The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Tag: ACES

Q&A with Stephanie Yera, communications associate at the NYT

Stephanie Yera is a communications associate at The New York Times Company. Yera is a 2009 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. She previously worked as an intern and corporate communications assistant at Dow Jones and Company. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Yera talks about her job duties and journalism education.

Q. Describe your job. What does a communications associate do at The New York Times Company?

A. Every day begins by reading The Times in print and online to see what stories are on deck and which ones are “most viewed” and “most e-mailed” online. Pinning down our most popular news stories determines what newspaper content I’m going to actively pitch to TV and radio producers in an effort to secure interviews for our reporters to discuss their stories on air.

Even without pitching, we get numerous invitations daily from producers for our reporters to appear on their programs, so coordinating interviews is my primary responsibility.

It’s important to be familiar with the paper, its reporters and their beats, because if one reporter on a particular story is unavailable for interviews, I need to try to find another reporter to jump in. If I know The Times is working on an investigative piece or is preparing to break a big story, part of my job is to do advance outreach to producers to reserve air time for reporter interviews and make sure The Times gets credit for the news scoop.

My job also includes copy editing all external communications, writing company press releases and posting to the company’s Twitter feed. In the fall, I’ll be posting to Twitter live from TimesTalks events, part of an ongoing series of celebrity guests interviewed by Times reporters, which I’m especially excited about doing.

Q. You were a student in the news-editorial sequence at UNC-Chapel Hill. How did the skills you learned there help you in your job? What wasn’t taught that should have been?

A. Coming into The Times already knowing how a newsroom works and what kinds of stories make for high interest really helped me find my footing quickly. Because I’m speaking with producers and reporters constantly, I hear industry jargon all the time, and I’m able to keep up despite not having previously worked in a newsroom thanks to my time in the j-school.

The skills I learned in news editing helped me carve out a bigger role for myself in the office because I’m now trusted to copy edit and review corporate communications before they leave our department and to take such precautions as proofreading my Tweet before posting. Volunteering to edit internal communications is how I eventually got to do more writing.

I’m still not a master of the press release, but what helps me write one is the inverted pyramid, the concept I learned my first day in the j-school and which is now second nature when it comes to writing most corporate communications.

News reporting really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but it was a necessary challenge that taught me a lot about taking initiative, networking and being confident in my writing. Networking isn’t something I’m naturally inclined to do, but putting myself out there as a journalist and getting interviews from sources gave me the nudge I needed to be more comfortable with it and, eventually, come to enjoy it.

I would like to see a j-school class devoted entirely to digital journalism that included lessons in basic HTML, Web design, blogging with video and audio, putting your resume online and attracting people to your Web site, Twitter feed, Facebook, etc. Something I wish had been more ingrained in me is the important habit of keeping up with the latest media industry news. Being up to speed on the gadgets, apps, tech startups and media journalists of the moment is critical if you want to stand out and be ahead of the curve of new media.

Q. You were an intern for the American Copy Editors Society. How did that experience help you in the job you have now?

A. As an intern, I was responsible for setting up interviews with copy editing professionals to discuss their jobs and editing expertise and for interviewing and following up with them without an intermediary, which were experiences that directly relate to what I do now.

For some people, picking up the phone and calling someone they’ve never met is easy, but for me, it took some getting used to, especially because I was nervous I hadn’t prepared the right questions to get enough meat for the stories I’d be writing for the ACES newsletter. Every time, though, I ended up having more than enough to write about, and I hesitated less and less before picking up the phone and conducting my next interview.

The majority of my day is now spent negotiating interviews, cold calling and e-mailing producers and “meeting” reporters on a call or via BlackBerry.

Having ACES on my resume also earned me some credibility with my colleagues when I first started at The Times. They let me have a go at copy editing internal memos and departmental e-mails when I started volunteering myself for the task. After a couple of months, I was asked to assist the company’s speechwriter in editing executive speeches and to copy edit press releases, and now I help write them, as well.

Q. Many college students would love to land an internship or first job like yours. What recommendations do you have for them?

A. Big opportunities can come from unexpected places, so tell people about your ambitions and get to know classmates and professors in and outside of the j-school. The interview for my public relations summer internship with The Wall Street Journal came through a professor in UNC’s peace, war and defense department — an unlikely source who knew I was looking for an opportunity in media. Without that internship, I wouldn’t have met the person who would hire me a year later to work at The Times.

