Q&A with Ryan Tuck of NC Local

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Ryan Tuck is editor of NC Local, an email newsletter covering news organizations and trends across North Carolina. Tuck has worked as an editor at Bloomberg and as a user-experience designer at The New York Times. He started his professional career as an online editor at The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Tuck discusses his role at NC Local, shares tips about email newsletters and offers his views on the future of news in North Carolina.

Q. What is NC Local?

A. It’s a weekly newsletter funded by Democracy Fund’s North Carolina Local News Lab. The idea is to connect people working in news and information in the state to news and resources they can use.

Informally, I view it as a roundup of some of the best and most interesting work, people, and discussions happening within the media and information ecosystem in the state. That’s why it’s consistently so long!!!

I view it as a one-stop shop to keep up with what’s happening in and around the state of journalism in North Carolina. I hope it helps pull people out of their silos and their narrow work and otherwise communities — and lets them catch up on all the things their busy schedules and work may have caused them to miss.

Q. You’re succeeding Melanie Sill as the newsletter’s editor. How will you build on what she did with NC Local? What changes do you anticipate?

A. Melanie was such a great steward and founder of this newsletter. And she has such a history of doing great work within this state (and beyond). So in many ways I’m hoping to just continue what she started and to honor the expectations that people have for the newsletter.

But of course, I am a different person from her, and I believe newsletters should reflect their editor’s personalities, so I already have started to rename and reframe some of the recurring features. And like all journalists, the stories I choose to cover will result from my “biases.” And those are slightly different from Melanie’s, mainly because of my work as a consultant and coach with many organizations inside and outside of North Carolina on everything from audience development to product/UX and revenue.

That’s why I’m starting new features like “Let’s talk revenue” where I’ll spotlight one organization and how they’re pursuing, and diversifying, their revenue sources (especially reader revenue). Other new ideas I have relate to how I frame what to read/catch up on to include podcasts and other “non-traditional” sources. I also really want to be sure to spotlight as diverse of content (and content producers) as possible, in every meaning of that word.

Part of my selfish interest in doing this newsletter was to connect with as many different people within this state’s media and information ecosystem. So I hope to really spotlight as many different people as possible.

Q. What tips do you have for editing an email newsletter?

A. Gosh, how deep do you want to go on this? I’ll highlight a couple of things that people don’t think about enough, in my experience:

  • Pay attention to how email is displaying on different devices (including different email clients)? Is it displaying well on mobile as well as desktop? Gmail as well as an older Outlook client? This really matters and is something that people often overlook.
  • Are you testing your subject lines and preheader texts? Are you optimizing those, again, for every type of email client and ensuring they’re not too wordy? Or that you’re not needlessly repeating information (such as sender name, which people often repeat in the subject line, one of my biggest pet peeves!)? Slight changes in subject lines, like send times, are some of the lowest-hanging fruit to improving open rates and engagement.
  • As I mentioned above, too, I think that people don’t put enough of their personality into their newsletters (especially journalists who traditionally are afraid, at least as reporters, to show their personality). We live in the email age, and people have a LOT of newsletters flooding their inboxes every day. Why are they opening yours? Good content is king and queen. But another compelling reason is that they identify with you. Like I tell folks going into a job interview, that doesn’t mean pretend to be someone you’re not. Be you. But … be you. Let that come through. I love movies and my kids. If you read NC Local, you will know that for better or worse.
  • And maybe finally I would say don’t be afraid of length, but like any other form of writing, be sure you’re curating the user experience with and through your depth. In other words, give them a sense of what you plan to cover and use different visual interruptors (bullets, GIFs, subheads, etc.) to make sure you’re not giving them a tome that is just … intimidating.

Q. What do you see for North Carolina news organizations in 2020 and beyond?

A. This is a state where so much amazing experimentation is happening and where we have a rich mixture of business models and ownership types, as well as funding sources.

We have lots of corporate properties and still some family-owned outfits. We have a growing nonprofit news sector, including most excitingly to me a bunch of properties that are focused on underserved and traditionally marginalized communities.

And although it’s been slower than I would like, we’re starting to see some real collaborations cropping up (including especially what WFAE and other folks are doing in Charlotte, as well as what the state’s largest newspapers just formed late last year). And UNC-Chapel Hill honestly has a big role in that with the Table Stakes program in which I coach (and which is in its third year here in the state). And what Bill Adair is doing with fact-checking especially at Duke is really exciting, too. And that doesn’t even mention what Elon and others are doing. In short, this state has a really great baseline for innovation and collaboration, which should be the twin pillars of operating in (and studying) this industry right now and going forward.

I don’t like to play the role of futurist, but there are really smart, passionate people working in this state (and in academia and philanthropy). So I think North Carolina is poised to join places like Philadelphia, Detroit and Colorado as places that are producing some of the next innovations within journalism that everyone will want to emulate (both the news itself, how we distribute our content, and the business model for how we sustain ourselves).

