Q&A with Paige Ladisic, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel

The Daily Tar Heel staff works in this building in Chapel Hill. The DTH is an independent, student-run publication.
The Daily Tar Heel staff works in this building on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. The DTH is an independent, student-run publication. (Photo by Sarah Brown)

Paige Ladisic is editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill. She previously served as online managing editor, summer editor and staff writer at the DTH. In this interview, conducted by email, Ladisic outlines her plans for the paper for the 2015-16 academic year.

Q. Describe your job. What does the editor-in-chief do on a typical day?

A. The great thing about being the editor-in-chief, from what I’ve witnessed, is that the job changes a little bit every day. You’re following the same process maybe, but every day, it’s a new problem to solve or a new success to celebrate. I haven’t had a full day as editor-in-chief yet during daily production, so I don’t know exactly what my days will look like, but I envision something like this:

I have 9:30 a.m. classes every day, Monday-Thursday, so I’m up early, checking my phone and figuring out what the day is going to look like. You don’t know when or how news is going to break, so all DTH editors have to stay plugged in throughout the day just in case. I have class in the early afternoon, and I leave some short break periods between class for working on homework, answering emails or messages and looking at what we’ve got planned for the paper the next day.

At 3:30 p.m., all of my editors and most of my management team collect in our conference room for budget. We’ll plan both the print product and the digital product for the day after looking at the day’s analytics on Chartbeat, and we’ll get a sense of what visuals and digital extras we have to work on that night as well. We’ll also highlight what stories we think should be included in DTH At A Glance, our new daily newsletter.

Then from there, we hit the ground running, producing the paper and putting the website together. I read almost every story that comes through each night, and whatever I don’t read is read by Managing Editor Mary Tyler March. Our deadline is 12:30 a.m. each night, so that’s what we do — read, write headlines, check photos and graphics and watch the clock until the print product is sent off.

Q. You have suggested that the DTH take a “digital first” approach to news. How do you see that unfolding?

A. The DTH has to be digital first to survive. The first step to that was hire a staff that is passionate about thinking digitally. I have a great online managing editor, Kelsey Weekman, to head the team, and I found a creative social media manager, Danny Nett, and a bright digital production assistant, Brielle Kronstedt, to work with her. Without people who care about digital first, there is no digital first.

The second step is to start early. Returning staffers got an email from me early in the summer about changes to their workflow. At least one online-only component, be it a graphic, timeline or a few embedded elements, will be required when a story is pitched by a writer. We’ll add more components as we brainstorm. Stories that aren’t always successful digitally will be enhanced with links, explainer videos and graphics to improve reader engagement.

Our new staffers will learn about digital thinking in our orientation session in September, before they even have their first assignment. We want to start as fresh as we can this year, so there’s no time to think about anything but digital first.

Q.You’re a student at UNC-Chapel Hill but also a watchdog on its actions. How do you balance those roles?

A. I see myself as The Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief first and a UNC student second. That means a lot of things — my grades and my deep love for UNC basketball, for example — come after my responsibility to The Daily Tar Heel and the community we serve.

In our editors retreat this past weekend, an editor eloquently said our goal should be to always “to hold power accountable and account for those without power.” We will always ask the bigger questions and hold our university and our student leaders accountable. We will always push for the access we should have at a public university, and we will identify when our university is not living up to the expectations students have for it. We will identify those in our community who go unheard, and we will give them a voice.

There are times when being a student at UNC is far less important to me than being the editor of The Daily Tar Heel. I think many of my editors feel the same way.

Q. Some college newspapers have reduced how often they publish in print. Do you see a day when the DTH isn’t “daily” with ink on paper?

A. No, I don’t. We’re fighting hard every day to fill the print paper with the best content we can, and I know we won’t give it up easily. In 2016, we’ll be ensuring the DTH is picked up by students and that we are read every day. Our numbers are going down, just like any print publication, but we are fighting for what we love.

I met a lot of news editors from papers from all over the country in Athens, Georgia, this year for an editor conference, and I was sad to see how many papers have had to go from daily to weekly or less than that — The Diamondback at the University of Maryland, for example, just switched to weekly after 105 years.

We see it happen. We know it could happen to us. But I think all of us, from the print staff to the advertorial staff, are working hard to ensure that our tradition of 123 of daily print production continues.

We know that our readers are online. So we’ll be there. We’ll be there in more ways than ever this year — in newsletters, podcasts, videos and regular blog posts, just to name a few. But as long as hundreds line up for a copy of the Dean Smith commemorative issue and as long as we see people grabbing a paper on their walk to class, we’ll be in print too.