Celebrating our freedoms under the First Amendment

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The 11th annual First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 24. It’s sponsored by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy. Here is what the day is all about:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events this year include:

  • A reading of banned books and exhibit of work by an imprisoned artist
  • A discussion about hate speech that will be recorded for “The State of Things” radio program
  • A trivia competition and selfie contest

All sessions are free and open to all. I’d love to see you there. You can also follow the fun on social media with the hashtag #uncfree.

Express yourself!

Q&A with Sam Oches of Food News Media

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Sam Oches is editorial director at Food News Media, a B2B communications company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Oches discusses how the company covers the restaurant industry and what he looks for in candidates for jobs and internships.

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

A. My job is very much spinning a lot of plates.

I oversee editorial direction and strategy for both QSR and FSR magazines, which are trade publications for the national restaurant industry. That includes overseeing the production of monthly print issues for both magazines along with our ever-expanding digital presence, managing our five-person editorial team and maintaining a pool of a couple of dozen freelance writers.

But increasingly the job is oriented toward innovation and new products, as well as being an ambassador for the publications. So I’ve rolled out a new podcast for QSR called “Fast Forward” (which I also edit, produce, etc.) and launched a networking-event series for restaurant owners called Fast Casual Meet Ups, of which we’re doing 10 this year and 12 next year. Then I’ll also moderate panels, give speeches and talk with consumer media whenever appropriate.

My typical day depends on the timing of the month and deadlines we have on the horizon. Usually I’ll have a week where I’m mostly assigning stories and working with writers, then a week where I’m copy editing first drafts, then a week where I’m proofing the books and maybe a week where I’m doing more content creation, including writing and podcast editing.

In and among all of that I’m conversing with restaurant owners, executives and experts; researching trends and new restaurant concepts; and developing a plan and RSVP list for our next event. Then, of course, every day includes lots and lots of emailing.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Food News Media’s magazines?

A. Every piece of print content usually has three or four sets of eyeballs on it before it gets published. Each editor here has sections they manage, and they give each story a first pass in editing. Then another editor will give it a second pass before it gets laid out by design.

After the design team has laid out the entire issue, two editors proof each book, and we also have a freelance proofer who gives it a careful read. Then we have a 24-hour window right before publishing when each editor gives the book one final pass. Suffice to say, we rarely have typos or mistakes.

As for headlines, print headlines are usually established in the first or second pass at editing. We ask that the writer suggest a couple of possible heds.

Our digital process, of course, is a little different. Due to time demands, stories get much less editing attention, and so we have to trust our digital writers to create content that is as clean and quality as possible. I’ll often give our premier digital content a read just after it’s been published, to try to catch any mistakes that might have made it through.

Digital headlines are always crafted with audience engagement in mind — and yes, that means we’ve had to explore the more acceptable components of clickbait when possible. Our digital team is very good at walking right up to the line of clickbait without crossing it. Also, all of our print content gets new headlines when published online, because again, we have to consider audience engagement.

Q. You are a graduate of the journalism program at Ohio University. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you picked up?

A. I graduated from OU a decade ago, but it might as well have been a generation ago based on how much journalism and storytelling have evolved since then. We were just kicking the tires of social media when I graduated!

I learned all of the basics in school, of course, and copy editing and storytelling techniques were particularly important. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be good at copy editing. The world is filled with sloppy writers!

But the biggest thing I took away from my time at OU was learning about business-to-business journalism. During my junior year, my adviser pointed me toward a class she taught on B2B; I assumed it would be all about economics reporting and numbers, but it was far from it. We learned how you could take a niche subject and break it down into the nuts and bolts, then explore those nuts and bolts using reporting and writing.

To that point, I was hellbent on being the next Lester Bangs, but the B2B class helped me understand that the path to journalistic success was much more varied and had much more opportunity than I’d thought. That class led to an internship at an architecture trade pub, and that internship helped me land the associate editor gig at QSR when I graduated in 2009 — a big deal since we were in the thick of a recession.

Q. What do you look for in applicants for jobs and internships? Any advice for students interested in B2B writing and editing?

A. Believe it or not, the most important differentiating factors among applicants are usually passion, drive and curiosity. Your resume may be short and your clips may not be super sexy. But if you come into an interview demonstrating that you’ve researched our publications and that you’re committed to continuous learning — and *cough* you ask some good questions *cough* — then I’ll probably want to find room for you on my team. We can probably teach you the rest of it.

My advice to anyone interested in the B2B field would be to go out and find some publications covering subjects you’re interested in or know a lot about — there is a trade for just about every single subject, even in the arts (Billboard and Variety, anybody?). Read those publications and get a feel for how they approach content. Develop some pitches and send them to the editors.

Even if they don’t assign you the story, it’s great to have a foot in the door. Most editors will even jump on the phone with you to describe their process and how to get included in their freelance pool.

