Student guest post: Spelling in pop culture is less than sensational

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Madeleine Loeb is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who is majoring in editing and graphic design. She is from Tallahassee, Fla., but Washington, D.C. will be her next home so that she can pursue a creative career in advertising or sports.

The concept of sensational spelling has taken hold of popular culture, starring in advertisements, song titles and branding. Sensational spelling, the deliberate misspelling of a word for special effect, started being used throughout the 1960s and ’70s for mostly musical purposes to create an edgy way of representing an idea or feeling for their music. For example, Sly and the Family Stone used sensational spelling in many of their song titles to change things up a bit.

While this popular way of spelling started in the 1960s and was propelled by artists such as Prince, The Beatles and Ludacris, it has become more and more normal for current artists to incorporate sensational spelling into their work. Much like quick and easy texting language, titles like Britney Spears’ ‘Slave 4 U,’ Macklemore’s “Wing$: and Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” have completely stepped away from grammatically correct titles and look more toward fun and simple representations.

But the question still stands: Is it OK for artists to use sensational spelling more so than they use correct spelling? And where does Associated Press style extend into this new style?

I believe that artists’ use of sensational spelling is an attempt at connecting with their younger fan base or trying to look “cool.” But I feel that there needs to be some consistency or at least a set of guidelines when it comes to using sensational spelling.

In hoping to create some sort of structure to an artistic view of spelling and grammar, I have found that it seems that there are two ways to create a style that could be consistent throughout sensational spelling.

The first rule being, any word that is shortened, but could be spelled out to have the same meaning, should be spelled out. For example, “Slave 4 U” would simply become “Slave For You.” Similarly, Macklemore’s “Wing$” would just become “Wings.”

The second rule would be to allow misspellings of words if that word could be considered jargon or necessary to be spelled that way. For example, Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” — you’re not going to tell Beyoncé to name her song “Freak Them Dress,” or tell Sly and the Family Stone to change “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” to “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again.” Making those changes would take away the magic of the title and creativity.

So therein lies the problem. How do you suggest this change without taking away creativity?

While I say these would be rules, it’s more of a hope and suggestion. Much like the AP style, it’s a set of guidelines, not edicts. While sensational spelling is outside of the journalistic realm of control, I can only hope that it sticks to the artistic representations and doesn’t soon become acceptable within the journalism community.

Viva ACES

This blog will be quiet this week as I finish grading midterms and teach classes.

I am also preparing to go to Las Vegas for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. I will be part of two sessions at this year’s gathering, which starts Thursday, March 20.

I’d love to see you at the conference, but if you can’t be there, you can follow the fun on Twitter with the hashtag #ACES2014. Viva Las Vegas, and viva ACES!

Q&A with Nate Johnson, weather forecaster at WRAL

Nate Johnson is a meteorologist and executive producer at WRAL in Raleigh, N.C. He has been with the TV station since 2007. In this interview, conducted by email, Johnson discusses his job, including how weather forecasters use social media, and where weather coverage fits into a world of digital/mobile news.

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

A. I often describe my role as similar to air traffic control. Pilots want to fly, and good ATC allows them to fly more safely and efficiently.

I do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to clear the way for our other meteorologists to focus on forecasting the weather and sharing those forecasts across a wide range of outlets. WRAL Weather isn’t just on WRAL – it’s on Fox50, Mix 101.5 and 99.9 FM The Fan here in the Triangle; WILM-TV and Sunrise Broadcasting radio stations in Wilmington; and more than 75 radio stations statewide on the North Carolina News Network. And that’s before we mention WRAL.com and our range of news and weather apps as well as social media.

To that end, I serve as the weather point of contact for other departments inside the company as well as external partners. For example, if promotions wants approval on copy for a radio ad to TV spot, I will work with them to ensure it’s appropriate.

I develop new graphics, data tools and ways to tell the weather story, and I work with the companies that provide the graphic systems we use for TV and the data we use in our forecasts to ensure we have the latest and greatest. Finally, I backfill the frontline roles, both weather and traffic, when there is a need due to vacation, severe weather and the like.

It’s a fun gig, and as I joked last week as I was asked to do traffic for our evening newscasts at almost the last minute, there’s never a dull moment.

