want to say I’m done with copy editing, though. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to it sometime in my career. Even so, the Dow Jones training has also made me a stronger writer because now I’m more aware of things like transitions, repetitive words and what pieces need to be in a story to make it complete.

Student guest post: How can editors stop plagiarism and fabrication?

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the first of those posts. Andy Bradshaw is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill double majoring in political science and reporting. He writes for The Daily Tar Heel and hopes to write for a legal publication in the future.

In 1998, Stephen Glass was at the center of possibly the most infamous instance of fabrication within the world of journalism. At just 25 years old, Glass had risen to prominence as one of the most high-profile reporters in Washington, D.C.

His stories for The New Republic, a magazine with a focus on political commentary, had that extra little quote or character that made his stories stand out above the rest of the pieces in the magazine. Glass always presented vivid, enigmatic figures with heartwarming back stories.

But behind the scenes, Glass was inventing entire companies, sources and stories purely from his own imagination. When he wrote an entirely fabricated piece centering on a 15-year-old hacker breaking the firewall of an entirely fictional company under the name of Jukt Micronics, Charles Lane, Glass’ editor at the time, expressed some suspicion.

When Lane forced Glass to take him to the conference room of a Hyatt hotel where Glass had stated the young hacker and the software company had met up to make a deal, Lane discovered that on the day Glass said the meeting took place, the conference room had been closed. After Lane found out that Glass had fabricated this story, he and other editors at the New Republic discovered that at least 27 out of the 41 stories Glass had written for the magazine contained at least some fabricated material.

This was truly a case of a lose-lose for all those involved. Glass’ name still evokes contempt from most of the journalism world, and The New Republic had a stain on its reputation that took years to diminish.

Since this scandal, fabrication has remained a prominent issue for reporters and editors. In 2003, Jayson Blair was forced to resign from The New York Times in the wake of the discovery of his plagiarism and fabrication in his stories. Just last year, a student journalist at the University of Alabama was discovered to have quoted up to 30 nonexistent students in her stories for The Crimson White. And in this past week, three Bangladeshi journalists were held in court for writing a fabricated story.

What seems clear is that fabrication is a problem with a wide scope — it can occur at a small college newspaper or even at a respected media behemoth like The New York Times. As editors, it’s our job to maintain accuracy. But how far can we actually go to ensure that reporters are engaging in ethical journalism?

The Poynter Institute has laid out some guidelines to prevent fabrication in the newsroom, and among them are some tips that editors may find useful. Sourcing notes can help force reporters to link their sources to biographies, names and titles. This makes it much easier for editors to be able to verify that their reporters are being honest in their stories. Had the editors at The New Republic used sourcing notes with Glass’ stories, they would not have been able to verify many of his sources, and thus suspicions likely would have arisen earlier.

But perhaps we as editors should take sourcing notes one step further. For digital stories, I would suggest placing hyperlinks to source information. This not only makes it easier for editors to verify source information, but also to open up the editing process to readers. As editors we bear the weight of the verification process, but we could use all the help we could get from our readers to ensure the stories we put out to the public are accurate and fair.

Furthermore, linking our sources lends context and authority to the story as a whole. Linking to information that was plagiarized could alert an editor to the fact that the information was taken from another source. However, when it comes to fabrication, the solution remains muddled. But sourcing notes can help editors easily get in contact with the sources listed in a story to verify that what the reporter wrote was truthful.

Overall, the process of preventing plagiarism becomes easier when editors employ techniques such as providing links to sources and incorporating those links in digital stories. This would make it easier for editors to detect if any information in the story was stolen from another source. Fabrication presents a new set of problems, but by providing these links with contact information, editors can get in contact with sources listed in stories to verify information.

Had these practices been in place when Glass and Blair were slipping their fictional stories under the eyes of editors, the damage they caused to their own reputation as well as the integrity of their institutions may have ended much sooner.

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.

Robo-reporters need human editors

This week, I’ve used Twitter to follow the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. This morning, this Tweet from Steve Buttry of Digital First Media caught my eye:

robo-tweet

I clicked on the link to the image, which is what the ASNE audience saw at a presentation by Michael Maness of the Knight Foundation. It shows the first several paragraphs of a computer-generated story about a baseball game. Here’s what it looked like:

robo-story

Buttry also Tweeted a link to a blog post by David Carr of The New York Times that includes the full text of the robo-article and and an explanation of the technology behind it.

