A new gig in online teaching and learning

Online master’s student Jennie Saia crosses the stage at commencement with her newborn child. Students in the Hussman School’s MADC program are welcome to take part in graduation ceremonies.

Today, I start a new role at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. I am director of the online master’s program in digital communication.

I have taught in this program for many years and will do so again this fall. I’m a big believer in online education, and I’m excited to have the chance to lead this program.

The MADC curriculum is intended for midcareer professionals who are looking to learn new skills and concepts. Students take two courses per semester and complete a thesis project. The program is rolling out a revised curriculum this fall.

You can read more about the MADC program in this FAQ. Or you can ask me!

What we can learn about word choice from two tweets

For many of us, Twitter is a place that is more forgiving when it comes to errors in spelling, grammar and usage. We all make mistakes now and then, and we don’t have editors to back us up. Twitter famously lacks an “edit” function, so once a tweet is posted, you can’t change it.

News organizations and (the journalists who work for them) are often held to a higher standard than an everyday person on Twitter. Their followers expect precise wording and air-tight accuracy — and reasonably so. Here are two recent tweets from North Carolina news organizations where that became an issue.

The tweet: A reporter for WRAL, Mikaya Thurmond, shared a video of people hanging out in Raleigh’s Glenwood South, a section of the city filled with bars and restaurants. Some of the restaurants, which serve alcohol, were open again as the state eased COVID-19 restrictions.


The reaction: Several people questioned the geographic reference in Thurmond’s tweet. “This is Glenwood South, NOT Downtown Raleigh. Big difference in how businesses are handling reopening between these two areas and how patrons are responding. One is being more responsible and it’s not Glenwood.” Another person requested a formal correction.

The solution: Thurmond politely responded that no correction was necessary. That’s because the Downtown Raleigh Alliance includes Glenwood South among the six districts that make up downtown. She’s right, though mentioning a more specific location in the tweet would have been more informative. Most people who follow a WRAL account would recognize “Glenwood South,” so that’s a better choice.

The tweet: The Charlotte Observer posted a link to a story about three police officers in Wilmington who were fired. The officers were caught on video using racist language, expressing the desire to kill Black people and preparing for a war.


The reaction: Many people responded to the tweet, saying it failed to capture the cruel nature of the officers’ views and remarks. One said: “Inappropriate comments?? Inappropriate is a crude stand-up comic not reading the room. A police officer threatening to kill people with glee because they are Black is RACIST. Call it as it is, @theobserver.”

The solution: A few hours after the first tweet, the Observer followed up and issued a correction. That was the best way to handle the situation, though an apology would have helped.


Both examples illustrate the need for journalists to take care in how they express themselves, including on social media. It’s a matter of trust, which is easily lost and difficult to regain.

When journalism and jazz connect — virtually


For several years, I have participated in the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop, teaching a component about journalism. It’s been a fun way to introduce students to the essentials of reporting, writing and editing about music.

The 2020 workshop will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All summer courses at UNC-Chapel Hill have moved online, and that includes the one-week workshop.

The show must go on! To make that happen, the workshop’s instructors will use a blend of Zoom, YouTube, Spotify and Dropbox. Stephen Anderson, the workshop’s director, has posted this video to explain how it will come together.

For the journalism segment, students will also use WordPress and Twitter. Here’s the syllabus and our plan for that part of the workshop:

Monday, June 15
Topics: Understanding news values and getting started with reporting and writing.
Exercises: Create a website at web.unc.edu. Post your review of a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Tuesday, June 16
Topic: Writing for social media and live-tweeting.
Exercise: Use Twitter to document a historic performance by Mary Lou Williams.

Wednesday, June 17
Topics: Exploring story formats for digital media.
Exercise: Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.

Thursday, June 18
Topic: Writing headlines and captions.
Exercise: Write headlines and captions.

Friday, June 19
Topic: Curating social media.
Exercise: Recap our week using the list format.

