Q&A with Santul Nerkar of FiveThirtyEight

Santul Nerkar is a copy editor at FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on the intersections of data and politics, sports and other topics. He is a 2019 graduate of Georgetown University, where he majored in government and economics, and worked for student media. In this interview, conducted by email, Nerkar discusses editing and headline writing at FiveThirtyEight, and he offers advice for student journalists who are interested in careers in editing.

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

A. I’m a copy editor, which can mean a host of different things depending on the publication or site, but at FiveThirtyEight that means I’m responsible for editing our content for accuracy, grammar and style. Basically, I’m responsible for catching factual, grammatical and stylistic errors, not just for our stories, but for the visual elements that go into them (charts, tables, etc.).

As it relates to the content we put out, no two days are the same, so the structure of my day really depends on the news environment – which, as you know, has been all over the place in the last year. During the 2020 election cycle, for example, I would sometimes start my day editing a story by one of our sportswriters about, say, the Los Angeles Lakers’ run in the bubble, before jumping onto an Election Update story by one of our elections analysts around noon.

Depending on the “newsiness” of either story, I’d prioritize working with our writers to publish the one that’s most salient to the current moment. So if the Election Update was in reaction to a batch of polls of the Senate race in Maine that had just dropped, I’d focus on that one first.

Other days, though, look completely different. If I’m editing a story that’s particularly involved or needs to be edited in pieces (e.g., the underlying data, the charts, an accompanying video), then my task for the day might be pretty static. And then, of course, you have something like the current political moment, where as a site you may have to shift your coverage away from a historic Senate victory for Democrats to a riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Throughout all that, we as copy editors have to stay vigilant and make sure our style, tone and accuracy are impeccable. Those standards don’t dissipate in times of crisis; in a sense, it’s even more critical to adhere to them.

We do have some recurring stories or columns, like Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup, or the Riddler (which I solo-edit), that are more or less baked into our coverage budget. But other than that, the changing news cycle more or less dictates what I’m going to be editing on a given day. That uncertainty can be challenging, particularly around fast-changing stories like the election, the storming of the Capitol or the early days of the pandemic, but I also do appreciate the opportunity to help our site publish thoughtful journalism around such tough subjects, in a really difficult time.

Q. How does headline writing work at FiveThirtyEight?

A. Headline writing is one my favorite parts of working at FiveThirtyEight. Typically, the copy editor assigned to a given story drops it into our headlining Slack channel, where anyone at FiveThirtyEight can then suggest different headlines and deks for the piece. With guidance from the assigning editor, writer and our social editor, the copy editor has the final sign-off on a given story’s headline.

We definitely have a particular style for our headlines (snarky and wonky), and it’s always fun to fire off and hear different ideas, including suggestions from FiveThirtyEighters who didn’t necessarily have a hand in the story. In part because of the site’s collaborative culture, I felt comfortable suggesting headlines even before I was fully copy-editing stories by myself, right after I came on board.

I didn’t appreciate just how important a key headline is to a story before I started at FiveThirtyEight. As a reader, you are subconsciously drawn to certain words, phrases, formulations, etc., in headlines. So when thinking up headlines, I have to keep that in mind while also staying true to our site’s style and idiosyncrasies.

Q. While a student at Georgetown University, you worked in student media and had an internship at a magazine. What did you learn from those experiences?

A. I had vague ideas of getting into journalism entering college, but I didn’t know how to develop my ideas, let alone help others. The Georgetown Voice, the school’s newsmagazine, allowed me to be creative about pitching ideas for feature stories, but more importantly, it did that by valuing the input of each of its members, even those who didn’t hold senior positions.

I think that camaraderie in turn made me a better writer, since I felt more comfortable sharing my reporting pitches, and editor, since a key part of the job is to provide feedback to the writer in a way that engenders trust in that relationship. I also got a better sense of the stories I wanted to pursue as a writer and editor – ones that are at the intersection of politics, sports and social inequality.

My experience at Chapel Hill Magazine was instrumental to building my skills in fact-checking, as well as reporting and editing more broadly. My main job was to edit, chiefly fact-checking, as well as report out some local stories that meshed with the thematic elements of the particular issue we were about to publish.