The bot-written article does a pretty good job of mimicking a sports story you might see from The Associated Press or ESPN.com. You know who won the game and how. But it has glitches and a big hole.

On the micro-editing level, I detect mistakes in punctuation: a comma splice here and a run-on sentence there. The lead and other segments of the story are wordy, especially for digital media.

On a macro-editing level, I would add a sentence or two to explain the references to Nick Adenhart and “what happened in April in Anaheim.” The robo story never provides that explanation, leaving the reader hanging (or Googling).

And, as noted by Carr in his blog post and by copy editor Jay Wang on Twitter, the fact that the Angels clinched the series needs to be higher in the story. That’s big news.

Are robot reporters a part of journalism’s future? Perhaps, but they will still need human editors.

Q&A with Ashley Leath, copy editor at Southern Living

Ashley Leath is a copy editor at Southern Living magazine. She has also worked as a freelance editor on the topics of food and travel. In this interview, conducted by email, Leath talks about her job at Southern Living, including editing recipes, and the magazine’s outlook in the digital era.

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

A. A typical day involves a combination of Travel and Food stories. I began my career in Southern Living’s Food department as a recipe editor, so a lot of my experience involves recipe-related copy editing. When I moved to the Copy Desk in 2011, I took over the Travel department’s copy editing as well. This means that my day is spent balancing the needs of both departments’ copy.

For my Travel stories, I’ll begin the day by making fact-checking calls, which means that I reach out to contacts as varied as park rangers, interior designers and PR reps. We make a concerted effort to maintain the factual accuracy of our stories, so this is an important step in the editorial process, and the bulk of this responsibility falls on the Copy Desk.

In addition to fact-checking stories, I’ll edit the text and input any changes into the copy on the network (we use InCopy to manage our stories). It’s a simple process — but multiply it by 15 stories per issue with anywhere from 1 to 50 sources to check per story, and you’ve got a lot to balance while maintaining accuracy.

Food stories are an entirely different animal. Our recipes are developed in-house by our Test Kitchen, and each one goes through a complicated testing phase before it reaches my desk. When a story is ready for copy editing, a manila folder will find its way to me, and that means that the recipes inside it have passed the Food department’s review and are ready for my read.

We have a strict food style that is outlined in a 200-page stylebook, and I use this as my guide when I edit the recipes. I begin by doing a top read of all the recipes in a story (on average, four to six of various lengths). Then I examine the testing notes for each recipe. This means I read handwritten notes from each stage of testing (a minimum of two to three). I’m looking for discrepancies: Did the amount of flour stay the same from one test to the next? The lemon zest was increased in test two but not updated on the latest version of the recipe. Should it have been?

These are easy questions in and of themselves, but recipes are complicated endeavors with important things at stake. One wrong word, and you’ve ruined Christmas dinner (or worse, burned down a kitchen). If I find a discrepancy, I work with the Test Kitchen to get it resolved. At the end of this process, I once again enter my edits into the story copy on the network.

In between all of this reading and editing, I have the luck of attending a taste testing each day with the Food department. A lunchtime break for my eyes is very welcomed, and the food isn’t too shabby either.

Q. What are some challenges of editing for the magazine? Rewards?

A. Time is a copy editor’s worst enemy (perhaps right next to a spell-checker). We are not a weekly publication, but when we head into production, stories can move through the pipeline swiftly.

You may need a full day to get a story into perfect shape, but because of that looming deadline, you’ll only have a few hours. You have to learn to be smart with your time, balance multiple deadlines, and still produce the top-notch work that is expected of you.

As for rewards, there are many. First, my co-workers. You spend more time with the people you work with than you do with your family (especially during production), so you need to really like your co-workers. Southern Living has a great staff, if I do say so myself.

Also, for someone who loves to eat, you can’t beat a slice of fresh-from-the-oven apple-carrot cake (destined to grace the magazine’s cover) on a random Tuesday afternoon. I leave work every day with a very happy stomach (and sometimes snag leftovers for my husband too).

Q. Southern Living has an internship program for copy editors. What does the magazine look for when selecting interns?

A. First, an error-free resume and cover letter. This is your first chance to introduce yourself to us, so make sure each of these items is without error.

Next, enthusiasm! We want you to be excited about working with us and helping with our work. Copy editing is meticulous, but rewarding. It will be much more fun for all involved if you enjoy it as much as we do.

Lastly, experience. This doesn’t have to be another internship necessarily, but we do look for what you’ve been involved in that has exposed you to the type of work you’d do for us: fact-checking, copy editing, researching.

