Student guest post: Sorting truth from parody on Twitter

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Brooke Pryor is a junior majoring in journalism on the reporting track. She is an assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel and will be an intern with the Colorado Springs Gazette this summer.

In the age of the Internet, it seems like we have instant access to celebrities and public figures. Through Twitter and Facebook, ordinary people like you and me can get information directly from the source without having to pick up a telephone. It’s as easy as reading a status update or a new tweet.

Or is it?

Outlets like ESPN, the Huffington Post and TMZ report tweets from celebrities as indisputable facts. A tweet from the account of a public figure should be taken as a fact, right?

Tiger Woods tweets that he’s in a relationship with Lindsey Vonn. It’s from his verified account, so it must be true.

But what if these tweets from celebrities and other public figures weren’t as ironclad as they appear to be.

A new service called “Let Me Tweet That For You” generates a realistic-looking tweet from any account. It’s simple — just type in the name of the account and what the tweet should say, and the service creates a tweet that can be captured and shared.

In a world where journalists and editors already have to stay on their toes to avoid Internet hoaxes or misinformation, this addition of fake tweets only adds to the confusion and frustration of copy editors trying to check facts.

While Twitter is a great resource for breaking news and disseminating information across the globe at breakneck speed, the rise of these websites and parody accounts makes it increasingly difficult to use Twitter as a trustworthy source.

After the recent selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope, a fake Twitter account for the new head of the Catholic Church was shut down. The account had been up for nearly six months, but after Bergoglio was chosen, people began tweeting to the fake account in congratulations. The fake account gained more than 100,000 followers before being suspended.

This case is a prime example of why copy editors have to be wary before trusting a Twitter account. It’s important to be extra careful when linking to the tweets in a story or putting together a Storify page. As instances of parody accounts and fake tweets rise, it will be increasingly difficult to go to twitter for information.

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Student guest post: NCAA’s warning against over-tweeting limits free press

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Kelly Parsons is a journalism and political science major and former sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She will intern at The Star Tribune in Minneapolis after graduation in May.

I’ll be honest. I don’t spend much of my time reading the fine print. So when I was discussing live-tweeting upcoming basketball games with my traveling companions en route to Kansas City for March Madness coverage, I was surprised by the NCAA’s rules against it.

Attached to the email I received approving my media credentials for the tournament was an informational sheet that told me a bunch of miscellaneous information about team practices times, the media buffet and more.

In the final paragraph on the last page, under the subhead “Blogging and New Media Policies,” it reads:

Each Credential Holder (including institutional, television, Internet, new media, and print publications) has the privilege to blog (or update Facebook or Twitter accounts) during competition through the Credential Entity. However, the blog may not produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event.

The warning goes on to define real-time, which the NCAA classifies as “continuous play-by-play account or live, extended live/real-time statistics, or detailed description of the event.”

Anyone who follows a sports writer on Twitter knows that nowadays, tweeting from press row is now considered to be one of a reporter’s duties. So herein lies an interesting question: When, at least in the NCAA’s mind, does it become too much?

It appears the NCAA wants to limit the kind of free play-by-play that might keep someone from tuning into a live broadcast or even attending the game in person. However, the NCAA’s rule steps on journalists’ toes, discouraging them from doing their No. 1 job of providing information to the public.

These same guidelines can be found on the NCAA’s website, which warns that breaking this rule could lead to revocation of an NCAA-issued credential. The NCAA, however, isn’t the only institution lately to make rules against live-tweeting.

In August, Ohio State made the news when journalists were banned from tweeting during football coach Urban Meyer’s news conferences. The ban appeared to have been lifted shortly after, but not before journalists affected by it spoke out against it.

The case at Ohio State is just one example of gatekeepers not knowing how to respond to and deal with the ever-changing media that journalists use to reach out to fans. During my time at The Daily Tar Heel, I’ve covered many NCAA tournaments in a variety of sports.

Despite its warnings, I’ve never once heard of nor seen the NCAA actually revoke someone’s credential for over-tweeting. In fact, in a meeting this month with the Associated Press Sports Editors, NCAA officials said there would be no “numerical restrictions on social media posting during its postseason events.”

The fact, though, that it remains within the realm of the NCAA’s power to send a journalist home for sharing too much information makes me question how free the free press really is.

Q&A with Madelyn Rosenberg, children’s author

Madelyn Rosenberg is an author of several children’s books. Her latest, “The Canary in the Coal Mine,” will be released in April. Before going into fiction writing, Rosenberg worked as a reporter and editor at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Rosenberg talks about her writing, the editing process for children’s books and her transition from the newsroom.