Q&A with Neil Offen of The Local Reporter

The Herald-Sun | Christine T. Nguyen

Neil Offen is an editor at The Local Reporter, a news startup in Orange County, North Carolina. He has worked as a reporter at several newspapers and magazines, and as a radio news director. In this interview, conducted by email, Offen discusses the focus and objectives of The Local Reporter, and he offers advice to student journalists interested in covering their communities.

Q. What is The Local Reporter? How does it fit into the media ecosystem of the Triangle region of North Carolina?

A. The Local Reporter is a new online hyperlocal news startup serving Chapel Hill, Carrboro and southern Orange County. It is, as Jock Lauterer, a Hussman School adjunct professor and part of our governing board, puts it, “relentlessly local.”

That means we don’t cover Durham news. No state news, national nor international news — except in those cases where there is direct impact on our local area. We cover only the stories that emanate from and have a direct impact on residents here.

The Local Reporter was launched because a number of community activists believed there was a need for that kind of coverage and were concerned that it increasingly was disappearing from our community. Within the last decade, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area had lost three local newspapers to the now common economic stressors affecting journalism. The Chapel Hill News, The Chapel Hill Herald and The Carrboro Citizen all went out of business.

Meanwhile, The News & Observer in Raleigh saw cutbacks after cutbacks and consequently reduced its day-to-day local coverage, particularly of outlying parts of its readership area. The Herald-Sun of Durham, after its purchase by the N&O’s owner, the McClatchy chain, became, essentially, a pale replica of its sister paper, with some additional regional focus.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro still have The Daily Tar Heel, which has increased its local coverage in the wake of those changes. It also has Chapelboro, the online affiliate of the radio station WCHL.

But the DTH remains overwhelmingly focused on the university — as it should. It also depends, naturally, on journalists who may be here in this community for just a few years and thus may lack institutional memory. Chapelboro devotes much of its efforts to sports — WCHL is part of the Tar Heel Sports Network — and breaking news, and focuses as well on a broader geographical area.

Still, both do good work and are useful platforms, but Friends of Local Journalism, a 501c3 nonprofit that established The Local Reporter, felt that our area needed more. The 20-or-so founders believed that the lack of a truly local newspaper dedicated to covering the range of issues that directly affect our community, and putting them in context, is detrimental to the area’s civic health, its sense of community and ultimately to its viability.

The goal is to offer the full panoply of what community journalism can do:

  • rigorous reporting on local issues, of course, including government, law enforcement, development, business and the schools;
  • features and lifecycle coverage reflecting the rich mosaic of life in our community;
  • a civil forum for public debate, through a robust offering of guest columns and letters-to-the-editor, airing the views of our diverse readership.

Do we do all of that now? No.

The free-access website today is a prototype of what we hope a full-fledged news platform can be. It is updated frequently, we send out a weekly news email, and we reach around 3,000 regular readers. We do this mostly with volunteers, but as our fundraising increases, we have begun paying freelance reporters.

Yet even working with a predominantly volunteer staff, we have published some important and significant stories, including:

In addition, we have published many guest columns, on subjects including the pandemic, homelessness and the criminal justice system: https://thelocalreporter.press/challenges-increase-for-non-citizens-during-the-pandemic/

As funding increases, we have been able to add a series of locally focused regular columns on bicycling, gardening, wildlife and vegetarianism, the kinds of columns and varied voices that have disappeared from regional newspapers during this era of consolidation.

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

A. Although we now pay freelance reporters, the core staff of TLR remains volunteers. Most of those involved with the launch of The Local Reporter are community activists, not journalists. We have people, fortunately, who are skilled in grant writing and others who have financial management expertise and deep governmental and community involvement.

As one of the few professional journalists involved, I do the great bulk of the editing, with occasional help from Alan Cronk, a longtime journalist and former features editor with The Winston-Salem Journal.

Stories are sent to our editor email and then to me. After editing, I return the copy to the writer for review — if there have been any significant changes — and then send it on to (our paid) web person, who posts on our site. I write the headlines for all our stories, although our columnists and reporters are encouraged to suggest heads for whatever they’ve written.

