This wasn’t the “Star Wars” trailer I was looking for

Editors care deeply about accuracy. Sites such as Emergent, Politifact and Snopes are helpful resources to make sure we get things right before publishing, posting and sharing.

In my editing courses, fact-checking and verification are important elements. And I always take care to be sure something is real before sharing it on social media.

Well, almost always. Earlier, this week, my fandom for “Star Wars” eclipsed my usual caution. I saw a link on Twitter to what was purported to be the trailer for the new movie in the series. After a quick look at the preview, I retweeted the link and posted it to Facebook with the message “stay on target.”

Several friends and my cousin pointed out within minutes that the trailer was made by fans and not the real preview of the movie. I edited my status update on Facebook and sent a followup tweet.

How did I fall for a fake and share it? Here are some possible explanations:

  • The person who tweeted the link is an editor with many years of experience. I trusted him and still do, but even reliable sources make mistakes.
  • I knew the official trailer was set to be released on Nov. 28, so a leaked version appearing on YouTube a couple of days beforehand seemed plausible.
  • The fan-generated trailer is pretty convincing. It even fooled Rolling Stone magazine.
  • I didn’t read the comments on the YouTube post that would have tipped me off. But I tend to ignore reader comments, especially on that site.
  • I am a big fan of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and my excitement about a new movie let my defenses down. It was a trap.

I regret the error, and I apologize for sharing bad information. I will double my efforts.


Q&A with Tracy Boyer Clark of Reportory

Tracy Boyer Clark is founder and CEO of Repotory, an online service that allows readers to create a daily newspaper based on their interests. She is also a senior marketing manager at IBM. Clark started her journalism career as a multimedia producer at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Clark talks about the origins for Reportory and how the service works.

Q. What is Reportory, and how did you come up with the idea for it?

A. Reportory is an à la carte news customization platform that allows readers to create a daily customized news digest based on what news sources they read, which sections they enjoy and any key terms they want to be sure not to miss.

The word “Reportory” is a mixture of “report” and “story” as we see our product being exactly that — a report of multiple news stories. It is also a play on words to repertoire, a collection of things.

I came up with the idea in 2008 while working at The Roanoke Times. I went on a delivery ride one morning and thought about how this model couldn’t exist much longer but that the personal touch of hand-delivering your news was something that readers valued.

Then, at an earnings meeting when I learned that people and paper were the two most expensive components of running the newspaper, I started to think about ways to remove the printed paper and reduce the people involved while still delivering the news in a packaged way — but with a new twist to use technology to customize the news for every person since readers only like certain sections. So now I still “deliver” customized news to readers, just into their inbox, not their doorstep.

Q. The site delivers the news primarily as a PDF. Why did you go with that format?

A. Glad you asked! When I started working on this business, I recognized the plethora of news aggregation apps out there already (Flipboard, News360, News Republic, Circa, Yahoo News Digest, etc).

However, those are just available on mobile with no other reading format. This works great for Gen Y, but I wanted to focus on the two generations before them who have been loyal print readers and are used to that personal news delivery. Not all of them use smartphones or are as comfortable with mobile technology as the younger demographic. So as they cancel their news subscriptions due to rising costs or other frustration, I wanted Reportory to fill this news void for them.

That all being said, even though the PDF digest is the “personalized newspaper” we were first and foremost working on, readers also receive a daily link to read their articles online in their own customized news portal. In early 2015, we will be releasing our iOS apps for phones and tablets where readers can access their articles on the go.

Q. The big question for any startup is how you plan to make money. What about that aspect of Reportory?

A. One of the main differences with Reportory and any other news aggregation site is that we do not use free RSS feeds to link readers back-n-forth across the web. Instead, we license 100 percent of the content in order to use the entirety of the articles to create this new product.

However, since our platform is totally customized in terms of the news it delivers to each reader, we do not pay editors or other journalists to hand-pick what the top news should be. Thus, at this point content licensing and technology development are our two largest costs.

All Reportory readers can receive 10 news articles a day for free, and we will be implementing some customized advertising to offset this cost. Then, for serious readers who want more content, we have a tiered pricing model where they can pay $4.99/month for 20 articles daily or $9.99/month for 30 articles daily.

We have plans to provide paying users with additional benefits such as a list of stock market data in their digest if they select business as a preferred topical section or a list of sports scores if they select sports. Our goal essentially is to recreate the newspaper from the ground up for these readers but only with the content they want.

Q. You’ve seen many twists and turns in your career in journalism and communications. What advice do you have for today’s students who want to go into the field?