Getting to know your professors can not only lead to job recommendations, but can also be a gateway to important introductions and meaningful support systems. Maintaining relationships with Carolina alumni is also an important step in preserving resources of encouragement and possible job connections. I only really took advantage of University Career Services in my senior year, and that’s something I should have done much sooner. Through UCS, you can find jobs posted by alumni or by organizations where alumni are already employed and find employers looking for Carolina grads.

Skills that will serve you in digital journalism should be kept sharp and up to date, but not at the expense of traditional know-how. I once got a job without an interview because I was the only candidate to not include a spelling or grammar error with my application.

If you haven’t yet had luck in securing a paid job in journalism, seek out volunteer or freelance opportunities to keep you in the game. Even if they don’t pay, they’ll add important value to your resume.

It’s almost time for breakfast

The Breakfast of Editing Champions returns to the AEJMC national convention in Denver next month. The breakfast is free and open to anyone who teaches editing, appreciates editing or simply likes to hang around editing professors — and that should be pretty much everyone.

Deborah Gump, who teaches editing at Middle Tennessee State University, is the main organizer of the breakfast, and I’m serving as her co-host. An RSVP is required.

The event’s agenda is simple, yet fundamental to journalism that matters: the future of editing and editing education. Since the beginning of the breakfasts, we’ve invited journalists to help guide our discussion by sharing their views from the trenches. This year, we have:

  • Damon Cain, managing editor for presentation and design at The Denver Post. He oversees the news copy desk as part of his job at the Post, and he is active in the Society for News Design, which will hold its conference in Denver in September. Cain was previously director of news design at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He has also worked as an editor and reporter at community newspapers in Iowa. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa.
  • Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editors Society, and she has frequently led sessions at ACES conferences. She is news editor at the Daily Herald in Chicago, the third largest paper in Illinois. As leader of ACES, Schmedding hopes to build on the already healthy relationship between the newsroom and academia. Schmedding has an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and recently completed a master’s in media management at Mizzou.

A highlight of the breakfasts has been the Teaching Idea Exchange, which shares your best teaching ideas and strategies. Like last year, I’m handling the exchange. Share your best teaching idea or tip by sending 200 words or less about it to me at andy.bechtel@gmail.com. The deadline is Monday, July 26. We’ll call on you to talk about your idea and how and why it works, so be ready to discuss it briefly. We’ll compile the best ones into a handout too.

Oh, one more thing: Once again, we owe our coffee bagels and pastries this year to Rich Holden, executive director of the Dow Jones News Fund. The craft of editing owes much to him, and we do as well.

WANT TO GO?

The Breakfast of Editing Champions will take place on Friday, Aug. 6, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. It begins at 8:15 a.m. Bagles and coffee will be provided. To attend, RSVP by e-mail to gumpdl@gmail.com by Monday, July 26. We hope to see you there!

How to help the next generation of editors

The education fund of the American Copy Editors Society is dedicated to helping college students who are interested in careers as editors. This year, ACES gave a total of $6,500 to five students and helped pay for their travel to the national conference in Philadelphia.

Here’s how you can help the fund:

  • Attend the national conference and participate in the silent auction, which brought in more than $3,000 this year, including the $10 I spent on a Times-Picayune T-shirt.
  • Buy a Talk Wordy To Me mug or shirt. Thanks to copy editor/blogger Brian White for giving profits of these items to the fund.
  • Use Goodsearch, a search engine that gives some money to the charity of your choice every time you look for something online. Designate “American Copy Editors Society Education Fund” as your charity.
  • Download a form and donate to the fund directly. Your gift is tax deductible.

Thank you for your support.

Guest post: How to pack facts and flair into online headlines

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the latest of those posts. Maggie Tobias is a journalism senior about to graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill  and into the real world to pursue a career in health-related journalism. She loves writing about health, reading about health, bein’ healthy, running, watching Spanish movies, cooking healthy foods and singing rap songs at the top of her lungs. She is a member of the American Copy Editors Society, an avid reader of The New York Times, Women’s Health and many novels. Occasionally, she likes cooking unhealthy things, eating unhealthy things and watching “Glee.”

