Posts by andybechtel

I teach editing at UNC-Chapel Hill. I'm especially interested in word choices that editors make, and I am also interested in alternative story forms.

Scholarships that support editing

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BILL WALSH (RIGHT) AT THE SPELLING BEE AT THE ACES CONFERENCE IN LAS VEGAS IN 2014. Proceeds from the bee benefit the ACES Education Fund. (PHOTO BY MARK ALLEN)

For nearly 20 years, the ACES Education Fund has offered scholarships to students interested in careers in editing. Once again, it’s time to apply.

What’s new this year is a scholarship named for Bill Walsh, an author and Washington Post copy editor who died earlier this year. That $3,000 award will go to a student interested in editing news.

The other five scholarships are open to editors in any field. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill student Marisa DiNovis won an ACES scholarship in 2015. She now works in book publishing.

Another UNC-Chapel Hill student, Danny Nett, was awarded a scholarship this year. He recently completed an internship at National Public Radio and is seeking a job in editing.

“It’s a good extra thing to be able to mention on my resume when I’m applying places,” said Nett, who graduated in May. “I actually had a co-worker at NPR realize I was one of the recipients (I guess when she went back through conference photos) and tweet at me freaking out, like, three months into my being here. That was kind of fun.”

In addition to the scholarship, the award provides financial assistance for winners to attend the national conference of ACES, the Society for Editing. The next conference will be in Chicago in April 2018.

Nett attended the ACES gathering this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, and found it beneficial personally and professionally.

“I interviewed for an internship while I was at the conference, and I ended up getting an offer. I definitely think meeting in person and getting the chance to talk helped a ton,” Nett said. “I also met a couple of friends down in St. Pete who I still talk to on a weekly basis. I loathe the word ‘networking,’ but it was a good way to get a bit further into some editing circles.”

The deadline to apply for an ACES scholarship is Nov. 15. To learn more, check out the ACES Education Fund’s page on the ACES website.

Good luck to all applicants!

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Q&A with Kevin Schaefer, columnist and editor at SMA News Today

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Kevin Schaefer is a writer and community editor at SMA News Today, a website about the genetic disease spinal muscular atrophy. He lives in Cary, North Carolina, and is a graduate of N.C. State University. In this interview, conducted by email, Schaefer discusses his work at SMA News Today and offers advice on how others with SMA can explore careers in writing.

Q. Describe your job at SMA News Today. What is your typical workweek like?

A. I started working for SMA News Today a few months ago writing a weekly column. Recently I started full-time as a community editor. In addition to writing my column, I also write and edit content for our news section.

Our news page is divided into two main sections. There’s the research side, which covers all of the latest research news within the SMA community and information about clinical trials, and those articles are written by people with scientific backgrounds who have direct access to the literature. The other component is our social clips section, which I’m now helping oversee. This is where we post articles about managing life with SMA and also do profiles on SMA individuals.

Some of the articles I just wrote for this section include: “5 Tips for Going To School When You Have SMA” and “5 Tips for Supporting a Friend or Family Member with SMA.” My executive editor and my publisher really wanted a patient specialist like me to provide feedback on this content and take a more active role in producing content from here on.

That said, my day-to-day work kind of varies depending on what tasks I have to do. At the beginning of the week, I chat with my editors and our social media team to brainstorm ideas and decide which articles we’re going to run on our social media pages. Then if I’m not reviewing other posts, I’m usually writing.

So far I’ve been writing a couple social clips articles per week, and then I write my column on Thursdays. I also record weekly audio flash briefings of previously published content. These are basically mini-podcasts that anyone with an Echo device from Amazon Alexa can access. I just read an excerpt from one of my articles from that week and do an audio recording.

My next project is to produce a monthly podcast in which I’ll interview various people with SMA. I just scheduled my first interview, and I am working to get that first episode live on our site by the end of the month. So it’s a very multimedia job that requires me to use all of my journalism and communication skills.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at SMA News Today?

A. SMA News Today is one of multiple websites that are owned by a parent company called BioNews. Each of these websites provides daily digital coverage of a specific neuromuscular condition.

