Liz Bell is a reporter at EdNC, covering K-12 education and policy across North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Bell discusses her work, her beat and her experience at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Q. Describe your job at EdNC. What is your typical day like?
A. There truly is no typical day for me. Depending on the time of year, I could be at the state legislature and in education committees, regularly covering policy on class size or school choice or educator preparation.
Even when the legislature is in session, EdNC’s senior reporter Alex Granados and I switch off what we are covering. We could both be at the legislature covering separate topics, or one of us could be visiting a school somewhere three hours away while the other holds down the fort in Raleigh.
When the legislature isn’t in session, my day revolves around what story and what kind of story I’m working on. I recently finished a video project on racial equity in N.C. schools, so my days included a lot of traveling to Charlotte and eastern Edgecombe County, interviewing and filming subjects in courtrooms and classrooms, at churches and conferences, on sidewalks and in their workplaces.
Before in this most recent project, my days revolved around a written feature of a high-poverty school in Winston-Salem struggling with its academic performance but making large strides in students’ learning growth. I would travel to the school on some days, work from home at times and write and work in our office in downtown Raleigh at others.
EdNC is flexible as far as the specifics of where and when we work, which has helped me figure out what keeps me personally motivated and the most effective at my job.
Q. What do you like about reporting and writing about education?
A. When I was in journalism school and writing for The Daily Tar Heel, I wasn’t set on writing about education — or any other beat. I had dabbled in political reporting but mainly wrote about social issues affecting UNC students and communities as a University Desk/investigative team reporter.
When a job covering education opened up, I was interested to see what focusing on a more narrow issue would be like. In some ways, zooming in on one issue helps me feel like I know the broader context to whatever story I’m working on. Everything is connected, and I usually know what sources to reach out to and what gaps in my background knowledge I need to fill.
In another sense, however, writing about education really means writing about kids and their families. Children’s development and education don’t just happen inside the school building and are affected by economics, family structures, housing, health care, the justice system, etc. An education story often ends up being about a mix of these and tons of other factors.
Q. How do headline writing and story editing work at EdNC?
A. I did not anticipate how much headline writing and self-editing I would be doing after journalism school. I was used to there being multiple layers of editing for content, copy editing, and headline writing with tons of different people (and opinions) at the DTH.
We have a managing editor, Laura Lee, who plans and manages content for the long term and also does daily story editing, along with a million other things. She does an amazing job but is only one person.
I always try to read through my stories multiple times, fact-check everything, read them out loud and make sure they’re the best they can be content and organization-wise before I send them over for Laura to edit. I write my own headlines as well, which are sometimes changed and sometimes are not.
Q. You are a 2016 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use now, and what new skills have you acquired?
A. As I mentioned, I do a lot of self-editing. All of the basic and important writing and editing skills I learned in journalism school are put to use every day.
I’m also constantly trying to improve upon the foundations of reporting (asking tough questions, getting sources to open up, managing uncomfortable conversations) I learned both in the journalism school and at the DTH. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without the love for storytelling (both journalistically and creatively) that I developed during college with help from professors and peers.
Since graduation, I have filmed and edited video throughout the months-long production of a short film series. Though I knew the basics of Premiere Pro from an audio/video class in journalism school, I have learned most of what I can do now through lots of Googling and learning as I go. I take photographs for all of my stories and never took a photojournalism course in school. I also feel I’ve grown in areas like public speaking, event planning, social media management and radio/TV appearances.