How post-tenure review works

As part of their reporting on the hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones at UNC-Chapel Hill, news organizations such as The Daily Tar Heel have written helpful explainers on the what, how and why of tenure. This post is about one more part of the process: post-tenure review, or PTR.

The UNC system requires tenured faculty to be formally reviewed at least every five years. PTR is in addition to annual evaluations from a dean or department head, and it’s handled by a committee.

I had my most recent PTR during the 2020-21 academic year. I submitted an updated CV and statements on my teaching, service and creative activity. I gathered and summarized course evaluations for the past five years. Unlike the initial tenure review, PTR does not require letters from outside reviewers.

The journalism school’s tenure/promotion committee examined my materials and wrote an eight-page report focused on the three areas of teaching, service and creative activity. Good news: I passed!

If I hadn’t passed, I would have had to write a development plan, in consultation with the committee and the dean, on how I would improve in whatever areas I was deficient. A faculty member who doesn’t meet the goals of their development plan could lose tenure and be dismissed from the university.

What about professors who are Knight Chairs at UNC? Do they have to do five-year reviews? Yes, they do. So if the Board of Trustees approves tenure for Hannah-Jones as part of her appointment, she will be reviewed periodically like everyone else.

So that’s how post-tenure review works. I’ll do it again in five years.

How I will spend my summer

The spring term at UNC-Chapel Hill is over. Thanks to my students for their hard work this semester. We made it!

Here is my agenda for the summer:

  • Lead a week-long residency for our online master’s program in digital communication. About 20 students will get training in video production from my colleague Chad Heartwood and brainstorming sessions with me for their thesis projects, among other activities. The residency will be virtual this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Administer and grade comprehensive exams for the MADC students who are finishing their second year in the program.
  • Advise two MADC students who are working on thesis proposals.
  • Review applications and interview candidates for the next cohort for the MADC program, which accepts up to 20 students per year.
  • Teach the journalism segment of the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop.
  • Write an annual job evaluation and a plan for my next five years of teaching, service and creative activity.
  • Update the syllabus, readings and assignments for my courses for the fall semester. The first day of class is Aug. 18.

Best wishes to all faculty, students and staff on productive yet relaxing summer.

Q&A with Elizabeth Baier of WUNC

Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is digital news editor at WUNC. She joined the radio station in 2016 after eight years of reporting for Minnesota Public Radio News. Prior to that, Baier worked as a newspaper reporter at The Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. This interview was conducted by email.

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

A. As a digital news editor for WUNC – North Carolina Public Radio, my job is to oversee news content on our website. I work with a team of two digital producers and a social media producer to adapt radio stories for the web and our social accounts.

Together, we work closely with broadcast reporters and editors to encourage and support them in thinking digitally from the beginning of the reporting process. Sometimes, that means having a quick conversation with a reporter about possible photo opportunities to go along with an enterprise feature. Other times, it means working with a reporter to completely rewrite a radio script so it works as a web story.

Our digital team is small but mighty, and our overarching goal is to make content that worked on the radio also work on other platforms. When news breaks, we often pivot to report and disseminate information first online.

Even the shortest radio spot takes time to produce, so it’s my job to huddle with other editors to decide when and how to prioritize stories for web. In those cases, either a digital producer or I become the lead writer and incorporate feeds from newscasts, the wire and original reporting into an evolving story online and on social.

A typical day starts with checking what happened overnight and what’s on the docket for the day. I usually start my day around 8 a.m. by checking in with our morning digital producer, who starts at 7 a.m. and is the first to update our website. Then, I meet with other editors to get a rundown of what stories our broadcast colleagues will be working on that day and how to incorporate those into a digital rundown that includes local, national and international news.

WUNC is an NPR-member station and as such, we receive most of NPR’s content automatically on our site. So we have the ability to spotlight some of those stories along with our local content. By midday, the two digital producers are working on moving broadcast stories to the website, building out web-only posts, or editing photos from staffers, The Associated Press or freelancers. We also have a content-sharing agreement with other North Carolina public radio stations, including WFAE, BPR and WFDD, and republish content from their sites with regularity.

