Q&A with Danny Nett, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Danny Nett is a senior in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and online managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund internship at Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Nett discusses that experience.

Q. Describe your internship. What was your typical workday like?

A. I went to Penn State for my DJNF training, and I was placed at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. My typical day was coming to the office around 3:30 p.m. and leaving around 11:30.

The first few hours consisted of editing advance copy (stories for upcoming papers) in our CMS. A lot of that stuff was from the wire, so it was mostly doing some polishing up and double checking the big facts.

Around 6:30, we’d switch over to daily content. I edited for the business, national and metro sections, mostly. On an individual story, I’d check facts, grammar, AP/local style and clarity in our CMS — then once a designer placed the story on the page, I’d open it back up in InCopy and write the headlines, read-ins and cutlines. When the story got checked back in, I’d write the web headline. If it was from the wire, I’d go ahead and send it; if it was written from someone in the newsroom, it’d go on for a second read from another editor.

As the summer went on and my co-workers started trusting me more, I took on more responsibilities. I got assigned more A1 stories to edit (usually two from A1 and B1), and I’d occasionally proof pages before sending to the printer.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. I think I struggled a lot initially with headlines. I’d copy-edited before at The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor, but the majority of my work is online where the biggest concern is just SEO.

Getting a clear headline on complicated stories is hard in print — especially when you have six words to describe a funding conflict between legislators and a university, or a big crime story. There’s also an element of parachute journalism in the nature of the DJNF program, and not knowing what names locals would or wouldn’t recognize was tough sometimes.

In the same vein and at risk of being super cornball-y, I’d say the most rewarding thing was the progress I was able to watch myself make from the start to finish of the summer. My co-workers were great about offering constructive feedback, and they did it in a really polite way even on my crappiest of headlines.

At one point toward the end of my internship, my boss told me something along the lines of, “Now I read over some of your stuff and think, ‘Whoa, that’s a good hed.’ ” And I think that was one of the best moments of the whole summer.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. Honestly, I would just say to go for it; you don’t really have anything to lose from trying, and you have a ton to gain.

My editing skills and news judgment have sharpened a ton, and I met so many awesome people. My DJNF intern class has a Facebook group, and a few of us are getting together and going out in D.C. next semester when the Virginian-Pilot intern gets back from studying abroad. Which is wild to think about — especially when you realize we were all really only together for less than a week.

As far as more specific advice: I went through with the editing test more or less on a whim, and while I was confident in my editing skills, I sort of thought the rest of the exam kicked my ass (am I allowed to say that?).

So definitely be smart about studying beforehand. Don’t just drill yourself on AP style; think about what else news organizations are going to want you to be familiar with that summer. I know the year before me was big on savvy for the web, and my year was heavy on politics and the presidential election, for obvious reasons. The exam is definitely partly about grammar, but I think in a lot of ways it’s designed to make sure you have a good head on your shoulders.

Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I’m working as online managing editor at the DTH for my senior year, and I’m really excited. I’ll be doing management reads (final edit before an article goes to copy) on stories and writing web headlines every day, so my experience this summer is definitely being put to good use.

I’m also trying to make the most of my non-rusty editing skills while I still have them. So, like, coming for you, Usage and Grammar Test.

What I am teaching this semester

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins today. Here’s what I am teaching this term:

  • Two sections of News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. Each section has 16 students; the class meets twice a week in a computer lab. Here is the syllabus for the course along with a handout on noteworthy names in the news.
  • One section of Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. The course covers different types of digital writing, including blogs, headlines and social media. It has 12 students, and it meets all the time online. Here is the syllabus for the course.

Feel free to adapt, revise or ignore the materials here. You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school here.

Best wishes for a successful semester!

Labels and legislation

bathroomsign
Public bathrooms have been the focus of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, but there’s more to the law than that provision.

In North Carolina, two pieces of legislation have been in the news a great deal this year. News organizations commonly call one a “bathroom bill,” and they refer to the other as “a voter ID law.”

These labels are inadequate. Each law has numerous components:

  • House Bill 2, the “bathroom bill” passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor in March 2016, requires that transgender people use public restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. But it also forbids local governments from enacting laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination. HB2 also prevents those governments from raising the minimum wage in their communities. (It also stopped people from bringing any sort of discrimination claim in state courts. That piece was reversed this summer.)
  • The “voter ID” law, passed in 2013 and recently struck down by a federal appeals court, requires people to show certain types of photo identification at the polls. But among other provisions, it also reduced the number of days for early voting. The law also stopped same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional votes from being counted. It ended a program that allowed teenagers to “pre-register” and vote when they turned 18.