A. I have indeed!

I dabbled in traditional newspapers right after college, then went back to graduate school during the economic crisis to receive an MSIS because I am fascinated with technology and an MBA as I love all aspects of business and marketing. During grad school, I interned at a startup and at Lenovo before finally landing at IBM and now working on my own startup. So I have truly stretched and explored a good deal over the past 10 years!

My biggest advice for students today is to experiment and explore as much as they possibly can. They should realize that their first job out of college is likely not their 20+ year spot as it may have been for their parents. Instead, they should push themselves to try a role that they might not have initially targeted or a company that wasn’t initially on their radar.

Each of my internships and jobs has taught me so much about myself — what inspires me, challenges me, bores me, etc. That self-awareness is so important to determining one’s career path … and one I am still learning as I continue to stretch and explore!

I love the saying, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go” by T.S. Eliot. That is my biggest takeaway for people in their 20s: to heed this advice and take those risks in the early part of their career and never live their lives with “what ifs.”

Captions by computer? OK, but we still need human editors

Earlier this week, my colleague Ryan Thornburg retweeted this news from Google Research:

The post from Google describes the process of object detection, classification and labeling. The researchers include examples of effective computer-generated captions and others that fall short.

As an editor who has written many captions (and called them cutlines back in the day), I read the post with great interest. Could this lead to computers replacing editors?

Probably not. Even the best of these computer-generated captions states the obvious.

They don’t provide background and context. They don’t connect the image to a larger story. They don’t tell us what we cannot see. Effective captions, written by people, do all of those things in addition to describing the photograph.

Still, I appreciate the value of robo-captions on another level, if not for journalism. The Google scientists put it this way:

This kind of system could eventually help visually impaired people understand pictures, provide alternate text for images in parts of the world where mobile connections are slow, and make it easier for everyone to search on Google for images.

I’ll be curious to see how computer-generated captions evolve. For now, though, I view them as I view robo-articles: sometimes functional, but in need of human editors.

Q&A with Kinsey Lane Sullivan of TRUPOINT Partners

Kinsey Lane Sullivan is communications coordinator at TRUPOINT Partners in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company provides regulatory compliance solutions and consulting services, and it works with more than 450 financial institutions nationwide. In this interview, conducted by email, Sullivan discusses her job, her journalism training and her freelance interests.

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

A. Every day at TRUPOINT is different. In my book, that’s one of the benefits of working at a small and growing entrepreneurial business.

I’m the communications coordinator, and I lead the marketing initiatives. That being said, a typical day involves lots of collaboration. I work with almost everyone in our company at least once daily.

Generally speaking, I spend half of my time on inbound content strategy and the other half on outbound marketing strategy. Branding, advertising, writing, editing, design, analysis, audience research and even conferences planning are all part of the role.

Another aspect of my role that wouldn’t show up on a resumé is learning the industry. Regulatory compliance is a specialized field. It requires a lot of technical knowledge. Learning the nuances of compliance has been a critical part of my job, and one of the most interesting.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013. What skills that you learned there do you use in your job? What new skills have you picked up?

A. One of the greatest skills that studying journalism teaches you is to consume information in various formats, from biased sources, and then reframe that information in way that is informative, trustworthy and readable.

Almost everything I know about writing, editing and design I learned in the j-school. That includes InDesign from your class and editorial writing with Professor Brinson. I’ve also drawn heavily from lessons I learned in Professor O’Connor’s reporting class as I dissect government publications.

Almost everything I know about marketing and communication strategy I’ve learned on the job.

I studied reporting, and the wall between the editorial and advertising sides of journalism is substantial. I see that changing rapidly in the industry, but I didn’t have any exposure to promotional communication while I was in school.

Truth and clarity will always be central to effective communication, but so is knowing your audience. From that perspective, the editorial-advertising fusion is natural.

Q. You also have freelanced at Mic and elsewhere. What do you like to write about, and how do you go about pitching ideas for freelance pieces?

A. I love freelancing. I’ve been doing it since I was in the j-school and started submitting pieces from Professor Cole’s feature writing class to local publications. My first published piece was a front-page feature on beekeeping that was published in the Chapel Hill Herald-Sun in 2011. That experience got me hooked.

I’ve been focusing on digital media lately and am writing for two niche media platforms. The first is Mic, which is geared toward a politically engaged millennial audience. The second is HelloGiggles, which features positive stories with a feminist slant.

Art is my passion, so that’s what I cover most. I do research online, and when I find an artist or an event that is compelling, I pitch it! Cultivating good relationships with my editors has really helped me have the freedom to pitch whatever I want.