On slower news days, digital producers also pitch and report web-only stories, which I edit. Our afternoon digital producer will round out the day by posting afternoon stories, coordinating with our podcast team on upcoming podcast posts, communicating with our social media producer on assets that might work for social, and leaving a hand-off for the morning.

Q. WUNC recently redesigned its website. What are the main objectives of the redesign, and how has it been received?

A. The new WUNC.org offers a better reader experience with a clean design, prominent headlines and better display of photos and videos. The site is mobile-friendly and includes more prominent links to help readers share stories on their favorite social media channels. It also allows us to seamlessly leverage content from NPR and other public radio member stations, while creating more robust, media-rich stories of our own.

While those were all necessary upgrades on the user end, the real strength of the redesign is in the back-end infrastructure. The new site is built off a new content management system called Grove. It’s designed to make website content management easier to manage, and it offers a powerful, behind-the-scenes search engine. Our previous CMS was not built for dynamic, multimedia content. Grove is, and it allows for a richer multimedia experience by easily adding visually-appealing elements like photos, embeds, social content, and videos to posts.

As part of the redesign, we also disabled our online comments attached to individual stories. Connecting with our audience is core to our mission of informing and engaging with our community. While comments have offered a small, loyal core of our audience a place to engage with stories, most of those conversations are now happening on our social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as through live and virtual events. This decision follows that of many other news organizations, including NPR, that have moved comments off their site and onto social media.

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

A. It’s a mixed approach. Broadcast reporters working with their editors will often start the first version of a digital post and write a headline after working on the radio story. They’ll do a content edit before sending the post to the digital team for a style and copy edit.

Digital team members will review all aspects of that story, from the headline and story, to photos and tags, to make sure they’re consistent with our best practices and web standards. The digital team will often tweak headlines, slugs and other aspects of the story before publishing.

When it comes to building out shorter newscast content, digital producers will create those posts and write the headlines themselves. Digital producers will also write headlines for any web-only stories they’re working on, and I’ll edit those.

Q. You started your career in newspapers. What was it like to make a transition to public radio and digital journalism?

A. It was unlearning everything I’d learned as a print reporter and building myself back up as a radio reporter, especially in terms of writing.

When you write for print or digital, you write for the eye. When you write for radio, you write for the ear. Sentences need to be shorter. Verbs become your adjectives. Writing into and out of tape seamlessly takes a ton of practice to master. And using ambient sound to create scenes that transport listeners to a place and time becomes an art more than a science. I love that part of radio storytelling — the taking listeners places with sound and letting them hear stories told by human voices. You can achieve that in print, but I find it’s so much more powerful with sound.

When I moved to WUNC and to the digital side of a newsroom, it was, in many ways, like returning to my print days. Digital is faster. We move content all day. Long narratives are not as common.

Web readers have short attention spans and rarely scroll to the end of stories, so writing concisely matters. Understanding user habits and learning how to interpret all the data that we now have about stories and their performance gives us a chance to serve our audiences better with our content.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in internships and jobs in public media?

A. My advice would be for students to explore many different kinds of journalism courses at the beginning of a four-year program before specializing in one or two different platforms or formats.

These days, public media is not just about making radio. NPR and member stations across the country hire digital-first reporters, producers, writers, editors, photographers, social media specialists, videographers, graphic designers, illustrators and other positions that go well beyond traditional radio. Public media is mission driven, and being able to center the daily work around that mission while adapting to new ways of telling stories is crucial.

In a more practical sense, I also encourage students interested in public media to simply reach out to editors and reporters at their local stations. So many station staffers are eager to help and connect and talk with students.

Asking, listening and learning

For the first time in a dozen years, I am teaching the introductory newswriting course at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

The course is MEJO 153, Writing and Reporting, and it has about 20 students. This semester, it is being taught entirely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students learn the basics of writing leads and stories in the inverted pyramid and other structures. They are also introduced to Associated Press style and other issues related to grammar, word choice and punctuation. Libel, ethics and news judgment are also topics in the course.