Q. What inspired your move from writing for newspapers to writing for children?

A. I’d always wanted to write for kids and to tell my own stories as well as the stories I was telling about other people. I think it was more a matter of finally getting published in kid-lit than a conscious decision to move from one thing to the other.

In my latest middle-grade novel, you will find that newspapers play a pretty vital role (not a coincidence). I remain a journalism fan, and I still freelance, mostly for Arlington Magazine, where I get to do profiles.

Q. What sorts of stories are you interested in telling, and how do you generate ideas for them?

A. I’m interested in telling stories about the environment, pretty much anything that has to do with music, “otherness,” and finding your place in the world.

If there’s a theme to the stories I’ve found homes for so far, it’s The Outside. My whole childhood was spent outside. Now so much is set up to revolve around The Inside.

I tend to fight that by keeping all of my characters out of the house. I get ideas from everywhere: things I see, places I go, something I mishear and my kids.

Q. How does the collaboration with an illustrator work, and how are your books edited?

A. So far there really hasn’t been much collaboration with illustrators. I think that’s the way it usually is, though I’ve had friends who have had more of a collaboration process than I have.

There are lots of reasons for keeping writers and illustrators separate. I don’t agree with all of them. But I think one reason might be that it’s a sure way to make sure the writing speaks for itself and generates the images naturally. That makes sense to me.

I’ve been really lucky so far in the illustrators I’ve gotten to work with. And I did have a nice back-and-forth (via the editor) with Paul Meisel for “The Schmutzy Family,” where he asked if I could create a mess in another color, because I’d had two spreads where the mess would have been red. I ended up having to delete some of my favorite lines, but I ended up liking the lines I replaced them with even better.

The editing process is really pretty similar to the process for newspapers, only with a longer turn-around time. My novel also went through a copy editor who kept a sharp eye out for anachronisms. The story is set in 1931, and she flagged words that surprised me because I hadn’t checked the etymology. For instance: Gobbledygook didn’t come around until the 1940s, and since my story was set in 1931, it had to go.

Q. Looking back at your career in journalism, what do you miss about it? And are you happy you made this transition?

A. I’m very happy that I made the transition, but sure, I miss it, especially the meeting-different-people-everyday part of it. I also miss my coworkers, the teamwork, and the banter.

The Internet is a sorry surrogate for newsroom banter. And I haven’t felt right on election night since I’ve left dailies.

Read Rosenberg’s blog and follow her on Twitter.

Guest post: A heart-stopping headline

Dane Huffman is executive Web producer at NBC-17 in the Triangle region of North Carolina. He previously worked at WRAL.com and, for 24 years, in the sports department of The News & Observer as a reporter and editor. In this guest post, first published on Facebook, Huffman looks back at how a headline captured the essence of the 1983 N.C. State basketball team.

I loved watching the ESPN special “Survive And Advance” on N.C. State’s miracle run to a national championship in 1983. One small part I played in that was coming up with the “Cardiac Pack” name. I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time, and I was working at The N&O when State beat UNLV on a Sunday.

Of course, at that point they’d had a miracle run through the ACC Tournament and had beaten Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After that UNLV game, I was working at The N&O on Sunday evening and said we needed to come up with a nickname.

We were throwing out ideas, and I remembered the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL had been the “Cardiac Cards” in the 1970s. So I suggested “Cardiac Pack,” and we put that in the headline Monday morning.

cardiacpack

Needless to say, the name took off — The N&O was really powerful then — and you soon saw it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and even on commemorative Coke bottles.

What was interesting back then is how people around the Triangle were pulling for State. Even UNC students were caught up in it at the time, and lots of Carolina students came to Raleigh (including me) for the night of the championship game.

Thanks to N&O news researcher Brooke Cain for providing the image of this newspaper page.

When guests visit your class

My colleague Chris Roush has an excellent column in the latest AEJMC newsletter. The topic is guest speakers, and he offers great tips about making their visits meaningful to students.

Like Roush, I invite guest speakers to visit my class on occasion. They provide a break from the routines of lectures and assignments, and they offer expertise on topics that are not my strong suits. Both my students and I learn a lot from them.

For example, in recent years, students in Advanced Editing have expressed interest in careers in book publishing, academia and the corporate world. As an editor with a background in news, I cannot speak from experience about what it’s like to be an editor in those situations.

That’s why I recently asked three editors to visit my class:

Rather than have each person to do a formal presentation, I served as lead interviewer, asking each guest questions about her job. Then I asked the students to ask questions and make comments. In my experience, this informal format works well, putting everyone at ease and encouraging conversation between students and visitors to the class.

I also like taking guest speakers to lunch on the day of their visits. It’s a sign of gratitude for their time and effort, and the conversation there can lead to ideas for the discussion in class. And who knows? Maybe you’ll make some new friends, as I have.