Q. The Local Reporter is a digital publication, though its founders have considered a print edition. What is the latest on that possibility?

A. Last year, when we surveyed residents about what they wanted in a local newspaper, we received nearly 1,000 responses to our survey, and they overwhelmingly favored print.

But print, of course, is far more expensive than digital. During TLR’s gestation period, we discussed this desire for print at great length, but realized, finally, that print is not practical at this financial moment for The Local Reporter. Depending on finances, we still intend down the line to publish a weekly print version of The Local Reporter, with a strong selection of all our new stories.

In the meantime, if we can obtain the necessary grant funding, we intend to publish a special print edition focusing on a series of stories documenting how the local school system has addressed the issue of remote learning for disadvantaged communities. The system, generally considered among North Carolina’s best and one of its most affluent, has nevertheless struggled for decades with equity issues and a significant achievement gap. This special print edition would be direct mailed to households in neighborhoods having a high percentage of disadvantaged residents.

Q. You have a storied career in local journalism. What advice do you have for student journalists who are interested in reporting about their communities?

A. Explore your community. Read about it. Walk around it. Talk to people in it. Get out of your bubble — we all live in our own bubbles — and find out about aspects of your community that might be new to you.

I’ve worked for big city newspapers and national magazines as well as for small, community-based publications and broadcast media. And everywhere I’ve worked, the best stories I’ve done have been the ones where I probably started off not knowing very much about my subject matter. I always did a lot of research, even before Google, when it wasn’t easy to do a lot of research.

I may not have known a lot in the beginning, but I wasn’t afraid to admit that, and to ask questions. Lots of questions.

It’s OK to admit you don’t know about something or someone; in fact, a lot of times, it’s better when you say, “I don’t know about that. Can you explain it to me?”

On Twitter, two contrasting views on COVID-19

Memorial Day weekend 2020 is consumed with news about the COVID-19 crisis. For many of us, doomscrolling on social media has become part of our daily lives.

Two trending topics on Twitter represent a study in contrasts about the way individuals and news organizations share information about the pandemic. First came this tweet from Scott Stone, a former state lawmaker from North Carolina:


The tweet drew a slew of responses and was quickly ratioed with memes and GIFs. TMZ posted a story about it. Stone his since made his Twitter account private.

A few hours later, The New York Times posted an image of its front page for the Sunday print edition. It also generated many responses and retweets. The text-only page lists the names and brief descriptions of Americans who have died from COVID-19:


Both tweets made news on their own. The one from Stone shows the snarky side of social media, from both him and many of the people responding to him. The NYT tweet recenters the discussion to those who have died.

Taken together, the posts reflect the spectrum of posts about the pandemic, from the silly to the somber. It’s a lot to take in.

So on Memorial Day itself, I will take a break from social media, contemplate the meaning of the day, stay home and stop doomscrolling. I encourage you to do the same.

Q&A with Jordan Wilkie of Carolina Public Press

Black Mountain Crest Trail

Jordan Wilkie is the lead contributing reporter covering elections and voting security for Carolina Public Press. CPP is a nonprofit news organization based in Asheville, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Wilkie discusses his work there and the need for new business models for news.

Q. What is Carolina Public Press, and where does it fit into the state’s news ecosystem?

A. I think CPP is the future of the state’s news ecosystem, though I’m an odd combination of dreamer and cynic.

The elevator pitch is that CPP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, investigative newsroom that covers the entire state. CPP is one of the pioneering newsrooms showing there is a new model for news in North Carolina — free content, provided by a nonprofit newsroom that runs on grants, donations from individuals and business sponsorships.

Since CPP is a nonprofit, it has republishing agreements with other outlets across the state. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer have republished my work a handful of times. CPP’s nonprofit status also makes the newsroom predisposed to collaboration. CPP won several state press awards for its Seeking Conviction series, a “collaborative investigative project spanning 6½ months and including 11 news organizations.”

