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.

Thank you, Frank Stasio

Frank Stasio
Radio host Frank Stasio in studio. (Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC)

Frank Stasio became host of “The State of Things” radio program in 2006. At the end of 2020, he will retire from that position.

Each weekday at noon, “The State of Things” is on the air live on public radio stations across North Carolina, including WUNC. It is an invaluable resource covering the people, places and politics of North Carolina.

In 2011, I was a guest on “The State of Things.” The panel discussion was about the vital role of local news organizations in their communities. It’s an issue that Stasio cares about a great deal, and I enjoyed talking with him about it.

In a thread on Twitter today, “The State of Things” announced Stasio’s retirement. Here’s what he told the show’s staff:

I’m proud of what we built on The State Of Things. We made some powerfully good radio and, by most accounts, had a profound effect on our community. I’m grateful to all of you and our amazing listeners for helping to make this happen.

And we are grateful to you, Frank. Best wishes on your next adventures, wherever they may take you.

Getting help on knowing when to call the police

Huffpost-911

I have called 911 once in my life. On a weekday morning in 2001, I looked out the window of my living room and saw a man trying to kick in my neighbor’s back door. Officers arrived in a few minutes, but the man had given up and run away.

Whether to call 911 can be a complicated decision. Amid a national reckoning on race and policing, I have reconsidered when and when not to call the police. I hope that you have too.

A package of stories at HuffPost offers great guidance on this issue. Here’s the headline: “Do I Need To Call The Police? A User’s Guide To Seeking Help Without Just Dialing 911.”

HuffPost presents the posts in an FAQ format. Here are examples of questions:

  • Should I call the police if I hear my neighbors fighting?
  • Should I call the police to report vandalism?
  • Should I call the police to report identity theft?
  • Should I call police if I suspect a child is being abused?

Each question is followed by a comprehensive answer that may suggest alternatives to calling 911. Links to resources for more information for each situation are included.

Taken as a whole, the project performs an essential journalistic service: presenting problems and offering solutions. A team of 17 journalists — including two copy editors and UNC-Chapel Hill colleague Kate Sheppard — created it.

Here’s what Sheppard said about the project:

Q. How did the idea for this project come together?

A. This came about as we were discussing the nationwide protests against racism and police violence, and the questions average people might have about their own engagement with and reliance on police. In my own community, I often hear people suggesting that others call the police over minor things without thinking through the potential consequences of doing so, especially for Black and brown neighbors.

Q. The series looks at 16 different scenarios. How did you choose what to highlight?

A. We wanted scenarios that were common and for which the de facto response has become “just call the police.” We also wanted there to be some nuance to it. There are certainly cases where calling the police is the right course of action, but not all of the time — and even if you do, we wanted to make clear the potential unintended outcomes of doing so. We also wanted to highlight examples where we could show alternatives already in action.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of putting together such a sweeping project?

A. We wanted the package to be nuanced and comprehensive, but also not so long that people can’t engage with all of it. Another challenge was the framing. There’s of course a big conversation going on right now about defunding or completely abolishing the police. Even if readers aren’t ready to go there, I think there can be agreement about the ways we rely too heavily on police to address every problem in society rather than investing in things like mental health care, housing, school safety.

Q. What do you hope readers take away from it?

A. I hope it at least makes people see that they can both change their own actions and advocate for meaningful change.


So what about that attempted burglary that I witnessed? You should probably call 911 in such situations, but don’t expect the person to be caught or property recovered.

 

 

What it’s like to be a professor during a pandemic

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UPDATE: Since I wrote this post on Friday, several COVID-19 “clusters” have been reported at UNC-Chapel Hill dormitories and at an off-campus fraternity. In consultation with the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, I am moving my course to “remote only” until further notice.

Anxiety is in the air. So is the virus.

We have wrapped up the first week of the fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. The university started the term early because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The semester will end by Thanksgiving. The reasoning for this unusual schedule is to avoid a possible second wave of the virus, but we are still in the first wave in North Carolina.

So what’s it like to be on campus? Carroll Hall, the home of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, is oddly quiet. Signs on the floors and doors tell us which way to go when walking inside the building.

I’ve seen some of my colleagues, but many are teaching entirely online. Office hours between faculty and students are taking place via Zoom.

One of my courses, an undergraduate course in editing, meets twice a week in Carroll Hall. It’s what the university calls “face-to-face/hybrid,” one of four teaching methods available this semester. (My other course meets completely online by design.)

