A newspaper helps with giving

trianglegivesThe Thanksgiving Day newspaper is typically the largest of the year, loaded with advertising for Black Friday. That’s true of The News & Observer, the paper I read every day.

My favorite section of the Thanksgiving edition of the N&O is Triangle Gives. In print, it consists of 40 pages of profiles of nonprofit organizations that do good things in North Carolina. Some, such as Habitat for Humanity, are familiar. Others, such as the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, may be less so.

I’ll use the Triangle Gives section to select a few organizations for donations during the holidays. I’ll ask my 16-year-old son to do the same.

And if you live in North Carolina, I’ll ask you too. If you missed the section in print, you can read it online. Either way, I hope you will follow the advice of one of the headlines in Triangle Gives: “To do the greatest good, write a check or volunteer.”

Q&A with Courtney Rukan, multiplatform editor at The Washington Post

Courtney Rukan is deputy multiplatform editing chief at The Washington Post, a job she has held since 2010. She previously worked as a copy editor in the sports and features departments at the Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Rukan discusses her job and her transition from print journalism to digital.

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

A. In my job, I help oversee a team of 50 copy editors. I typically arrive between 8 and 9:30 a.m. (depending on the day and/or circumstances)

Monday: I try to start the week off by dipping into our editing system and handling a few web files, to get the week started off right. My boss and I meet after the daily 9:30 morning meeting (the daily planning meeting for digital and print) to catch up on business. We talk about what’s happening that day, as well as short- and long-term projects we’re undertaking and any other things we need to deal with.

If I don’t have any emails that are of pressing concern, I make a pass around the room to get details about what was talked about at the morning meeting and what might be brewing for the Sunday paper. I also make sure to stop by to say hi to my copy editors who work in the morning, because it’s always a good thing to know how everyone is doing.

Then I make assignments for our weekly Real Estate, Sunday Arts and Sunday Business sections before turning my attention to overseeing the daily print product. On Mondays and Tuesdays, other copy editors in my department “run the day” because we want to make sure folks in our department get a chance to take on leadership roles. (I’ll detail the print duties on Wednesday, which is the day I run.) In between making sure everything is running smoothly, I will handle any other matters with respect to production, personnel, etc.

Tuesday: In the morning, I turn my attention to doing a weekly schedule, which takes about an hour. I walk the floor quickly to get a handle on what’s coming that day.

This is the regular day for our weekly enterprise meeting, at which we find out about the big projects we’re working on for that week or farther out. My boss and I try to marry the right copy editor to the right enterprise projects based on timeline, skill level, interest, etc. Then I connect the assignment editor, designer, copy editor and any other interested parties in an email to coordinate the project. After that, I oversee print production.

Wednesday: I make the final assignments for our weekend sections and coordinate with the Weekend section editor on our proofing strategy for the day. Then I try to squeeze in whatever administrative duties and additional meetings I can before the print cycle starts.

This is the day I run print instead of supervising it: Prep for the print product includes greeting each editor as they come in (if possible), parsing our booking process for what will run in print and what is online-only content, communicating with assignment editors and copy editors, checking our messaging system for changes, making assignments, slotting when necessary, determining which pages we will proof early (before deadline), assigning the remaining pages to proof and assigning and late-moving files. Once we’re in a good spot (typically between 6:30 and 8 p.m.), I head home where I monitor email until about 9:30 p.m.

Thursday: My boss and I slot Real Estate, Sunday Arts and start slotting Sunday Business. We coordinate with the section editors to ensure smooth closure. Then we have our weekly meeting with the managing editor in the afternoon. I make sure our weekend enterprise plans are moving in the right direction before turning my attention to print.

Friday: This is the day I’m my boss, who’s off Fri-Sat. So I attend the morning meeting, make my rounds, coordinate everything for the weekend while making initial plans for the following week. Then I slot most of Sunday Business, attend any necessary meetings, get print started for that night, attend the afternoon A1 meeting (at which A1 is debated and our digital stats are parsed), and finish off Sunday Business once the market stats come through. Once print is under control, I leave around 6:30 p.m.