BioNews has a vast network of employees from all around the world. I live in North Carolina and work from home, my main editors live in Texas, another lives in Canada, etc. As such, all of our communication is done digitally. We use an app called Slack, which despite the name is basically a professional version of GroupMe. We use it constantly to share ideas, ask each other questions and conduct conference calls.

So when I post one of my columns, I save it as a draft so my editors can look it over and make the necessary changes. I’ll post a placeholder headline which they usually like, but if they come up with something better, then they’ll change it.

Most of the editing so far has been of previously published content. One of my first tasks when I started this new role was to go through all of the old articles in the social clips section and provide feedback. Here I did change a few headlines and make some other suggestions for specific articles, and I just had a conference call last week with my team in which I shared my thoughts on this section as it is and also pitched ideas for future content. It went great, and I’m excited for the ideas we came up with together. All that said, every post is a collaborative effort, and we go through an extensive editorial process just like any other professional publication.

Q. What is your assessment of how news organizations cover SMA in general? How could they improve?

A. You know, there was a tragic story last year about a teenage girl who had a severe case of SMA and who made the decision to get rid of all life support. She died a few weeks later, and every media outlet was all over this story like a pack of wolves. Every one of them competed to produce the most heart-wrenching account of a story that was so grounded in ethical controversy. The message they all sent, however, was that SMA is nothing more than a terrifying disease, and that everyone with it is better off dead.

Yeah SMA is terrifying and difficult, but so many of us who live with it are living great lives and not letting it stop us. We also now have the FDA-approved treatment Spinraza, as well as an abundance of support within the SMA community. I was pretty enraged by the sheer laziness of these journalists who all took the same watered-down approach to this story, and I wrote about it in my school newspaper while I was still in college.

It’s getting better, but a lot of times the mainstream media either portrays people with disabilities as helpless objects of pity or as angels who are only here to inspire the rest of the world. We’re just people who have different challenges and obstacles than someone who is able-bodied.

In terms of good media examples, I’ve enjoyed reading The New York Times section on disability. This is a weekly series of essays by disabled authors, and I know of at least one SMA writer who has contributed to it. The last one I read was by a woman who wrote about online dating when you’re in a wheelchair, which I found really insightful. I also love watching the ABC sitcom “Speechless” with my parents, which does a great job juxtaposing humor with its more sentimental aspects.

In terms of what makes SMA News Today and BioNews stand out is that we’re the only publication producing daily coverage of SMA. The organization Cure SMA, which I’m also involved with, does post news stories, but their primary focus is raising money for research. SMA News Today posts both news articles and a wide range of columns. Including me we have four columnists right now, and we each bring something different to the table.

It’s pretty surreal working for this site. I always figured that if something like SMA News Today existed, I’d have to be the one to start it. Thankfully, that’s not the case! I love the job I have, but I could never handle the pressure or skill level of a CEO or publisher. Mike and Chris (my executive editor and publisher) have done a fantastic job building the company from the ground up, and I’m happy to be a part of it now.

Q. What advice do you have for other people with SMA who are considering careers in writing?

I encourage anyone who has SMA and who has an interest in writing to pursue it. The great thing about it is that you can do it from anywhere, and despite what people tell you, it can lead to a paying job eventually. You just have to stick with it and figure out what kind of writing you’re good at.

For me, I was a theater kid growing up, and my high school drama teachers noticed I had a knack for writing when I scripted monologues for my peers to perform. I tried my hand at writing longer plays and prose fiction, but it was always too amateur. Still, my parents and all my teachers were supportive, and I remember my creative writing teacher at the time observing how I’d always have a graphic novel on me every time she saw me. It’s fitting that I’ve now written several comic book scripts and am trying to break into the industry.

Then in college I majored in English hoping to become a screenwriter, and I kind of stumbled into journalism on a whim. Although my parents were both journalism majors in college and have years of experience working for newspapers, I went into N.C. State’s student newspaper office without an ounce of knowledge about reporting. I’m pretty sure I even spelled a source’s name incorrectly in my first article. I came in just wanting to write movie reviews, and I ended up staying there throughout my college career and even being the features co-editor my junior year.