For face-to-face meetings, everyone must wear face coverings and stay at least 6 feet apart. To help maintain social distancing, most seats in the classroom are marked off with yellow tape. A dispenser of hand sanitizer is at the room’s entrance.

This room normally seats about 90 people. Under the COVID-19 guidelines, it seats about 20. Here’s what the room looks like:

carroll-hall-room33

For each meeting, I livestream the discussion via Zoom. I also record it and share that recording later with the class. That allows students who have health concerns and wish to attend remotely to do so.

On Monday, we will all meet via Zoom. Many class meetings will take place that way by necessity.

For example, when freelance editor Laura Poole visits the class, she will do so virtually. For other meetings, students will split into small groups to make decisions on word choice and news judgment. It’s not feasible for them to huddle while staying 6 feet apart, so we will meet on Zoom, which has a “breakout room” feature.

Later in the semester, students will work on various assignments during classtime, and I will coach them on their story editing, headline writing, linking and other tasks. That one-on-one consultation will take place virtually.

My initial plan was to have one-third of the class meetings in person and two-thirds remote. When I shared that schedule with the students before the semester started, several asked for more in-class meetings, saying they learned better in that setting. The ratio is now about half and half.

So far, face-to-face teaching seems to be going well. Students are adhering to the safety guidelines, some in masks provided by the university and others with custom designs. They are participating in class discussions and asking smart questions. Wearing masks makes it more difficult for us to communicate — no one can see you smile. But eye contact is still possible as long as my eyeglasses don’t fog up.

I am hopeful that we can make this arrangement work so the students can learn the skills of editing. But if necessary, I am ready to change this course to a completely online experience, as I did in the second half of the spring semester.

Regardless of the method of teaching, I am approaching my courses from a position of compassion and flexibility for the students and for myself. This crisis is a burden on teaching and learning, and on physical and mental health. It’s important to acknowledge that.

Best wishes to all on a safe and successful semester.

Q&A with Ashley Spinks of The Floyd Press

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Ashley Spinks is managing editor of The Floyd Press in Floyd, Virginia. She previously worked as an editorial assistant at the Orange Review and as a freelance reporter for The Daily Progress. In this interview, conducted by email, Spinks discusses her role at The Floyd Press and her start in journalism, and offers advice to students interested in community journalism.

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

A. I’m the managing editor of The Floyd Press, which is a weekly newspaper with a circulation of a few thousand. As anyone in the local journalism business will tell you, community journalism asks you to wear many hats simultaneously.

While my title is “editor” and I do direct the news department, meaning I decide what we cover and assign stories to freelancers (and make sure folks get paid!), I’m mostly a reporter, because I have to be in order to generate enough content for each week’s edition. I’m the paper’s only full-time editorial staffer. (We also have a customer service representative and an advertising representative.)

Things have changed a bit since the coronavirus pandemic struck. I attend far fewer events and do fewer in-person interviews now, for instance. But broadly speaking, I spend my time looking for leads, calling people to hear their perspective or information they can share, and then writing articles that try to faithfully tell folks’ stories.

I also go to a LOT of public meetings, which I enjoy! I don’t really get to be a beat reporter — I cover everything from local government to COVID-19 to the schools — but if I was, I’d focus full-time on government and economic development, which I find fascinating and so important.

I’ve only ever worked at weekly papers, and I like it because my weeks are so cyclical. A couple days of interviews and transcriptions, a couple days of writing and editing, and one day doing layout! Then I start all over again with the next week’s edition.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at The Floyd Press?

A. I personally review every piece of editorial content that goes to press. This means I’m editing stories I’ve assigned to freelance writers, but also press releases, letters to the editor, opinion columns and stories I’m picking up from nearby sister papers. There are a few daily and weekly papers in Southwest Virginia with whom I share stories!

Editing is multi-faceted. It involves checking spellings, confirming facts and just finessing the style of the piece for readability and clarity.

As I mentioned, I’m the only full-time editorial staffer, which means oftentimes, I’m also editing my own work. This isn’t super productive! Things get missed, and it’s one reason why local newspapers desperately need robust staffs.

Copy editing is a skill unto itself. I want to give a shoutout to Floyd local and current Yale student Shayley Martin, who has been volunteering with the Press recently as a copyeditor and saving me from a lot of bad writing!

I write all the heds and subheds.

Q. How did you get interested in journalism?

A. I wrote for my college paper, The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia, but ironically, I was an opinion columnist! (They have their place, for sure, but I’m much more interested in news reporting now.) I was definitely inspired by my peers at the Cav Daily, who were just tireless, and who, despite not being paid, measured up to any professional journalists in Charlottesville as the paper covered really hot-button events like Hannah Graham’s disappearance/murder and Martese Johnson’s brutal interaction with the police.