I certainly got better at interviewing and asking questions through my reporting, but learning how to check claims, especially for a medium (print) where corrections are far harder to come by, really built my editing skills beyond just looking for grammatical errors. I also gained a much better sense of the importance of communication in editing: Always ask questions, and never assume!

Q. What advice do you have for college students interested in jobs and careers in editing?

A. Be open to different experiences, specifically as it relates to editing stories that span a diverse range of subjects. There have been a boatload of stories and projects that, when I first started their fact-check or research process, really intimidated me. I still feel that way. But I do feel now that I have built up a decent amount of domain knowledge across the subjects we cover, whether it’s in our coverage of politics, sports, science or economics.

Another thing I would say is that it’s important to build up a good number sense, with so much of reporting tending towards data journalism. That might be some of the FiveThirtyEight speaking, but I do think it is important to have at least a grasp of probabilities, empirical assertions and so on. That doesn’t mean you need to be a quant whiz or anything (I’m certainly not). But one of the things FiveThirtyEight has taught me is to be cautious when it comes to making empirical claims; as an editor, you could be responsible for fact-checking a claim that relies on methodology that hasn’t been vetted, and whose dissemination could be fairly influential. I think that sort of editing only gets better with practice, so if you have the chance to report, edit or contribute in any other way to empirically minded journalism, that’s a huge plus. Getting familiar with different sorts of data sets/databases, e.g. U.S. Census Data, is also a terrific way of building those skills.

Beyond the obvious advice to look for internships, freelance gigs and other editing opportunities wherever they may be, with the caveat that it’s a really hard time in the industry right now, my final bit of advice would be to think of editing more like research, rather than just reshaping some writing. Some of my best growth as an editor have come from taking a more active role in the story than I’d initially envisioned. That might mean writing a graf here or there, researching some additional information, and so on. (Of course, you want to make sure that the writer is on board with what you’re doing here.) The more editors and writers think of themselves as collaborators, the better it is for your editing and, accordingly, for journalism.

Follow Santul Nerkar on Twitter.

How I will spend winter break

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill is over. Students, faculty and staff alike are tired after a term that included a switch to “remote only” teaching amid a deadly pandemic.

Still, there’s work to be done between now and the start of the spring semester on Jan. 19. Here is my “to do” list:

— Perform various duties and attend Zoom meetings as director of a master’s program in digital communication.

— Match students in that program with thesis advisers.

— Read and give feedback on the draft of a student’s thesis, and prepare that student for the defense.

— Put together a dossier for a five-year performance review, sort of a mini-tenure.

— Prepare for courses for the spring semester, including an introductory course on writing and reporting that I have not taught in 12 years.

— Attend training sessions from the Center for Faculty Excellence on how to improve teaching online.

— Report and write a post about word choices involving the Biden-Harris administration for the website of ACES: The Society for Editing.

— Spend time with my wife and son; no larger gatherings because of COVID-19.

Thank you for visiting this site this year, and see you in 2021!

A pair of farewells

As 2020 draws to a close, readers and listeners in the Triangle region of North Carolina must say goodbye to two stalwart journalists.

Restaurant critic Greg Cox is leaving The News & Observer after 25 years. Officially a freelancer, Cox felt like a part of the N&O staff with weekly reviews.

In a farewell column announcing his retirement, Cox wrote: “I’ve never lost my sense of excitement and curiosity about the next restaurant on my list of review candidates, or my admiration for the chefs and servers who make the adventure possible.”

The N&O will put restaurant reviews on hold until the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Editor Robyn Tomlin said that reviews by Cox and other writers may appear on occasion then.

Morning host Ron Stutts is leaving WCHL after 43 years at the Chapel Hill radio station. In a story on the station’s Chapelboro website, Stutts said: “The radio station has been here for 67 years, and I realized I’ve been a part of it two-thirds of that time! As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.”

WCHL, which also broadcasts on FM as 97.9 The Hill, has named Aaron Keck as Stutts’ successor.

Both Cox and Stutts have been reliable, trusted voices for decades. I wish them well in their retirements.

How I learned that Joe Biden had won the presidency

In 2020, Election Night turned into Election Week. Unlike in previous presidential elections in the modern era, the nation had to wait for mail-in ballots in many states to be counted. As I write this post, some counting (and recounting) continues.