I definitely wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for my time at the Technician, and it was there that I wrote my first columns about my disability. Though I mainly wrote for the Arts & Entertainment section, my articles about how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media were some of my most well-received. The same thing happened when I tackled the subject in my fiction-writing classes. I realized how much I had to say about life with SMA and that I could convey my perspective through a blend of humor and serious essays. That’s basically the foundation of my column “Embracing My Inner Alien.”

So that’s how I got to this point, but there’s no secret formula. If you’re an SMA individual who wants to write, then start writing now and read every book you can. You don’t have to become an English major, but I do strongly recommend some form of higher education.

All it boils down to is your willingness to put forth the effort and getting your work out there. Start your own blog. Write a book or a screenplay. We need our voices heard and our stories told, and in this day and age it’s easier than ever before to build an audience. You can start your own blog for free or submit articles to different publications and acquire freelance work that way.

Heck, I’ve even done stand-up comedy a couple of times, and I’m now working on several comic book projects with some artist friends of mine. There aren’t many limits you have in terms of what you can do as a writer, and the term “writer’s block” is nothing more than a BS excuse to be lazy.

I’m far from a perfect example of an ultra-disciplined writer, but if I go a day without writing at least a page of something or an article, I feel guilty. If I’m ever feeling complacent with my writing output, I look at heroes of mine like Neil Gaiman and Scott Snyder and get back to work.

Follow Kevin Schaefer on Twitter and read his posts at SMA News Today.

Q&A with Travis Greenwood of Movie Heds

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This headline from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is among Travis Greenwood’s favorite examples of headlines from the movies.

Travis Greenwood is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. He recently started a Twitter account called Movie Heds, which collects newspaper headlines from movies. In this interview, conducted by email, Greenwood discusses the origins of Movie Heds and some his favorite cinematic headlines.

Q. What inspired you to start Movie Heds? What are you hoping to achieve?

A. The roots of Movie Heds can be traced back to a previous job with a pair of partnered e-commerce sites, one of which had an identity anchored around movies and pop culture. Among other responsibilities, I was charged with developing special content projects -— what some might call linkbait (not to be confused with its more defamed cousin, clickbait) — and this included shareable things like illustrations, tutorials, and “supercuts,” or videos edited around movie tropes.

(A playlist of said videos can be seen here; my favorites remain the two at the top, which are cobbled together from the best seen-on-screen T-shirts.)

While none of these really broke out in a major way, most racked up view counts in the five or six figures and surfaced at places like Digg, io9, VICE and Sports Illustrated. But for every video I made, there were probably at least three or four that never made it past the conceptual stage, and one of them was … wait for it … newspaper headlines.

For whatever reason, I kept returning again and again to the idea this year, but I was hesitant to act on the impulse because these projects can be time-consuming to research and edit and the genre has lost its luster — fewer sites cover them now. And because newspaper scenes can be kind of static, I wasn’t sure a 3- or 4-minute clip consisting entirely of them would be all that compelling.

But that’s when it hit me: a Twitter feed, publishing two to three times daily, would be a better format for this kind of content. (Plus, the debate around “fake news” gave it a topical and convenient peg, but that’s mostly just for yuks on my end.)

After a bit of research, I settled on the current handle, penned a pithy little bio and started posting, and well, here we are. It’s been fun to watch a community come together around the account! It’s a bit of insider baseball, so I’m not sure it’ll ever attract a mass following, but the early returns have been promising.

As for goals, this is largely a pet project, but it’s also one that, depending on the potential employer and role, I’ll include in my portfolio to showcase my editorial skill set (I currently freelance as a writer and editor for Cuteness.com on the trending animal beat, but I’m hoping to transition back to full-time work in 2018).

Q. What makes an effective headline in a movie?

A. Ah, good question … and I’m not sure I have the authority to say. While I’ve been writing and editing on the web for 10+ years now (with bylines at publishers like Spin, Yahoo, and BuzzFeed) and can turn the occasional gem, I don’t actually have experience working in print.

