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.

Winter break

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As I grade final exams and wrap up the fall semester, I am taking a break from this site until January.

I hope that you enjoy the holiday season and that you avoid the clichés that come with it. Thanks, as always, for reading. See you in 2019.

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Giving back to the community

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The Thanksgiving edition of U.S. newspapers is the thickest of the year. The bulk of that consists of advertising inserts from stores promoting Black Friday.

My favorite part of the Thanksgiving edition of The News & Observer is about giving, not buying. The annual Triangle Gives section looks at the important work that charitable organizations do in this region of North Carolina.

Using this section, I will select several organizations to help. If you missed the print edition or live outside the N&O’s circulation area, you can read about Triangle Gives on the newspaper’s website. I encourage you to take some time reading the profiles there and considering donating to the organizations of your choice.

Q&A with Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at Poynter

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Doris Truong is director of training and diversity at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. Prior to taking that job earlier this year, Truong worked in various roles at The Washington Post, including homepage editor, and as a copy editor at The Dallas Morning News. She is also a past president of the Asian American Journalists Association. In this interview, conducted by email, Truong discusses her new role at Poynter and offers advice to student journalists.

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

A. I just started my role as director of training and diversity in August, so there hasn’t been enough time to establish a routine. I can already tell that most days will be marked by the lack of routine: I might be preparing to teach (or teaching), writing a piece for Poynter.org, taking meetings with stakeholders or planning months ahead on Poynter’s curriculum.

However, it’s a much more manageable day — in terms of pace and stress level — than being in a 24/7 newsroom. I do miss The Washington Post, especially on Election Day and during breaking news. But I don’t miss receiving dozens of push alerts from multiple news apps each day just to be sure there’s not a major story reported elsewhere that deserves a spot on the homepage.

Q. What are some shortcomings you see in news organizations regarding diversity and inclusion? Success stories?

A. Newsrooms don’t become more diverse and inclusive overnight. It’s a moral and financial imperative — and newsroom leaders need to make hires that mirror their diverse audience to be able to accurately represent those stories.

Many newsrooms fall into a trap of thinking that diversity is a binary issue, but it’s not able just looking at races of people on staff. It’s also a matter of someone’s life experience, which broadly includes socioeconomics, religion, age, family status, sexual orientation, military background, languages spoken and even the places where they have lived (urban vs. rural, domestic vs. international, coastal vs. landlocked). The news audience isn’t easily defined, so neither should the staff be.

One of the success stories is Chicago’s City Bureau, which takes diversity, equity and inclusion seriously in its hiring practices and employment policies. You can see the difference in the coverage City Bureau produces. Part of the success is because diversity and inclusion were baked into City Bureau since its founding in 2015. Legacy media have generations of old habits to overcome.

Q. You previously worked as a copy editor and homepage editor. How do you use those skills in your current position?

A. The skills of a good copy editor are always in demand. I help with taking a final look at marketing materials and grant proposals.

My homepage skills have been handy because Poynter.org is in the middle of a slight redesign as we switch software on the back end. For the site visitor, we hope the content will be easier to navigate — and the search function should be a lot more useful.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists who are starting their careers?

A. Be as widely read as you can. Having a little bit of general knowledge in many subjects will help you know when something might be fishy and needs a bit more research.

Specialize in at least one thing. I’d stick to core journalism principles because who knows where technology will take us, but key strengths such as writing, editing and fact-checking will always be necessary to produce quality journalism.

Know how everyone else does their jobs. If you’re a word person, learn what’s important to designers and visual journalists (these might be videographers or photojournalists).

Stay on top of trends. You don’t have to master everything, but know what technology can do and be able to speak about it with some familiarity.

Learn to meet deadlines (and to work quickly but accurately).

And join a journalism association! I recommend the Asian American Journalists Association, which has a convention newsroom that recruits college students from a variety of backgrounds.

Network with your peers and identify mentors (you don’t always need a personal connection to have a mentor — take Sheryl Sandberg, for example). Ask questions. And always follow up when you get someone’s business card (or contact information). 

Exploring news deserts

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My colleague Penelope Muse Abernathy is making news about a lack of news.

As Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, she is researching “news deserts” — areas of the United States that are running dry on information. Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have gone out of business, many of them weekly publications.

It’s a problem that speaks to the heart of our society. Here’s how Abernathy describes it:

The stakes are high, not just for the communities that have lost newspapers — or are living with the threat of losing a local newspaper – but also for the entire country. Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished.

The latest research by Abernathy and her team consists of two parts: “The Loss of Local News” looks at the trend of diminishing publications and readership. “The Enduring Legacy of Our New Media Barons” examines changes in newspaper ownership, including the role of private equity firms and other investment companies.

These reports are making news of their own. Brian Stelter of CNN interviewed Abernathy for a story and podcast. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, cited her work in this column about the importance of local news.

I encourage you to explore “The Expanding News Desert,” a website that collects Abernathy’s reports on this topic. There, you can see where the news deserts are, who owns the newspaper in your community and much more.

An editor for life

In 1999, I first joined ACES: the Society for Editing. The organization was then called the American Copy Editors Society, and it was made up mostly of editors from newspapers.

Since then, ACES has evolved into an organization of editors of all kinds. Freelancers make up the bulk of its membership. That diversity has strengthened the organization; ACES is better than ever.