Q. We’ve seen a lot of wintry weather in North Carolina this year. How does extreme weather affect what you do?

A. In the moment, it means I do more of it – more coordination, more graphics, more filling in — including fitting more of that into normal hours as well as working extra hours.

Before an event, especially when we’re in stretches of quiet weather, my role includes planning for the next bout with extreme weather, be it wintry, severe or tropical. Afterward, I assess our performance on a number of fronts, including both meteorological accuracy and how well we communicated what we did and didn’t know.

What we’re learning in the weather world is that even a perfect forecast, if it’s communicated poorly, has little value. Beyond simply making “good TV,” we have to make sure we communicate the forecast well so people can make informed decisions about everything from shoes to safety.

Q. You’re active on Twitter. How are weather forecasters using social media to do their jobs?

A. A lot are using social to share their forecasts or promote sources for their forecasts. Many are also using it to hear from their followers about their weather, including snowfall totals and severe weather reports. The best are doing all of that as well as using social as a sounding board to understand how people are using their forecasts and whether they’ve been successful in communicating the forecast and maximizing the value for the forecast user.

One wrinkle that has appeared recently is the rise of social media sites providing weather forecasts, with an emphasis on high-impact events. They get a lot of shares and likes, and some use official-sounding terms like “watch” and “warning” but have no connection to the advisories issued by the National Weather Service. Many also say that theirs is the real deal and other outlets like the NWS or TV are either too conservative or not allowed to share how bad it will actually be.

Sometimes, there’s a grain of truth, and these forecasts — often for severe weather outbreaks or major winter storms — spread widely, causing a certain “freak out” factor. Unfortunately, many forecasters are having to spend valuable time countering these so-called forecasts and tempering expectations.

Q. Weather coverage has always been a part of news, but how is that changing with the rise of digital and mobile media? What do you see as the future of weather forecasting and reporting?

A. Like so much else, people aren’t coming to the evening newscast to find out the forecast. Many already have a sense of what upcoming weather will be, and if that is all we provide, people will stop watching. We need to continue providing the details but focus more on translating those details into impacts and explaining the uncertainty that’s involved.

Weather forecasts aren’t perfect, and part of the bad rap meteorologists have is because we aren’t very good at explaining the uncertainties that have been there all along. Sure, we might have a “20 percent chance of rain,” but what exactly does that mean? Where we can be more descriptive in a way that helps people plan their days, we must be.

And that becomes even more important when the potential impacts are bigger: As last week showed us, a difference of a single degree a mile up in the atmosphere might make the difference between a cold rain that’s no big deal or a crippling ice storm. That forecast worked out well, but it was well within our ability to forecast for that line to have been off by a county on either side.

We need to do a better job explaining the capabilities and limitations of weather forecasts. Smartphones are very good at giving you an icon and a number, but we have to be better at translating that into useful information.

Follow Nate Johnson on Twitter and read his blog posts on Digital Meteorologist.

Student guest post: The problem with listless listicles

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Courtney Lindstrand is a senior journalism major specializing in editing and graphic design and an anthropology minor. She is the former editor in chief of Blue & White magazine and the co-president of the Carolina Association of Future Magazine Editors.

The listicle, a portmanteau of the words “list” and “article,” is an article format that has become ubiquitous on the Internet within the past few years. Sites like BuzzFeed and ThoughtCatalog subsist almost entirely off of this format of numbered and bulleted online journalism. Some argue that listicles aren’t journalism at all, but rather examples of lazy online blogging that undermine long-form and reported pieces that are trying to gain more traction on the Web.

Maybe somewhat ironically, I decided to take a quick look at listicles and subsequently organized my thoughts into a list-like format. Is my decision on how to format this blog post a testament to why listicles are actually awesome and here to stay forever? Read on and decide for yourself:

Why listicles are popular

They’re easily created: Listicle concepts are easily dreamed up. The author can simply pick a topic that is of interest to the readership (perhaps bacon for BuzzFeed or hairstyles for Cosmo and then slap a cardinal number on the number of relevant pictures or tips they can find on the subject.

They’re easily digested by the reader: The New Yorker recently analyzed the list trend and was able to conclude: “In the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brain.” It’s not “work” for a reader to scroll through a listicle. They can easily skip over tips and images that do not interest them and move on to the next in line without missing a crucial part of the story.

