A newspaper as tocsin

The Washington Post made news this week with a new slogan at the top its homepage: “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Newspaper slogans are not new, of course. The New York Times has “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The Chicago Tribune is “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.”

In North Carolina, The News & Observer of Raleigh calls itself “The Old Reliable.” For decades, it has also published this quote from publisher Josephus Daniels:


When I posted this image to Twitter in a discussion about the Post’s new motto, a few followers took note of “tocsin” in the quote. It is an unusual word, one that I looked up when I started working at the N&O many years ago.

A “tocsin” is an alarm bell or warning signal. Here is what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says about the word:

Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

A news organization does many things. It informs and entertains. It serves as a check on government and powerful institutions. And on occasion, it warns of dangers to our well-being: physically, mentally, emotionally and politically.

Like Daniels, I would wish that the N&O, the Post and other news organizations will continue to be “the tocsin” for years to come.


Student guest post: Lauren Duca interview shows how female journalists aren’t taken seriously

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Paige Connelly is a senior at the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s interned for The News & Observer, and she currently interns at Chapel Hill and Durham Magazine. She also writes for The Daily Tar Heel and enjoys Jack Kerouac and boybands. 

Back in December, a Teen Vogue journalist by the name of Lauren Duca went on Fox News to chat with Tucker Carlson about an article she wrote criticizing Donald Trump. Carlson and Duca quipped back and forth, naturally, but about halfway through, the discussion turned into an argument, and Duca’s responses to Carlson’s condescension points to an important notion within newsrooms right now: the changing role of female journalists.

Duca had no reservations, and when Carlson mentions her writing, saying “Here’s your description of the Trump Administration, you wrote this piece for Teen Vogue, which I guess you write for,” Duca lashed out, “Which you guess I write for? That’s not fake news,” she said. “You guess? That’s really patronizing…you have my Teen Vogue article right in front of you.”

Carlson’s patronizing comments don’t stand alone. They represent a patriarchal institution, upheld specifically by outlets like Fox News, where female journalists can exist, but only if they don’t get too loud (as exemplified by Megyn Kelly’s resignation from the network after she spoke out about sexual harassment at the hands of her boss).

The interview also exemplifies the idea that female writers have a place, and it’s not in politics.

“A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics,” was how Duca responded when Carlson questioned her credibility after learning she also writes about popular culture. “Those things are not mutually exclusive. You know, now that you bring up Teen Vogue – we treat young women like they don’t have a right to a political conversation.”

The things women like and create aren’t often taken very seriously – music, books, entertainment, etc. – so when a female journalist and a female-centered publication decide to take a stance, that’s not taken seriously, either.

This exchange, and Duca in particular, represents the way that journalism is changing but still has a long way to go. And it doesn’t help that female journalists are often portrayed as incompetent.

I can name countless rom-coms and sitcoms where the main character works in either publishing or media: All three Bridget Jones’ Diary movies, “13 Going On 30,” “Trainwreck,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Sex in the City,” “Never Been Kissed,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” The list goes on.

Bridget Jones sleeps with her boss when she’s a publisher, then gets a new job as an anchor and does nothing but stumble around. “Trainwreck” portrays Amy Schumer as a party girl who sleeps with her sources. Rory Gilmore is always unprepared and, once again, sleeps with her sources. Anne Hathaway in “Devil Wears Prada” sleeps with sources and knows nothing about fashion.

The flaws go on and on. “Spotlight” is the only movie where a female journalist actually takes her job seriously, but her character still lacks depth and personality.

So why can’t we accept professional female journalists?

Maybe because it’s threatening to a patriarchal flow of information. Only men know what they’re talking about, and we’ll leave the entertainment news and ethical breaches to women.

It also solidifies a subtle form of objectification – that women aren’t more than their bodies, so therefore that’s their only advantage when it comes to their jobs. Not their intelligence, not their perseverance, and not their ethics.

Newsrooms are still 64 percent male, while enrollment in journalism schools, right now, sits at 75 percent female. This means the landscape is going to change soon, but does it mean that women will be allowed into the more serious roles relating to journalism? Or will we only be taken seriously as far as our opinions on Ariana Grande’s thigh-high boots?

Student guest post: How digital news editors can use Snapchat to attract millennials

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Bridget Dye is a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, majoring in reporting and political science.

Snapchat is no longer just a place for selfies. Many major news media outlets have already embraced the app that reaches 41 percent of  18- to 34-year-olds in the United States.

There are two kinds of news publications on Snapchat: those who partner with the app and appear on the Featured section, and those who must ask their followers to add them as a friend.

Publications on the Featured section like ESPN, CNN and The Wall Street Journal have access to extra tools that make it easier to post graphics and embed text stories than it is for the average user.

However, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The Daily Tar Heel are a few of the publications not in the Featured section that are still taking advantage of the app to connect on a more personal level with their young followers.

The aim of both types of news publications on Snapchat should be to attract millennials to their brand and get them to read more.

The uniqueness of the social media app sets up publications and their digital editors to use alternative story forms to draw in viewers to more substantial content. To do this, posts must be carefully shaped to attract the most amount of attention, and then the transition from Snapchat to more information must be made as easy as possible.

The platform comes with its own set of challenges, which can be turned into an opportunity with the right attention and selection.

Big, bold, and bright: drawing in Snapchat users

To get repeat Snapchat viewers, a publication should take advantage of the reasons why users are on the app in the first place: current, close-up, photo and video. Simple, bold graphics can draw in a user who wasn’t looking to spend a lot of time reading through long pages of text.