Student guest post: Editing, style and fashion

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Alex Norton is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in editing and graphic design and communication studies. He loves writing and editing, but he says his true passion lies in clothes. He’s hoping that these two loves will lead to a life and career New York a la Carrie Bradshaw.

Whether or not you’re an editor by trade (or in training), editing is present and important every single day. We edit emails, edit our thoughts to make them into words and we — or at least I — edit the millions of garments out there to create a single stunning outfit.

Picking an outfit is just like producing a news story, really. It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress and, if it’s a particularly difficult one, a lot of junk food and cigarettes.

The research

As a reporter, when you’re assigned a story, going into the writing process blind can and most likely will lead to a subpar story. A good reporter will research the history of the story, the key characters, events and components, as well as the future of the story and what the audience needs to know.

Research for me is Vogue. It’s “Fashion Police” on E! It’s gq.com. Going into preparing an outfit without knowing the designers, the retailers, the fads, the fashions, the accessories – and most importantly, the “fashion don’ts” – would only lead to a subpar outfit that is going to leave Joan Rivers (critics), my peers (audience) and myself (reporter and editor) disappointed. If my newspaper of an outfit isn’t of the highest quality, no one will be interested in buying me … getting to know me.

The facts

History is important, as Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly so graciously showed Anne Hathaway as Andy in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but the most important thing about composing an outfit for the day is the trend of the day. You wouldn’t write an article about a story that was out of date; I wouldn’t wear a basketball jersey or a snapback for the same exact reason.

These trends are the facts of the story: Without them, there is no outfit worth looking at.

The composition

By far the most strenuous part of creating a story is the actual writing: A reporter not only has to organize all his research, but now he has to put it together in a way that is attractive to a reader and that represents him as a writer as well as his employing institution.

Like writing a story, putting together an outfit is hard work. I spend at least 10 minutes every morning staring at all my sources, evaluating each one individually for relevance, uniqueness and quality. Once I know what I want to put into my story and what I’m going to leave out for the day, I can get dressed.

Rarely do I produce the perfect outfit on the first try, so my dressing process goes through quite a few rough drafts that my audience will never see.

The editing

As an editing student, I consider editing the most important part of a story’s life: It’s here that it is polished and readied to face the world. Any causal “typos” I may make in the morning when choosing pieces of my outfit – putting on a brown belt and then deciding on black shoes, wearing clashing colors, etc. – must be caught and corrected before I go out into the world.

I have to consider my audience, the time period and what my outfit needs to say. Sometimes I even have to scrap the entire outfit and replace it with a backup.

The publishing

Publishing is when the finished story – after being researched, written and polished, is debuted to the world. A story is made public as soon as it hits newsstands (or even sooner in the case of a Web story); my outfit is published when I walk out the door. At first glimpse, the focal point of my outfit – the centerpiece – has to catch the eye of a passerby (or even a regular reader) in order for me to capture the attention that a composition on which I’ve worked so hard deserves.

It’s after this publication that I and my story must face indifference and scrutiny, but a positive letter to the editor in the form of a compliment on my new boots from a stranger makes the whole process worth it.

Q&A with Mitch Kokai, communications director at the John Locke Foundation

Mitch Kokai is director of communications at the John Locke Foundation, a think tank based in Raleigh, N.C. Prior to taking that job in 2005, Kokai worked as a reporter at News 14 Carolina, a regional cable news channel, and at radio stations WCHL, WPTF and WENC. In this interview, conducted by email, Kokai talks about his work at the John Locke Foundation and its role in North Carolina media and politics.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do on a typical day?

A. The official title is director of communications, but the John Locke Foundation’s communications duties are divided among several different people.

I am primarily responsible for dealing with the news media, writing and distributing news releases, overseeing content for the Carolina Journal Radio program and the CarolinaJournal.tv video site, and blogging for JLF’s primary blog, The Locker Room.

Day-to-day duties include:

  • reading research reports and translating them into a form that might pique the interest of a person who works outside the world of public policy;
  • recording John Locke Foundation events, placing that content on the Web and editing sound for the radio program;
  • conducting interviews for video, radio and print purposes;
  • scanning state and national news sources for material worthy of promotion on the blog; and steering print and broadcast reporters to JLF resources for their stories.

I also help with copy-editing JLF’s monthly Carolina Journal print publication.

Q. You worked in radio and cable TV news for many years. What was it like to move from straight news to a job that advocates points of view and changes in law and policy?

A. Working for an organization that openly expresses its viewpoint is actually easier than trying to maintain the fiction of objectivity. If the material is going to prove useful to more than just the cheering sections on the ideological left and right, it must address arguments fairly from multiple perspectives. Regardless, people who follow the John Locke Foundation’s work closely have an inkling of the positions we take and can judge our work accordingly.