During the recent American Copy Editors Society national conference in Philadelphia, I attended a seminar called “Surviving the Switch to Online Editing.” This topic isn’t something new to me. Journalists get told every day that their writing isn’t direct enough or fast enough for the new world of Internet and iPads. The speaker, Paula Devlin of the Times-Picayune, gave us the rundown of different ways to increase traffic and readership for our news websites, but she also talked about the difference between headlines in print and online.

Print headlines have the luxury of being vague at times, as readers spend more time reading a newspaper than a website. But writers for online publications need to learn how to write headlines that get to the point and entice the reader, Devlin stressed in her presentation.

I argue that it’s possible to do all this and still keep a sense of humor in headlines. My generation is especially well-suited for this task. We’re already primed from years of texting to produce pithy, factual, funny content.

Devlin gave examples of rewritten print headlines.  Here’s my take on that.

Example 1:

Print headline: “Not by bulbs alone”

Why it’s wrong: This is a headline from The Carrboro Citizen for a story on Lou Ann and David Brower, a Chapel Hill couple who created a lavish garden in the woods around their house. This headline is lovely for print, but in an online version, I doubt a reader would think twice about clicking on the story.  It lacks proper names and buzzwords, there’s no sense of place and it relies on a biblical reference that many young people might not understand.

Suggested online version: “Chapel Hill couple takes gardening into the woods”

Comments: It’s not a riot to read, but I was able to add a place, people and a sense of what they’re doing. Some people might catch the shout-out to Steven Sondheim at the end. At least he’s more current than the Gospel writers.

Example 2

Print headline: “Talking trash at the Shore: Plastic, butts, underwear”

Why it’s wrong: This quirky headline from a Philadelphia Daily News story on pollution at New Jersey beaches might be unique, but it’s also misleading. I had no idea what the story was really about until I read the actual text. For all I knew, they could have been discussing the way beaches are overrun with rednecks and trailer trash. In addition, which “butt” are they referring to? What “Shore” do they mean? All in all, I think this was an awkward headline.

Suggested online version: “Jersey Shore’s trash collection eclectic and … dangerous?”

Comments: My version adds a location for those of us who don’t automatically assume “Jersey” when we see “Shore.” I wasn’t able to put in details about the trash, but by using the word “trash” instead of “plastic, butts, underwear,” I was able to clear up confusion about what those words were meant to suggest. Another element that the headline didn’t capture was the environmental hazard of this beach trash. If space permitted, I think the ending of my headline would intrigue people but give a good idea of what the article was about.

Example 3:

Print headline: “Cheek to Cheek (And Tongue-in-Cheek)”

Why it’s wrong: A first glance at this headline from The New York Times would leave anyone but the most perceptive musical theater lover at a complete loss for what the subject of the story is. “Cheek to Cheek” is a reference to Irving Berlin’s jazzy standard of the same name. But the number of online readers who know the song, much less who Irving Berlin is, must be pretty small. The story is actually a review of the latest season of “Dancing with the Stars,” whose line-up includes Pamela Anderson and soap opera actor Aiden Turner.

Suggested online version: “Pamela Anderson and others give dancing a whirl on ‘Stars’ this season”

Comments: Sure, it’s not quite as dry and witty as the Times version, but I think my headline gets to the point quicker and tells you more about the story’s contents.  Most people who’d want to read a story about this TV show would be attracted by buzzwords like the show’s name or a celebrity’s name. Also, TV lovers have reportedly lower attention spans. Even though my headline is longer, it takes less time to figure out than the questionable Times quip.

Wish you were here

This blog will be quiet for the rest of the week. I will be in Philadelphia for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society.

If you can’t be there, follow the fun on the Web and on Twitter.

Q&A with Deirdre Edgar, readers’ representative at the L.A. Times

Deirdre Edgar is the new readers’ representative at the Los Angeles Times. Edgar is a longtime copy editor and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Copy Editors Society. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Edgar discusses her job, common complaints from readers and how her editing background influences her new role.

Q. Describe your job. What does the readers’ representative do on a typical day?

The official mission of the readers’ representative’s office is to help uphold The Times’ standards on accuracy and fairness. I also see it as an explanatory role, explaining readers’ points of view to the newsroom and the newsroom’s thinking or decision-making to readers.

