Student guest post: How coding is like copy editing

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Katie Marriner is an aspiring designer/developer who enjoys copy editing. She is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and a member of the Reese News Lab team.

There is a huge push nowadays for everyone to learn how to code – women, men, children, journalists, family pets. Technology plays a huge part in our lives today, so I agree that it is important we understand what we consume daily.

Coding may seem like a completely foreign concept to those who are not constantly exposed to it. I am a developer who enjoys copy editing, and I see the overlap in both fields. There are five “C”s of copy editing – be clear, be correct, be concise, be comprehensible, be consistent. These five “C”s can be applied to coding.

How does code work?

First, it is important to understand the basics of coding. Don’t worry: I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details because there are tons of resources out there where you can learn the basics. Codecademy is a great one.

HTML is the structure of a Web page. It is where headers, paragraphs, images and other content are placed on the page.

CSS styles the content. Classes and IDs in HTML are named so they can be identified in a CSS stylesheet. Below is how you would name a class called “main-header.”

This is a Header

In the CSS stylesheet, the format will be this:

.main-header {
font-color: blue;
}

The “.” indicates that it is a class you are referencing. Inside the “{}” is where you write all of your styling – change the font color, size, family. In this example, the color of the text would change to blue.

The following are the five “C”s of copy editing, according to Jodi Cleghorn’s post on Write Anything:

Correct

No errors. This will be the first indication that your code needs some refining.

This one is pretty simple. HTML is picky. Even if a “>” is missing at the end of a tag, the code will be incorrect and not run as it is intended. Code has strict syntax. Every ;, {}, and <> is necessary. And they have to be in the right place. It’s like misspelling a word in the English language – it’s always incorrect.

Clarity

The names of classes must be clear, and it must be understood what these classes do to someone who looks at the code for the first time. If you are naming a class for introductory paragraphs, use an intuitive name such as “intro-paragraph.”

HTML

This is an example of an introductory paragraph.

CSS

.intro-paragraph {
text-decoration: italic;
}

Concise

Refactoring is the process of editing existing code in order to prevent errors from occurring in the future, make the page load faster and make it easier to read. Refactoring code does not change the appearance of what it outputs, but it changes the ease at which it is processed by the browser.

When editing text when you don’t change the meaning of what you’re trying to say but you improve the understand of the text by being more concise. A simple example would be using the world “use” instead of “utilize.”

Comprehensible

GitHub is a great, free service that allows coders to contribute to other projects by building off of what others have done. If others are reading your code, it needs to be comprehensible and in a form that others will be able to understand just as it is important for others to easily read a news article.

Consistent

Use the same naming conventions. If a number is spelled out once, spell out every other number. If you use hyphens, use hyphens. If you use camelCase, use camelCase.

It’s not “wrong” if the names are not consistent because the code will run, but it is not easy to read. This relates to using a stylebook to keep consistency. In AP style, numbers under 10 are usually spelled out, but numbers greater than or equal to 10 are written numerically.

Copy editors edit to help readers better understand the author’s words. Editing code can do just the same thing for others who read your code and when code is revisited to make changes.

Student guest post: Transitioning into understanding

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Zach Freshwater is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill double majoring in political science and reporting. He is a communications intern at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a communication consultant for Planetary Emissions Management.

What’s blue and white and has over 50 gender identity options? If you guessed Facebook, you’re right.

Last week the site announced that it will now offer users 56 choices to indicate their gender identity. The options range from male and female to transgender, gender questioning, androgynous and non-binary.

While the change might leave some confused when they join the site, Facebook’s move denotes an important shift toward recognizing transgender individuals. And journalists need to pay attention.

Earlier this month, Janet Mock, a transgender author and activist, appeared on “Piers Morgan Live” to discuss her new book about her life and struggles as a transgender woman. The interview went well, and both seemed cordial and excited about Mock’s work.

But the conversation went sour soon after the interview when Mock tweeted that she was disappointed in how Morgan discussed her identity. As a transgender woman, Mock took offense to Morgan’s statements that she was “formerly a man.”

Morgan fired back, and the Twitter conversation culminated in Mock returning to Morgan’s show to discuss the issue several days later.

