Q&A with Elaina Athans, reporter at ABC11-WTVD

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Elaina Athans is a reporter for ABC11-WTVD, a North Carolina TV station that covers Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville. A graduate of Hofstra University, Athans previously worked at stations in New York and Maryland. In this interview, conducted by email, Athans discusses her job, including how she uses social media in her work.

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

A. I’m a general assignment reporter, and all in all, my day is hectic!

I usually come in around 9:30 in the morning and pitch stories I’d like to cover that day or I think would play well on social media. After getting assigned around 10:00 or 10:30, I’m out the door.

I’ll make calls in the car driving to a story and research my piece. I could be live in the noon show, which means there’s a tight window to gather information. I will try to grab interviews as soon as the car is parked and then will flip the sound around for noon.

After the midday show, I have the next few hours to continue gathering, tweet and grab new elements for our evening shows. In between writing my stories for broadcast, I will write a separate web version and send that along to our web department to post online.

Once I’m done with my on-air duties, I’ll also send along a “Night Note” detailing all the information I’ve collected throughout the day and important contacts I’ve made. This is meant to help my colleagues who might be assigned to a follow-up story down the road.

Q. In addition to being on air, journalists at stations like yours also write for the web. What are the challenges of working across formats?

A. I think it can be overwhelming at times, and it’s hard to pace yourself. I have to prepare stories for broadcast and push information out on social media at the same time.

Balance is key. You can’t go hard in one area and wane in the other.

Q. You are active on Twitter, and you have a professionally oriented page on Facebook. What role does social media play in your reporting?

A. To start with, I turn to social media to find stories to pitch. It’s the only place I go for enterprise pieces, to be honest. Folks are always sounding off about what’s going on in their communities or cool things that are happening around town.

I also use it for news gathering. I will incorporate tweets or Facebook posts into my stories. If I’m covering a political story, for instance, the first thing I’ll do is check is Twitter to see if the Senate leader, House speaker, governor or other elected officials are commenting.

When I first started in this business, you had to go through a press rep to get comment on every issue. That is not the case any more.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in breaking into broadcast?

A. Watch the markets or cities you aspire to work. If your dream is to be in Los Angeles, watch how the reporters in that city are telling stories and then mold your style around that.

Follow Elaina Athans on Twitter and on Facebook, and read her stories on the WTVD website.

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Q&A with Dow Jones intern Alison Krug

Alison Krug recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship in Norfolk, Virginia. Krug is a 2017 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she did an independent study on stylebooks. In this interview, conducted by email, Krug discusses her internship and offers advice on how to get one.

Q. Describe your internship. What was your typical workday like?

A. I just finished up a summer as the Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at The Virginian-Pilot. DJNF is a program that provides interns with a weeklong training bootcamp to brush up on grammar, style, headline writing and page design — all to help you prepare for your summer on a copy desk.

At The Pilot, I worked Tuesdays through Saturdays, typically from 4 p.m. to 12:15(ish) a.m. As an intern, I worked as a rim editor, editing stories and writing headlines and cutlines before sending them to the slot editor.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. Learning the coverage area and all the local quirks was a huge challenge for me. Norfolk (where The Pilot is headquartered) is home to the largest Naval station in the world, so that meant spending a little extra time reviewing the newspaper’s military style guide.

The paper covers Hampton Roads, which includes southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Even at the end of my internship, I was still learning all the towns in the coverage area and all their quirks.

The greatest reward was probably every time I got a pun into the paper.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. If you’re going to apply for a Dow Jones News Fund internship (and you should), STUDY.

The DJNF application process consists of an online application and an editing test. The editing test includes sections on usage, current events and headline writing — and all previous tests (and their answer keys) are available online.

I took old tests, scrolled through some online grammar quizzes and had a lot of fun making a style and usage study guide for myself. (If making a style and usage study guide sounds fun for you, you might be a good fit for this internship).

What really sets DJNF apart is the training you receive at the editing bootcamp. It’s a great atmosphere and incredibly exciting to be surrounded by a group of other young copy editors passionate about grammar and AP style and all things copy. You end the week feeling very prepared to start your internship.

Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I just wrapped up the internship a week ago and am highly employable! My email is alisonkrug@gmail.com, my Twitter is @alisonkrug and my desire to talk about grammar is endless.

In praise of the ampersand

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Today is National Ampersand Day. Its creator, a graphic designer named Chaz DeSimone, calls the ampersand “fun, fabulous and functional.”