Be involved on campus with organizations that will give you exposure to this (The Daily Tar Heel, Blue & White, etc.), and you’ll be able to tout these skills on your resume. It will also help you find and nurture references, which we check with before hiring anyone.

Q. Much of the news media, including magazines, are going digital. What do you see as Southern Living’s place in the changing landscape of news?

A. This is a complicated time for magazines. We’re trying to find our niche in this new digital landscape, and it’s a quickly moving beast.

Southern Living has made huge strides in this arena in the past few years. We’ve carved out market share on our website and in social media. Did you know you can follow us on Instagram and get behind-the-scenes pictures of our taste testings?

We’ve done this by harnessing our relationship with our readers. They feel an ownership of the magazine that is unique to SL.

We have to carry that bond to all platforms that the brand explores — web, video, tablet and more — and be able to maintain our core message successfully. We have to keep our readers’ trust and give them what they expect from us where they expect it, and that means providing content on more than just paper.

We’re striving to continue what we’ve done best all these years — represent Southern culture and tout the wonderful people of our region — on digital platforms that can reach a wider audience than ever before.

Q&A with Madelyn Rosenberg, children’s author

Madelyn Rosenberg is an author of several children’s books. Her latest, “The Canary in the Coal Mine,” will be released in April. Before going into fiction writing, Rosenberg worked as a reporter and editor at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Rosenberg talks about her writing, the editing process for children’s books and her transition from the newsroom.

Q. What inspired your move from writing for newspapers to writing for children?

A. I’d always wanted to write for kids and to tell my own stories as well as the stories I was telling about other people. I think it was more a matter of finally getting published in kid-lit than a conscious decision to move from one thing to the other.

In my latest middle-grade novel, you will find that newspapers play a pretty vital role (not a coincidence). I remain a journalism fan, and I still freelance, mostly for Arlington Magazine, where I get to do profiles.

Q. What sorts of stories are you interested in telling, and how do you generate ideas for them?

A. I’m interested in telling stories about the environment, pretty much anything that has to do with music, “otherness,” and finding your place in the world.

If there’s a theme to the stories I’ve found homes for so far, it’s The Outside. My whole childhood was spent outside. Now so much is set up to revolve around The Inside.

I tend to fight that by keeping all of my characters out of the house. I get ideas from everywhere: things I see, places I go, something I mishear and my kids.

Q. How does the collaboration with an illustrator work, and how are your books edited?

A. So far there really hasn’t been much collaboration with illustrators. I think that’s the way it usually is, though I’ve had friends who have had more of a collaboration process than I have.

There are lots of reasons for keeping writers and illustrators separate. I don’t agree with all of them. But I think one reason might be that it’s a sure way to make sure the writing speaks for itself and generates the images naturally. That makes sense to me.

I’ve been really lucky so far in the illustrators I’ve gotten to work with. And I did have a nice back-and-forth (via the editor) with Paul Meisel for “The Schmutzy Family,” where he asked if I could create a mess in another color, because I’d had two spreads where the mess would have been red. I ended up having to delete some of my favorite lines, but I ended up liking the lines I replaced them with even better.

The editing process is really pretty similar to the process for newspapers, only with a longer turn-around time. My novel also went through a copy editor who kept a sharp eye out for anachronisms. The story is set in 1931, and she flagged words that surprised me because I hadn’t checked the etymology. For instance: Gobbledygook didn’t come around until the 1940s, and since my story was set in 1931, it had to go.

Q. Looking back at your career in journalism, what do you miss about it? And are you happy you made this transition?

A. I’m very happy that I made the transition, but sure, I miss it, especially the meeting-different-people-everyday part of it. I also miss my coworkers, the teamwork, and the banter.

The Internet is a sorry surrogate for newsroom banter. And I haven’t felt right on election night since I’ve left dailies.

Read Rosenberg’s blog and follow her on Twitter.

Student guest post: Editing, style and fashion

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Alex Norton is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in editing and graphic design and communication studies. He loves writing and editing, but he says his true passion lies in clothes. He’s hoping that these two loves will lead to a life and career New York a la Carrie Bradshaw.

Whether or not you’re an editor by trade (or in training), editing is present and important every single day. We edit emails, edit our thoughts to make them into words and we — or at least I — edit the millions of garments out there to create a single stunning outfit.

Picking an outfit is just like producing a news story, really. It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress and, if it’s a particularly difficult one, a lot of junk food and cigarettes.