Any number of things can interrupt the normal flow of my workday because curveballs pop up all the time, but that is what a typical week should look like.

Q. You started your career as a print journalist. How have you made the transition to digital?

My transition to digital was gradual from 2004 until 2010, at which point I worked in the sports department and we were a guinea pig for washingtonpost.com. During those six years, our digital education mainly consisted of learning the needs of the digital world. We evolved slowly, reverse publishing some content from web to print. Then after a couple of years, we started to write SEO web headlines. But since 2010, the transition has been much quicker.

From 2010 to 2013, we started writing our own web heds with digital summaries and learned how to pull photos for digital presentation in Methode, our CMS. Then we added editing in WordPress in 2013 as a complement for the bloggers and for special digital presentation.

We also have special systems and build-outs for databases, graphics, video, design, etc. This year we rolled out ARC, which allows us to publish copy to the web in a more streamlined way, which has continued our unofficial “new year, new tool” pace.

I think the transition from print to digital is more a mind-set more than anything: Typesetting and publishing content have never been easier, and yet new tools can throw people off-balance, so it’s important to remember all of the tools we’ve worked on in our careers and how much harder those tools were when it was print-only work.

ATEX required editors to hard-code headlines, captions and text; the new systems only require us to make sure everything is right within the code that is provided for us. We do have more steps to worry about now, but if you can keep things organized in your head you can succeed easily in the digital world.

That said, we provide a lot of training for anyone who needs it. Personally, I think we should embrace change and continue to do so. Evolution is necessary to succeed over a 30-plus-year career.

Q. The Post uses a “content testing tool” called Bandito to assess headlines and other elements on its site. How does that affect how human editors do their work?

Bandito allows for dissent and certainty, which is great for editors and journalism. If two or more people have different ideas about the direction a headline should go it, you can use Bandito to prove which one is the best.

We get a lot of guidance on how our voice should sound on web heds, and there is a lot of discussion about digital presentation in various channels in Slack. And sometimes the best headline might just be one that has more of a “print” sensibility.

Bandito allows us to take it right to the source, our audience, to see how we can best proceed. So I don’t think it affects how human editors do their work so much as it helps us by opening a world of possibilities that are proved or disproved in real time; Bandito gives us the chance to think both inside and outside the box.

Q. Editing at the Post sounds like a cool job. What advice do you have for students who are interested in that kind of work?

Working at The Post is great, and we try to create a collegial and supportive working environment. I’ve never had a desire to do anything else because of the feeling that we’re making a difference each day and my excitement when I’m in the newsroom.

Even on my worst day at work, I have more fun at work than a lot of my non-journo friends have on their best day at work. We work with so many intelligent and funny people, colleagues who care about the state of the world and the state of the people in the newsroom.

But working at a major daily newspaper isn’t for the faint of heart: The hours can be long and unpredictable, there is a lot of stress associated with the unpredictability of the news cycle, and working nights and weekends can be part of the job for many years. Case in point: I worked 15 years before getting a traditional Saturday-Sunday weekend, and although my shifts are mostly days now, there are still instances when I’m at the office until 9:30 or later (excluding big-event nights like an election). And for 10 of those 15 years, I had a midweek weekend and worked past midnight.

We have more opportunities for daytime work now, but anyone who wants to work at a newspaper needs to think about unusual hours and days off and whether they can sustain that life for a decade or more. But doctors, lawyers, nurses and so many more people have strange hours, too, so if you really love journalism you should do it.

Passion is what matters most: How passionate are you about the First Amendment and the press’s role in it? The answer to those questions will guide you.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance

The results of the 2016 presidential election have shocked many people. After all, the polls said that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump, right?

Not exactly. Many forecasts certainly said that Clinton had the better chance to win. For example, FiveThirtyEight reported on Election Day that she had a 71 percent chance of winning. That also meant that Trump has a 29 percent chance to win. And he did.