But on Saturday, Nov. 7, Joe Biden was declared the winner for president over Donald Trump. Here’s how I got the news.

After checking on the latest returns on CNN, reading updates on my laptop and doomscrolling through my Twitter feed that morning, I went for a long walk. Almost each day since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I have gone for a daily constitutional in my neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina. During this time, I leave my phone at home.

That Saturday was sunny and pleasant. As I headed home in the final few minutes of my walk, I could hear shouting from the city park nearby. I also heard car horns blaring in the distance.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the commotion. The election did come to mind. Maybe there was a result? Then again, cities are sometimes noisy for no apparent reason. Maybe it was nothing.

When I returned home, my wife greeted me: “Have you heard the news?”

No, I replied, what news?

“Biden has been declared the winner!” she said.

“Says who?”

“The New York Times. Here, look at my phone.”

I saw the headline on her iPhone that I’ve included at the top of this post. There it was in ALLCAPS, the declaration of a winner. Other news organizations, including The Associated Press and Fox News, were making the same call.

So after four days of being plugged into television and the Internet, I learned the news about the presidential election the old-fashioned way: observation and word of mouth.

Presidents and probabilities

Dice used in the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. (Creative Commons photo by Wendy Copley)

Many years ago, I wrote a post about the words I learned playing Dungeons & Dragons. This post is about the math that I learned from the roleplaying game, specifically probability.

D&D is famous for its use of dice — some with unusual shapes — to determine outcomes of events in the game. For example, the character you play may want to strike and slay a monster. To see if you succeed, roll a 20-sided die and look at the chart in one of the game’s rule books. To assess damage, roll another die. Typically, the higher the number, the better the result.

As you play the game, you get a real sense of probability. Rolling a 1 or a 20 is unlikely, but it happens. It’s one of the many reasons the roleplaying game is fun.

I think of my D&D experiences as I see modeling for the outcome of 2020 presidential election. As of today, The Economist has Joe Biden with a 95% chance of winning, and FiveThirtyEight has him at 90%.

On Election Day in 2016, Hillary Clinton had a 71% chance of winning, according to FiveThirtyEight. That meant that Donald Trump had a better than 1 in 4 chance of victory, and the “dice” went his way in the form of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

As you watch the results come in this year, keep in mind that these models are not ensuring a victory or defeat for a candidate. They are offering probabilities.

Let’s roll.

Q&A with Bill Horner III, editor and publisher of the Chatham News + Record

Bill Horner III is editor and publisher of the Chatham News + Record, based in Siler City, North Carolina and covering Chatham County. He previously worked for The Sanford Herald for more than 30 years. In this interview, conducted by email, Horner discusses his work at the News + Record, his break from and return to the newsroom, and what he looks for in journalists entering the field.

Q. Describe your job at the Chatham News + Record. What is your typical day like?

A. Probably better to describe a typical workweek, given that our production schedule, as a weekly, has such an unusual crescendo to it.

I’m publisher and editor, but the bulk of my early workweek is devoted to the news product. We go to press on Tuesday night, so I use Wednesday and Thursday as catch-up time and to focus on ongoing project work and to-dos. Friday’s a wind-down day and a time to catch up on email, which is a never-ending task.

I start kicking off the production week on Saturday morning by processing copy that I have in hand. My personal production cycle then starts in earnest with three to five hours of work on Sunday, editing and processing on new stories in-hand and submitted copy. Monday is a long day — reporters’ stories are in and it’s usually reading, processing, editing, etc., until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

If Monday is a marathon, Tuesday’s a full sprint – from when I wake up (usually around 5:30) until I approve the final page, typically around 5:30 p.m.

I usually go to bed pretty early on Tuesdays.

I do admin work, planning, have meetings, etc., on Wednesdays and Thursdays. With COVID, I am typically in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We do our newsroom budget/planning sessions by Zoom at 9:30 on Mondays and Thursdays.

I miss — very badly — sitting down with reporters face to face and going over story ideas and editing.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at the News + Record?