The symbol, which has an interesting origin story, played a role in my time as a copy editor at The News & Observer. In the early 1990s, the Raleigh newspaper underwent a major redesign. As part of that, the ampersand appeared in the name after an absence of nearly 100 years: The News and Observer became The News & Observer again.

The company that published it, however, was still the The News and Observer Publishing Co. This distinction was part of the newspaper’s in-house style guide in the 1990s, so we had to be careful when editing stories about the business side of the publication. Now, the ampersand appears in both instances, and both entities are owned by McClatchy.

I like the ampersand in the newspaper’s name. It’s distinctive and elegant. I hope the ampersand will stay there for years to come in print and on screen.

Thanks to Brooke Cain at the N&O for help with research on this post.

 

Pushing the news

Each semester, I ask students in my courses at UNC-Chapel Hill how they get their news. I encourage them to be honest, and I tell them that there are no right answers.

As in recent years, several mentioned The Skimm, an email newsletter. Others said they regularly read CNN.com and the digital versions of The Washington Post and The New York Times. A few said they still like to get news in print via The New York Times or The Daily Tar Heel.

No one mentioned regional newspapers such as The Charlotte Observer. Same for radio and television.

Several students said that they rely on push notifications on their phones. In previous semesters, I had never heard that answer. Those students said that they relied on the notifications to let them know about big news. They catch up on other things later.

Like a headline, a push notification should match the tone of the news and the tone of the organization. Editors must use news judgment to decide when and how to send such notifications. Too many can be overwhelming.

I will keep an eye on how news organizations are exploring how to push news in this way, perhaps incorporating that into my editing course. If students receive news that way, they should know how to send it.

What I am teaching this semester

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins today. 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, with a dash of social media. Each section has 18 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 asynchronous course covers different types of digital writing, including blogs, headlines, newsletters and social media. It has 14 students, and it meets all the time online. Here is the syllabus for the course.

Feel free to adapt, revise or ignore the materials here. You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school here.

Best wishes to all on a successful semester!

Q&A with Ryan Wilusz, reporter at the Morganton News Herald

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Ryan Wilusz is a breaking news reporter at the The News Herald in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Wilusz discusses his job reporting and editing at the News Herald.

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

A. I will describe my job for you, but I don’t know how much of it will be typical. In the two months I have been a breaking news reporter with The News Herald, I have reported from funerals and emergency rooms, and I have witnessed multiple car chases, a water rescue and a large warehouse fire (just to name a few things). Each day is completely different, and that’s why I love what I do. But there are some routine parts of each day.

As soon as I wake up, I turn on the police scanner if it’s not still playing from the night before. I have it playing in my car, and it will continue playing throughout the day as I work. It’s just something you have to get used to.

Another typical part of my day is going through the arrest and incident reports on the local law enforcement websites. If I find anything notable, I follow up during the day.

I also make sure to load the software we use to track our stories as soon as I get in the office. It’s very important to know your audience, and the software allows us to see how many people are viewing our stories at any given time and how they are accessing them.

Once these programs are loaded and these tasks are completed, the rest of my day is up in the air unless I have a meeting or event I already plan to go to. You have to be prepared for anything that might come over the scanner. That means having multiple changes of clothes and shoes, a safety vest for roadside stories, a full charge on your phone, an SD card for your camera and a plan to send content back to the office from the field.

You never know what you might have to cover, and you never know how long you’ll be out of the office.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at the Morganton paper?

A. All editors are different, and I am lucky enough to have an editor who believes in giving the writer a say when it comes to editing. Each story is submitted to our editor through the program we use to place content in the physical paper.

At the top of our document, we write a suggested overline and headline. We also include our own subheads and cutlines, too. The story is then edited and placed in the “ready” folder. As long as the headlines and overlines are not terrible, they are usually returned with minimal changes. A lot of times, the headline will be bumped down to a subhead in the physical paper for space purposes.

After the story is returned with edits, we place it online ourselves. We are also in charge of linking and placing photos and other content on the website.

Students are always taught that being a journalist is a collaborative process. My editor understands that collaboration not only happens between reporters but between editors and reporters, too. When it comes time to decide on story placement in the paper and what should be a primary photo for a story, my editor always asks what we think. And no matter what, she has our backs for whatever feedback we may receive from the public.

Q. While at UNC, you wrote for the College Town website. How did that experience help you start your journalism career?

A. I don’t believe that any one form of experience is good enough to help you start a career. Luckily for students at UNC-Chapel Hill, there are plenty of opportunities to gain real-world experience before the job search begins. I say it is best to dip your toes in as many areas as possible.