In contrast, a media outlet dedicated to “straight news” actively promotes the myth that its news coverage is unbiased. The choice of stories to cover or ignore; the relative weight given to the mix of stories on the printed page, in the newscast, or on the Web; the sources interviewed; the facts used and omitted; and the structure and content of the stories are all based on the organization’s biases.

Pretending otherwise is not particularly helpful. It’s nice not to have to take part in that game.

Q. On occasion, you write opinion pieces for Carolina Journal Online. How does the site handle editing and headline writing for that kind of content?

A. Every page of the Carolina Journal print publication gets at least three rounds of copy editing. Our publisher is our chief page designer and writes headlines, but at least two other people read each headline.

For Carolina Journal Online, the managing editor typically handles most copy editing and headline writing. He will ask for help if the column or news story merits an extra set of eyes.

Q. Some of the foundation’s critics say its views are over-represented in North Carolina media. How would you respond?

A. This is an interesting topic that could lead to a lengthy debate about fundamental elements of the political process. I’ll try to spare your readers from that debate, though, and hit just a few key points.

First, the criticism tends to emanate from people who hold a fundamentally different view about public policy and the role of government. They don’t like our viewpoint and don’t want to encounter it at all when they read, watch or listen to a news story.

Almost any quotation featuring JLF is going to rankle these folks. Their concern has less to do with volume of JLF representation than with the fact that JLF’s comments get any representation at all. They are entitled to their opinion. We don’t particularly care much about their criticism.

We also pay little attention to those who draw a paycheck based on their efforts to oppose our viewpoints. An open-minded observer of the North Carolina political process will notice fairly quickly that certain organizations are populated by staffers who spend most of their time engaging in what I like to call “argument by adjective.” Rather than engage in valuable political debate, they spend their time writing about “evil right-wing extremists.” Remove the invective from their commentary, and you’ll find there’s nothing left. Everyone has to make a living; I’m glad I don’t have to do it that way.

Setting those critics aside, there is another much more interesting reason why the John Locke Foundation might seem to be over-represented in the media. Almost every news story involving North Carolina government revolves around efforts to urge an official or agency to do something. It might be approving legislation. It might be rewriting a policy. It might be adding to the budget of an existing government program.

In some cases, there might be a partisan divide among elected officials on the issue in question. In that case, it’s easy for a reporter to talk to a Democrat and a Republican, and perhaps a Libertarian, and feel pretty confident that the bases are covered relatively well. In other instances, though, key players in the story are not necessarily elected officials. Often the players are interest groups seeking some type of government action.

How does a reporter find an opposing view when the advocate for a particular position is an interest group seeking government action? Even without deadline pressure, it can be very difficult for the reporter to track down a source who is going to feel a negative impact from the policy the interest group is promoting.

Does this mean there is no such person who will face a negative impact? No.

It’s often true that the negative impacts of a particular policy will play out in the future and in ways that are hard to document today. For instance, how does the reporter go about identifying a small business owner or entrepreneur today who is not going to be able to expand his business two or three years down the road because of a harmful new regulation or higher tax burden?

In these instances, it’s easier to turn to a group like the John Locke Foundation that focuses on the unintended negative consequences of government policies that might sound like great ideas on their surface. Many of our appearances in media reports stem from a reporter’s efforts to contact us, rather than our efforts to promote our own work.

At times, we are unable to help those reporters because they call us about issues (immigration policy and social issues come to mind) that are not part of the John Locke Foundation’s focus. But if we can provide a useful comment that offers an alternative perspective to that offered by the individuals or interest groups pushing for government action, we do.

Q. On the other hand, there are more sources of news and voices of opinion than ever before. How can organizations like yours get their messages out amid the clamor of online news and social media?

A. As the number of news and opinion sources proliferates, those that will fare best are the ones that develop a good reputation. Traditional media outlets can rely on their brand names for as long as those brands carry weight with news consumers. Others must rely on developing an audience that finds the product useful and reliable. We aim to fill that role.

People with a free-market, limited-government perspective might enjoy our work, but they will not find an echo chamber for the Republican Party. People with a left-of-center political perspective might not agree with our editorial conclusions, but those with an open mind will find value in the research and data used in constructing our arguments.

Plus our news reporting supplements coverage they can find from other sources. Not counting my own broadcast news background, the Carolina Journal staff has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years of combined experience working in traditional mainstream media newsrooms.

Yes, we show our viewpoint in the types of stories we cover, but that makes us no different than those traditional outlets. By presenting a consistent product, we hope to be a regular part of concerned citizens’ news and information mix.