But that’s where the community comes in. One of the feed’s followers, @LeCineNerd, is a professional copy editor, and she routinely shares technical critiques that touch on things such as style, formatting, layout and the like. While this was unexpected on my part, I totally welcome insights like this that afford a closer look at how professionals would approach the challenge of creating prop newspapers.

It’s interesting because a lot of the older examples — like this one from “Rocky III” — feature filler text and elements that are completely off-topic or unrelated and were probably splashed together by the art department in a pinch. My guess is that the filmmakers never expected the audience would look deeper, but in the age of streaming and Blu-ray, when every frame can be frozen and inspected, these things fall apart under closer scrutiny. Newer films seem to have course corrected for this but you still find some strange juxtapositions.

Q. What are your favorite movie headlines?

A. My favorite prop headlines skew funny and would include “Goofy Cleared Of Spy Charges” from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Disaster Seen As Catastrophe Looms” from “The Iron Giant” (a fantastic sight gag that works in context — the character reading it pulls the paper close as a futile defense in the face of a crashing wave, which is mirrored on his sunglasses — and is itself a callback to something similar in “Lady And The Tramp”), and a pair from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (“Drunken Billionaire Burns Down Home” and “Billionaire Absconds With Entire Russian Ballet“) that are funny little asides but help flesh out the world-building.

I’ll also always love the one from “Old School” because it provides denouement for Jeremy Piven’s character (an obnoxious college dean who gets his comeuppance) and it’s one of the first headlines-in-film that I really noticed.

Q. You’re focusing on print examples so far. Do you expect to include digital headlines or tweets in your collection as news organizations move in that direction?

A. This is actually something I’ve been wrestling with internally. I’m interested in curating a balance of headlines in all of their various forms (in part because directors use them in so many ways), and this includes print, photocopiesmicrofiche, digital and whatever other forms they might take.

Aside from one scrolling headline pulled from “The Matrix,” I haven’t included digital headlines in the programming yet, but that’s just because I’m working through a long list of movies with print heds. Look for more of these as the project matures!

Follow Movie Heds on Twitter and see examples of Greenwood’s other work at his website.

Celebrating the First Amendment

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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes the right to peacefully assemble.

The ninth annual First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 26. Here is what it’s all about:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For journalists, that means we can gather news, write an article or blog post, edit it and put a headline on it without fear of going to prison.

The First Amendment is not absolute, however. There are limits.

Journalists can’t commit libel, for example, without legal consequences. And we can face criticism for what we say and write. Even so, journalists (a word that I define broadly) enjoy freedoms in the United States that their counterparts in others do not.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events on campus this year include a debate over religious expression in the military and a panel discussion about free speech on campus. The keynote speaker is Bill Adair, creator of the fact-checking website Politifact.

All sessions are free and open to all. I hope to see you there. You can also follow the fun on social media with the hashtag #uncfree.

Express yourself!

UPDATE: It was another great First Amendment Day. Here’s a recap.

Q&A with Elaina Athans, reporter at ABC11-WTVD

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Elaina Athans is a reporter for ABC11-WTVD, a North Carolina TV station that covers Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville. A graduate of Hofstra University, Athans previously worked at stations in New York and Maryland. In this interview, conducted by email, Athans discusses her job, including how she uses social media in her work.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. I’m a general assignment reporter, and all in all, my day is hectic!

I usually come in around 9:30 in the morning and pitch stories I’d like to cover that day or I think would play well on social media. After getting assigned around 10:00 or 10:30, I’m out the door.

I’ll make calls in the car driving to a story and research my piece. I could be live in the noon show, which means there’s a tight window to gather information. I will try to grab interviews as soon as the car is parked and then will flip the sound around for noon.

After the midday show, I have the next few hours to continue gathering, tweet and grab new elements for our evening shows. In between writing my stories for broadcast, I will write a separate web version and send that along to our web department to post online.

Once I’m done with my on-air duties, I’ll also send along a “Night Note” detailing all the information I’ve collected throughout the day and important contacts I’ve made. This is meant to help my colleagues who might be assigned to a follow-up story down the road.