Meanwhile, in college football, three of the top four teams (Clemson, Washington and Michigan) lost on Saturday. ESPN reported that the chances of that happening were 0.3 percent. And it did.

All of this reminds me of something that Del Ossino, a copy editor in the sports department of The News & Observer, liked to say when someone expressed surprise at an upset: “That’s why they play the games.” Indeed, and that’s why people vote.

Q&A with Bob Bryan, reporter for Business Insider

Bob Bryan at the Chairman's Room at the New York Stock Exchange.
Bob Bryan at the Chairman’s Room at the New York Stock Exchange.

Bob Bryan is markets reporter for Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his beat and headline writing and social media at BI.

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

A. As a markets reporter, my team usually gets an early jump on things. Four of us are in the office by 7 a.m., looking at overnight news in European and Asian markets or covering quarterly earnings that are announced before the opening of the market.

From there the day can really be anything. Since Business Insider has a relatively slim team, we have a lot of freedom to explore topics that interest us, For instance I could write about Obamacare, the Wells Fargo scandal and how inflation is impacting the Federal Reserve all in one day (and have before).

Posts usually come out of three places: breaking news (which can come from anywhere: Twitter, press releases, email tips); research from banks and economic analysts such as the International Monetary Fund or the Fed; and interviews done with market followers, economists, and major investors.

I’m usually on the go until 3 to 3:30 p.m. when I stop to start planning the Facebook Live broadcast I host every day at 430 p.m. That involves going through the headlines of the day selecting what I want to talk about, getting graphics and charts made up by our markets graphics guru, and planning chyrons with the video team. I typically write myself a rough outline, but ad lib most of the show.

The show usually wraps at 4:50 p.m., and afterwards, I check some emails and maybe finish a post I was working on. Typically, I leave the office anywhere from 5:15 to 6:00, though I may do some work at home if news breaks afterward.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use social media as part of your job?

A. Social media is incredibly important for my job, Twitter being the most prominent.

Not only is Twitter a source of ideas, but for financial journalists, there is a robust conversation between finance media and those in the markets world. There is a great group of economists and traders that use Twitter and are active in conversing with others. Heck, even current Fed president Neel Kashkari takes question on Twitter from time to time.

Obviously, Facebook is also important not just as a source of traffic, but it’s also where I do my daily videos.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Business Insider?

A. Everything starts with the writer. At BI, the reporters write their own headline, tweet, pick their picture, write the captions. Even the short browser title you see from search engines is done by the writer.

Stories are then sent via Slack to an editor, unpublished, to be looked over. It may go by a second editor occasionally depending on the subject matter. For longer features, the copy desk will look over the text before it goes live. If it is a normal, shorter post, the copy desk looks over the story after it goes live. We strive for speed, so the copy desk is incredibly quick at making edits to a story once it goes live.

Headlines are usually collaborative as well. If we try a headline that doesn’t get a lot of reader attention, we may change it or try a different construction to connect better with readers. This is usually discussed with the editor who read the story via Slack or, more likely, verbally. A lot of changes are discussed verbally since the office is open with shared tables and most of editorial is in one big space.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What advice do you have for the class of 2017?

A. Say yes. When you’re starting out, always be the first to jump on something when it’s offered. If there is a story idea thrown out, say yes even if you’re not sure about it. It’s a great way to learn, prove your capable, and add value to whatever newsroom (or any other job) you’re in.

For instance, I said yes to a story about UnitedHealthcare’s quarterly earnings in which it turned out they were leaving a majority of their Obamacare markets. Now six months later, I’m the primary Obamacare and health insurance reporter, which draws a lot of reader interest. If I had said “I don’t know too much about that,” then I would’ve missed one of the best opportunities of my career so far.

Read Bob Bryan’s posts on Business Insider and follow him on Twitter.

My election forecast

2016-electoralmap
My forecast for the presidential race, created with this interactive map at CNN’s site.