CPP is working with five other news organizations to cover COVID-19’s effects on the state. So far, I have been a part of one story on county boards of elections needing additional funding to carry off this year’s general election during a pandemic. I’m co-reporting a second story this week on the state’s response to outbreaks of COVID-19 in its prisons.

The future of news is nonprofit or highly localized for-profit outlets. In CPP’s case, this is still a bit of a pipe dream. CPP has a newsroom of three (when I start my salaried position in June, I’ll officially be part of the newsroom, but since I’m contracted to them full time now, I’m fudging just a little). Though CPP has a team of contributors, the organization itself remains quite small.

On the other hand, the business model for regional, for-profit newsrooms is broken.

When we think of North Carolina news outlets, the state’s long-standing regional newspapers often come first to mind. These papers have long histories of public service in watchdog journalism, and they still employ some of the best reporters in the state.

The for-profit journalism model, however, has struggled for a generation. The Charlotte Observer, the N&O and the Durham Herald-Sun are owned by the now-bankrupt McClatchy, having already suffered a decade of layoffs and forced retirements. The Fayetteville Observer, owned by Gannett Media, and the Greensboro News and Record, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, have not fared much better. Nationally, newspapers have lost half of their newsroom employees since 2008.

CPP does not have the same pressures as these much larger, for-profit newsrooms. Its ability to do investigative work actually supports the larger newsrooms, which have lost a lot of reporters and therefore opportunity to really dive into some stories. For now, CPP operates as a glue, filling gaps and providing support to other newsrooms, as well as working independently to do its own reporting.

I fear I may be overstating CPP’s influence here, at the risk of drawing the ire of my collaborators at the regional papers and TV stations. But I really do think that journalism needs a new business model, and I’m certainly not thinking like a pioneer nor a radical here.

Certainly, I do not want to overstate my importance or contributions. I’m still very much a green reporter. I’m taking every opportunity I can to learn from great reporters around the state; the chance to collaborate with reporters I have been reading for years was a major reason I pursued a job with CPP. I’m just starting my career, and I’m doing it with CPP — another reason I’m hopeful we will be the future of reporting in the state.

Q. Describe your role there. What is your typical day like?

A. I’ll spare you the drudgery of my actual day-to-day work habits and just focus on my role.

I wrote my first story for CPP about conditions in the Cherokee County Jail, where the State Bureau of Investigation was looking into violence against detainees and where a detainee had recently died. That was one of my first stories out of graduate school, where I focused on covering conditions of confinement in jails, prisons and juvenile detentions.

That was just supposed to be a two-day story looking at the recent death, but I got ahead of myself and submitted enough records requests to drag the reporting out over a couple of months. By the time we actually got it published — and set the stage for a half-dozen follow-up stories by CPP’s new investigations reporter, Kate Martin — I had taken a job covering Georgia’s 2018 midterm elections.

Fast forward to now, and I’m CPP’s prisons and elections expert.

Technically, I’m joining CPP’s newsroom through the Report for America program just to cover election fraud and security. The COVID-19 pandemic, though, called for a broader focus in my reporting. So now, I’m bouncing between looking into county election budgets in the morning and arguing with the Department of Public Safety over releasing records in the afternoon.

One of the great pleasures of working with CPP is that they give me the latitude to get really into the weeds. Since CPP doesn’t have the same pressures to create content as larger, for-profit newsrooms, I’m able to spend more time reading a lot of technical documents like National Institute of Standards and Technology research on voting systems, or the Health Care Policy Manual from the Division of Prisons. I find this really helpful when talking to state agencies because I know what records they have and I know the things that they should know. It helps me know what information to ask for — even if they rarely give it to me — and to know when they’re trying to lead me around by the nose.

To summarize, my work looks like going to board meetings, reading technical documents and reports, and making records requests. My goal, especially with elections coverage, is to make the national stories make sense here, from a local angle. I see it as a kind of translation.

The challenge now is to figure out the balance between long-term stories, deep dives, investigations and the needs of the day-to-day.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at Carolina Public Press?