Q. In addition to being on air, journalists at stations like yours also write for the web. What are the challenges of working across formats?

A. I think it can be overwhelming at times, and it’s hard to pace yourself. I have to prepare stories for broadcast and push information out on social media at the same time.

Balance is key. You can’t go hard in one area and wane in the other.

Q. You are active on Twitter, and you have a professionally oriented page on Facebook. What role does social media play in your reporting?

A. To start with, I turn to social media to find stories to pitch. It’s the only place I go for enterprise pieces, to be honest. Folks are always sounding off about what’s going on in their communities or cool things that are happening around town.

I also use it for news gathering. I will incorporate tweets or Facebook posts into my stories. If I’m covering a political story, for instance, the first thing I’ll do is check is Twitter to see if the Senate leader, House speaker, governor or other elected officials are commenting.

When I first started in this business, you had to go through a press rep to get comment on every issue. That is not the case any more.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in breaking into broadcast?

A. Watch the markets or cities you aspire to work. If your dream is to be in Los Angeles, watch how the reporters in that city are telling stories and then mold your style around that.

Follow Elaina Athans on Twitter and on Facebook, and read her stories on the WTVD website.

Q&A with Dow Jones intern Alison Krug

Alison Krug recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship in Norfolk, Virginia. Krug is a 2017 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she did an independent study on stylebooks. In this interview, conducted by email, Krug discusses her internship and offers advice on how to get one.

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

A. I just finished up a summer as the Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at The Virginian-Pilot. DJNF is a program that provides interns with a weeklong training bootcamp to brush up on grammar, style, headline writing and page design — all to help you prepare for your summer on a copy desk.

At The Pilot, I worked Tuesdays through Saturdays, typically from 4 p.m. to 12:15(ish) a.m. As an intern, I worked as a rim editor, editing stories and writing headlines and cutlines before sending them to the slot editor.

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

A. Learning the coverage area and all the local quirks was a huge challenge for me. Norfolk (where The Pilot is headquartered) is home to the largest Naval station in the world, so that meant spending a little extra time reviewing the newspaper’s military style guide.

The paper covers Hampton Roads, which includes southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Even at the end of my internship, I was still learning all the towns in the coverage area and all their quirks.

The greatest reward was probably every time I got a pun into the paper.

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

A. If you’re going to apply for a Dow Jones News Fund internship (and you should), STUDY.

The DJNF application process consists of an online application and an editing test. The editing test includes sections on usage, current events and headline writing — and all previous tests (and their answer keys) are available online.

I took old tests, scrolled through some online grammar quizzes and had a lot of fun making a style and usage study guide for myself. (If making a style and usage study guide sounds fun for you, you might be a good fit for this internship).

What really sets DJNF apart is the training you receive at the editing bootcamp. It’s a great atmosphere and incredibly exciting to be surrounded by a group of other young copy editors passionate about grammar and AP style and all things copy. You end the week feeling very prepared to start your internship.

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

A. I just wrapped up the internship a week ago and am highly employable! My email is alisonkrug@gmail.com, my Twitter is @alisonkrug and my desire to talk about grammar is endless.

UPDATE: Krug has accepted a full-time position as an online editor for the Roanoke Times website.

In praise of the ampersand

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Today is National Ampersand Day. Its creator, a graphic designer named Chaz DeSimone, calls the ampersand “fun, fabulous and functional.”

The symbol, which has an interesting origin story, played a role in my time as a copy editor at The News & Observer. In the early 1990s, the Raleigh newspaper underwent a major redesign. As part of that, the ampersand appeared in the name after an absence of nearly 100 years: The News and Observer became The News & Observer again.

The company that published it, however, was still the The News and Observer Publishing Co. This distinction was part of the newspaper’s in-house style guide in the 1990s, so we had to be careful when editing stories about the business side of the publication. Now, the ampersand appears in both instances, and both entities are owned by McClatchy.

I like the ampersand in the newspaper’s name. It’s distinctive and elegant. I hope the ampersand will stay there for years to come in print and on screen.

Thanks to Brooke Cain at the N&O for help with research on this post.