Listicle headlines are a no-brainer: Listicle headlines are practically preformatted for editors. Marry the number of items in the list with a witticism about the subject at hand, and you’re golden. Additionally, these formulaic headlines practically beg the reader to click on them, especially if the topic is of particular interest to them. How could a sports-obsessed reader simply scroll over a link to the “Top 10 Touchdown Passes of All Time” on their Facebook News Feed? A: They can’t.

How listicles can be problematic

They can lack journalistic integrity: There are a ton of listicles on the Web that definitely didn’t require any knowledge of journalistic standards to create (Looking at you, lists made entirely of photos of cats). These can be problematic because they can take attention away from lists that are well reported and took a significant amount of time and resources to put together.

They can shorten reader’s attention spans: A reader who just got through a 50-image list of cute animals may not be so willing to dive into a six-page feature story. Long-form journalism requires more of a commitment of the reader’s time and brainpower than a lightning-quick scroll down the page. While we want to give the readers what they want, we can’t forget to also give the readers what they need.

Irrelevant headlines: When coming up with a listicle headline, it can be easy to get carried away on a mission to make the list as “clickable” as possible. Editors have to be careful to be sure the headline is relevant and accurate rather than a sensational sentence that will leave readers disappointed after reading the content.

How we can make listicles work

Listicles can serve as an introduction to a larger conversation: Breaking down a difficult-to-understand concept into a list format will help information become more digestible for the reader. The Washington Post’s popular post “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” from last year comes to mind. As readers feel more secure with the topic, they are more likely to follow it as it develops.

They can be reported with expert sources: Giving your readers access to an expert in a certain field is a valuable service. We are in a unique position as journalists to provide this service, and we should take advantage of that. If the best way to present the information you gleaned from these professionals is in a list format, that’s completely fine!

They can be an easy introduction into longer stories: As mentioned before, the list format makes information easier for the reader to take in. If applicable, a long-form piece can be broken down into this format to make the information less daunting to the reader. This concept can be likened to breaking information down into an alternative story format on a newspaper’s front page. Just like in print, a very long column of gray type on the Web simply isn’t palatable for the reader.

In summation, listicles aren’t going away. But online editors can hold their writers accountable and challenge them to keep articles written in list format smart with legitimate reporting. Putting thought and journalistic integrity into a listicle is not that difficult, and it’s an important part of keeping online journalism relevant.

That being said, if you happen to let a “20 Cute Puppies Wearing Hats” list slip on your personal blog every once and awhile … I won’t hate you for it.

Student guest post: Newsweek’s revival — a comeback or setback for print media?

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Sydney Leonard is a senior journalism major specializing in editing and graphic design with a second major in art history. She is an intern for UNC Global and at Algonquin Books.

After ceasing print publication in 2012, Newsweek is finally coming back in hard copy to a newsstand near you, expected Friday, March 7. Break out the champagne and party hats: Print media isn’t dead!

For those of us in the journalism industry, it is no secret that over the past decade, print publications have taken a major hit in advertising revenue due to our increasingly digital media landscape. Influential print publications have been forced to lay off staff and cut entire desks to cut back on costs. The New York Times had to institute a paywall on its online content.

These days, there is an ever-present conversation about the possible death of our beloved newspaper and print media. So what exactly does the Newsweek revival mean for our industry?

Looking at the root of this revival is vital to properly understanding the depth of meaning for the future of print media. After several failed attempts to keep the newsweekly magazine afloat, a small digital publishing company, IBT Media came into the picture, buying Newsweek last summer.

IBT Media believed they could resuscitate Newsweek into an animated and lucrative web-exclusive magazine. And they did just that. Tripling Newsweek’s online traffic, IBT Media now believes it can revive the hard-copy publication as well.

According to The New York Times, Newsweek plans to print 70,000 copies as opposed to the peak circulation of 3.3 million copies two decades ago, with each copy costing a reader $7.99. The print publication will be much different from the old hard copy, serving more as prop to promote online content.

IBT Media has cited shifting the culture of its content to serve a different demand and working to tailor its content to what readers want as the reasons for revival of Newsweek.