Vertical graphics and videos take advantage of the mobile space much better than horizontal visuals. This makes it harder to reuse horizontal content made with computers in mind. Also, stories featured on Snapchat should be topics that most appeal to the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

Switching over: turning Snapchat viewers into readers

One of the biggest challenges for publications on Snapchat is that it is not possible to include links to pages outside the app. Viewers must exit the app and do their own search if they want to find out more about the story.

Snapchat stories also disappear after 24 hours. Part of the appeal for users is that content is less than a day old. For publishers, this means that the story should be current to that day and that their other online platforms should have more information on the same story the same day a story is on Snapchat.

Users come to Snapchat for photos and videos, which should be embraced by publications. Instead of trying to republish lengthy text articles, the types of news stories featured on Snapchat should be the most visually compelling story of the day. The Wall Street Journal does a good job of selecting a visually compelling story about migrants and oranges. The motion text and graphics really stand out and are much more captivating than another story with more generic photos of a trading floor.

wsj-snapThe Wall Street Journal fails to connect Snapchat viewers to more of their content. The migrants and oranges story was not featured on the homepage of their website the day it appeared on Snapchat. It should be easy for a viewer to search for the story they see on Snapchat on a publication’s homepage the same day.

Snapchat’s features should be seen as opportunity rather than a challenge. Content should be specifically edited for the platform rather than reused. Using the right techniques to capture users can hopefully increase a publication’s readership.

Success on Snapchat requires specific attention, but for those who want to draw in the attention of millennials, embracing Snapchat as a major platform is a must.

No matter the type of publication, digital editors should select visually compelling alternative story forms to feature on Snapchat and then make it as easy as possible for the viewer to crossover to the publication’s full content.

Counting crowds


Demonstrators gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the annual HKonJ march. But how many people where there?

The 11th annual HKonJ march took place this weekend in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Topics included health care, the right to vote and President Trump’s immigration policy.

As with similar demonstrations, there’s uncertainty about how many people participated. Here’s how some local media organizations characterized the attendance at what is also known as as the Moral March:

  • IndyWeek said more than 80,000 people were there, citing tweets from the North Carolina NAACP.
  • On Instagram, New Raleigh posted the 80,000 figure, providing no attribution.
  • WRAL.com said “thousands” were there and that “massive crowds filled the streets.”
  • The News & Observer said that “thousands” attended. “Event organizers didn’t provide a crowd count but said the total was the largest in the 11 years of HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” it reported.

Readers are understandably curious about how many people attended a demonstration. It’s part of the story of such an event.

Coming up with an actual number isn’t easy, however. Organizers will likely exaggerate attendance, and opponents will minimize it. Ostensibly neutral observers such as police departments don’t want get involved with crowd estimates.

So what’s an editor to do? I liked the N&O’s cautious approach here, though I would have been comfortable saying “tens of thousands.” That phrasing, in addition to images and video, gives a sense of the scope of the march while maintaining accuracy.

Student guest post: Don’t give up on the truth in the face of fake news

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the third of those posts. Elise Clouser is a senior from Matthews, North Carolina, majoring in reporting and minoring in biology. She wants a career writing about science, and in her free time, she can usually be found hanging out with her cat.

Back in December, as the dust finally began to settle after the 2016 election, “fake news” grabbed hold of national attention, and it hasn’t really let go. It was straightforward enough in the beginning – fake news was any completely made-up news story written to sound like fact. Remember that time Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring from a pizza shop? One hundred percent certified fake news.

I remember how incredulous I was when the “fake news” story broke. Who actually believed this stuff anyway? My Facebook timeline was full of fellow journalists and other university folks posting perfectly credible articles from The New York Times, NPR and The Washington Post. Any editor worth his or her salt wouldn’t let a fake news story slip past their desk, right?

Hoaxes, half-truths and propaganda are certainly nothing new, especially when politics are involved. It’s practically accepted as fact that politicians lie. So what makes fake news different?

Fake news fits nicely into the narrative that we are living in a post-truth society. In fact, post-truth, meaning “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. And when “alternative facts” are now part of the mainstream American political rhetoric, it’s not hard to see why.

But fake news has evolved to mean more than just a false news story. It’s now been co-opted to mean “anything that contradicts my worldview.” Biases have always existed in news reporting. But when “fake news” is conflated with “anything that paints me in a negative light,” the line between what is real and what is fake seems even more blurred.

All of this is pretty disheartening to journalists and editors who have always strived for fairness and for reporting the truth. It feels as though we need to be on the defense, especially when we’re called the “opposition party.”

The role of the editor has evolved just as the media have evolved over the past few decades. But in the face of “fake news,” the editor must do what he or she has always done: dedicate himself or herself to the truth. Sensationalism gets the clicks, but I think that people still crave the truth.

People want to be informed. Yes, sometimes we want to hear things that reinforce our personal opinions, but we also simply want to know what’s going on. We don’t always want loaded language and jabs at the other side. Sometimes we just need the facts.

More than ever, editors must ensure that they publish the facts. There is still a place for facts in modern society. Editors are in the powerful position of making sure facts are out there.

Editors need to not only trust their reporters to be thorough and fair, but to hold them accountable if they are not. Editors need to verify information before publishing. They need to present both sides of the story. Editors will have to make tough news judgments in the coming months. It will be tempting to shun the facts when they don’t fit a certain narrative. But editors never give up on the truth. There is still an audience for the truth.

Restoring the public’s faith in the press is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. There are no easy answers for how to combat fake news or the filter bubble. Fake news may be here to stay, but so is good, truthful journalism. And we can’t give up on it just yet.