The research

As a reporter, when you’re assigned a story, going into the writing process blind can and most likely will lead to a subpar story. A good reporter will research the history of the story, the key characters, events and components, as well as the future of the story and what the audience needs to know.

Research for me is Vogue. It’s “Fashion Police” on E! It’s gq.com. Going into preparing an outfit without knowing the designers, the retailers, the fads, the fashions, the accessories – and most importantly, the “fashion don’ts” – would only lead to a subpar outfit that is going to leave Joan Rivers (critics), my peers (audience) and myself (reporter and editor) disappointed. If my newspaper of an outfit isn’t of the highest quality, no one will be interested in buying me … getting to know me.

The facts

History is important, as Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly so graciously showed Anne Hathaway as Andy in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but the most important thing about composing an outfit for the day is the trend of the day. You wouldn’t write an article about a story that was out of date; I wouldn’t wear a basketball jersey or a snapback for the same exact reason.

These trends are the facts of the story: Without them, there is no outfit worth looking at.

The composition

By far the most strenuous part of creating a story is the actual writing: A reporter not only has to organize all his research, but now he has to put it together in a way that is attractive to a reader and that represents him as a writer as well as his employing institution.

Like writing a story, putting together an outfit is hard work. I spend at least 10 minutes every morning staring at all my sources, evaluating each one individually for relevance, uniqueness and quality. Once I know what I want to put into my story and what I’m going to leave out for the day, I can get dressed.

Rarely do I produce the perfect outfit on the first try, so my dressing process goes through quite a few rough drafts that my audience will never see.

The editing

As an editing student, I consider editing the most important part of a story’s life: It’s here that it is polished and readied to face the world. Any causal “typos” I may make in the morning when choosing pieces of my outfit – putting on a brown belt and then deciding on black shoes, wearing clashing colors, etc. – must be caught and corrected before I go out into the world.

I have to consider my audience, the time period and what my outfit needs to say. Sometimes I even have to scrap the entire outfit and replace it with a backup.

The publishing

Publishing is when the finished story – after being researched, written and polished, is debuted to the world. A story is made public as soon as it hits newsstands (or even sooner in the case of a Web story); my outfit is published when I walk out the door. At first glimpse, the focal point of my outfit – the centerpiece – has to catch the eye of a passerby (or even a regular reader) in order for me to capture the attention that a composition on which I’ve worked so hard deserves.

It’s after this publication that I and my story must face indifference and scrutiny, but a positive letter to the editor in the form of a compliment on my new boots from a stranger makes the whole process worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with Ariel Zirulnick, Middle East editor at the Christian Science Monitor

Ariel Zirulnick is Middle East editor at The Christian Science Monitor. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job, the editing process at the Monitor and how to land a job in international journalism.

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

A. I work from our Boston headquarters, editing copy from a slew of staff writers and freelancers living in North Africa and the Middle East, and occasionally reporting and writing myself.

On a typical day, I wake up around 6 a.m. and immediately check my work email to see if any of my reporters, who are anywhere from 6 to 8 hours ahead of us, have emerging stories or other time-sensitive things on which they need a response. Since they’re already halfway through their day at that point, it’s critical to get them an answer ASAP.

The international desk editors get in to the office at 7:30 a.m. and spend the first couple hours of the day assigning and editing stories, planning coverage, tracking news in our regions, etc. The afternoon, when our reporters are done for the day and heading for bed, is typically the time to catch up on more long-term work, whether it’s magazine stories, non-time sensitive stories for the Web, or just organizational and administrative things, like handling our reporters’ reimbursements for work-related trips.

We spend a lot of time tracking what is rising and falling on Google and Yahoo! news. It isn’t the only thing that dictates our coverage, but it does influence our decisions and it certainly influences the way we write our headlines.

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at the Monitor?

A. Every story for CSMonitor.com receives two edits.

The first is almost always done by the relevant regional editor, who will edit not only for spelling and grammar, but also for content – ideas, analysis, etc. The first edit is sent back to the reporter for him to answer any questions that came up and to read over the editor’s changes to ensure nothing was changed in such a way that it became incorrect.

Then they send back a fresh file incorporating all the editor’s changes and questions. That version then gets a read from another editor on the international desk – this time mostly for grammar, style, readability, etc. – before being published to the website. Stories for our weekly magazine go through one additional layer of editing with a designated copy editor.

The international desk editors write the headlines for stories on CSMonitor.com. Typically it’s the editor doing the first edit who writes a headline, making sure to incorporate the so-called “key phrases” that Google News clusters are built around in order to get the story into that cluster and get traffic. We run our suggested headline by either the international editor or the deputy international editor, who gives the final stamp of approval.