But actually, for a large portion of my undergraduate years, I thought I was going to work in museums! I interned in a couple, and I was a history major.

I think what appealed to me about the field of public history are the same things that drove me toward journalism. I realized that the way you tell stories — whose voices you include, which perspectives you uplift, how accessible you make your language, etc. — can have a lasting impact.

I’m also just incredibly well-suited to being a journalist on a personal level. I love to talk, and I love to learn new things.

Q. What advice do you have for college students interested in community journalism?

A. All right, this is going to be some tough love: If you really want to be a reporter, be prepared for the industry to break your heart. You can be motivated by passion and idealism (I think that can be a good thing!), but know that not everyone around you will see the value in your work, including the corporations that will likely control the purse strings of your paper.

Journalism has a big accessibility and equity problem — not everyone can break into the industry, because salaries are incredibly low for entry-level jobs. Often you need other sources of income or support to make it work.

Really, my advice is to dedicate yourself to any community you have the privilege to cover. Get to know people, try to learn what makes the town tick and what its values are, and tell stories that accurately represent what life is like for folks who live there.

But if finances or anything else force you out of the industry, know that it’s not a personal failure, and lots of other jobs can give you the opportunity to meet interesting people and write compelling stories. Storytelling matters immensely.

Read Ashley Spinks’ stories on the Floyd Press website, and follow her on Twitter.

Holden Fellowship to help editors get training and support

For more than 20 years, ACES: The Society for Editing has awarded scholarships to students interested in careers in editing. In that time, more than 100 college students have won these scholarships.

Learning is a lifetime experience. What about editors who have already started their professional careers and established themselves? They, too, can benefit from further education and training.

That’s why ACES, in a partnership with the Dow Jones News Fund, has started the Richard S. Holden Diversity Fellowship. The program is named for Richard Holden, an editor who led the DJNF for decades and was a longtime member of ACES and its Education Fund Board.

The Holden Fellowship program will give as much as $3,000 to an editor who wants to attend a conference, enroll in a training webinar or pursue other opportunities to add to their skills and further their careers. The program is open to editors from all disciplines: journalism, book publishing, academia, etc.

An applicant must have at least five years of experience as an editor and have an active ACES membership. Editors from underrepresented communities are encouraged to apply.

To learn more about the Holden Fellowship program, visit the ACES site. The deadline for the first round of applications is Sept. 15, 2020.

Q&A with Patricia Laya, Venezuela bureau chief for Bloomberg News

patricia-laya

Patricia Laya is Venezuela bureau chief for Bloomberg News, a position she has held for nearly three years. She previously covered the U.S. economy and Latin American telecommunications for Bloomberg. In this interview, conducted by email, Laya discusses the challenges of living and working in Venezeuela.

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

A. My workday tends to change pretty often as Venezuela’s news cycle is quite unpredictable. Usually, anything from presidential speeches to street protests is announced or organized just hours before it happens, so we’re used to thinking on our feet or multitasking as we’re a team of only four people based in Caracas.

In general, I’m the first one in (or online, nowadays), and I spend the early morning reading whatever Venezuela news came out overnight and assigning stories, press conferences or events for the day. Then I spend the day either reporting myself or as a sounding board for the reporters in the bureau. I usually edit some of their work and send headlines from the day’s live events throughout the day.

This being Venezuela, we regularly experience power outages or water shortages, which are a massive challenge to our team’s work lives. I try to manage this as best as possible by finding spots with power generators, radio signal and water reserves for us to report and communicate from safely.

Q. Venezuela’s government presents unique challenges to journalists covering events and topics there. How do you navigate the political and economic landscape to find and report news?

A. Reporting on Venezuela can sometimes feel like stumbling in the dark. We have very little in regards to economic data, and whatever we do get is delayed by months or sometimes years and uploaded randomly on government websites.

One of our more significant challenges is that we depend on unofficial estimates or anecdotal evidence to report on one of history’s largest economic collapses. To help with that task, we created an inflation index that tracks the price of a single cup of café con leche every week.

Additionally, the government often intimidates, harasses or imprisons those who speak out on its shortcomings: from politicians and doctors to students and journalists. This had led many to be rightfully fearful of speaking to the press, knowing the high cost it may carry.

Because of this, we’re careful to protect our sources and rely on a variety of secure and encrypted calling and messaging services. We’re also careful to protect ourselves, taking additional security precautions when needed.