For my section of MEJO 153, I wanted to focus on interviewing and listening. Developing those skills is central to success in journalism and public relations.

To give the students that experience, I asked two journalists and a public relations practitioner to visit the class. They were:

  • Brittany Jennings, director of brand alignment and communications for the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Before each guest visited the class, I shared with the students their name and an affiliation. The students then had the task of researching each person and coming up with questions about their work in journalism and PR.

During the class meeting on Zoom, the students asked those questions and listened for opportunities for followup questions. Each meeting created meaningful conversations, and I could see the students become more comfortable and confident as the semester progressed.

After each guest visited, students wrote a post summarizing what they learned and listing direct quotes that they would use in a profile of the person.

A theme emerged in these meetings: treating topics and sources with empathy. That was another lesson of this experience, and one that I hope students will carry with them for the rest of their coursework and into their careers.

Thanks to Brittany, Sara and Amber for sharing their time and insights with the class. We enjoyed asking questions, listening to your answers and learning from you.

Q&A with Foon Rhee of CalMatters

Foon Rhee is a deputy editor at CalMatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism venture based in Sacramento, California. He started his career at The Charlotte Observer, where he spent 16 years as a reporter, before becoming a local news and state Capitol editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh. Rhee went on to become city editor and deputy national political editor at The Boston Globe and an associate editor at The Sacramento Bee. This interview was conducted by email.

Q. What is CalMatters, and what is its place in the news landscape in California?

A. CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers and explains California politics and policy. It was started in 2015, largely in response to a significant reduction in the number of journalists covering the state Capitol as daily newspapers retrenched.

Its mission hasn’t changed, but its place in the California news landscape has expanded as it’s grown and local and state coverage has declined and changed. Besides adding more reporters, editors, engagement and other staff, CalMatters has also increased partnerships with public radio stations, newspapers and other media and established a College Journalism Network. CalMatters stories are distributed to partners free of charge and republished often.

Except for the biggest breaking stories, we do not try to compete with daily newspapers or news sites such as Politico. We take a broader look at what’s going on in the Legislature, in state agencies and with the governor, both in policy and politics.

We try to give a sense of what impact all of that is having across California. And we try to find unreported or underreported stories. It’s a huge task, obviously, in a state of 40 million people that is far more diverse politically than it can look like from the outside.

Q. Describe your role there. What is your typical day like?

A. I’ve been here a little more than a month. I’m one of seven editors, including three deputy editors.

I work with a team of four: two political/policy reporters, a housing reporter and a general assignment reporter we’re about to hire. They cover busy beats. There’s no shortage of news, especially with a campaign to recall the governor about to start, and with affordable housing such an important issue.

Like most journalists, I’m working from home for the most part. I get my first cup of coffee and browse through a half dozen newsletters that wrap up what other media outlets are writing about.

We use Slack to communicate, though I often call reporters for that human connection. I usually have at least one virtual meeting a day and often more to plan coverage and consult with other editors and staffers.

I edit three to five pieces a week, of various lengths and complexity. Sometimes, I pitch in to edit newsletters, and we often update issue explainers and policy tracking pieces.

Q. How does copy editing and headline writing work at CalMatters?

A. We don’t have a copy desk. I’m the first editor on any story from the reporters I work with, and then a senior editor back-reads it. For more sensitive and complicated stories, it’s possible that other editors will also read them.

Reporters often suggest headlines. I tweak them, and so does the senior editor.

Q. How is editing for CalMatters different from other news organizations that you have worked for?

A. Because the kinds of stories we do, a lot more of this job is on the front end before reporters file their stories.

I spend much more time talking to reporters about finding the most interesting stories and setting priorities. Then once we decide on a story, there’s a lot of conversation about how to focus the story, how to structure it, photos, graphics and multimedia.

In my previous editing posts, I was covering much more breaking news, so I spent more of my time word-editing and revising stories.

Q. What advice do you have for journalists, including student journalists, who are interested in working for a nonprofit news organization?

