Q&A with Grace Raynor, sportswriter at the Post and Courier

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The front page of the Post and Courier the day after Clemson won the national championship on a last-second touchdown.

Grace Raynor is a sportswriter at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. She is a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, and she was sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel during her time in college. In this interview, conducted by email, Raynor discusses sports journalism, her experience covering a national championship football game and her use of social media as part of her job.

Q. Describe your job at the Post and Courier. What is your typical day like?

A. I joined the Post and Courier’s sports staff in March as a general assignment reporter. What’s cool about being a GA sports reporter is that every day is different. There would be some days I’d cover high school football, others I’d cover minor league baseball and even some when I’d head out to the water and write sailing articles.

My favorite part about being GA is the ability to write the off-the-wall stuff. Once I wrote about a 70-year old pole vaulter, and another time I wrote about a couple that are judo partners together. My role is helping out in any capacity with the day-to-day stuff and then finding stories or enterprise on my own that I find interesting and want to tackle.

This week is a little unconventional in that I’m actually about to take on a new role at the P&C as our Clemson beat writer, meaning I’ll be making the move to the Upstate soon. In that capacity I’ll cover Clemson football, men’s basketball and baseball for the P&C — so the day-to-day grind is about to change!

Q. You recently covered Clemson’s victory in the college football playoff. What was it like to cover the championship game?

A. Covering the national championship game was unlike any experience I’ve ever had before, both journalistically and personally.

From a journalistic standpoint, it was the ultimate adrenaline rush: It was an 8:17 p.m. kickoff; for print deadline purposes, my first story was due 15 minutes after the game ended, and then the game came down the literal last second. It was stressful at times when I had to adjust so quickly after that last touchdown, but also such a rush that it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Personally, it’s always been on my sports reporter bucket list to cover a national championship game. The way that one ended couldn’t have been more exciting.

Q. You’re active on Twitter. How does social media help or hinder your work?

A. Twitter is such a great tool to reach a large audience of people who are all interested in a common thing. With Clemson fans, Twitter is one of the first places they go to to get in-game information or postgame reactions, and so in that regard it’s very efficient and engaging. If there’s a quote or detail I want to get out there before my story is published, Twitter is the best way to do that.

I do think it can be a bit of a hindrance sometimes, though. I am guilty of sometimes spending so much time tweeting a postgame press conference or a locker room scene that I miss out on body language or eye contact or those little details that we miss when we’re on our phones. It’s definitely a give-and-take balance that I’m still learning.

Q. Covering college sports is challenging and rewarding. What advice do you have for students who are considering sportswriting as a career?

A. You’re so right in that regard that it’s both challenging and rewarding. I’m still learning myself the ins and outs of the sports journalism world, but my advice is this: Be patient.

After I graduated from UNC, I had an internship that lasted until October and then didn’t find a full-time job I liked until March. It took me almost six full months to land on my feet, and that’s OK!

Now, I’m so glad I waited on taking a job I knew I would be really passionate about, rather than just taking the first thing that was thrown my way. In those five months I continued to freelance so I had an income (definitely not advising not working here!) and then things fell into place.

I realize it’s annoying when people tell recent graduates that things will work out as they should. I used to hate hearing that. But it’s true. Stay patient, write things you’re passionate about and surround yourself with people who care about you. When it works out, it’s awesome.

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter and read her stories on the Post and Courier website.

What I am teaching this semester

Today is the first day of the spring semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what I am teaching this term:

  • MEJO 157, News Editing. This is a course on the fundamentals of editing for print and digital media. It includes headline writing and caption writing. Here is the syllabus.
  • MEJO 457, Advanced Editing. This is a course that focuses on subject areas such as features, opinion writing and sports. Students also collaborate with other courses on projects such as The Durham VOICE. Here is the syllabus.

In addition to my coursework, I will serve on several committees for master’s theses, and I’ll chair one.

Best wishes to faculty, staff and students on a successful semester!

Q&A with Marnie Shure, deputy managing editor at The Onion

Marnie Shure is deputy managing editor at The Onion, the satirical website that describes itself as “America’s Finest News Source.” In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her role at The Onion and how editing and headline writing work there.