While the clip above is a bit lengthy, it marks an important note for journalists: Be informed and be sensitive.

Transgendered individuals and their struggles are growing in national prominence, and journalists need to keep up. Understanding and acknowledging someone’s identity doesn’t indicate political affiliation — it denotes accuracy and respect.

GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) offers a media reference guidefor journalists covering transgender topics. The organization also offers a Transgender 101 guide that acts as an introduction to transgender identities and issues. Reading through these two guides only takes about 15 minutes and could prevent serious difficulty and embarrassment.

So, to all of the reporters, bloggers, editors and newsies out there, do your transgender homework. You’ll be better for it.

In which I succumb to a 2013 year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 49,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 18 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with J. Andrew Curliss, investigative reporter

J. Andrew Curliss is an investigative reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh. This summer, he wrote a series of articles about the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. (You can read the first installment and related content here.) In this interview, conducted by email, Curliss discusses the origins of the “Spending in the Shadows” series and its impact.

Q. How did you come up with the idea to do this series on the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center?

A. This is not an easy question to answer. I had been interested in the work of the Rural Center for some time. I first gathered information in 2011, actually, when I obtained the center’s grants database.

While working on other stories, I would receive updates of the database and also continued to analyze it. I was looking at all aspects of its grant-making functions — the basics of where the money went, who got it, that sort of thing. The database has a wealth of information in it, including lengthy descriptions of projects.

In 2012, the center popped up as an issue in the budget debate. I continued to gather information.

By the beginning of this year, as I bore in more on the data, several story ideas emerged. Some would eventually make the paper. Others not. I worked on tax loopholes series with a colleague in the beginning of 2013 and then turned my attention full time to the Rural Center.

I requested about 90 files for review as part of that. I began looking at specific files in May 2013, and the articles were published in mid-June.

Q. The series consists of two long stories, sidebars, a graphic and photos. How long did it take to report, write and edit write it all?

Well, see above. It’s not a clean-cut answer: I started on x and finished on y.

I will say that I really was not dedicated to this project full time until early May — and we published in mid-June. I worked every day but one during that time frame, which included Memorial Day, Sundays, etc. Many days, I worked 12- to 15-hour days.

Q. What role, if any, did you have with the copy editing and headline writing for the series, including its “Spending in the Shadows” title?

A. I was involved in all aspects of the series, including the title.

It is a collaborative process. But we try to deliver everything to the copy desk with suggested headlines in place.

Q. On occasion, newspaper stories like this lead to policy changes. What’s the reaction been to this series, and how do you think it will affect the future of the Rural Center?

A. Reaction to the series was swift, if not immediately apparent to readers.

Until the series ran, many policy makers in North Carolina believed the Rural Center was doing a great job. Its leader, Billy Ray Hall, had told me in an interview he would be surprised if I raised questions about any of his grants. Of course, we did. After the series, the Rural Center board said it would conduct an aggressive review of all its practices, led by a former lawmaker.

At the time the series ran, it was not clear how budget deliberations would end up — with full funding, reduced funding or no funding for the center. The series clearly gave lawmakers reason to question continued funding for the center, and they did.

There was a major effort underway by the center to try to preserve its funding, but it was unclear exactly how that was going to end up because … As that process was going on, the state auditor issued an audit that also raised questions about the center’s oversight of grants. The audit looked at a much smaller slice of the center’s work than we did and did not focus on performance of grants as we did, but for the most part supported what we had written.

We had also published a follow-up article that showed how board members at the Rural Center were benefiting from the center’s grants. In the end, the president (Hall) resigned, and the state froze funding to the center as well as prevented it from spending state money. Lawmakers created a new entity, housed in the Commerce Department, to oversee rural efforts in North Carolina.

Q&A with Mitch Kokai, communications director at the John Locke Foundation

Mitch Kokai is director of communications at the John Locke Foundation, a think tank based in Raleigh, N.C. Prior to taking that job in 2005, Kokai worked as a reporter at News 14 Carolina, a regional cable news channel, and at radio stations WCHL, WPTF and WENC. In this interview, conducted by email, Kokai talks about his work at the John Locke Foundation and its role in North Carolina media and politics.