I moved back here because I thought, and think, North Carolina is as exciting an ecosystem for journalism as there is in the U.S. right now.

Subscribe to NC Local and follow Ryan Tuck on Twitter.

Student guest post: How community papers transform journalism and change lives

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Carlton Koonce, left, of Partners for Youth Opportunity and Jock Lauterer, right, of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media lead student journalists on a tour of the northeast-central section of Durham, North Carolina.

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the first of those posts. Elisabeth Beauchamp is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and linguistics. She is heavily involved in the student theater community and runs her own dog-walking business in her free time. After college, Elisabeth hopes to become an editor or reporter in North Carolina.

According to David Kurpius in his book “Community Journalism: Getting Started,” “community journalism helps stations to include context in news stories and encourages journalists to add more depth to their coverage.” To Jock Lauterer, adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, community journalism is so much more.

Lauterer, 74, is a Chapel Hill native and has been in the news business since 1963, when he fell in love with working on his high school newspaper. After high school, he attended UNC-Chapel Hill, double-majoring in journalism and geography, and working on The Daily Tar Heel. After graduating, Lauterer worked with several start-up newspapers and taught journalism at multiple universities. In 1995, he wrote the first edition of his textbook “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local.”

Community newspapers can be classified based on the size of the newspaper and the news balance. The newspaper size for community newspapers used to be a circulation of 50,000 or fewer.

The second classifier for community newspapers, news balance, has not changed over time. Community newspapers’ news balance is local, or as Lauterer says, “relentlessly local.” These papers are not secondarily local; they do not cover world news on the first page and then dedicate a measly inside page to “local news.”  They are local first and overwhelmingly so. Community newspapers have also expanded to cover communities of interest and communities of ethnicity.

Not just community journalism, but journalism in general has vastly changed since Lauterer entered the business in 1963. Lauterer, who started out using a manual typewriter and analog camera to collect stories, describes the journalistic changes he experienced as revolutions in technology.  These revolutionary technologies, such as digital photography, computers and the internet, sprung up so abruptly that community journalists didn’t have time to sit around and adjust.

“There was no ‘Oh, let’s take three months off to learn how to do this stuff and we’ll get back to you,'” Lauterer says. “We still had to put out the paper.”

Because they had less overhead and financial burden, community papers were able to forge the way in journalistic technology. Instead of needing to buy 20 cameras or 10 computers, small newspapers could just buy one.

According to Lauterer, “anything small can be nimble and can turn on a dime.” In other words, smaller newspaper teams can make decisions quicker and don’t have to navigate through as many layers of bureaucracy to accomplish tasks.

Despite all the technological changes journalists have faced over the years, Lauterer says the core values of journalism — getting to the truth, remaining objective and practicing impartiality — have remained unquestionably the same. In fact, such values of fairness and balance are even more important now.

In the past several years, Lauterer has seen not only a resurgence in print, but also record enrollment in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. He connects this surge of interest to people seeing the relevance and importance of journalism, especially in the politically polarized climate of the United States since the 2016 presidential election.

“There is so much untruth out there,” Lauterer says. “You have to have somebody in the truth business.”

Though Lauterer has been in the “truth business” since the 1960s, one of his greatest ventures as a journalist began about 10 years ago. Lauterer is the founding publisher of The Durham VOICE, a community newspaper and website that covers a 300-block area of Durham, North Carolina. Students at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University report, edit and post the stories. Here is how Lauterer describes the VOICE’s beginnings:

The origin story of the Durham VOICE lies in tragedy. There’s a real irony in that, because right away I have to say that I love Durham. … And there are two Durhams. Our Durham is the Durham of color, and it’s right there beside that other gentrified Durham. The Durham VOICE owes its existence to some activists who helped me realize that Durham needed its own voice. That’s exactly where the name came from. After the 2008 murder of UNC student body president Eve Carson that was perpetrated by two African American teens from the inner city, it was suggested to me that I take my anger and frustration and put it into a positive effort — to go start a paper for those guys, to get those guys off the street. Put a camera, put a laptop in their hands and teach them how to do good stuff instead of bad stuff.

To Lauterer, community journalism isn’t just some definition about reporters adding depth to their coverage. Lauterer practices community journalism to convince people that their lives matter — “that their opinions should be heard and that they need to be civically engaged.”

Lauterer believes our country is blessed to have the freedom of press, and that if we don’t appreciate it, we stand to lose it. For this reason, it is important that all people, not just politicians in big cities, have a seat at the table of democracy.

“Never underestimate the power of your work. You may think it’s a little doo-da story, but to the source — the person — it’s a big deal,” Lauterer says. “Don’t forget that. That’s community journalism.”