These are complex pieces of legislation that present challenges to journalists who are writing about them. Including all of these elements in a headline or tweet is, of course, impractical.

But they could be included in story text or, better yet, as separate textboxes accompanying stories about these topics. That would better serve readers who want to get a full understanding of these laws.

Q&A with Mary Miller of the N.C. Newsroom Cooperative

The N.C. Newsroom Cooperative is part of The Frontier, a co-working space in Research Triangle Park.
The N.C. Newsroom Cooperative is part of The Frontier, a co-working space in Research Triangle Park.

Mary Miller is president and co-founder of the N.C. Newsroom Cooperative, a co-working space in Research Triangle Park. She previously worked as a reporter and columnist at The News & Observer and as special assistant to the provost at Clemson University. In this interview, conducted by email, Miller discusses the objectives of the cooperative, her role there and the outlook for journalism in North Carolina.

Q. What is the North Carolina Newsroom Cooperative? What is its purpose?

A. Our mission is to support and promote the work of independent journalists and nonfiction storytellers, and the way that we are doing that is by creating a nonprofit business cooperative with a newsroom co-working space.

The idea of co-working spaces and business incubators is popular these days. We see this as a new twist on what makes a newsroom such a fun and vital place: a space and support system to serve all the kinds of people with the differing skills required to produce and publish a fact-based story. The reality is that a lot of journalists these days don’t work out of a newsroom anymore, or if they do, the newsroom is a much emptier place than it used to be.

So the co-working component provides camaraderie and mentorship that we miss so much when we work in isolation. It’s a place to work and improve your work, to bounce ideas, acquire on-the-job training, collaborate and given the ever-interesting cast of characters, learn to navigate the rest of the world.

We see that people who are not employed by traditional media outlets are actually producing high-quality and essential journalism that deserves wider reach. Together we’re attempting to define and nurture this evolving media and communications ecosystem, to widen the tent and promote collaboration while preserving integrity, transparency and accountability.

That’s why we’ve organized in the cooperative model: because every member must adhere to the SPJ code of ethics and must be willing to give of their time and talents. How do we improve the quality and reach of nonfiction storytelling? That question is our North Star.

We’re a diverse group of professionals coming from the realms of media, academia, tech, nonprofit and corporate who value the necessity of a vibrant free press and ethically produced fact-based storytelling. Our group took a look at North Carolina and the Triangle in particular and realized that we have not only a large and diverse class of professional storytellers, but we’re so lucky to have the kinds of people in the tech industry and in academia who are forging these new frontiers in the gathering, telling and dissemination of information.

We had an opportunity to move forward with the idea thanks to the generous support of The Research Triangle Foundation (disclosure: I am married to CEO and President Bob Geolas), which grants us space and basic furnishings at The Frontier, a co-working space in RTP, in exchange for programming.

The programming we’re working on will help people be better journalists, more facile at technology that allows them to cross platforms to further their work, as well as programming that helps them to be better business entrepreneurs. We are looking at ways to offer bundled tech support to drive down the cost of digital publishing and most importantly, to free up their time to do the actual work of gathering and telling stories. And we’ll offer ways to market and promote their work on our website, as well as partner with strategic partners seeking quality content.

One striking difference from a traditional newsroom is that we host events to bring the public to The Frontier to raise the level of civic conversation. For instance, we had presidential historian William Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Jr. professor emeritus of history at UNC-Chapel Hill, out on Super Tuesday to talk about the press’s relationship with American presidents this century. We are also working on screening some documentaries about important North Carolina stories this fall.

Q. Describe your role at the cooperative as co-founder and president.

A. Fancy titles, but as anyone with startup experience knows, the job description is “do what needs to be done.” This is a large group effort.

I am main point of contact. Our co-founders are veteran journalist Seth Effron, a digital pioneer who has recently taken a new position with Capitol Broadcasting Company, leading the web-based opinion section on WRAL.com, and media lawyer Hugh Stevens.