A. Hmmm. Not as well as I’d like.

I do the first reads on everything; reporters write their own heds (we have talked about them writing multiple heds, but it hasn’t come to fruition). I’ll tweak heds and sometimes add a “label” hed (we used to call them “kicker headlines”) or subheds. I do first reads when stories come in and ideally do a second read afterward — same day, next day, whenever works. I make notes in stories, ask questions, make suggestions.

I struggle with the volume — in a typical issue, we’ll have 125 to 140 “elements” (a story with two photos counts as three elements, for example) and I usually “touch” 90% of them, at least, and usually two to four times. Multiple that by three minutes per touch, and you get about 18 hours of editing right there — that’s my Sunday and Monday.

We don’t have another dedicated copy editor, so Tuesday mornings everyone else chips in and reads as much copy as they can. That’s a huge help.

Good copy editing is crucial. We need good ledes, good flow, compelling storytelling and heds that draw attention. But we also need spell-checking (easy) and thoughtful, careful read-thrus (not easy). I think it’s a weak point for us, but I still would stand up our product against any community or small daily out there.

Q. In 2016, you left the Sanford Herald after nearly 31 years to take a sabbatical. How did you use that time, and what brought you back to the newsroom in 2018?

A. My intention was to take a year or two off and take advantage of travel opportunities and figure out what to do with the proverbial “next chapter.”

I told friends, and even wrote at the time, that I was only retiring from newspapering — that I would go back to work at some point, but not in the newspaper industry.

I loved working at a newspaper and am passionate about this industry, but newspapering changed and the focus within our company (we sold our family newspaper to Paxton Media Group in 1998) had changed even more after the recession. We became fully budget-focused, instead of product-focused; the culture became less and less about being a great newspaper and more and more about making a number. We were all about the shareholders and turned our backs on the stakeholders. We were all cutting and cutting and reducing staff, and even though we won a lot of awards in Sanford, it was harder and harder to be proud of my product with such a small staff and constantly moving goalposts.

I can’t blame PMG; we were all up against a wall, but I feel like we made too many sacrifices in the product. I’d been there 31 years full-time, and fortunately my wife, Lee Ann, and I were in a position to walk away and take a break.

Lee Ann and I did a lot during those two and a half years. We sold the home we’d built in 2002 and built another, and we traveled a lot. We made three mission trips to Ukraine (and a fourth last year; we didn’t go this year because of COVID) and three others for pleasure, including an amazing week in Scotland with our younger son, who was invited to be present at an international music educators’ conference in Glasgow. I rode my road bike just about every day, woke up early and journaled, read a lot, and never felt the need for a nap because, when you’re stress-free, you sleep very well.

I kept up with the industry, reading the trades. It was depressing.

And then I saw some of our great national newspapers turn to clickbait journalism and lose any sense of editorial credibility. I saw my former newspaper give the chairman of our county’s Republican Party — a man who created fake online accounts so he could troll us and attack us online and on social media platforms — a weekly column on the editorial page. (A few of his columns appeared to the untrained, unfamiliar eye, as editorials – the way they were placed.)

I watched The Herald ultimately dwindle from an average of 24 pages, six days a week, to eight pages, five days a week, in a very short time. I was happy to be on the outside looking in; I got calls a few times a week asking me “what’s wrong?” at The Herald and asking me to buy the newspaper back. Occasionally, people still called me or stopped me on the street, thinking I was still there, to complain about something.

I kept very busy; I backed into a few very light freelancing gigs (including writing pieces for a mayoral candidate in a major N.C. town — amazing guy, but he lost the election) and actually still do some work for a corporate client in the D.C. area.

Then the Chatham thing came up. The opportunity to partner with Kirk Bradley — a good friend of mine and truly one of the three smartest people I’ve ever met in my life — and Chris Ehrenfeld, a friend of Kirk’s I’d not met before, was just too good to pass up. I’ve admired Kirk for years. He has a Midas touch, and both he and Chris love print; they wanted to make a go of it in Chatham and asked me to partner with them and lead the operation.

For me, it was a second chance … a chance to do newspapering right, to create a product that I would love to read and to be engaged in a community again — something I really missed after retiring in Sanford. I had incredibly supportive partners who said, “Do what you need to do to create a great newspaper.”

I never, ever once got bored during my sabbatical. But the chance to work with Kirk and Chris and the chance to create something special in Chatham was just too attractive a draw.

