Student guest post: The editor’s edge in breaking news

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Sara Salinas is a senior majoring in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. Originally from Maryland, Sara has previously worked with The Daily Tar Heel, Baltimore Business Journal and Indianapolis Star. She will move to Boston after graduation for an internship with The Boston Globe.

News is getting faster, but reporters really aren’t.

To no fault of training or dedication, reporters are struggling to keep up with the digital demands of a constantly breaking news cycle. You hear a tip, read a blurb, scroll past a vague tweet, maybe, and the starting gun fires.

Who can you call to confirm it? How quickly can you get a story up? How much context can you throw in? Which outlets have already beat you to it?

In an industry more concerned with speed than ever, editors can keep the breaking news from breaking their reporters or their reputations.

As a breaking news reporter at The Indianapolis Star, I spent most night shifts listening to police scanners and waiting for an emergency run worth reporting. The waiting could very quickly turn into scrambling if the right call came in — and that’s when our online producers shined.

The Star’s producers monitored local TV channels and news outlets for updates or confirmation, tweeted initial reports and photos, and published a basic outline of the story to be updated.

In top priority breaking news situations, producers pulled information from reporters’ tweets to update the outline as the story developed.

The added eyes and ears on a breaking news story relieved the need to scramble and made our coverage more streamlined, more accurate and more complete.

Producers used the official Star Twitter account and retweeted reporters on their personal accounts, so there was never any redundancy or confusion — just the opposite. There was clear delineation from the reporter on the scene to the larger outlet.

Though our online producers had a slight edge over the average editor in that their regular task was exclusively digital, any editor can adopt the same practices and strategies to alleviate the chaos of reporting breaking news:

  1. Designate one or two reporters to tweet developing information. If more than one reporter is updating, do your best to assign each one an angle or focus, so information isn’t repeated and time isn’t wasted.
  2. Retweet the most important information from the publication’s account. Pull a photo if the reporter has taken one. (Bonus: using the same photo repeatedly, as long as it’s representative of the full situation, can be a visual cue for continuing coverage — but don’t overdo it.)
  3. Update the online story with information from the reporter’s tweets. The work is already done, why wait to flesh out the breaking shell?
  4. Pull context from related stories and link in the breaking story. Context is the first casualty of breaking news, and including background will give the story legs and increase engagement.
  5. Keep watching your competition. If your local TV station runs with new information you don’t have yet, you know you’re behind on your reporting and, more importantly, you know what to confirm next.

We like to say journalism is a public service — and I do believe that’s still true — but it’s also becoming increasingly market-driven. Traffic to online content is both what nearly killed the industry and what’s going to save it.

And speed in breaking news situations can be one of the biggest defining factors for which news outlet gets traffic over another.

Streamlining breaking news to be useful, accurate and complete demands more than a single reporter. The editor’s edge is a digital-driven curation of updates in a situation where getting the news is just as important as how fast you do it.

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Remembering Bill Walsh

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Bill Walsh (right) at the spelling bee at the ACES conference in Las Vegas in 2014. (Photo by Mark Allen)

Bill Walsh, the noted Washington Post copy editor and author of several books, died earlier this month of cancer at age 55. It’s a heartbreaking loss for his friends and family, and for the craft of editing.

I had the good fortune to meet Bill via ACES, the Society for Editing. We had shared interests in journalism, tennis and ’80s bands such as Aztec Camera. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him and to attend his wise and witty presentations at ACES conferences.

When thinking of Bill, I recall one ACES conference in particular. It was in New Orleans in 2012.

I was chatting with a journalism student at the post-conference reception at a bar in the French Quarter. Bill was nearby. The student mentioned how she had attended Bill’s session at the conference and how she’d like to meet him.

But she was nervous. Would Bill Walsh, one of the stars of the conference, be willing to talk with a college student attending an ACES conference for the first time? I assured her that yes, he would be happy to, and I introduced them. Bill greeted the student as he would a close friend or trusted colleague. I stepped away to give them time to talk one on one.

That moment was a prime example of the open and inviting atmosphere of ACES conferences. It doesn’t matter whether you are a novice or a doyen. We are all editors who can learn from each other.

Now, ACES has established a scholarship in Bill’s name. It is intended for a student interested in a career in editing news. Bill’s wife, Jacqueline Dupree, is generously matching initial donations to the scholarship fund.

I hope that you will consider donating as I have. It’s a significant way to keep the memory of Bill Walsh alive for many years to come.

Student guest post: Overhauling the copy editor’s arsenal

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Danny Nett is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is online managing editor and columnist at The Daily Tar Heel.