A. My advice to young journalists interested in nonprofit news organizations really isn’t any different than what I’ve told others during my career.

Read widely, not just to add to your knowledge of important issues, but also to bathe yourself in great reporting and writing.

Listen, watch and learn from your colleagues. Try to pick up good traits and habits from exemplary journalists, while adapting them to your own personality and strengths.

Be open to opportunities, even if it’s not the exact job you may want. One door leads to another and another.

Be nice to people, don’t lie and don’t burn any bridges. Journalism is a small world and your reputation gets around. You never know when a particular person can help you get where you want. Or not.

Follow CalMatters and Foon Rhee on Twitter.

When Roy Williams retired, journalists went to work

UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams surprised the sports world when he announced his retirement this week. The decision ends a 33-year career as a head coach, the past 18 in Chapel Hill.

The announcement Thursday morning sent North Carolina news organizations into action. The first task? Make sure that this news wasn’t an April Fools’ Day joke. It was not.

Under deadline pressure, journalists rose to the occasion. Here’s some of their best work:

Best headline: DAGGUM, ROY in The News & Observer of Raleigh. Written by senior sports editor Matt Stephens, the headline captures the coach’s folksy persona and the fan reaction to his departure in two words and a comma. Here’s how the headline looks on the front page of the April 2 print edition:

Best column: Ed Hardin, Greensboro News & Record. Hardin, one of the best sportswriters in the state’s history, connects Williams to the people and places who shaped his career.

Best photo: Robert Willett, News & Observer. The angle and lines in this shot capture the moment of Williams’ entrance to his final appearance at the Smith Center as UNC’s coach. This photo was the main image on the N&O homepage, and rightly so. (For more remarkable images from the N&O photo staff, see this slideshow.)

Best hustle: Like other UNC students, the staff of The Daily Tar Heel was about to start a four-day break for the semester when the news about Williams broke. The students reported, wrote, published and distributed a 20-page special edition, and they sold advertising for it. You can buy it as a keepsake.

Congrats to Roy Williams on a stellar career. And congrats to the stellar journalists who told the story of his retirement.

News conferences are still newsworthy

In a recent column in The Washington Post, opinion journalist Jennifer Rubin wrote about White House news conferences. Here’s her lead:

The premise that such a setting is the only one that can fully inform the public — as opposed to questions at other presidential appearances or during one-on-one interviews — is weak at best.

My question: Who has asserted that a news conference is the only way to fully inform the public? I am aware of questions and criticism regarding President Biden’s lack of news conferences two months into his administration. But I haven’t heard the premise that Rubin mentions.

Presidents, governors, mayors, chancellors of public universities, police chiefs, league commissioners and other powerful people should have news conferences on occasion. That setting allows us to see journalists asking questions and getting responses in real time. That give-and-take is often informative and revealing.

I agree with Rubin that many news conferences are missed opportunities. Some devolve into a form of political performance. Others are perfunctory or dull.

I like Rubin’s list of suggested questions at the end of her column. Let’s see whether some of them get asked in Biden’s first news conference this week.

ACES to meet virtually for 25th conference

The 25th national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing will take place April 21-22. Originally scheduled for Atlanta, the conference will be a virtual experience because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conference includes sessions that will appeal to editors across disciplines. We’ll learn who won the headline contest, hear from keynote speakers and honor scholarship recipients.

I hope to see you there!

Q&A with Kyle Villemain, editor of The Assembly

Kyle Villemain is editor and founder of The Assembly, a recently launched website focusing on people, politics and power in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Villemain discusses the origin and outlook for The Assembly.

Q. What is The Assembly, and what inspired you to start it?

A. The Assembly is a new statewide digital magazine. We focus on deep longform reporting and smart ideas writing about North Carolina. The vision is one of a state-level Atlantic, or a lower volume Texas Monthly without the lifestyle and travel writing — something Our State already does very well in North Carolina.

We’ll publish just 8 to 10 pieces a month, balanced between longform (3,000 to 5,000 words) and shortform (1,000-1,500 words). That allows us to pay writers more and avoid chasing daily breaking news.