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

A. A typical workday actually starts around 7 a.m. In addition to being the deputy managing editor, I’m also the features editor, covering small content types; this means I have to find news topics early in the morning for the writers to comment on throughout the day.

Later, at the office, we typically have between one and three different meetings in a day, targeting certain editorial objectives like slating a future issue or responding quickly to a developing news story. In between, I am assembling features, communicating with freelancers, looking over content schedules and generally just shepherding things through the various stages of production.

I also occasionally still copyedit stories when I can, which is a delight all its own.

Q. How do writers and editors at The Onion come up with ideas for stories and “report” them?

A. Every writer has their own methods of generating story ideas to bring to the table, but of course keeping an eye on real news trends and developments is a huge part of that.

From there, the process is incredibly collaborative: Headlines are read aloud in a meeting and voted upon, and selected stories are brainstormed as a group. Drafts are written, rewritten, edited and edited again.

All told, each piece of content goes through about six different rounds of review. But it has to begin with a headline that could just as easily stand on its own, without text. If the headline cannot be fully understood without further elaboration, then the headline isn’t strong enough to be selected in the first place.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at The Onion?

A. Story editing is also a group effort, in that no single person’s preferences are shaping the finished product. Each sentence is scrutinized for joke opportunities and infused with as much satire as can be stuffed into it.

At the same time, though, nothing can read too much like a joke is being made; it should sound natural, businesslike, and newsworthy, no matter the topic. It’s this particular aspect of the voice that makes it hard to master: It can never sound as though anyone but a journalist is writing it.

Q. Working at The Onion sounds like fun. What advice do you have for people interested in jobs there?

A. Working at The Onion is certainly very fun, provided you are an obsessed freak like me!

Within the editorial realm, a borderline unhealthy fandom for America’s Finest News Source (coupled with a workhorse mentality and gluttony for punishment) outweighs the most esteemed journalism degree. I’ve never been around people who work so hard in my life.

So I guess the answer is, find it fun to work very hard at this one particular thing. I’m not good with advice.

Q&A with Lisa McLendon, author ‘The Perfect English Grammar Workbook’

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Lisa McLendon is the coordinator of the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas. She is the author of “The Perfect English Grammar Workbook: Simple Rules and Quizzes to Master Today’s English.” In this interview, conducted by email, McLendon discusses the book and her views on “grammar police” and the singular they.

Q. What prompted you to write this workbook, and how did it come together?

A. This was a great example of the power of networking: Someone I’m connected with on Twitter and through the American Copy Editors Society is a freelance copy editor for publisher Callisto Media and edited Grant Barrett’s “Perfect English Grammar.” When Callisto decided to do a workbook, too, she couldn’t take it on so she recommended me.

The publisher uses data to figure out what audiences are looking for and what needs are unmet, so the turnaround was quick. I wrote the book in about six weeks. Then it went through two rounds of editing, design, marketing and then release.

Q. You’re an editor. As an author, how did it feel to be edited?

A. EVERYONE needs an editor, and that includes editors who are writing. It gave me a lot of confidence in the publisher that editing was still an important part of the process.

I was pleased to have a thorough content edit and then a thorough copy edit on top of that. Both editors were excellent, and the process was relatively painless. But still, there were a couple of places where I thought, “yikes, did I write that?” That’s why we all need editors!

Q. What are some areas of grammar that cause people headaches?

A. Agreement, both subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent. Subjunctives. Subject and object pronoun use. Punctuation, apostrophes in particular.

Q. In the book, you write that you prefer “grammar cheerleader” over “grammar cop.” What do you make of debates over grammar on social media and elsewhere?

I’m glad people are talking about language. Healthy debate is good, and anytime people (myself included) can learn more about language and how it works, it’s a good thing. Anytime people think about making writing more clear and accurate, it’s a good thing.

Because grammar rules (and “rules”) are often used by those “in the know” as a cudgel to shame people or shut out voices, a lot of people have a negative perception of grammar. That’s why it needs a cheerleader instead of a cop.

But like it or not, we DO get judged by our language, especially online, where the vast majority of communication is written, and often that judgment will override any information someone is trying to convey or point someone is trying to make. Understanding grammar can help someone gain credibility and write authoritatively.