I had the opportunity to serve ACES as a member of its Executive Committee from 2009-2013. I’m a current member of its Education Fund board, which oversees scholarships for students interested in careers in editing.

Over the years, I have learned a great deal from ACES thanks to its annual conferences, regional bootcamps and its newsletter, Tracking Changes. I’ve also made many friends.

This month, with my membership coming due, I have decided to become a lifetime member of ACES. It’s overdue, frankly, but I still have many years ahead as a teacher and practitioner of editing. With the help of ACES, I plan to make the best of them.

Q&A with Sarah Rabil, talent editor at The Wall Street Journal

Sarah Rabil is assistant managing editor for talent at The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked as a reporter and editor there and at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Rabil discusses her role in career development, what the Journal looks for in applicants and what she learned in journalism school and beyond.

Q. Describe your job at The Wall Street Journal. What is your typical day like?

A. I support recruiting, hiring and career development across the newsroom. I loved editing the Journal’s media and advertising coverage in my last role (and still get an adrenaline rush when news is breaking!), but I’ve enjoyed shifting that energy into ensuring that this already stellar newsroom is diverse and welcoming and hiring exceptionally talented journalists.

Four months into this job, I’m learning that no day is typical. I got into journalism for the variety, the lifelong learning and the hope that my work helps people, so I appreciate that my current role allows me to constantly meet new people and support 1,230+ of the best journalists I’ve ever known.

One day I may be strategizing about how to define new roles, meeting with Journal reporters to discuss potential next steps in their careers, and interviewing candidates for personal finance reporting or data editing. The next day I may be attending a journalism conference to scout for new talent or spending a day at a university to meet with students and spread the word about our internship opportunities.

The chance to step back and discuss ambitious journalism and figure out how we can help support and train the next generation really is inspiring.

Q. What does the Journal look for in applicants for jobs and internships?

A. Each job opening is an opportunity to think creatively and ambitiously about how we want to evolve our coverage, better serve our two million-plus subscribers and continue to broaden our audience.

When we are hiring reporters and editors, I am looking for skilled writers with a proven ability to chase down (or shepherd) scoops and come up with interesting enterprise stories. The best way to get on my radar is to do great work that I wish we had published ourselves.

I’m also increasingly seeking out video producers, data scientists, interactive graphic designers, newsletter writers and specialized reporters for our Professional Products. The Journal is far more than a newspaper these days. We are very much a digital-first news organization.

For internships, I’m looking for students and recent grads who come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom. You don’t have to be an expert in business, finance and economics to intern at the Journal, but an interest and willingness to learn are key.

I look for interns to bring curiosity, passion and new ideas into the newsroom. I’m seeking out students with a foundation in newsgathering and some prior news deadline experience.

Beyond that, I’m also keen to welcome interns who can bring much-needed digital skills that will help us continue to innovate — whether that’s an interest in audience analytics, creative video editing, social media savvy, comfort with data analysis or the ability to code.

Q. You previously worked as a deputy bureau chief at the Journal and as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg. How do those experiences help you in your current job?

A. I tend to think of the Journal newsroom and the broader news/journalism industry as my new beat. Recruiting and offering career advice are, in a way, very similar to developing the relationships with sources that allow you to be a successful beat reporter or developing the relationships with reporters that help you become a better editor.

I also had the benefit of studying our own publication/company and our media competitors for many years from the reporting side. Over the course of 11 years, I was a media reporter, team leader for a global deals column and an editor for coverage of media, telecommunications and advertising. I like to think that it gave me insight into the rapid evolution of the news industry, and I’m enjoying applying that knowledge to shape our talent strategy going forward.

And when it comes to talking to potential job candidates, I can directly speak to what it’s like at the Journal being in the trenches during breaking news, going through the process to publish a front-page enterprise story or brainstorming a visual digital package. I like to think that makes me more credible when I speak about our news values, strategy and culture.

Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you acquired?

A. I like to say that I got my journalism degree at UNC. Then I got the equivalent of an MBA on the job as a business reporter.

UNC’s journalism school gave me a solid foundation in reporting and an introduction to business and economics (I also got a business minor at Kenan-Flagler Business School).

Chris Roush’s business reporting program really gave me a leg up in the job market. I was comfortable writing on deadline, deciphering SEC filings, studying the market and interviewing executives. Another great professor — Phil Meyer, a legend in using social science methods in journalism — inspired me to dig deeply into complex topics, ask the tough questions and use data and statistics to test my assumptions and support my conclusions.

Browse the job listings at The Wall Street Journal and follow Sarah Rabil on Twitter.

How I will spend fall break

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Carroll Hall, home of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, will be quiet during fall break.

UNC-Chapel Hill is on fall break later this week. That means no classes or meetings on campus Thursday or Friday.

Here’s how I will spend this time:

  • Grade assignments from the three courses that I am teaching this semester.
  • Prepare presentations and assignments for next week’s classes.
  • Write a recommendation letter for a student who is applying to law school.
  • Review a colleague’s materials and write a report for the journalism school’s tenure committee.
  • Order textbooks for next semester’s courses.
  • Read a draft of a master’s thesis.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Buy a new laptop.
  • Vote.
  • Party like a professor.