Let’s face it: The need for a copy editor to be socially conscious is more pertinent than ever.

With the surge of #BlackLivesMatter, queer rights and other critical movements into mainstream awareness, it’s not enough for an editor to pack the usual wide arsenal of grammar, style and fact-checking skills. We should also be coming to work with an understanding of the diverse and nuanced communities that have been thrust to the forefront of American politics.

When we don’t, we end up with stories like the infamous “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village,” in which a straight Daily Beast reporter essentially catfished athletes and posted identifying information of multiple people from countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Or if I’m looking closer to home, you can end up with a piece suggesting there should be a fence built to keep Durham crime out of Chapel Hill. Or you end up with the swath of articles that misgender trans victims, like a recent piece on the death of Symone Marie Jones that ran in The Charlotte Observer.

This isn’t a call-out post — as a fellow editor, I know firsthand that mistakes are going to happen in the workflow of a daily publication. But when it comes to covering members of some of the most marginalized communities in our society, we have a responsibility to do our due diligence.

I read a lot of stories that still call a trans person by their dead name or the wrong pronoun — or unnecessarily discuss details of their transitioning. I also hear a lot of fellow journalists justify these decisions as “explaining” trans people to their readers.

In these instances, I think about two sections in particular from the SPJ Code of Ethics:

  1. “Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience.”
  2. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

There are plenty of ways an editor can help contextualize trans experiences to a cisgender audience without being harmful. Rather than discussing a person’s surgical history or what name they were given at birth, discuss how health-care plans typically don’t cover hormone treatment and surgery for the transgender community.

Or talk about how legislation will directly influence the lives of queer young people or the fact that trans women of color face incredibly disproportionate rates of violence.

Looking at a broader sense, there are tons of things a journalist can keep in mind when editing stories about marginalized identities.

  • For one, make sure you’re not only covering a community when something is wrong. Celebrate the high points, too. And while you’re at it, check through the sources in every piece you edit. Make sure they’re not all cis, straight white guys.
  • Also, don’t be afraid to get input from other sets of eyes in the newsroom. Editing is a team sport — and chances are, the people in your newsroom will bring some different perspectives to the table.
  • Even if your staff is pretty diverse, take the time to educate yourself. Read up on experiences of people from different communities than you. Identities coverage shouldn’t be parachute journalism; so just like you’d do your research for an unfamiliar town, do the same for identity-based communities.

If you’re looking for other resources — particularly for updating your publication’s style guide — some other good points of reference are NABJ, AAJA, The Diversity Style Guide and GLAAD.

The latest from ACES

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ACES member Neil Holdway contemplates the organization’s new logo on his hoodie.

The 2017 ACES conference is over. I was fortunate to attend this annual gathering of editors, held this year in St. Petersburg, Florida. Of nearly 1,900 members of ACES, 591 were there for three days of training, fun and fellowship.

Here are the headlines:

  • The American Copy Editors Society is now ACES, The Society for Editing. The organization has a new logo, and a redesigned website will come soon.
  • ACES is establishing a scholarship in memory of Bill Walsh, the noted Washington Post copy editor and book author who died this month. You can contribute here.
  • The Associated Press Stylebook is opening the door to the singular they in the upcoming edition. It (they?) will still recommend avoiding using it when possible.
  • In the headline contest, The Daily Tar Heel won first place in the Student Publications category for the sixth consecutive year. Congratulations!

You can learn more about the conference via Twitter and on the ACES website. The 2018 conference will be in Chicago. I hope to see you there.

Student guest post: Sexist media treatment of Hillary Clinton indicates larger problem

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Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in Ohio in October 2016. (Creative Commons image)

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Sarah Muzzillo is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in women’s and gender studies. When she’s not writing or reading about feminism and social justice, you can find her watching “Parks and Recreation” for the 10th time.

As a feminist writer and journalist, I am hyperaware of sexist language and coverage in the media. Because I’ve taken courses that teach media literacy, I have a particular understanding of the ways in which sexism and misogyny manifest in news. The media literacy project defines this skill as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media.”

If editors fail to adequately provide content to readers that is inclusive and respectful, they consequently perpetuate oppression, harmful stereotypes and gender roles. Communicators, writers and editors have a responsibility to deliver readers inclusive, respectful and thoughtful content.

The past year, for example, provided the public with a seemingly constant stream of sexist coverage. The 2016 presidential election is clear evidence that media perpetuates damaging stereotypes about women in politics.

Hillary Clinton, a prominent figure who has remained in the spotlight for decades and famously became the first woman candidate to win the nomination of a major United States political party for a general election, weathered sexist attack after sexist attack after sexist attack.