Q. Bloomberg News is noteworthy for “the Bloomberg Way.” How does that handbook and the company’s philosophy influence your writing, reporting and editing?

A. Eight years at Bloomberg have given me a whole new level of appreciation for precise language and attention to detail. I’ve learned to write while keeping our readers’ busy lives in mind, which means continuously asking myself if a story is worth running at all.

I’ve grown to appreciate this approach because even though spiking a story I’ve spent time on still stings at times, I see a lot more value in the reporting and source-building process that led us there rather than in the final product.

Q. You are a 2012 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you picked up?

A. So many of the things I take into account at work every day I learned in school, from the most basic concepts of reporting both sides of every story to double (and triple) checking copy for factual errors. Even though I can’t necessarily apply the public records search skills I learned in school now, it’s because of those classes that I know the kind and breadth of official documents that should be accessible to citizens and journalists — and that’s equally important to me.

Since graduating from school, two new skills that have become essential for me have been how to remain cool under high-pressure situations and how to digest complex information into simple text quickly. Both require a lot of preparation that only becomes useful when the opportunity strikes.

Follow Patricia Laya on Twitter and read her stories on the Bloomberg website.

Q&A with Weird Homes NC

weirdhouse-apexnc
This house in Apex, North Carolina, is among those tweeted about by Weird Homes NC.

Weird Homes NC is an anonymously run Twitter account. It shares links to listings for odd properties across North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Weird Homes NC discusses what inspired the Twitter account and what qualifies as a “weird home.”

Q. Why did you start the Weird Homes NC account on Twitter? What do you hope to achieve?

A. I started it on a whim about a year ago to keep myself from doomscrolling all the time and to channel some of my slightly obsessive internet tendencies into something light and entertaining.

I live in a shack in the woods, so I was looking at a lot of real estate listings in some vague hope of upgrading my living quarters and found myself mentally collecting a list of houses that stood out as unusual. So I started posting them to Twitter.

My first post was a windowless cinder block bunker in Hillsborough with a lot of pictures of crayfish in a nearby stream. I had no intention of attracting an audience, it was purely for my own entertainment. I’m not even sure how folks stumbled across the feed in the vast expanse of Twitter.

There isn’t exactly a larger goal to the project, but as the news of the world gets more dire, I’ll expect I’ll keep it going as a pleasant distraction.

Q. What qualifies as a “weird” home?

A. I originally thought of “weird” as any home that is especially large, expensive or just out of the ordinary, but really, the criteria are completely arbitrary. I post anything that catches my eye.

I’m a sucker for taxidermy, topiary and bold paint choices. Also, random animals. My favorite weird houses are ones that give you a true sense of the personality of the people who lived there, because even among luxury homes there’s plenty of cookie-cutter mansions.

You can spend millions on a very boring home. Don’t do it; buy weird.

Q. How do you find the listings for the weird homes? Do you take requests?

A. I scroll through new listings on real estate sites or search for homes with a lot of square footage or tons of bathrooms, then poke around to see what stands out. Sometimes I just click on houses at random to see what they look like inside. I started off looking at homes in the Triangle area but soon expanded to include the whole state.

There are a few rules, however: No punching down. No foreclosures. No place that proudly touts itself as a former plantation (as far as I can tell). No new construction — those places feel soulless.

The issue of requests hasn’t come up among my 33 followers (including at least one bot), but I’m open to it.

Q. From your Twitter feed to HGTV, Americans can’t seem to get enough of news and entertainment about real estate. Why do you think that is?

A. I think it’s escapism, combined with a particularly American brand of aspirational consumerism. If we’re all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires, we might as well spend our downtime ogling the interior decorating of our hypothetical future neighbors, right?

For me, I’m just getting ideas to spruce up the shack.

Follow Weird Homes NC on Twitter or search for your own odd properties on Zillow and Redfin.

Teaching masked and distanced

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I’m updating the syllabus for my editing course for the fall semester to reflect the COVID-19 pandemic.

This course will be taught “face-to-face/hybrid,” one of four teaching modes that UNC-Chapel Hill will use this semester. Sometimes the class will meet in person, and other times via Zoom or asynchronously. About 60% of the undergraduate courses in the journalism school will be taught that way; about 40% will be completely online.

The syllabus includes the usual ingredients: sections on grades, attendance, etc. This year, it will also have an entry called “health and safety.” Here’s what it will say:

You must adhere to the university’s guidelines regarding face covering, social distancing and other measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

If you are an educator, feel free to use or modify that wording on your syllabus. Best wishes to all for a safe semester!