While we should celebrate the return of hard-copy of a once-failed print publication, it is imperative to realize this isn’t the same past model of American print journalism. That model is dead. The model Newsweek is aiming to operate runs a dangerous line feeding readership what they want in order to boost sales, or at least this is what it sounds to be. Only time will truly tell.

The issue we must face is that American journalism is dangling in a dangerous moment of balancing our image of the special public institution disseminating the truth to the citizens while also striving to operate as a profitable business.

Stories covering mundane or unpleasant topics are important to be covered, but nobody wants to read them. So how is the journalism industry meant to deal with this problematic equation?

Our industry needs innovative institutions that have the ability financially and culturally to bring news to the people in order for our industry to sustain itself in the future. Time will tell if IBT Media is this for Newsweek.

Where to find copyright-free photos

The photo service Getty Images made big news this week it said that it would unleash millions of images free of charge.

It put some qualifiers on that, saying that the use had to be for noncommercial purposes and that bloggers and journalists need to embed the photos in a way to give Getty credit. You can see examples of how this looks in this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Getty isn’t the only place to find free images. I’ve used Creative Commons on occasion, and this semester, the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill posted a page of handy links to sites offering free stock photos, archive images and logos. Thanks to librarian Stephanie Willen Brown for putting that in one place.

Stock images can bring visual flair to a story in print and online. They can also be abused. Not every story or post needs an image, but many do. My advice: choose wisely and give credit where it’s due.

Student guest post: Bias in journalism can be a positive force

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Amanda Hayes is a senior journalism major specializing in editing and graphic design. She is a staff writer for The Daily Tar Heel, and she plans to attend law school in the fall.

Journalism students are taught to deliver information objectively. Objectivity is an important journalistic principle, and it is a form of professionalism. But is it necessarily wrong to be a little biased if circumstances dictate it? Could a little bias actually be a positive push forward in journalism?

In the 1950s, Americans were on edge about a possible impending nuclear attack. Tensions between the United States and the USSR were reaching explosive levels, and everyone was suspicious of each other.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy was perhaps the most prominent figure during the Red Scare. McCarthy accused many innocent people of having ties to Communism.  He referenced distorted evidence or didn’t bother to provide any evidence at all.

Once people were accused of being Communists or Communist sympathizers, they were blacklisted, and no one wanted anything to do with them. This led to problems in the workforce and the community as the accused had a hard time finding a job and their neighbors shunned them. Some believe that one man was mostly responsible for the downfall of McCarthyism.

Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow spoke out against McCarthy on his show “See It Now,” a half-hour program that covered controversial issues. During the episode of “See It Now” titled “A Report on Joseph McCarthy,” Murrow showed clips of McCarthy’s speeches and pointed out the times when McCarthy contradicted himself. At the end of the episode, Murrow invited McCarthy on the show to respond to the criticism. Three weeks later, McCarthy appeared on the show. It did not go well for him.

Murrow had to persuade CBS to air the special. CBS executives were hesitant to do so because Murrow had taken such a strong stance on a risky issue. McCarthy could easily claim that Murrow and others at CBS were Communist sympathizers because they disagreed with him.

The special aired, and Murrow’s report was called a turning point in television. Murrow clearly took a side against McCarthy and expressed his disgust and contempt for the senator. The anger in Murrow’s report alone was biased. Yet Murrow was commended for his bravery and integrity. In this case, a little bias was positive. Even more, a little bias from a journalist in particular was positive.

Murrow was a trusted figure in journalism, and he had built up years of credibility. It was fitting for him to be the one to represent the thoughts of almost every American. An ordinary American could have made the same points as Murrow but he or she would have likely been overlooked or successfully discredited by McCarthy. But because Murrow was a trusted journalist, he was able to take McCarthy down with his reports and thus be a positive force for the American public.

Murrow is evidence that sometimes bias can be positive in the newsroom. In certain cases — like during McCarthyism — when there is a corruption and the general public is being disregarded, journalists need to step up and become more than just devices.

Some journalists need to not only deliver the news, but also be the voice in the news. Many times being the voice in news requires losing objectivity. Therefore, it is not always wrong to be biased in journalism, and sometimes it can be for the better.