What I am teaching this semester

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Carroll Hall is the home of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

The spring semester of 2020 begins this week at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what I am teaching this term:

  • MEJO 157, “News Editing.” This course focuses on fact checking, story editing, word choice, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. The class meets twice a week and has 20 students. Here is the syllabus.
  • MEJO 557, “Advanced Editing.” This course builds on MEJO 157 by incorporating specialty areas such as features, opinion writing and sports. Students also collaborate with other courses on projects such as The Durham VOICE. The class meets twice a week and has 16 students. Here is the syllabus.

You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school at the Park Library website. Best wishes to students, faculty and staff on a successful semester!

Q&A with Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of Science journals

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Holden Thorp is editor-in-chief of the Science group of journals, a job he started in October 2019. A chemist, Thorp previously served as chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill and provost at Washington University in St. Louis. In this interview, conducted by email, Thorp discusses his role at Science, how his experience in administration informs his new job, and the outlook for science journalism.

Q. Describe your job as editor-in-chief. What is your typical workweek?

A. I’m the editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, which is six journals. The flagship, Science, is much more than a research journal. We call it “Science magazine” partly to distinguish it from Science News or Scientific American, but also because it is meant to be read cover to cover and we still print over 50,000 copies to loyal readers in print.

Science magazine is very unusual in that it is really three publications: a News section that is science journalism done by folks very similar in background to folks in your classes; Insights, which is the editorial page, a policy forum on new ideas in science policy, and perspective articles about advances in science; and the research section, which is a research journal with both reviews and research articles that are among the most cited and selective in the world.

Much like the publisher of a newspaper would have with its journalists, there is a firewall between me and the news reporters. But if they have a problem, I’m the one who partners with them on solving it, so they keep me updated on what they are working on.

I am very involved in the Insights section as I either write or invite the editorial every week. This is extremely high profile in academia — it is the first page of the print magazine and never behind a paywall, so it gets a lot of attention.

The research section is overseen by a team of scientists who handle the research papers. It would be very unusual for me to intervene in a decision on a paper unless asked; these folks are highly professional and correctly have a lot of autonomy.

The other five journals are all much more traditional scientific journals that have editors handling manuscripts and getting them ready for publication. The quality standards for all of this are very high, and we do a lot more proofreading and visual production than almost all of our peers, so there is an extensive team that does that.

My typical workweek involves meeting with the folks who work for me directly — the top editors of the journals plus the heads of news and visuals, meetings with my supervisors and colleagues at our parent organization (AAAS), and regular meetings that we conduct in order to get the journals out every week.

For Science, every paper is presented at something we call the “space meeting” to all of the editors. The print magazine has to be in on Tuesday night and drops online at 2 p.m. on Thursday. We usually get the first print copies on Friday morning.

Science has a perfect binding, so we need to have 100 pages, and we don’t like to be over because print loses money.  So there is a lot of jockeying that goes on to get it to exactly 100 pages.

We have editors, reporters, and advisers all over the world, so I spend a lot of time getting out to talk to them and to researchers that we hope will send their papers to us and not our competitors. Our principal competitors (Nature and Cell) are commercial journals and we are non-profit, so we have to hustle.

Q. How do copy editing and headline writing work at the Science publications and website?

A. There are teams of copy editors, and some of it is done off-site, especially for the research articles. We use a company called HighWire to maintain the website.

There are only really headlines for news, which are done by the news team. The research articles have titles that are provided by the authors in consultation with the editors.

Q. You previously worked in high-level positions in university administration. How does that experience help you in this role? What new skills and concepts are you learning?

A. I’m learning a lot of new things about the nature of publishing, and science publishing in particular. There is a lot of talk about access to scientific articles and a business model called “open access” where researchers pay to have their papers published rather than for subscriptions and then the papers are freely available.

But what is similar is that I’ve often had jobs where I was at the interface between scientists and the business world. Here, I’m the interface between the scientists who create the content and the business team in the organization that sells it. That is very familiar to me.

Q. What do you see as the future of academic publishing in the sciences? In the mainstream press?

A. I think there will continue to be evolution in science publishing, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that open access is going to undo the whole business overnight. Scientists will always want high-quality, high-impact journals, which are expensive to create.

In the mainstream press, I worry a lot about the survival of excellent science journalism. We will fight to make sure we can still do it here, and while there will always be challenges, I’m confident we can do that.

But our audience is mostly Ph.D. level scientists or very close.  There is very little science journalism being done more broadly, and this has contributed to public apathy, confusion and downright disdain for important topics like evolution, vaccines, genetically modified organisms and climate change.

Read Science magazine online and follow Holden Thorp on Twitter.