The campaign of 2016 is about to come to a close. It feels like everyone, including journalists, is ready for it to end.

Free pizza for the newsroom was one of the traditions of election night at newspapers where I worked. An “election pool” was another one. Those of us who chose to participate predicted the outcome of various races. The winner claimed bragging rights of being politically astute, although dumb luck may have been involved too.

I won’t join one of those pools this time, but I will offer my predictions here. To be clear, this is who I think will win, not who should win. My voting preferences are between me and my ballot.

Here we go:

PRESIDENT

Clinton, with 323 electoral votes

CONGRESS

House: Republicans, 235-200

Senate: Tied, 50-50

N.C. RACES

Governor: Cooper

Lt. Governor: Coleman

U.S. Senate: Burr

Q&A with Emily Storrow, assistant editor at The Local Palate

Emily Storrow is assistant editor at The Local Palate, a culinary magazine in Charleston, South Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Storrow discusses her role there and her transition from newspapers to magazines.

Q. Describe your job at The Local Palate. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’m the assistant editor of The Local Palate, a magazine that covers the food culture of the South. I’m in charge of several departments in each issue. They include coverage of new restaurant openings, Southern food products and books, and seasonal cocktails. My favorite department is called “Eatymology,” in which I write about the history of a particular Southern dish (recent topics have included pickled watermelon rinds and country ham).

As for my workday – it depends! We publish 10 issues annually (one issue per month, with June/July and December/January being double issues), so my workday changes based on where we are in the life of an issue. Often it’s a combination of brainstorming content for future issues, communicating with chefs and bartenders about recipes we’re featuring, researching and requesting samples of products or review copies of upcoming book releases, meeting with other departments (often art or web) about upcoming magazine content, and of course, writing and editing copy.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at The Local Palate?

A. When a writer (either one of TLP’s three editors or a freelance writer) is done with a piece, we print a copy and circulate it within the editorial department. We edit it for style and grammar and often give input on headlines, word choice, etc.

Then, the editor who’s in charge of that department will review the edits and make them in the document. At that point, it’s emailed to our copy editor, who edits the document in Word with track changes on. It comes back to the editor, who reviews those changes and places the document in “final text,” which means it’s ready for the art team.

As we approach the closing of an issue, we spend between about a week editing proofs. In addition to ensuring the copy is clean, we’re finalizing things like captions and headlines, which often change based on a page’s design. (This is especially true for features; it’s difficult to settle on a headline before knowing what the final page design is.)

Q. You previously worked at the Wilkes Journal-Patriot in North Carolina. What was the transition from a newspaper to a magazine like?

A. It was a transition! I was one of four general assignment reporters in the newsroom at the J-P. We published three days a week so I was typically writing articles on an issue-by-issue basis, maybe working on a piece a week or so ahead in certain cases.

At the magazine, we work on issues that won’t hit the newsstands for months. We’re always planning content (especially features) and actively work on an issue one to two months before it comes out. For example, it’s late October, and we’re getting ready to send the December/January issue to the printer.

Another major adjustment has been getting used to the role the art department plays in the magazine’s production. In a magazine, photography and design go hand-in-hand with editorial content.

Our departments are in constant communication. When we brainstorm editorial content, we ask for the art department’s input early on so we know if the concept will work from a visual standpoint. That’s something I never had to worry about at the newspaper!

Plus, I had to start using Chicago style. (I’m still an AP loyalist at heart, though.)

Q. Working as an editor at a magazine with a focus on food sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students aiming for a similar career path? 

A. I’d advise them to immerse themselves in whatever food scene/culture they’re interested in (for me, Southern). The food and beverage industry is a small world, and writing is a great way to establish connections. Food festivals are also great opportunities for meeting chefs and media folks.

A couple of the articles I wrote for a college feature-writing class were on people who have also appeared in Local Palate. One was the owner and namesake of Chapel Hill’s the Crunkelton, Gary Crunkleton. And he ultimately put me in touch with The Local Palate while I was job searching. Like I said, small world!