Q. You have several recent graduates of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media on your staff. What skills and qualities do you look for in journalists who are starting their careers?

A. In short, lots of real-world experience, a compelling body of work and a desire to do great work. And a love of newspapering and reporting. A hunger. Great references from people I know in the school helps, too.

I pinch myself thinking about my staff now. When we acquired the News + Record in late 2018, we had a small news staff — but collectively, it had more than 100 years of experience, and all of it in Chatham County. For a variety of reasons, though — another topic, and a long discussion there — the chemistry never felt right to me. We never seemed to row in the same direction, and not everyone bought into the vision Kirk and Chris and I had.

We won 19 awards from the N.C. Press Association contest that first year, including Best Community Coverage. Everywhere I went, people in Chatham told me how much they liked what we were doing.

But at the same time, I had one reporter come into my office and point to that week’s edition and say, “You’re KILLING this newspaper” — looking at a story we’d done that addressed the racial divide within the county. It was frustrating – I thought we were doing good work, we were getting great community feedback (for the most part), but the staff wasn’t energized and even a few (a few … not many) longtime readers complained, wanting the “old” paper back.

We soldiered on. We started gaining new subscribers (our paid base is up more than 30%). Anytime we had turnover, we lost experience but got better. Back in August of this year, we hit that 100% staff turnover number; now I have a staff full of rookies, none of whom have any local market ties. And we’re doing some of our best work.

I couldn’t be happier with our team and the way we work together. I’ve never, ever been this happy in a newsroom. Most of their parents are younger than me, but working with them makes me feel young, too — not old.

I’ve hired a lot of reporters over the years and been extremely fortunate in having some phenomenal ones; Will Doran, a UNC grad we hired in Sanford, comes to mind. He’s at the N&O now and destined for great things. My son Zach worked for us and won lots of awards before taking a job in communications with the local health department (which I encouraged); he had the same instincts and drive Will does.

What the best all have in common is an instinct that I don’t think — whether you’re in the Hussman School or in the William Allen White School at the University of Kansas, from where I graduated — can be taught. That’s a knack for finding stories and telling them in a compelling way, and a mindset that’s teachable and coachable (with just a little bit of course correction here and there). These kinds of reporters have that capability even before they set foot on a college campus.

There’s an old “M*A*S*H” episode I remember very well. Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, portrayed brilliantly by David Ogden Stiers, is trying to console a despondent soldier who’s been seriously injured and, as a result, lost the use of one hand. The soldier was a trained classical pianist, so he’s lost the ability to pursue his passion and the profession he hoped he’d have once the Korean War was over.

Major Winchester takes up his case and, after great difficulty, is able to find some classical piano sheet music written to be played with just one hand. He shares it with the soldier. The line I recall so vividly is Major Winchester encouraging the injured soldier to use his gift, to take advantage of his one good hand and create magic.

“I can play the notes,” Winchester explains to the soldier in a monologue about gifts. “But I can’t make the music.”

Plenty of news-ed graduates are well-trained, understand ledes, know AP style and all that. But they don’t make music. I read way too many stories in newspapers nowadays and think, “What was this reporter thinking? Who edited this?”

But reading a great story is such a pleasure and such a treat for me as a newspaper reader. The value we have the potential to bring to readers is really immeasurable, but it requires journalists who can make music.

I’m looking for the “it” those kinds of reporters have. They instinctively understand perspective and flow and transitions and great storytelling, and the training and experience they gain in their college work hones and sharpens it.

Chapel Fowler and Hannah McClellan and Victoria Johnson have that; Lars Dolder, who’s just started with us, has no j-school training but like the others, he has that knack. We’ve also had interns (Caroline from the University of Missouri, and Patsy and Olivia from UNC) who share that passion and desire.

For me, it’s magic.

Visit the Chatham News + Record website and follow Horner on Twitter.

Q&A with WTVD meteorologist Brittany Bell

Brittany Bell is a meteorologist at WTVD, the ABC affiliate that covers Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville, North Carolina. She has a degree in meteorology from Mississippi State University and previously worked at WAPT in Jackson. In this interview, conducted by email, Bell talks about her workday at ABC11 and her favorite season as a weather forecaster, and she offers advice for students interested in careers in broadcast journalism.