Our journalism is centered around power — writing about who has it, how they got it and what they’re doing with it. That means coverage of people, ideas and institutions across the state.

My inspiration for starting this came from two places. I grew up in North Carolina and have always felt the challenges we face here are just as compelling as those in DC, or New York, or California. I’m six years out from college (UNC-CH ’15), and I’m watching my peers and friends figure out where to spend the next stage of their career — where to really dig in and find their passion.

I think that North Carolina should be at the top of their list of places to come back and work. But one of the side effects of a top-heavy media environment, where much of the deep enterprise reporting happens at national publications, is that national challenges are just more compellingly covered. I think we need to cover our state’s challenges in the same way and shift some of our attention from DC to NC.

The other, perhaps more immediate motivation, comes from my recent work. I was a speechwriter for President Margaret Spellings at the UNC System and Chancellor Carol Folt at UNC-Chapel Hill. At both institutions — and at the institutions I worked with and interacted with across the state — I saw powerful systems and people that were extremely undercovered. They made good choices and bad choices, but almost inevitably, they made unexamined choices. I wanted to build a publication that could commission the kind of big-swing reporting that would let folks see behind public statements and learn what was going on behind the big decisions in North Carolina.

Q. How will the site be financially viable and sustainable?

A. We’re subscriber-supported. Very little of our revenue will come from ads.

Everyone gets a free article a month, after that, it’s a $3 monthly subscription. Some folks have very generously stepped up to pay a little more than that monthly, and that willingness to support will be really important for us moving forward.

The calculation here is that the huge national success of subscriber-supported news is transferable to North Carolina. People are willing to pay for high-quality reporting and writing, either when it’s attached to a big brand like The New York Times or The Atlantic, or when it’s tied to individual writers on Substack. We think we can convince folks to subscribe for high-quality content at the state level as well.

We’re raising money right now to give us a three-year runway to build a subscriber base that can support us. We project that would mean around 10,000 subscribers.

Q. You have a background as speechwriter. How does that experience inform your role at The Assembly?

A. Part of it is that my role allowed me to see how complex and interesting so much of the decision-making is at big institutions across the state. I don’t think we capture that complexity in enough of our journalism.

It’s not about reporter quality — we have amazing reporters in North Carolina. What we’re missing, I think, is a platform that lets those reporters spend a lot of time on questions of power — and then write about them in a narrative, magazine style.

As a speechwriter, the quality of the writing itself matters to me. The reporting will underpin everything we do — but it’s also important to then make that reporting come alive. My past roles were focused on making other people’s ideas and words more accessible, concise and powerful. That’s the same approach I’m bringing as an editor at The Assembly.

Q. How do copy editing and headline writing work at The Assembly?

A. We have a small stable of copy editors under contract, three at the moment. They would tear apart the copy that I’m sending to you, Andy. One of them leads the process and coordinates a first and second read for all of our pieces. As editor, I make final approval on copy, but typically our writers will be editing alongside me until the draft is locked.

Headline writing is done by myself, with input from the writer. Though that’s so often a point of contention, we haven’t had that tension internally quite yet!

Part of that is because our business model is based less on clicks and more on value to readers. If subscribers feel our headlines are clickbait and there’s a disconnect between what’s advertised and what’s in the piece itself, they’ll lose faith in our model. That means we have a really strong incentive to stay away from clickbait or gimmicks.

Q. What can readers expect to see on the site in the near future and beyond?

A. Readers can expect a big longform piece almost every week on our site and via our weekly (soon to be biweekly) newsletter. These will dive into higher ed, politics, business, culture — the media landscape itself.

We’ll also tap smart thinkers, leaders and organizers to write well-argued pieces that present and engage with the best form of the argument both in support of their thesis and against it. We think that’s what will differentiate our ideas writing. We’ll start doing digital and in-person events, we’ll be dipping our toes into the audio and video space, and we’ll be getting increasingly ambitious with the scale of our visual storytelling.

It’s going to be a wild next few months, all based around big-swing stories about power in the state.