One way to help news organizations covering COVID-19

coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis is hitting nearly every facet of society and the economy. As of March 30, it has killed more than 2,000 Americans and 33,000 people worldwide.

The situation is also dire for news organizations. Some newspapers and websites are laying off employees as advertising evaporates amid the crisis. Alternative weeklies that rely on ads from bars and restaurants are vulnerable, as are regional daily newspapers. The closure of college campuses means no more print editions for student publications.

So what can you do to help? As part of a stimulus package passed by Congress, the federal government will send checks to most Americans. Many people will receive $1,200 or more. (You can see how much you can expect to get with this calculator from The Washington Post.)

For many people suddenly facing unemployment, $1,200 will barely cover the basics. But for others, it’s extra money in the bank at a time when there aren’t many places open to spend it.

If you are among the people receiving one of these payments, I recommend that you use some of the money to support journalism in your area. Consider news organizations that you’ve relied on during this crisis, and subscribe or donate to them.

 

Student guest post: Writing about sports when the world is standing still

 

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Brian Keyes is a junior journalism and history major at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he is an assistant sports editor on The Daily Tar Heel. He splits his time between writing sports stories for the newspaper and reporting general news for the Carolina Connection radio show.

Nearly every day for the past six or seven years, I have spent a good portion of every day thinking about sports.

I talk about them, I watch them, I read about the history of the many sports the world has been infatuated with at one time or another and I think more than any rational person should about sports’ place in the world. As a reporter and now assistant editor on the sports desk of The Daily Tar Heel, my obsession has only been fed.

And now there are no more sports. This would be fine, and the suspension of major sports (and all major gatherings) is a necessary step during this ever-worsening global health crisis that I am happy to take, except for the fact that it is my job to write about sports, read about sports and assist others in write about sports here at UNC.

So now I sit in the small living room of my Chapel Hill apartment, wondering what it is exactly that I’m supposed to do? What are my fellow editors and the writers we’re in charge of supposed to do at this moment when our jobs have seemingly been rendered meaningless?

In brighter days, I like to joke when I tell people that I study journalism that I’m not involved in “real” journalism, just sports. Obviously, I don’t actually believe that, but I like to think the self-deprecating humor helps me to keep things in perspective. Win or lose, it’s still just sports. LSU winning the national championship in football will not decide whether people can afford to pay their rents next month, the Washington Nationals winning the World Series does not suddenly mean my hometown is suddenly given the rights of a state and full representation in our national government.

I think everyone saw the entire sports media industry struggle with that fact as the information started coming in that everything would be shutting down, not just moving on without fans. And then there came the more existential question: What good are sports, and by extension sports reporters, when the world is ending?

I think that I’m wrong, though, about sports not mattering. As a rabid fan of one sports team in particular, the Washington Wizards, I should know better, because sports do matter to me. And to a lot of other people as well. They matter because we all collectively decide they do.

And what we love most is the people who play sports. We fall in love with LeBron James or Sabrina Ionescu or Alessia Russo as we watch them perform athletic miracles on a field or a court, and then we care about them. About what they think about, who they are, and what they do when we’re not watching them. We don’t stop caring just because they aren’t on our TVs anymore, and we don’t stop caring just because their seasons have been put on hold.

Recognizing this is the key for us, and me, to figure out exactly what it is we’re going to do now. We’re going to keep reporting on the athletes people care about. Everyone, including athletes, is going to be deeply affected by COVID-19, and people are going to care what happens to them.

But even more than that, now is the perfect time to look at all the people who surround sports and see how their lives are going to be upended. The coverage of which professional sports teams are taking care of their part-time employees while games are postponed is a perfect example.

As sportswriters, we write about people and their emotions, and right now there are plenty of emotions to go around. At The Daily Tar Heel, some of our writers have already started to chronicle the disappointment of the UNC teams that have had their spring seasons canceled. Beyond that, we’ve started to look forward to next season’s sports, with football, women’s soccer and yes, the eventual return of UNC basketball.

The future seems big and scary right now, but I’m optimistic that my job will still have a place in it. We just have to make sure we keep giving people something to care about when this is all over.

Teaching amid the coronavirus crisis

 

For several years, I have wondered what it would be like to teach my editing courses online. Now, because of the coronavirus, I am about to find out.

UNC-Chapel Hill, like most universities in the United States, has decided to switch in-person instruction to online. Spring break has been extended a week to help faculty members prepare for this transition.