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

A. I work Monday through Friday 9-6, basically a “normal” schedule. That’s not always typical in TV news so I feel pretty lucky to have this schedule.

I’ve been working from home because of COVID, but my work day is mainly the same. When I go downstairs to my office, I start forecasting. I do my first version of the 7-day forecast, and then I complete other graphics. At 1:15 p.m., I join a weather call to update the evening producers about the forecast. After this call, I check the latest updated model runs and make tweaks to the 7 day as needed.

Chris Hohmann, our chief meteorologist, comes in at 2:30 p.m., and I give him a call between 2:30 and 3 p.m. We talk about the forecast and our plans for the show. Usually we like to show something different each newscast so we also discuss what graphics or facts we want to highlight.

I put my makeup on around 3:30 p.m., and then our show starts at 4 p.m. I have a weather hit during the 4:30 and 5:30 half hour. During the shows, I usually post some weather graphics on Twitter and Facebook.

Q. Weather information is available from numerous sources nowadays, including apps on our phones. What is the role of a local meteorologist?

A. I believe now the role of the local meteorologist is to get into to more detail about the forecast and give context. Your phone can give you a 7-day forecast, but beyond day one, it doesn’t give you much detail about the timing of rain or the amount.

I can let you know that the 60% chance of rain Wednesday is during the morning. Or I can talk about how some storms Saturday could be severe.

Speaking of severe weather, I believe that’s one of the most important roles of the local meteorologist. A phone can alert you to a tornado warning, but people like to hear a human break down what’s going on. People want to know is the storm getting stronger, where is it going, how long will this last? Most of us have basic radar on our phone, but the meteorologist comes in when it’s time to analyze the data on radar. Radar apps don’t have most of the products we use to dissect a storm.

When it comes to context, I like to use climate data to show if the current weather pattern is typical or abnormal. Some weeks we’ll have a stretch of unseasonably warm temperatures or record low rainfall.

Q. Of the four seasons, which is your favorite to cover? Why?

A. I would say fall. Summer can be pretty monotonous, unless there’s a hurricane, in North Carolina. It’s usually 90° with a pop afternoon shower. I love covering fall weather because that’s when we start to get stronger cold fronts. It’s also nice to cover that refreshing fall air that follows behind a front.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in careers in digital and broadcast journalism, including weather coverage?

A. I would say start early, and don’t be afraid to reach out! Grades are important, but your internship experience is going to hold so much more weight on your resume. Try to intern as soon as you can and as much as you can. You don’t have to wait until your junior year to get an internship.

Also, reach out to people in the field you look up to. It’s great to have some mentors while you’re getting your feet wet. Most of them will let you shadow them and give you invaluable advice. Plus, the relationships you make early in your career could open up so many more doors in the future.

Two opportunities for student editors

Students attend an editing bootcamp at Temple University. The week of training is part of the Dow Jones News Fund internship. (Photo by Margo Reed)

It’s internship and scholarship season for college journalists. Here are two opportunities for students interested in editing:

ACES: The Society for Editing offers six scholarships each year. They range from $3,500 to $1,500. Juniors, seniors and graduate students are eligible. The application deadline is Nov. 15. More details are available at the ACES site.

The Dow Jones News Fund offers numerous internships for summer 2021, including in the area of multiplatform editing. Juniors, seniors and graduate students are eligible. In past summer, interns have worked for news organizations such as The New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Houston Chronicle. The application deadline is Nov. 9. More details are available at the Dow Jones News Fund site.

Good luck to all students on their internship and scholarship applications!

Q&A with Roberto Torres of CIO Dive

Roberto Torres is a reporter at CIO Dive, covering the software industry, data analytics and the future of technology. A native of Venezuela, he lives in Philadelphia. In this interview, conducted by email, Torres discusses his work at CIO Dive and offers advice to students interested in careers in business journalism.

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

A. As the reporter for CIO Dive, I’m tasked with crafting stories that help chief information officers excel at their job. I cover trends in software, data and analytics and AI for tech executives. Unsurprisingly, these days I’m writing a bunch about remote work and the impact of the pandemic on enterprise technology.