College Town helped redefine my idea of what can be considered “news.” As I stated before, it is very important to know your audience. Readers were not going to College Town for breaking news. They were visiting for news that was fun and different but also informative. So I was encouraged to craft themed playlists, stories about campus jogging routes and a Q&A with my own mother about me moving away. But this background wouldn’t land me a job at a newspaper alone.

The Durham VOICE helped me step outside my comfort zone and write stories about people very different than me and about issues I never experienced. My internship at the Statesville Record & Landmark helped show me what an actual career in journalism was like and helped me gain multiple bylines in a professional setting.

My editing classes at UNC-CH taught me how to write headlines and how to be a more precise and concise writer. My audio/video/photography classes at UNC-CH helped me find new ways to be a creative storyteller outside of just words on paper.

The journalism industry is changing, newsrooms are shrinking and employers are looking for candidates who can do it all. And if you want to land a great job, you have to have experience across the board.

Q. What skills that you learned in the journalism school are you using in your job in Morganton? What new ones are you picking up in your newsroom?

A. Literally every skill the journalism school taught me is being put to use at The News Herald.

I’ve often heard students talk about how useless a class may be because in their minds, the skills being acquired have nothing to do with they want to do as a career. But I have found that some of the skills I have learned are coming to use in unexpected places.

I had no plans to be an editor coming out of school. But I ended up landing a job at a place that encourages writers to take on some of those editing skills such as headline writing. I may be a breaking news reporter, but my creative sportswriting class taught me how to think outside the box (or the pyramid) to tell an intriguing, detailed and creative news story. I may not have had plans to be a photojournalist, but I am at a newspaper without a full-time photographer. My photography skills have helped us have compelling centerpieces on what may seem like dull news days.

I will say there are some skills that I wasn’t able to acquire at UNC-CH that I have been forced to pick up along the way. I would love to see a breaking news or crime reporting class in the journalism school. A lot goes into working a breaking news event or a crime scene. Safety of the reporter is always an issue. You also have to know how to work well with law enforcement officers.

There’s a certain amount of give and take between reporters and police officers, and you want to make sure you get your photo and information while avoiding confrontation with officers and bystanders. Breaking news can be hectic, and you don’t want to add to it.

With that being said, however, don’t let anyone influence you or your job. Know your rights! And that kind of goes into the other big skill I have picked up while on the job.

When you are in school, all that’s really on the line is your grade. But when you are reporting sensitive stories about death and about crime, you are the target of a lot of frustration. People will be upset when you report on them or their family members (especially if they are a minor) and will often feel you are the cause of their ruined reputation.

You have to know how to take those phone calls from upset readers and subjects. And trust me, there are a lot of phone calls!

You have to know how to firmly justify and stand by your decisions, but you also have to show some level of compassion because those people who are calling are the same ones who subscribe. Just always remind people that you don’t make the news, you report on it.

Guest post: Why that ‘furry’ headline isn’t funny

 

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Forrest Brown is an editor who has worked at numerous news organizations, including CNN.com, The Charlotte Observer and the Greensboro News & Record. This essay, shared on Facebook, is reposted here by permission.

What’s easy: To get on Facebook or Twitter and make fun of this headline.

What’s not easy: To go into work every night in what’s probably the most high-pressure, least-appreciated job at a newspaper these days — editing stories and writing headlines.

I imagine the person who wrote that headline is probably doing an amount of work that was likely spread among five or more people back around 1995. And you’re flying without a net. After all, you are the net.

He or she may have gotten that story just a few minutes before deadline. The editor may have been past deadline by a minute or two and just had to shove the page on out from a pub center hundreds of miles away.

He or she may have caught numerous typos and mistakes the very same night that a double “r” was typed in haste. I’d imagine the person knows the difference between “fury” and “furry.”

I loved copy editing, but it can be a downright vicious job at times. Your many triumphs are never noticed. Your rare mistakes are paraded out for mockery, including by — and especially by — other journalists. And most especially by journalists who tend to turn in mistake-laden copy themselves. The sloppiest ones really do seem to be the people who pile on the most when there’s mocking to be had.

You’re on a team that’s always first in line when they’re sharpening the ax for the next round of cuts. Do well, and no one ever notices you. Do poorly, and you will get noticed.

It’s probably the only newsroom job where you never, ever want to be noticed. At all. Which is why your team is first on the chopping block for cuts because all they know about you and your team is you mortified the paper six months ago one time.

Copy editing is — at best — a zero-sum game these days. The very best you can hope for: Don’t screw up big. Because you can wipe out a thousand good deeds with an extra R.

And I’m pretty sure when the publishers and managers do the post-mortem, they won’t be looking in the mirror when they ask how this can happen.