We’ve been asked to reach out to our students during this time. Here’s what I sent:

As you know, the university has altered the schedule for the semester because of the coronavirus. Spring break has been extended one week.

In this email, I will outline how this change will affect our course. The good news is that I have taught courses in our online master’s program for many years. In my experience, it’s a fun and effective way to teach and learn.

My plan is to make the course mostly asynchronous. That means we will not all meet live at a set time.

Instead, twice a week, I will post slides and links to Sakai and via email for each “class meeting” along with assignments. I will also add a Forums section to Sakai for group discussion. This method keeps the pace of our course the same, just in a different environment.

I will hold “office hours” on Zoom on the days that our course would have met in person. I will connect with you by email and in the Forum threads.

In the coming days, I will revise the syllabus, and it will include some different assignments to replace those that can only be done face to face. I will post that syllabus to Sakai by Wednesday, March 18.

We will start this portion of the course on Monday, March 23, and settle into our Monday/Wednesday routine for the rest of the semester. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

The next five weeks will be challenging, but I am confident that we can still make our courses meaningful and engaging. The university is providing a full array of training and support.

Best wishes to students, faculty and staff on the rest of the semester. And wash your hands!

Student guest post: Navigating internships and first jobs in newsrooms

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Liz Johnson is a sophomore journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a staff writer at The Daily Tar Heel and a features editor for Coulture Magazine, a student-run lifestyle magazine. I have also written as an intern at The Wilson Times and Milwaukee Magazine.

There’s a common perception that writing is a solitary activity. The same can be assumed of editing: just you, your computer screen and a lot of coffee. When you write, you write alone.

Right?

Throughout the semester, our class has spent a great deal of time discussing the editor-writer relationship. As an editor, it’s important to establish and maintain a strong professional relationship with writers, and it’s equally important to establish this connection with other editors.

Maybe writing and editing themselves are solitary activities, but creating a sense of community with the writers and editors around you is a crucial part of the process.

I experienced this firsthand last summer as an editorial intern at a magazine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This internship was my first real newsroom experience. I had an internship in high school that involved writing articles but not going into the office, and I hadn’t started writing for the student newspaper yet. I had never had my own office desk before.

Entering a newsroom for the first time, whether for a summer internship or for a job after college, can be intimidating.

The first day in the newsroom in Milwaukee, I was surprised — and a little overwhelmed — by the amount of independence I had. When I arrived, my editor introduced me to the newsroom staff and showed me the row of intern desks at the back of the office.

Then he returned to his own desk and sent an email to me and the other interns, asking us to pick from a list of assignments and start working.

The task was pretty straightforward, but for a moment I had no idea what to do. Wasn’t my editor going to offer any more guidance than that? Wasn’t he going to tell me exactly how I should complete the assignment?

Of course, the article was pretty easy, and I didn’t really need the guidance I’d been expecting. But I was overwhelmed by how quickly I was left to my own devices, particularly in a city I’d never visited before.

What really helped me get my bearings both in the city and in the newsroom were the friendships I developed with the other interns and the rest of the magazine staff.

There were four part-time interns, and all of our schedules overlapped enough that we quickly became friends. We developed a routine of going to lunch together every week. We had several joint assignments throughout the summer as well; we reported together, wrote together and fact-checked together.

The rest of the staff was similarly supportive, welcoming us to the newsroom and often joining us on what we dubbed “the intern lunches.”

This sense of community was one of the most memorable parts of the summer. I always knew I had someone to turn to if I needed a second perspective on an article, advice on word choice or someone to talk to at the end of a long day.

When I entered the office at the beginning of the summer, I was braced to fend for myself as I adapted to a new city and a new job as fact-checker and reporter. Most of my articles — with a few co-written exceptions — I did write alone. But what made this experience so fulfilling, and what I think is essential to any newsroom, was the sense of community between the editors and writers.

What I will do during spring break

UNC-Chapel Hill is on spring break next week. It’s a welcome respite for students, faculty and staff.

Although I am not teaching any classes during the break, I have plenty to do. Here’s my list:

  • grade midterm exams and other assignments, including guest posts for this site;
  • review applications for an online master’s program in digital communication;
  • review applications for a faculty position in business journalism;
  • review entries for the headline contest sponsored by ACES: The Society for Editing;
  • gather information and write a report for the university about our certificate program in digital communication;
  • write a recommendation letter for a student applying for a scholarship;
  • prepare materials and assignments for classes;
  • take care of personal matters such as taxes, medical appointments and car maintenance. Fun!