Q. Let’s wrap up with two hot-button topics: How do you feel about the Oxford comma? The singular they?

A. Oxford comma: Honestly, I wish people would quit arguing about this. There are so many more important issues in language. Follow the designated style guide and be done with it. (Blog post: https://madamgrammar.com/2013/07/31/dont-sweat-it-serial-comma/)

Singular they: We have been using “they” for centuries to refer to unspecified or unknown people, and English has not crumbled into dust as a result. (In fact, this exact grammatical phenomenon has occurred before, when plural “you” expanded into the singular, displacing “thou” and “thee.”) It’s here to stay, and it’s rapidly gaining acceptance in mainstream publications. (Blog post: https://madamgrammar.com/2015/08/12/singularthey/)

A newspaper helps with giving

trianglegivesThe Thanksgiving Day newspaper is typically the largest of the year, loaded with advertising for Black Friday. That’s true of The News & Observer, the paper I read every day.

My favorite section of the Thanksgiving edition of the N&O is Triangle Gives. In print, it consists of 40 pages of profiles of nonprofit organizations that do good things in North Carolina. Some, such as Habitat for Humanity, are familiar. Others, such as the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, may be less so.

I’ll use the Triangle Gives section to select a few organizations for donations during the holidays. I’ll ask my 16-year-old son to do the same.

And if you live in North Carolina, I’ll ask you too. If you missed the section in print, you can read it online. Either way, I hope you will follow the advice of one of the headlines in Triangle Gives: “To do the greatest good, write a check or volunteer.”

Q&A with Courtney Rukan, multiplatform editor at The Washington Post

Courtney Rukan is deputy multiplatform editing chief at The Washington Post, a job she has held since 2010. She previously worked as a copy editor in the sports and features departments at the Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Rukan discusses her job and her transition from print journalism to digital.

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

A. In my job, I help oversee a team of 50 copy editors. I typically arrive between 8 and 9:30 a.m. (depending on the day and/or circumstances)

Monday: I try to start the week off by dipping into our editing system and handling a few web files, to get the week started off right. My boss and I meet after the daily 9:30 morning meeting (the daily planning meeting for digital and print) to catch up on business. We talk about what’s happening that day, as well as short- and long-term projects we’re undertaking and any other things we need to deal with.

If I don’t have any emails that are of pressing concern, I make a pass around the room to get details about what was talked about at the morning meeting and what might be brewing for the Sunday paper. I also make sure to stop by to say hi to my copy editors who work in the morning, because it’s always a good thing to know how everyone is doing.

Then I make assignments for our weekly Real Estate, Sunday Arts and Sunday Business sections before turning my attention to overseeing the daily print product. On Mondays and Tuesdays, other copy editors in my department “run the day” because we want to make sure folks in our department get a chance to take on leadership roles. (I’ll detail the print duties on Wednesday, which is the day I run.) In between making sure everything is running smoothly, I will handle any other matters with respect to production, personnel, etc.

Tuesday: In the morning, I turn my attention to doing a weekly schedule, which takes about an hour. I walk the floor quickly to get a handle on what’s coming that day.

This is the regular day for our weekly enterprise meeting, at which we find out about the big projects we’re working on for that week or farther out. My boss and I try to marry the right copy editor to the right enterprise projects based on timeline, skill level, interest, etc. Then I connect the assignment editor, designer, copy editor and any other interested parties in an email to coordinate the project. After that, I oversee print production.

Wednesday: I make the final assignments for our weekend sections and coordinate with the Weekend section editor on our proofing strategy for the day. Then I try to squeeze in whatever administrative duties and additional meetings I can before the print cycle starts.

This is the day I run print instead of supervising it: Prep for the print product includes greeting each editor as they come in (if possible), parsing our booking process for what will run in print and what is online-only content, communicating with assignment editors and copy editors, checking our messaging system for changes, making assignments, slotting when necessary, determining which pages we will proof early (before deadline), assigning the remaining pages to proof and assigning and late-moving files. Once we’re in a good spot (typically between 6:30 and 8 p.m.), I head home where I monitor email until about 9:30 p.m.

