Q&A with Sarah Rabil, talent editor at The Wall Street Journal

Sarah Rabil is assistant managing editor for talent at The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked as a reporter and editor there and at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Rabil discusses her role in career development, what the Journal looks for in applicants and what she learned in journalism school and beyond.

Q. Describe your job at The Wall Street Journal. What is your typical day like?

A. I support recruiting, hiring and career development across the newsroom. I loved editing the Journal’s media and advertising coverage in my last role (and still get an adrenaline rush when news is breaking!), but I’ve enjoyed shifting that energy into ensuring that this already stellar newsroom is diverse and welcoming and hiring exceptionally talented journalists.

Four months into this job, I’m learning that no day is typical. I got into journalism for the variety, the lifelong learning and the hope that my work helps people, so I appreciate that my current role allows me to constantly meet new people and support 1,230+ of the best journalists I’ve ever known.

One day I may be strategizing about how to define new roles, meeting with Journal reporters to discuss potential next steps in their careers, and interviewing candidates for personal finance reporting or data editing. The next day I may be attending a journalism conference to scout for new talent or spending a day at a university to meet with students and spread the word about our internship opportunities.

The chance to step back and discuss ambitious journalism and figure out how we can help support and train the next generation really is inspiring.

Q. What does the Journal look for in applicants for jobs and internships?

A. Each job opening is an opportunity to think creatively and ambitiously about how we want to evolve our coverage, better serve our two million-plus subscribers and continue to broaden our audience.

When we are hiring reporters and editors, I am looking for skilled writers with a proven ability to chase down (or shepherd) scoops and come up with interesting enterprise stories. The best way to get on my radar is to do great work that I wish we had published ourselves.

I’m also increasingly seeking out video producers, data scientists, interactive graphic designers, newsletter writers and specialized reporters for our Professional Products. The Journal is far more than a newspaper these days. We are very much a digital-first news organization.

For internships, I’m looking for students and recent grads who come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom. You don’t have to be an expert in business, finance and economics to intern at the Journal, but an interest and willingness to learn are key.

I look for interns to bring curiosity, passion and new ideas into the newsroom. I’m seeking out students with a foundation in newsgathering and some prior news deadline experience.

Beyond that, I’m also keen to welcome interns who can bring much-needed digital skills that will help us continue to innovate — whether that’s an interest in audience analytics, creative video editing, social media savvy, comfort with data analysis or the ability to code.

Q. You previously worked as a deputy bureau chief at the Journal and as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg. How do those experiences help you in your current job?

A. I tend to think of the Journal newsroom and the broader news/journalism industry as my new beat. Recruiting and offering career advice are, in a way, very similar to developing the relationships with sources that allow you to be a successful beat reporter or developing the relationships with reporters that help you become a better editor.

I also had the benefit of studying our own publication/company and our media competitors for many years from the reporting side. Over the course of 11 years, I was a media reporter, team leader for a global deals column and an editor for coverage of media, telecommunications and advertising. I like to think that it gave me insight into the rapid evolution of the news industry, and I’m enjoying applying that knowledge to shape our talent strategy going forward.

And when it comes to talking to potential job candidates, I can directly speak to what it’s like at the Journal being in the trenches during breaking news, going through the process to publish a front-page enterprise story or brainstorming a visual digital package. I like to think that makes me more credible when I speak about our news values, strategy and culture.

Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you acquired?

A. I like to say that I got my journalism degree at UNC. Then I got the equivalent of an MBA on the job as a business reporter.

UNC’s journalism school gave me a solid foundation in reporting and an introduction to business and economics (I also got a business minor at Kenan-Flagler Business School).

Chris Roush’s business reporting program really gave me a leg up in the job market. I was comfortable writing on deadline, deciphering SEC filings, studying the market and interviewing executives. Another great professor — Phil Meyer, a legend in using social science methods in journalism — inspired me to dig deeply into complex topics, ask the tough questions and use data and statistics to test my assumptions and support my conclusions.

Browse the job listings at The Wall Street Journal and follow Sarah Rabil on Twitter.

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How I will spend fall break

carrollhall

Carroll Hall, home of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, will be quiet during fall break.

UNC-Chapel Hill is on fall break later this week. That means no classes or meetings on campus Thursday or Friday.

Here’s how I will spend this time:

  • Grade assignments from the three courses that I am teaching this semester.
  • Prepare presentations and assignments for next week’s classes.
  • Write a recommendation letter for a student who is applying to law school.
  • Review a colleague’s materials and write a report for the journalism school’s tenure committee.
  • Order textbooks for next semester’s courses.
  • Read a draft of a master’s thesis.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Buy a new laptop.
  • Vote.
  • Party like a professor.

Express yourself on First Amendment Day

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Flyers at the Park Library promote events for First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The 10th annual First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 25. Here is what it’s all about:

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

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events on campus this year include a discussion of public art and memorials and a reading of banned books. The keynote speaker is Siva Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia, who will speak on the role of Facebook in our democracy.

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

Express yourself!

Scholarships for student editors

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A 1970 edition of the AP Stylebook was among the items available at a silent auction at a past ACES conference. Proceeds from the auction go to scholarships.

Since 1999, the ACES Education Fund has offered scholarships to students interested in careers in editing. Now is the time to apply for the 2019 awards.

Six scholarships are available. One is named for Bill Walsh, an author and Washington Post copy editor who died in 2017. That $3,000 award will go to a student interested in editing news.