Q&A with Ron Smith of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

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Ron Smith is director of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, based at Marquette University. He previously worked as an editor in various roles at USA Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Los Angeles Times and The Oregonian. In this interview, conducted by email, Smith discuss the objectives of the news service, his role there and his move from newsroom to classroom. (Photo provided by Alea Cross)

Q. What is the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service? How does it fit into the journalism landscape in the city and beyond?

A. The Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service is an independent nonprofit newsroom that is housed in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University. We cover Milwaukee’s Central City communities, with an emphasis on reporting on the ordinary people who do extraordinary things in our neighborhoods. We publish daily (during the work week) and have a professional staff of six part-timers and a volunteer cohort of 10, which includes student interns and residents interested in contributing to our mission.

We were founded in 2011 to serve 18 neighborhoods that other media have neglected. Often their reporters come into our neigh borhoods when something bad has happened, like a shooting or drug deal or other nonsense. We produce evidence-based journalism that focuses on people, health, education, business, jobs and other issues important to our communities.

Our work is often picked up in other local media outlets and is distributed most weeks through a partnership with The Associated Press. We are a hyperlocal news site that has an impact throughout the city, the state and even the nation.

In addition, NNS is one of 34 news organizations in North America to win support from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge. The $234,000 grant will allow us to collaborate with two other nonprofit newsrooms in a special project to learn what residents want to read and then to send those reports to their phones via text messaging.

Q. Describe your role at NNS and Marquette. What is your typical day like?

A. I am the editor and project director for NNS, and I teach in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies in the Diederich College of Communication.

This means I do a lot of juggling. I work with the NNS staff to produce quality journalism. I assign and edit and train. In addition, I engage in the community and help to fund-raise.

We are a small but ambitious shop. Everyone does a bit of everything. I could not be successful without a team that cares about the community it serves.

Teaching at Marquette adds another layer to the day. All my classes focus on getting things published on the NNS site. Many of our successful students are now working in the media and credit NNS for giving them the tools they needed to succeed.

Like journalism, there is no such thing as a typical day. I tend to work at least 12-14 hours a day. I regularly meet with students and staff and community members, and I usually go into the night making sure things are ready for publication. We have a well-deserved reputation for being excellent and adhere to the highest of standards. All that takes work.

Q. How do headline writing and story editing work at the NNS site?

A. First, we are blessed to have a volunteer writing coach, Paul Salsini. Paul worked for many years as an editor and writing coach for the Milwaukee Journal and as a beloved instructor at Marquette.

We stress to the staff that they must be OBSESSED. WITH. ACCURACY. It is not uncommon for stories to go through two or three (many times more) rewrites before it gets published. I do the final edits and tend to write the majority of the headlines and display type.

We demand and expect the best from our staff because our communities deserve the best we can give them.

Q. You moved to academia this year full time after a long career in newsrooms. What has that transition been like, and what advice do you have to other journalists considering such a move?

A. I am so blessed. I get to serve community stakeholders instead of corporate shareholders.

So I am living the dream. Yes. It is a lot of work, but it’s why I came into journalism — to make a difference. I actually have the best of both worlds. I work in a newsroom, and I work in a classroom. I get to teach, but I also get to learn.

Our students are amazing. I am stretching myself professionally, and it is awesome to be able to train tomorrow’s journalists in real time and work with a professional staff. The days are long, but I feel I am right where I need to be.

My advice is simple: Know your mission. Follow your passion. And enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Pursuing prestige in print

In 1972, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show had a Top 10 hit with “The Cover of Rolling Stone.” Written by Shel Silverstein, the song tells the story of “big rock singers” who have enjoyed success but still crave more, as expressed in the chorus:

Want to see our pictures on the cover
Want to buy five copies for our mothers
Want to see my smiling face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone

The fictional band in the song spoke to something real. To appear on the cover of a national magazine validated a career. It showed that you’d made it.

This week in 2019, NBC News reported that Mina Chang, a recently appointed official in the State Department, had overstated her resume. Chang is the former CEO of Linking The World, an organization that researches use of technology such as drones for humanitarian efforts.

NBC also reported that Chang appeared on a fake cover of Time magazine and was asked about it during a TV interview. Here’s that cover:

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In response to the NBC story, Linking The World said that an admirer had created the fake cover and that it had spread online. The statement said that Chang should have clarified during the interview that the cover wasn’t real.

The origins of the fake cover aren’t relevant. What’s significant is its use as a reflection of Chang’s accomplishments. When the mock Time cover appears in the TV show, the host tells Chang: “Congratulations!” It’s unlikely that images of a tweet or a post on a news website would get the same exclamation.

In 1972, print ruled the media landscape. In 2019, it has lost much of that ground. But the cover of a print magazine, real or fabricated, remains a marker of success.

Wondering whether a Time cover is real? Read this guide from the magazine’s creative director.