Q. Readers often see bias in coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How do you handle such criticism?

A. I receive more complaints on this than anything else in my region by a landslide. The fact is, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be impossible to satisfy critics – sometimes their objection is not grounded in fact and they will read whatever bias they want to into the piece.

It’s not rare to get two e-mails bashing the same story, one for being too sympathetic to Israelis, one for being too sympathetic to Palestinians. The only thing that’s different is the lens through which each reader is reading the piece. That’s what makes it so hard to satisfy everyone, or even most readers.

We do try to respond to all complaints because we want to make sure readers know we’re paying attention to their comments. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of pointing out to the reader the different voices in the piece to show that the reporter did her due diligence by using sources from across the political spectrum.

If the criticism seems valid – perhaps we forgot to include some background about a source’s political affiliation, or cast something in a certain light that seemed misleading – we will typically write to the person and ask them to provide us with their own sources to back up their claims. Sometimes we find that they can’t, sometimes they can and we file either a correction or, if it doesn’t warrant that, assure them that we will take that into account in future stories on the topic. Often readers are just happy to get an acknowledgement of their complaint, whether or not it prompts any action.

We get complaints the most often when we do a piece on only Israel or only Palestinians, mostly from readers angry that we “ignored” one half of the conflict. In that case, I’ll point them to previous stories that focused exclusively on the other “side.” Even if one piece is not straight down the middle, I can say with confidence that our cumulative work is.

Q. You are a 2010 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What advice do you have for students there to get a job like yours?

A. A second major, preferably something with an international slant, is very important if you want to work in international affairs journalism (I double majored in journalism and international studies, with a Middle East focus).

While outlets like CSM are happy when someone has journalism training, we care less about that and more about the reporter’s ability to thing deeply about the topic at hand, synthesize complex information, and see events in their broader context. Knowledge of the region, including its history, is essential for that, and that comes from studying the region, likely in an academic setting. It can be learned in the field, of course, but it’s unlikely an outlet like CSM will take something from a freelancer if they just arrived in the country and have no prior experience or study there.

Studying abroad, and even getting an internship abroad, will also give you a huge leg-up. Getting an international internship overseas is not as unattainable a goal as it sounds – most countries have an English language publication or a bureau for a major US publication, and it’s often much easier to get an internship there than at a news outlet in the United States.

The catch is that they’ll often be unpaid, since they don’t want to go through the hassle of obtaining a work visa for you, but the j-school has many scholarships specifically for covering students’ expenses while doing unpaid internships. That’s how I funded a summer internship at the Jerusalem Post, which I did on the heels of a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (which I also mostly funded with scholarships, in that case from the Global Ed program).

Also, work for the Daily Tar Heel! My work for them is what I used when I applied to my Jerusalem Post internship, and editors there were amazed at the quality of the student-run publication. UNC journalism students are fortunate enough to have a top-notch news outlet around that takes teaching peers very seriously.

Take advantage of it. No journalism school class can simulate the deadline pressures and real-life experiences that you get from writing for the DTH.

If a student wants first and foremost to be reporting overseas, his best bet is to take the leap and set up shop as a freelancer overseas. Do some research into what countries are undercovered (a tip-off is a dateline from a country other than the one the story is about) and move there! You’ll have to pitch like crazy to a number if outlets before you get a bite, but it’s really the best way to go if being overseas is your first priority.

But if, like me, you aren’t comfortable taking that financial risk (student loans!) or care more about being a part of a team than in getting overseas straightaway and having to work solo, you can look into internships with the international sections of newspapers based in the United States.

I got my foot in the door with CSM by taking a semester-long paid internship with the Monitor after graduating from college. You’ll probably spend most of your time editing, not reporting, but you’ll still have your head in international news all day long, and you’ll learn a ton about a lot of places, which will better prepare for a move overseas in the future and maybe even get you in line for a staff position.

I was fortunate to be interning with CSM when a staff position opened up. A year later the Middle East editor position opened up, and now I’m spending my day reading, writing and editing on the region that has enthralled me for years. I even got to take a reporting trip to Egypt and Lebanon last year, which was incredibly exciting.

The Monitor international desk hires an intern each semester and for the summer. If you are interested, or just want to know more, please be in touch! I need people to watch Carolina basketball with up here.

Follow Ariel Zirulnick on Twitter at @azirulnick.

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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