Without a specific connection to a platform, I’ve found it to be easier to pitch online. That being said, I wouldn’t be freelancing today if I hadn’t done the legwork to get in touch with friends of friends (of friends) who were already established in the field. It may be intimidating, but that networking is just what you have to do – and everyone is doing it.

Q. You’re succeeding in a competitive field. What advice do you have for journalism students who are pursuing internships and jobs?

A. The field is changing a lot. Be open to new experiences and opportunities, and be flexible. There are many opportunities for people who communicate well.

Also, leverage your resources! If you’re in school, there’s no excuse not to take advantage of the career services and the knowledge of your mentors. If you’re out of school, start having conversations with friends and family about where you want to go and who they may know.

Your path will almost certainly be unconventional, so embrace that. It’s a lot of fun!

Follow Kinsey Lane Sullivan on Twitter and contact her via her page.

Let’s answer readers’ questions about net neutrality

The debate over net neutrality on the Internet has burbled for several years, but it made big news Monday when President Obama weighed in on the topic.

Reaction on Twitter and on news sites was swift. At times, it revealed that many people are unclear on what net neutrality is and how it affects how they get information and entertainment online. Here’s a sampling of reader comments:

  • “Just wait until internet free speech is ‘regulated’ by government. And anyone who speaks up against government mysteriously has their internet disconnect and blogs erased.”
  • “This would give government full control to see every single thought we have in emails, in what we research, and our private conversations.”

Neither of those assertions is true, but net neutrality is hard to understand. (This clip from John Oliver’s HBO show is helpful in its comedic way.)

Most traditional publications wrote and edited the story about Obama’s announcement in the inverted pyramid form. Many of these stories (like this one) are presented in an entirely political context.

For a complicated topic like net neutrality, however, I would suggest a “frequently asked questions” format. Research has shown that readers retain more information when it’s presented in alternative ways.

This story from The Associated Press is a start. I’d like to see it fleshed out: who are the stakeholders? What do they stand to win or lose?

That kind of reporting and editing can advance the debate and minimize confusion about Internet policy. It may be impossible to eliminate political rhetoric on this issue, but it can at least serve as a counter to it.

A gluttonous gourmet


Homer Simpson, one of the great gourmands of popular culture.

Earlier this week, The Associated Press held a Twitter chat with guest editor J.M. Hirsch. The topic was food.

It was a fun series of tweets, and I learned, among other things, what “spatchcocking” is.

But this tweet gave me pause:


I understand that a gourmand is a glutton. But why can’t a gourmand also appreciate fine food, albeit to excess?

Some gourmands may prefer fast food and cheap beer, but others may enjoy fine wine and steak dinners at the fanciest restaurants. Either way, the gourmand is overindulging, perhaps to the point of obesity.

Is it possible for someone to be a gourmand and a gourmet? I believe so.

An example is R.W. Apple, a New York Times reporter. He famously took great pleasure in food and drink, and he had refined tastes. The headline for this Apple column on his favorite restaurants, published shortly after his death in 2006, originally called him a “global gourmand.” It was later changed to “global gourmet.”

The change was unneeded. In its obituary, the NYT mentions Apple’s “Falstaffian appetites” and “surplus pounds.”

To my eye, Apple was a gourmand and a gourmet. Either word would work. I hope that the AP Stylebook would agree.

Degrees of definition

The embellishment of resumes is all too common. On occasion, such exaggerations and fabrications have brought down football coaches and business leaders.

The issue has popped up during the election season in Wake County, North Carolina. Paul Coble, a former mayor of Raleigh and current member of the county’s Board of Commissioners, is seeking re-election. Coble says that he holds a degree as a Registered Health Underwriter, but a Raleigh blogger says that “degree” is the wrong word for what Coble earned. In response, Coble told The News & Observer that it was a matter of semantics.

As director of a certificate program at UNC-Chapel Hill, I took a particular interest in the dispute. The certificate in technology and communication is an online, three-course program. It is aimed at mid-career professionals who want to refresh their skills and pick up new ones.

The program is valuable, and those who complete it should include their participation on their resumes. But I would discourage anyone who completed it from calling it a “degree.” It should be listed on a resume as a “certificate.”

Some course credit obtained in the certificate program can lead to a master’s degree in digital media. That would require more coursework and a final project, however.

I’m not sure that Coble’s claim matters much to voters, but it is disingenuous. As of this writing, the RHU “degree” reference remains on his page on Wikipedia and on his campaign’s website. News organizations that list Coble’s credentials should edit accordingly.