Thursday: My boss and I slot Real Estate, Sunday Arts and start slotting Sunday Business. We coordinate with the section editors to ensure smooth closure. Then we have our weekly meeting with the managing editor in the afternoon. I make sure our weekend enterprise plans are moving in the right direction before turning my attention to print.

Friday: This is the day I’m my boss, who’s off Fri-Sat. So I attend the morning meeting, make my rounds, coordinate everything for the weekend while making initial plans for the following week. Then I slot most of Sunday Business, attend any necessary meetings, get print started for that night, attend the afternoon A1 meeting (at which A1 is debated and our digital stats are parsed), and finish off Sunday Business once the market stats come through. Once print is under control, I leave around 6:30 p.m.

Any number of things can interrupt the normal flow of my workday because curveballs pop up all the time, but that is what a typical week should look like.

Q. You started your career as a print journalist. How have you made the transition to digital?

My transition to digital was gradual from 2004 until 2010, at which point I worked in the sports department and we were a guinea pig for washingtonpost.com. During those six years, our digital education mainly consisted of learning the needs of the digital world. We evolved slowly, reverse publishing some content from web to print. Then after a couple of years, we started to write SEO web headlines. But since 2010, the transition has been much quicker.

From 2010 to 2013, we started writing our own web heds with digital summaries and learned how to pull photos for digital presentation in Methode, our CMS. Then we added editing in WordPress in 2013 as a complement for the bloggers and for special digital presentation.

We also have special systems and build-outs for databases, graphics, video, design, etc. This year we rolled out ARC, which allows us to publish copy to the web in a more streamlined way, which has continued our unofficial “new year, new tool” pace.

I think the transition from print to digital is more a mind-set more than anything: Typesetting and publishing content have never been easier, and yet new tools can throw people off-balance, so it’s important to remember all of the tools we’ve worked on in our careers and how much harder those tools were when it was print-only work.

ATEX required editors to hard-code headlines, captions and text; the new systems only require us to make sure everything is right within the code that is provided for us. We do have more steps to worry about now, but if you can keep things organized in your head you can succeed easily in the digital world.

That said, we provide a lot of training for anyone who needs it. Personally, I think we should embrace change and continue to do so. Evolution is necessary to succeed over a 30-plus-year career.

Q. The Post uses a “content testing tool” called Bandito to assess headlines and other elements on its site. How does that affect how human editors do their work?

Bandito allows for dissent and certainty, which is great for editors and journalism. If two or more people have different ideas about the direction a headline should go it, you can use Bandito to prove which one is the best.

We get a lot of guidance on how our voice should sound on web heds, and there is a lot of discussion about digital presentation in various channels in Slack. And sometimes the best headline might just be one that has more of a “print” sensibility.

Bandito allows us to take it right to the source, our audience, to see how we can best proceed. So I don’t think it affects how human editors do their work so much as it helps us by opening a world of possibilities that are proved or disproved in real time; Bandito gives us the chance to think both inside and outside the box.

Q. Editing at the Post sounds like a cool job. What advice do you have for students who are interested in that kind of work?

Working at The Post is great, and we try to create a collegial and supportive working environment. I’ve never had a desire to do anything else because of the feeling that we’re making a difference each day and my excitement when I’m in the newsroom.

Even on my worst day at work, I have more fun at work than a lot of my non-journo friends have on their best day at work. We work with so many intelligent and funny people, colleagues who care about the state of the world and the state of the people in the newsroom.

But working at a major daily newspaper isn’t for the faint of heart: The hours can be long and unpredictable, there is a lot of stress associated with the unpredictability of the news cycle, and working nights and weekends can be part of the job for many years. Case in point: I worked 15 years before getting a traditional Saturday-Sunday weekend, and although my shifts are mostly days now, there are still instances when I’m at the office until 9:30 or later (excluding big-event nights like an election). And for 10 of those 15 years, I had a midweek weekend and worked past midnight.

We have more opportunities for daytime work now, but anyone who wants to work at a newspaper needs to think about unusual hours and days off and whether they can sustain that life for a decade or more. But doctors, lawyers, nurses and so many more people have strange hours, too, so if you really love journalism you should do it.

Passion is what matters most: How passionate are you about the First Amendment and the press’s role in it? The answer to those questions will guide you.