A lot of my day is spent on e-mail. Most reader questions, comments, complaints come in electronically. I read everything, then must decide whether complaints or calls for correction are warranted. The AME/copy desks, Henry Fuhrmann, is the paper’s standards editor, and as such, he is responsible for corrections. I forward a lot of things to him.

I also have a blog, the Readers’ Representative Journal at latimes.com/readers, which I try to post to daily. Some of my posts so far have addressed The Times’ coverage of Haiti and the Toyota recalls, a style change regarding the use of “today” as a time element and why “who dat” isn’t racist.

As part of my explanatory role, I’ve also started hosting online chats with readers. The first one featured reporter Joe Mozingo, who had just returned from covering the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

There’s a readers’ rep Twitter account, too, @LATreadersrep, although I haven’t done much with it yet. I want to monitor Twitter more, especially The Times’ main account, @latimes, because we get a lot of feedback there that very few people here ever see.

Q. What are some of the common questions and concerns you get?

Anything and everything! The paper made an error — factual or grammatical. The paper is biased — generally people say toward the left, but it surprises me how often people say a story takes the Republican side. A person wants an article taken off latimes.com because it’s old, embarrassing or they don’t like it (we generally don’t do that because the Web site is a record of a public journal). The reader didn’t get his paper, or there’s a billing problem — but those I forward.

And then last week The Times made changes to its crossword and comics pages as part of a reduction in page width, so that drew a flood of e-mails and calls. I’ve responded to each person who’s written to us about the changes. And thankfully the AME/design was able to change the layout of the crossword to address readers’ complaints.

Q. How does your editing background influence how you do your new job?

A. The goals are the same, being concerned about accuracy and fairness. But now I’m looking at stories after they’re published instead of before.

I was previously The Times’ national copy desk chief, and on that desk we still had the luxury of being able to fact-check stories. (I know that’s not the case elsewhere, or even on some other desks here.) I use those fact-checking skills now to research reader questions or items for the blog.

And when colleagues express sympathy that I have to answer reader complaints, I’ve been joking that I’m used to having a thankless job — I was a copy editor for 19 years.

Q. Many newspapers have eliminated positions like yours. Why does the Los Angeles Times consider the readers’ representative a job worth keeping in these difficult times?

A. The Times’ editor, Russ Stanton, made a big push to keep this position when my predecessor decided to step down after 10 years. He felt that, more than ever, now was not the time for the paper to turn its back on readers. I agree with that completely — and would even if I hadn’t been chosen to do this job.

Follow the Los Angeles Times readers’ representative on Twitter and read her blog.

Run for fun — and for ACES scholarships

This year, the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society will have something new: a 5K run to benefit the organization’s education fund.

Come to Philadelphia a day early, April 14, to participate. We’ll run the route that Rocky Balboa did, including a triumphant dash up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Find out more on the ACES site. I hope to see you there.

ACES headed to Philadelphia

It’s time to start planning your trip to the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. This year’s gathering will be April 15-17 in Philadelphia.

You can check out the early lineup of sessions, and be sure to register by Feb. 5 to get the earlybird rate.

I hope to see you there.

A boy’s view of editing

My 9-year-old son, Ross, is a faithful reader of the newspaper, especially the sports section. He sometimes takes note of editing errors: “They messed up again, Dad.”

Looking at the latest newsletter from the American Copy Editors Society this week, Ross noticed the top story about “newspaper copy desks across the nation dealing with fewer editors, more duties.” I explained to him that many papers were laying off copy editors and that the quality of journalism was suffering as a result.

Ross seemed baffled by this. “There’s no point in reading the story if it’s all messed up,” he said.

That’s my boy!

Nominate an editing ace for ACES awards

It’s nomination time for awards from the American Copy Editors Society. Here’s how to enter two of the organization’s contests:

ROBINSON PRIZE: This award honors the copy editor of the year who demonstrates not only superior editing skills, but also mentoring and leadership ability. The deadline to nominate someone (or yourself) for the prize is Dec. 1, and you can do that with a handy online form.

HEADLINES: These awards go to the best headline writers in the country. There are six categories, including a student competition. Find out more about the contest at the ACES site. You can enter online this year.

Winners for all prizes will be announced at the ACES national conference in Philadelphia in April 2010. Online registration is under way, and I hope to see you there.

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