In 2014, Clinton said, “The double standard is alive and well, and I think in many respects the media is the principal propagator of its existence.”

And she’s right. This double standard that media perpetuates about women in leadership positions privileges men while oppressing women.

A male politician, particularly a white male politician, is typically framed in media as an in control, responsible, reliable leader. On the other hand, ambitious women politicians like Clinton are characterized as shrill, robotic or dramatic and power hungry.

Clinton’s wardrobe makes headlines instead of her policy positions. She is asked how her career may affect her marriage or role as a mother and grandmother. Pundits say she wouldn’t be successful if it weren’t for her husband.

This coverage does not simply stay on the page or the screen, either. Media representation, underrepresentation and misrepresentation have a powerful, lasting effect on the ways in which society views and treats women in real life.

According to “Miss Representation,” a documentary that analyzes the ways in which women are objectified and misrepresented in media, media representation has a direct correlation to women and girls’ self esteem, health and desire to pursue leadership positions.

“Women who are high self-objectifiers have lower political efficacy,” Dr. Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said in the documentary.

Political efficacy is the idea that your voice matters in politics, and that you can bring about change in politics. So if we have a whole generation of young people being raised where women’s objectification is just par for the course, it’s normal, it’s OK, we have a whole generation of women who are less likely to run for office and vote.”

Sexist media treatment of Hillary Clinton is simply one case out of countless other women in political leadership positions who have endured unfair coverage. In order to avoid and combat sexist media attacks, news outlets ought to be committed to inclusivity by increasing diversity training for staff, for example.

Women leaders deserve to be taken seriously. If journalists claim to be fair and report the truth, writers and editors must be committed to tackling sexism, one news story at a time.

Student guest post: With the Facebook Journalism Project, a social media site turns editor

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Sam Miner is a senior from Boston majoring in reporting and sports administration at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has previously interned at Cosmopolitan magazine and Time Out Sydney, and she hopes to go into digital media upon graduation. Miner also loves all things Boston sports, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean related.

We all have that uncle or cousin who continually posts about and shares 100 percent fake news that we all know is fake but it fits his/her point of view so he/she buys in completely and clutters our Facebook timelines with frustrating falsities. This is why Facebook’s announcement of The Facebook Journalism Project should cause a communal sigh of relief through the journalistic community (and with editors especially).

The Facebook Journalism Project is essentially Facebook’s attempt to clean up its reputation as the breeding ground for all those seedy news hoaxes that have been buried deep, deep in the internet and somehow find the light of day. After this past election — where fake news raged rampant (Donald Trump and “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters” and “Hillary Clinton’s child abuse ring being run out of a pizza shop”) — it’s more important now than ever before to monitor fake news and teach news literacy. This is the mission of Facebook’s new project: to create a “healthy news ecosystem” where journalism can thrive by weeding out the hoaxes and promoting news literacy among its users.

Facebook will accomplish this task through:

  • Collaborative development of news products
  • Training and tools for journalists
  • Training and tools for everyone

The portion of Facebook’s project that I want to focus on falls under the category of “Training and tools for everyone”: continuing efforts to curb news hoaxes. Facebook is aiming to weed out fake news from its site with the help of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. While I 100 percent support the filtering of fake news on Facebook, this does raise some ethical red flags for me as an editor.

Freedom of speech is the foundation upon which the profession of journalism stands; and, yes, sometimes freedoms need a check or two. I don’t think many people would mind their newsfeeds being free of hoaxes. The question that remains is: How can we fight for and defend the right to free speech on one hand and yet decide that some speech shouldn’t be entirely free?

As I see it, there are a few ways this monitoring could be done: leave it to the individual to decide (people can download Chrome extensions like the Fake News Monitor or allow social media platforms to do the curation. The latter, in a sense is what reputable news sources do regularly.

It’s the job of the editor to curate — to weed out the bad and bring to light the necessary. While there are certainly First Amendment implications with sites like Facebook and Google taking aim at fake news, they are essentially taking on a new role as editor and, as editors, I feel we should be excited about that.

Real news, real editing

For many years, students in my Advanced Editing course have collaborated with counterparts in a community journalism course to put together the Durham VOICE. It’s a fun and fruitful collaboration.

This semester, I’ve expanded that idea. In addition to work on the VOICE, my students are collaborating with students in a feature-writing course to create a website called Omnibus. The site’s name reflects the broad spectrum of stories there.

Both the VOICE and Omnibus let students edit real stories written by their peers. They also write headlines and captions, and add links. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them gain this experience.