The other five scholarships are open to student editors in any field, including book publishing and social media. The awards range from $1,500 to $2,500.

In addition to the scholarship, the award provides financial assistance for winners to attend the national conference of ACES: the Society for Editing. The next conference will be in Providence, Rhode Island, in March 2019.

The deadline to apply for an ACES scholarship is Nov. 15. To learn more, check out the ACES Education Fund’s page on the ACES website. You can also donate to the scholarship fund there.

Good luck to all applicants!

Q&A with Caitlin Owens, reporter at Axios

caitlinowens

Caitlin Owens is a reporter at Axios, a digital news organization based in Arlington, Virginia. She previously worked at Morning Consult and National Journal. In this interview, conducted by email, Owens discusses her work at Axios, the site’s approach to news and her journalism education.

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

A. I’m not sure I have a typical day. Right now my official job description is “health care plus” — meaning I cover health care politics and policy, usually from Capitol Hill, along with a few other policy areas when they’re making news. I’m responsible for writing bigger-picture stories that top the Axios Vitals newsletter a couple of times a week, as well as other stories for the website.

I spend a lot of time covering Congress, which I think is the coolest job in Washington! Congressional reporters get great access to lawmakers, most of whom answer questions from us all day long. It’s the most transparent branch of government, in my opinion. There’s no better place to ask decision makers anything you want with a high expectation of getting an answer.

Covering both health care and Congress has also given me the opportunity to appear on national and local television and radio shows – an added perk of the job.

Overall, I like to say that my job is really seasonal – some parts of the year are just much busier than others.

Q. Axios uses short posts that often include labels like “why it matters” and “the big picture.” How does that affect the way you write and report?

A. I think it helps shape my reporting. I only write stories that have a “Why it matters.”

Axios’ philosophy is that if we can’t answer “why it matters,” we’re wasting a reader’s time. These labels, which we call “Axioms,” are used to guide a reader through the news, which is written in our “Smart Brevity” format. The point is to give the reader the information they need while making it easy to digest.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at Axios?

A. Our headlines need to be short and interesting without delivering false promises to a reader about what the story says. Reporters write initial headlines for their stories, which we often crowdsource when we’re stuck, and editors will occasionally change them before publishing to the site.

As far as editing goes, my editor is in charge of both content and copy when I file stories. A couple of unique things about Axios are that our stories are very short and written in a distinct style, which adds another layer to editing. I’ve had the privilege of being with Axios since the beginning (I’m employee #14!) so helped develop the style, but it’s turned out to be fairly intuitive and not hard to teach new hires.

Q. You are a 2014 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use today, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. I could go on and on about this one! The media landscape is changing, and it’s going to continue to do so. But there are certain invaluable lessons the j-school teaches that are always going to be relevant.

Ethics, for example, is now more relevant than it ever has been; we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard in order to earn readers’ trust in this hyper-polarized time. Hard work and persistence are always going to be crucial. The ability to think through not just both sides, but all sides of an issue and then present those arguments in your own words or images or graphics is always going to be important.

The j-school teaches some very practical skills, like AP style and basic reporting, and it also gives students the opportunity to get relevant experience. A lot of the required classes are very hands-on, like reporting, video editing and “special project” classes. These classes gave me clips I showed or talked about to future employers, including the Los Angeles Times for an internship and Axios.

In terms of what I’ve picked up, I work for a company that is trying to present news in an entirely new way – which means I’ve also reworked a lot of the skills I was taught in j-school. I don’t write using the inverted pyramid, for example, and I often write using first person and bullet points.

I loved many classes I took at UNC, but one I often think about is my community journalism class I took with Jock Lauterer. I obviously do not work for a local news source, but something I love about my job is that Washington is very much like a little community. This is both very fun and also keeps me accountable; my reputation and sourcing depend on my ability to be both good and fair.

Follow Caitlin Owens on Twitter, and read her stories at Axios.

Literacy and graphicacy with Alberto Cairo

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My friend and former colleague Alberto Cairo will return to UNC-Chapel Hill on Sept. 6 to deliver a lecture called “Visual Trumpery.”

Cairo’s visit is part of an international tour on “trumpery,” which Cairo defines as “worthless nonsense” that is intended to deceive. Despite the allusion to the president in the lecture’s title, Cairo’s presentation is nonpartisan, and it takes aim at such deception in maps, charts and graphs across the political spectrum.

Cairo, a former UNC-Chapel Hill professor of visual communication who now teaches at the University of Miami, hopes the tour will promote “graphicacy,” or visual literacy. In his presentation, he explores these questions:

  • Is the graphic based on reliable sources and data?
  • Does the graphic include enough information to be truthful?
  • Is the data correctly represented?
  • Did the journalist or designer take uncertainty into account?

I’m looking forward to this presentation and encourage you to attend in Chapel Hill or elsewhere on the tour. You can read more about Alberto Cairo and the tour at the Visual Trumpery website.

Here are the details on the UNC lecture, which is free and open to the public:

WHO: Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the University of Miami and author of “The Functional Art” and “The Truthful Art
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018
WHERE: Room 33, Carroll Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill

What I am teaching this semester

carrollhall

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

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins this week. 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 20 students; the class meets twice a week. Here is the syllabus for the course.
  • One section of MEJO 711, Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. This course covers an array of digital writing, including headlines, newsletters and tweets. It has 20 students, and it meets asynchronously. Here is the syllabus for the course.

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

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

Best wishes to all on a successful semester!