Our board includes Brett Chambers, who teaches journalism at N.C. Central University and is president of the Triangle chapter of National Association of Black Journalists; Teri Saylor who owns Open Water Communications; News & Observer columnist J. Peder Zane; Fiona Morgan, a former Indy Week staff writer who’s now journalism program director at the nonprofit Free Press; Joe Dew, a former political reporter for The News & Observer who also has experience in nonprofit management; and Ryan Stancil, one of the founders of the digital magazine Bit & Grain.

Beyond that, we have a core group of about a dozen more colleagues who have put in some money and time to get this off the ground. They are photographers, information designers, documentarians, established publishers of niche news websites like The Carolina Mercury and North Carolina Health News, startups like and Broken Toilets, which covers global and local development issues. Our members include freelance reporters, editors, photographers, copy editors, publishers of online magazines, documentarians, documentary filmmakers, information design specialists, and social media managers.

Q. How can someone get involved with cooperative?

A. We are in the process of defining membership and benefits, and officially kick off our membership drive in October. Don’t wait to make contact! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter at @CoopNewsroomNC. Check out www.ncnewsroom.org.

But by all means, come visit. We’re at The Frontier, 800 Park Offices Drive, Durham. To do that, email maryemiller@ncnewsroom.com, or call me on my cell at 919-607-4069.

While we are always looking for people who identify as journalists and communicators, we are also in need of the talents of design and data visualization specialists, researchers, app developers, even social media managers. Diversity of skills will make us stronger.

Q. What’s your sense of where journalism is going, in North Carolina and beyond?

A. Storytelling has always been the most powerful means of communication. The question is whether it will ever become the most financially valuable. That I doubt.

Technology has democratized the telling of stories in ways that most people could barely imagine even six or seven years ago. Look at how Facebook livestream has changed news just this summer.

Having a smartphone and rolling video doesn’t really make you a journalist. Content isn’t context. And instant information, as we so often see, can be misleading.

Audiences are more sophisticated. So are businesses. They understand that they are best served by factual information because it’s getting easier to fact-check claims. People expect transparency.

Newspapers and other forms of media may falter, and some will die. Nonfiction storytelling won’t. I am amazed and heartened at the number of young professionals who, out of passion for story and community are launching projects and gathering stories, becoming multimedia publishers with a cellphone and technology that can fit in a knapsack. Their flexibility to absorb information and post in varying platforms is impressive, but even more so is their innate understanding of what makes a story and what might be the best form of telling.

Our youngest child, Josephine, is 8. She makes a movie trailer almost every time she gets her hands on my iPhone. She knows more about structure and plot than I did going into college. That tells me we are on the right course.

Just exactly what the facts is

The good people at Copyediting offer a cornucopia of online training for editors. In September, I’ll join this effort.

My class, “Getting Your Facts Straight,” will give you advice on how to ensure that the material you are editing is accurate. You wouldn’t want to mix up “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” would you? Or attribute a quote to Mark Twain that he never said?

The audio class, which costs $79, will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22. It will last about 90 minutes. It’s intended for editors of all sorts, and I hope to see you there.

Journalism and jazz

jazz
The UNC Summer Jazz Workshop invites students of various ages and backgrounds to explore the genre for a week. About a dozen of them will also learn about journalism. (Creative Commons image)

This week, I am stepping out of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and spending my afternoons at the Kenan Music Building. I’ll be one of several instructors in a one-week jazz workshop.

When it comes to music, my tastes lean more toward rock, and my skills are limited to a few chords on guitar. I won’t be part of the workshop’s nightly performances, though I plan to attend some.

So what I am doing at a jazz workshop? I’ll work with about a dozen students who want to learn about journalism as part of their workshop experience. Here are our topics and tasks for the week:

  • MONDAY: What makes a good blog post? Create a blog at web.unc.edu. Post your impressions and a photo of the evening performance at Wilson Library.
  • TUESDAY: Exploring alternative story forms and learning how to interview sources. Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.
  • WEDNESDAY: Writing for social media. Use Twitter (and more) to cover the evening performance. The hashtag is #UNCjazz.
  • THURSDAY: Writing headlines and captions. Revise the headlines and captions on your earlier posts.
  • FRIDAY: Curating social media. Use Storify to document the week.

Thanks to Stephen Anderson, the workshop’s director, for the opportunity to work with these students. Now let’s turn music into words and images.

UPDATE: The students and I had a great week. Their work includes a post about an outdoor concert, a profile of a musician and a recap of the week.