Follow Sam Oches on Twitter and learn more about Food News Media at its website.

How journalism students get their news

Each semester, I ask students in my editing course: How do you get your news? The answers have changed over the years.

In the late 2000s, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was a frequent response. In 2015, The Skimm was very popular. One constant: The Daily Tar Heel, though less in print and more via its website and email newsletters.

This semester, the most frequently mentioned source of news is podcasting. Many of my students listen to The Daily from The New York Times and news podcasts from the BBC.

Others read news on the websites of their hometown newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer and Cherokee One Feather. A couple of students read the print editions at libraries on campus. Of the 40 students in the two sections of the course, none mentioned television or traditional radio broadcasts.

Will podcasts last, or will they go the way of “The Daily Show”? I’ll ask again in the coming semesters, and I will share any news here.

What I am teaching this semester

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Carroll Hall is home to the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill has begun. Here’s what I am teaching this term at the School of Media and Journalism:

  • Two sections of MEJO 157, News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media. Each section has 20 students; the class meets twice a week. Here is the syllabus for the course.
  • One section of MEJO 711, Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. This course covers an array of digital writing, including headlines, newsletters and tweets. It has 20 students, and it meets asynchronously. Here is the syllabus for the course.

In addition to teaching these courses, I will chair a thesis committee for a master’s student. I’ll also serve on various committees in the journalism school, including the curriculum committee and the tenure/promotion committee.

Best wishes to faculty, staff and students on a successful semester!

Q&A with Bret Strelow, sports communicator at Appalachian State

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Bret Strelow, right, at the New Orleans Bowl in December 2018. Appalachian State beat Middle Tennessee, 45-13.

Bret Strelow is director for strategic communications in the department of athletics at Appalachian State University. He previously worked as a sportswriter at several newspapers in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Strelow discusses his job at App State and his transition from news to public relations.

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

A. My title says I’m a director of strategic communications, so I should probably be better at communicating what I do for a living, right? Essentially, for the App State Athletics Department, I play a big role in planning and producing information that is communicated both externally to the public and internally.

That includes but is not limited to working with our athletics department administrators on bigger-picture matters (construction projects, proposals to various boards at the state or campus level), our fundraising arm (the Yosef Club on fundraising initiatives, membership drives, ticket/parking/benefit updates for members), our ticket office (season-ticket releases, etc.), our marketing department (department-wide and sport-specific promotions), our facilities personnel (for event planning), our Learfield IMG College employees (on sponsored content and events) and certainly, last, but not least, our coaches and student-athletes in terms of game operation (staffing of and running stats for home events) as well as coverage of their games/accomplishments on our web site, social media and through press releases, publication design/editing and maintaining/updating their team web pages.

That part involves written content, graphics, photography, working with our video production team (for creative content and live streams) and media relations for newspapers, television stations, radio stations and other outlets that are covering App State independently.

The best answer I can give about a typical day is that every time you begin a day with a plan for what you want to work on, very quickly new, unexpected things jump on your to-do list where prioritizing the most urgent or important items is vital. With requests from administrators, coaches, the Yosef Club, ticketing, our marketing department and other entities all coming in, that can be a delicate balance to strike of what to tackle first, but we are all working together with the hope that our efforts serve a greater good for the university as a whole.

I typically am in the office Monday-Friday starting around 8 or 9 a.m. and am working until at least 5 p.m. each day, often longer in the office or at home in the evenings, and definitely longer when there are night games on the schedule. Obviously, in sports, that means working a lot of weekend days and nights, and in certain seasons, it’s working every day of the week.

In football season, for instance, a Monday would focus heavily on game notes for the next weekend’s game and the content for the souvenir game program if it’s a home game, as well as setting up/covering a coach’s press availability. In the past, our Tuesdays and Wednesdays involved open practices for the media at the end of days in which you’re doing a lot of other work from 9-4. Each day you’re trying to produce football-related content, and in the case of a road game, you’re probably traveling on a Friday.

Later in the week is when you’re dealing with credential/parking requests and press box set-up with your game notes, or creating/printing the big flipcards that have info on both teams. My (often frustrating) relationship with printers has increased exponentially since switching from newspapers to the SID side.

Game day involves being there several hours early and working several hours after the game on recaps/photo galleries/stat submissions to your website, the NCAA, your conference. By Sunday morning, there are awards submissions, and often work must begin on game notes/game program items Sunday in order to have a shot at finishing it Monday given the nature of having weekday meetings and other responsibilities.

At App State, we have five or six people available to handle 20 varsity sports, so my sport-specific responsibilities have been being a primary SID or contact for football in the fall (I’m actually No. 2 behind my boss, but football requires a lot), wrestling in the winter and baseball in the spring. Baseball plays more than 50 games a year, often on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so it’s handling those game events in addition to the regular Monday-Friday office schedule.