A usual day begins with a scan of the morning’s news and anything I might have missed overnight. Then an assignment comes along — breaking news or a study with relevant data published recently.

As the morning advances, I kick a quick first draft to my editor while keeping up with co-editing duties and checking the tech chatter on social media. Finally, our beloved daily newsletter moves along the pipeline and lands mid-morning on exec’s inboxes.

I often spend the rest of the day meeting with my team, checking in with analysts and executives while working on longer stories, reviewing data that may be relevant to our audience or taking in a conference or press event which, of course, are all virtual of late.

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

A. Our stuff is read by heads of IT and C-suites, whose days are often planned out to the minute, so It’s crucial to pull them in quickly through engaging headlines — but no clickbait: When we claim something up top, best believe we have the goods to prove it.

Our pieces go through multiple rounds of edits. In the back and forth, we squabble over word choices or rogue punctuation, sure, but the core of the editing process focuses on sharpening our stories in order to convey actionable insight. What will the reader walk away with at the end of the piece? Do we stress this enough in the right parts of the story? What data supports this conclusion, and how are we visualizing it?

(With my pieces, the editing process usually involves taking out lots of em dashes and passive voice.)

Any journalist worth their salt knows they NEED editors to polish stories into their best version. And there’s added value in having multiple eyes skim a story.

CIO Dive’s headline writing and editing process thrives with a sharp rephrase from Managing Editor Deborah Barrington, a precise “cut” suggestion from Associate Editor Samantha Schwartz or a valuable request for deeper analysis from Senior Editor Naomi Eide.

Editing the newsletter as a package is also important to us. We strive to make sure every corner of the newsletter delivers value. We pore over what to add to our What We’re Reading section, or quickly pull relevant pieces from CIO Dive’s repository of stories.

Q. What are the unique challenges to covering the technology beat?

A. Given my niche beat, one crucial challenge is to consistently deliver valuable takeaways for an audience that is incredibly well informed.

Our readership already knows what technologies like cloud computing or data analytics are, how they’re used and who the key players are. What they want to know is how their use will change, how these changes will impact the decisions they’ll need to make next year, or five years out. They want to know what’s next.

Cutting past the hype is a common challenge for tech reporters. I lean on data, conversations with technologists and voices from analysts to understand where the real value in tech trends lies.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in internships and jobs at Industry Dive or other sites that focus on business news?

A. My advice is simple: shoot your shot. Shoot your shots, plural.

It had barely been a year since I landed in Philly from my native Venezuela when I DMd then Technical.ly editor-in-chief Zack Seward for guidance on the local media and tech landscape. We got a cup of coffee, and soon after I was freelancing for Technical.ly Philly, where I’d go on to become the lead reporter.

I knew almost nothing about Philadelphia’s tech ecosystem, but I had a ton of questions and was never afraid of asking them. I was never afraid to ask for a chance to prove myself.

At Industry Dive, we’re asked to bring our curiosity to work on day one and feed it constantly. With 20+ publications across a ton of industries, there’s huge potential to explore whatever you’re passionate about through in-depth business journalism alongside world-class colleagues. (P.S. We’re hiring, and if you’re reading this, I probably want to work with you.)

Read Roberto Torres’ stories on the CIO Dive site and follow him on Twitter.

Remixing a midterm exam

For several years, I have had students in my Advanced Editing course read “The Subversive Copy Editor.” Written by Carol Fisher Saller, this book is about the writer-editor relationship.

The midterm exam has been about that relationship. We also watch the 2015 movie “Spotlight” for its portrayal of editors and reporters working together. The midterm has consisted of essay questions about the book and the movie.

This semester, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the course is “remote only.” We don’t meet in person. So how can we have a traditional exam?

After consulting UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Keep Teaching” website and considering my options, I am changing the plan. Instead of an exam, we will have a “book club” meeting.

Carol has graciously agreed to visit the class virtually, and I have asked each student to submit two specific questions about “The Subversive Copy Editor.” I am looking forward to a lively and enlightening conversation. Later this semester, I will ask students to watch “Spotlight” on their own, and I will send them a question about it to respond to via email.

The pandemic has created new pressures on students and faculty alike. I am hoping that these changes will ease that stress while ensuring that students learn about and appreciate the connection between writer and editor.