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

A. The official title is director of communications, but the John Locke Foundation’s communications duties are divided among several different people.

I am primarily responsible for dealing with the news media, writing and distributing news releases, overseeing content for the Carolina Journal Radio program and the CarolinaJournal.tv video site, and blogging for JLF’s primary blog, The Locker Room.

Day-to-day duties include:

  • reading research reports and translating them into a form that might pique the interest of a person who works outside the world of public policy;
  • recording John Locke Foundation events, placing that content on the Web and editing sound for the radio program;
  • conducting interviews for video, radio and print purposes;
  • scanning state and national news sources for material worthy of promotion on the blog; and steering print and broadcast reporters to JLF resources for their stories.

I also help with copy-editing JLF’s monthly Carolina Journal print publication.

Q. You worked in radio and cable TV news for many years. What was it like to move from straight news to a job that advocates points of view and changes in law and policy?

A. Working for an organization that openly expresses its viewpoint is actually easier than trying to maintain the fiction of objectivity. If the material is going to prove useful to more than just the cheering sections on the ideological left and right, it must address arguments fairly from multiple perspectives. Regardless, people who follow the John Locke Foundation’s work closely have an inkling of the positions we take and can judge our work accordingly.

In contrast, a media outlet dedicated to “straight news” actively promotes the myth that its news coverage is unbiased. The choice of stories to cover or ignore; the relative weight given to the mix of stories on the printed page, in the newscast, or on the Web; the sources interviewed; the facts used and omitted; and the structure and content of the stories are all based on the organization’s biases.

Pretending otherwise is not particularly helpful. It’s nice not to have to take part in that game.

Q. On occasion, you write opinion pieces for Carolina Journal Online. How does the site handle editing and headline writing for that kind of content?

A. Every page of the Carolina Journal print publication gets at least three rounds of copy editing. Our publisher is our chief page designer and writes headlines, but at least two other people read each headline.

For Carolina Journal Online, the managing editor typically handles most copy editing and headline writing. He will ask for help if the column or news story merits an extra set of eyes.

Q. Some of the foundation’s critics say its views are over-represented in North Carolina media. How would you respond?

A. This is an interesting topic that could lead to a lengthy debate about fundamental elements of the political process. I’ll try to spare your readers from that debate, though, and hit just a few key points.

First, the criticism tends to emanate from people who hold a fundamentally different view about public policy and the role of government. They don’t like our viewpoint and don’t want to encounter it at all when they read, watch or listen to a news story.

Almost any quotation featuring JLF is going to rankle these folks. Their concern has less to do with volume of JLF representation than with the fact that JLF’s comments get any representation at all. They are entitled to their opinion. We don’t particularly care much about their criticism.

We also pay little attention to those who draw a paycheck based on their efforts to oppose our viewpoints. An open-minded observer of the North Carolina political process will notice fairly quickly that certain organizations are populated by staffers who spend most of their time engaging in what I like to call “argument by adjective.” Rather than engage in valuable political debate, they spend their time writing about “evil right-wing extremists.” Remove the invective from their commentary, and you’ll find there’s nothing left. Everyone has to make a living; I’m glad I don’t have to do it that way.

Setting those critics aside, there is another much more interesting reason why the John Locke Foundation might seem to be over-represented in the media. Almost every news story involving North Carolina government revolves around efforts to urge an official or agency to do something. It might be approving legislation. It might be rewriting a policy. It might be adding to the budget of an existing government program.

In some cases, there might be a partisan divide among elected officials on the issue in question. In that case, it’s easy for a reporter to talk to a Democrat and a Republican, and perhaps a Libertarian, and feel pretty confident that the bases are covered relatively well. In other instances, though, key players in the story are not necessarily elected officials. Often the players are interest groups seeking some type of government action.

How does a reporter find an opposing view when the advocate for a particular position is an interest group seeking government action? Even without deadline pressure, it can be very difficult for the reporter to track down a source who is going to feel a negative impact from the policy the interest group is promoting.

Does this mean there is no such person who will face a negative impact? No.