Best wishes to my students and colleagues on a refreshing break. See you soon!

Student guest post: When AP style meets geopolitics, a world of troubles emerges

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Stephen Kenney is a junior double majoring in journalism and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill. He works as an editor for The Daily Tar Heel. In his free time, Stephen enjoys reading, long-distance running and spending time with God.

It seemed like such a harmless change. In August 2019, Kiev became Kyiv. The Associated Press had suddenly staked out its position on a decades-long geopolitical battle.

As the top source of guidance for the world’s leading news agencies, The Associated Press Stylebook holds great power over consumers’ outlooks on global issues. After all, audiences look to journalists to make sense of the world around them.

Most news consumers have no idea that Kiev derives from Russian and that Kyiv is Ukrainian. Instead, they read the news and take in information as it is given.

Therein lies the AP Stylebook’s power. News consumers often have little outside understanding of global conflicts and take cues from the press. The news narrative, then, shapes geopolitical opinions.

For instance, the international community has been divided for years on how to classify the mass killings in Armenia during the early 1900s. The Associated Press joins only 30 countries in the world that recognize the event, referring to it as the “1915 Armenian genocide.”

At the end of the day, each country’s classification of the events in Armenia is nearly irrelevant. People come to their own conclusions based on media perspectives. And that media, usually, follows AP style.

Many believe AP rules impose Western mindsets on the rest of the world. Undoubtedly, Russians see the name change for Ukraine’s capital as The Associated Press bowing to American interests. Editorial independence must remain of paramount importance.

Venezuela provides a clear example of The Associated Press crafting its own standards. Juan Guaidó, viewed by Western powers as the country’s rightful president, is cast as “an opposition leader who has declared himself interim president.” AP style instead declares Nicolás Maduro as the country’s leader.

The AP’s decision leads to large-scale societal effects. When readers see references to Maduro as “Venezuela’s president,” they are more likely to view him as a legitimate ruler. Additionally, they will view Guaidó’s claim to power with a more critical eye.

Most of AP style’s readership has little outside knowledge of the crisis in Venezuela. They have no idea how legitimate Maduro or Guaidó’s reign is. Instead, these rationally ignorant consumers follow the AP’s opinions as facts when the truth may be more complicated.

Because of its great power, The Associated Press must be careful when defining geopolitical terms. Impartiality is impossible when two groups hold diametrically opposed opinions. However, clarity and editorial independence can be pursued to carefully address turbulent issues.

Clarity comes first and foremost. Why should AP style refer to a situation this certain way? High-stakes political situations deserve comprehensive and carefully reasoned answers. Wishy-washy statements will not suffice when tensions and emotions run hot.

The Associated Press has failed in this regard. While some situations receive the seriousness they deserve, countless others hold little more than a sentence of rationale. The AP blandly labels the 1915 Armenian genocide as such because it is “usually described” that way. Such emotionally charged issues deserve more transparency than this.

The Associated Press fares more positively on editorial independence. No government’s policies match up perfectly with AP style. It boldly states its opinions on international issues without consulting any national entities.

To maintain respectability, The Associated Press must continue to pursue independent thought on world issues. The AP cannot become beholden to governmental interests, and its best path to maintain relative impartiality is by following its own clear standards.

At a certain point, news agencies must take a stand. The media influences how people view salient global issues and must do so responsibly. Clarity on decisions and maintenance of editorial independence are necessary steps to navigate the global minefield.

A thematic look at newspaper history

cottongrower-newspaper
The North Carolina Cotton Grower is one of 45 historic newspapers on display at Wilson Library.

Newspapers are often included in exhibits at museums and libraries. Old, yellowed editions offer a glimpse of how an event was reported and presented at the time.

A new exhibit at Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill finds a fresh angle on that method of storytelling. “Papers for the People: A Treasury of North Carolina News Sources” classifies lesser-known newspapers by theme.

Labor, agriculture, religion and the military are among the 11 categories. Titles include The Fool-Killer, The Prison News and Justice Speaks. Such publications were written and edited with a niche readership in mind, unlike the larger newspapers in the state.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. It will be on display until May 31. I encourage you to visit the library to see it, but if you cannot do so, here are some examples of the exhibit that I posted to Instagram.