I promise this will be my longest answer. I do type words for a living.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work for the Appalachian State sports website?

A. For most of the day-to-day, sport-specific writing (game previews, recaps, notes), the person in charge of his or her sport basically self-edits, because there’s just not time for everyone to read over everyone else’s work. Given my background as a sports writer, I am the most involved in our department in checking over some of those other stories for typos/clarity. Additionally, my boss (the head of our six-person staff) and I are definitely involved in the editing of bigger stories for each sport, like a coach hiring, and the two of us write a lot of the content for bigger-picture matters involving the athletics department and personnel.

Headline writing is done mostly with the space confines of the website template in mind so that it’s not too long but still includes the most important, search-triggering info of who and what. With so many stories on our site, naming by sport instead of school or as some combo of the two can be a bit tricky so as not to be redundant with everything including App State but still reading in a smooth way.

Q. You covered Appalachian State as a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal and the Fayetteville Observer. What was it like to move from reporting on the school’s sports programs to working for them?

A. The changes are more subtle than drastic, but there are differences. With my football coverage, I probably do try to write in more of a “beat writer” way than most SIDs with creative, detailed ledes and more color. And working in features for our site and game program is one of the reasons I’m in this role at all — to beef up our storytelling.

On the flip side, certainly I’m focusing on the positives, and I also write with an idea of what the coaches value. Football game stories tend to focus on the scoring and offense, for instance, but making sure to give a good defensive performance its due and include defensive items high in a story are things I’ve learned quickly based on how my story is perceived by the people with whom I work on a daily basis. And if a team I’m covering suffers a one-sided loss, that’s going to be a pretty short, matter-of-fact recap.

Q. It’s “talking season” in college football. What is the word on the Mountaineers this year?

A. It should be an exciting year. App State is coming off an 11-2 season in which it won its third straight conference title and improved to 4-0 in FBS bowl games.

The Mountaineers lost only one offensive starter and four defensive starters from the 2018 team, but there are plenty of new faces at the top and among the staff with head coach Eliah Drinkwitz replacing Scott Satterfield. How the new-look staff comes together with a talented, accomplished foundation, both in terms of personnel and program identity, is the question we’ll figure out an answer to as the 2019 team develops its own identity with a system that is, in some ways, different for everyone.

Is that a good enough PR answer? With a Sun Belt schedule that includes road games against some of the better teams in the league, plus a nonconference schedule that includes two Power Five opponents in North Carolina and South Carolina, there are definitely reasons to dream big but proceed with an awareness that past success doesn’t guarantee anything this year.

Visit the App State athletics website and follow Bret Strelow on Twitter.

Q&A with Kaarin Vembar, editor at Retail Dive

Kaarin_Headshot Kaarin Vembar is an editor at Retail Dive in Washington, D.C. Vembar has also worked as a fashion consultant, and she is co-host of the podcast Pop Fashion. In this interview, conducted by email, Vembar discusses her job at Retail Dive, including how headline writing works at the site. 

Q. Describe your job at Retail Dive. What is your typical day like?

A. My day starts by gorging on news. I read as much as possible first thing every morning (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, CNBC, CNN, WWD, Business of Fashion, Tech Crunch, Seeking Alpha, Bloomberg, etc.). I’m also reading the wires, checking news that is emailed to me, reading Twitter and checking in on what other business reporters are chatting about on social media.

Then I move into either writing or straight into editing. I edit for between three to four hours in the morning. In the afternoons, I help decide what stories we are pursuing for the next day, and then I work on editing longer features.

My favorite part is collaborating with reporters and freelancers on large stories ideas. We get together and brainstorm and work through a story’s angle, potential sources and how to build it out. I typically have a couple of longer feature articles that I’m writing as well. That means doing research, calling sources, reading for background, conducting interviews and writing.

Throughout the week, there is a smattering of meetings to work on editorial planning, larger projects and pitching ideas.

At the end of the day, I do a round of reading SEC documents. Then at home I continue to read, read, read business news that happened during the day outside of my industry. Then I go on a walk and usually think of a story idea.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Retail Dive?

A. We go through multiple rounds of edits for each story.

Headline writing is first done by the reporter, but then is refined through the editing process. Many times we workshop headlines with another editor or as a group.

I’m a big advocate for sending headlines into a pun round. That means throwing it out to the group and seeing who can come up with a headline that contains a pun or doing a version that makes everyone laugh. The pun version rarely makes it to final copy. However, it is a fantastic exercise that helps us think creatively and gives us room to play with words. The one-upmanship always gets us to a more interesting place.

After a story is published, I see how other news organizations have worked their headlines and assess ours. Could we have worded it better? Positioned the story in a different way? My objective is to continually sharpen the language, the angle.

Q. You’ve also worked as a merchandising manager and fashion consultant. What is it like covering a profession that you’ve worked in?