It’s often true that the negative impacts of a particular policy will play out in the future and in ways that are hard to document today. For instance, how does the reporter go about identifying a small business owner or entrepreneur today who is not going to be able to expand his business two or three years down the road because of a harmful new regulation or higher tax burden?

In these instances, it’s easier to turn to a group like the John Locke Foundation that focuses on the unintended negative consequences of government policies that might sound like great ideas on their surface. Many of our appearances in media reports stem from a reporter’s efforts to contact us, rather than our efforts to promote our own work.

At times, we are unable to help those reporters because they call us about issues (immigration policy and social issues come to mind) that are not part of the John Locke Foundation’s focus. But if we can provide a useful comment that offers an alternative perspective to that offered by the individuals or interest groups pushing for government action, we do.

Q. On the other hand, there are more sources of news and voices of opinion than ever before. How can organizations like yours get their messages out amid the clamor of online news and social media?

A. As the number of news and opinion sources proliferates, those that will fare best are the ones that develop a good reputation. Traditional media outlets can rely on their brand names for as long as those brands carry weight with news consumers. Others must rely on developing an audience that finds the product useful and reliable. We aim to fill that role.

People with a free-market, limited-government perspective might enjoy our work, but they will not find an echo chamber for the Republican Party. People with a left-of-center political perspective might not agree with our editorial conclusions, but those with an open mind will find value in the research and data used in constructing our arguments.

Plus our news reporting supplements coverage they can find from other sources. Not counting my own broadcast news background, the Carolina Journal staff has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years of combined experience working in traditional mainstream media newsrooms.

Yes, we show our viewpoint in the types of stories we cover, but that makes us no different than those traditional outlets. By presenting a consistent product, we hope to be a regular part of concerned citizens’ news and information mix.

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 freelance writer Victoria Bouloubasis

Victoria Bouloubasis is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. She is on the food and restaurant beat for the Independent Weekly, an alternative newspaper. In this interview, Bouloubasis talks about her interest in food journalism and what inspires her reporting.

Q. How did you get into writing about food? What attracted you to that topic?

A. I find food culture fascinating. And personal narrative always surrounds food.

When you visit a new place, you always ask a taxi cab driver or a clerk at a mini-mart where to go eat. From there, you are led into a bit of their world, which leads to stories upon stories. And food itself involves so many senses and emotions, colors and sounds, that it provides the perfect backdrop for any story.

Q. The Triangle region of North Carolina has a lively restaurant scene. With so much going on, how do you decide what to write about?

A. I only write about restaurants that serve a cuisine that has influenced my palate and has made me knowledgeable about the food.

It wouldn’t make sense for me to write about types of food I haven’t had enough exposure to or a culinary style that I haven’t even attempted to cook. I don’t need to know how to cook it, but I should at least be familiar, in a kinesthetic way, with its process.

That said, yes, we have an incredibly lively restaurant scene … with lively characters and traditions, old and new. We’ll never tire of the vibrant food culture here, in restaurants and beyond, because it is constantly changing and shaping the place we call home.

Q. You have a blog and are active on social media. Why is that important for freelance writers like yourself?

A. My blog is more like a website to showcase my portfolio. It’s a convenient way to shoot a link over to anyone interested in seeing my work.

On the occasion that I do post something original for the blog, it lets me write in a personal essay style, which is a unique writing practice. And it’s fun to share online! I’ve gotten some great sources through Twitter.

Q. You are a graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Looking back, what was helpful about that experience, and what are some things you wished you had learned then?

A. Meeting peers in journalism was particularly helpful. I continue to collaborate with fellow JOMC graduates now that we have cultivated ongoing careers as writers, designers, photographers, videographers, etc. UNC gave me a network.

I wish the news-editorial sequence was more comprehensive. I tried to get into a photojournalism class for two or three consecutive semesters and couldn’t because that wasn’t my declared track. From what I hear now, the program provides more options for students.

The courses helped shape my skills as a reporter — sorting through stats, taking the most important bits out of a long meeting and expecting the unexpected during interviews. The constant writing in college makes the crazy schedule of my freelance gigs feel like a breeze.

Read articles by Bouloubasis and follow her on Twitter.