A. Oh my goodness, it’s so freaking fun. It’s. So. Fun.

I’ve worked in retail in some form on and off since I was 17, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

As a fashion consultant, I started seriously following industry news, and it slowly became an obsession. Retail news is better than anything you will watch on TV. You see companies rise and fall. You follow audacious c-suite personalities and their decision making.

The stakes are high because there is so much money on the line. We are living through a huge time of change with retail, so following the business of it is all drama all the time.

My time as a fashion consultant and in merchandising directly informs my reporting and continually feeds ideas for pitches. That work gave me a practical understanding of trade relations and tariffs. Of margins. Of supply chain. Of  dealing with consumer frustration.

It also gave me discipline. I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. to go merchandise a store and think, “Now why am I doing this?” The grind of being in stores every day gave me a sharp eye for the reality of retail. It was an amazing education.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in internships and jobs at Dive sites?

A. Oh, dear goodness — apply! Apply!

It never occurred to me when I was in school that business-to-business (B2B) was a type of journalism that I could pursue. But B2B is a blast because you get to go deep on a subject matter. You get to nerd out and are surrounded by people who are just as into it as you are.

Industry Dive has lots of publications including Marketing, BioPharma, Banking, Food, MedTech, Restaurants and Smart Cities. I’m a cheerleader for this company because I’m surrounded by smart, passionate co-workers and leadership that believes in the power of great journalism.

Follow Kaarin Vembar on Twitter and explore career opportunities at Industry Dive.

Q&A with Jamie Hancock, editor and internship coordinator at the Dallas Morning News

Jamie Hancock portrait

Jamie Hancock is assistant politics editor at the Dallas Morning News. She also serves as the coordinator for the newspaper’s internship program. In this interview, Hancock discusses DMN’s approach to covering politics and what it looks for in interns.

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

A. Part of why I love working in journalism is that no day is typical. But I do start each morning with a meeting with other news editors to discuss what we’ll have for that day’s digital presentation and the next day’s print edition. I also check our political reporters’ digital metrics every day to see how readers responded to their stories.

Throughout the day, I’ll edit any daily or enterprise stories our reporters file. All of them except one work in Austin and Washington, so we mostly use Slack to communicate with them about their work. Two days a week, I write Political Points, a newsletter we started this year to engage with readers and help them reach our content.

My role as intern coordinator changes over the course of the year. With our summer interns in the building, I’m available to answer any questions they have and make sure they know when and where their weekly brown-bag sessions are held.

Last week, we toured our printing press in Plano. This month, I’ll start making plans to recruit our 2020 class and visit campuses for interviews, including UNC. Applications are due Nov. 1.

Q. Politics is a subject as big as Texas. How do you and your colleagues decide what news takes priority?

A. We view the news through a Texas lens. Reader metrics have shown that our Dallas audience wants us to provide political news with a local bent. They want to know what their elected officials are doing in Washington, so we don’t focus on every piece of news that comes out of the White House — only what directly affects Texans.

We adopt a similar approach with the Texas Legislature, writing stories about our North Texas senators and representatives and the legislation they’re introducing, as well as how the big bills working their way through the chambers will affect North Texans. This year, the legislative session was all about property taxes and school finance.

Q. You are a 2005 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you learned during your years in Dallas?

A. The journalism school and its excellent professors gave me the foundation I needed to succeed the moment I left Carroll Hall.

I learned the finer points of editing from Frank Fee and Bill Cloud, and I loved my sports journalism classes with Mick Mixon that taught me how to conduct a great interview. The fundamental reporting and editing skills I learned in college are still critical, even as the industry has experienced momentous change.

But with that change comes new responsibilities and areas of focus, such as interpreting reader metrics and audience behavior. It’s one of the most fascinating parts of my job, and it’s vital to our business strategy.

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors in Dallas who have helped me develop leadership and management skills. They’ve seen potential in me when I didn’t necessarily see it in myself, and I’ve tried to pass on the confidence I’ve gained and the lessons I’ve learned to younger journalists in the newsroom.

Q. What do you look for in interns for the Dallas Morning News? Any tips for students looking to apply?

A. We look for interns who are inquisitive, eager to learn and from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. We treat them like full-time staffers from their first day, so typically they’ve had strong experience interning for another professional publication. Our reporting interns have the skills to conduct interviews and write stories, sometimes under deadline pressure, and we also have interns in photo, audience, copy editing and digital design/data.

As a a digital-first news organization, we’re looking for interns who are armed with social media expertise and knowledge of story metrics and online performance. Students looking to apply should pay attention to detail in their application packets and make sure they submit error-free résumés and cover letters. We expect our interns to work hard, but they have a lot of fun, too.

Follow Jamie Hancock on Twitter and subscribe to the Political Points newsletter.