A. CPP has a pretty linear process for in-house stories. Collaborations are an entirely different beast.

For in-house stories, the editing and headline process is pretty streamlined. I write my story and propose a headline (I’m awful at this) and then send it off to my managing editor, Frank Taylor. He takes a look, checks in with me if there’s anything more than a cosmetic change, then sends it off to the copy editor before putting it up on our website.

I witnessed my first collaborative editing and headline effort earlier this week: five newsrooms, something like eight reporters and editors. Luckily, I contributed to the reporting, but was not responsible for writing the story. Emily Featherston of WECT bore that burden and did so with aplomb.

All of the contributing reporters put our data in spreadsheets and add vignettes to a shared document. The lead reporter takes that information, along with her own reporting, and crafts a story draft. Once she’s ready, she throws the chum to the hungry sharks.

We’re working with some of the best reporters in the state for this collaborative project covering COVID-19’s impacts. The document was filled with suggestions, clarifications, and praise. It was left to Emily (mostly) and me to respond to each and every comment.

This process took several hours. Emily’s writing was strong to begin with, and the story was bulletproofed by the end.

As the editing for the body of the story slowed, attention turned to the headline. The conversation moved off the Google doc and into a thread on Slack. I tried to stay away from that back and forth. There were maybe a dozen suggestions and micro-edits to phrasing and punctuation.

Once the story is set and the headline decided, all the newsrooms decide when to publish, and, as if it were magic, the story pops up all over North Carolina.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in working for news organizations like Carolina Public Press? 

A. In my experience, get a sugar daddy.

To put it in a less salacious manner, maximize your privilege and support networks. Once you start working, you’ll be more independent. The hard part is actually getting there (I don’t start a salaried position with CPP until June 1 through support from Report for America). It’s been a hard road in the two years since I graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2018.

There’s a reason why newsrooms are predominantly white and why papers of record are disproportionately populated with private school graduates.

The only reason I’m still in journalism today is because for the first year out of grad school I was living with my boyfriend who made a lot more money and who covered my rent and food. Without that, I would not have had the freedom to hustle to build my resume as a freelancer or to wait for grants and funding to come through. I would have had to get a job outside of journalism, as a majority in my cohort of master’s students did. The only difference I see between them and me is that I had the social privilege and financial support of my boyfriend and of my family.

I know this first few paragraphs read as, “be white, middle class or richer, and it doesn’t hurt to be a straight man.” That’s not really advice, but it’s the reality you’ll face.

My first real piece of advice is to know without a doubt that our economic system writ large is broken and unfair, and the inequities stack up based on race, ethnicity, wealth, sex, gender and sexuality. This is no different for a job in journalism, an industry that has been called out over and over since Ida B. Wells was slandered by The New York Times in the 1800s. Only now are we beginning to be even hopeful of working in a more equitable and just industry, and even so it will take another generation of dedicated effort.

I have a lot of privilege and, even so, finding my way to stable employment was a drag-out fight. I moved out of my boyfriend’s place a year ago. I’m still sleeping on the floor on top of two yoga mats, a foam camping pad and a mattress topper. I’ve been too close to the financial edge to buy a mattress for the first time in my life and, besides, my room is too small to fit a proper bed and a desk. I roll up my sleeping mats every morning and get to work.

Much of my struggle likely came from changing careers at 26 years old. I graduated with my master’s at 28 and have been in a rush to make up for lost time. I made the right personal choice to stay in North Carolina after I graduated, but it was the wrong professional choice.

As soon as you graduate, your degree starts losing value, no matter what level you are at.

If I was making a purely professional decision, I should have moved anywhere in the country (or even the world) that offered me a good job as soon as I got my master’s. Instead, I tried to build a career from scratch here in North Carolina.

That didn’t work. By mid-September, almost four months after graduating, I was feeling pretty desperate. I took a low-paying job with a newsroom I had never heard of to cover Georgia’s 2018 midterms. The only way I could afford to take that job was to move in with some family friends in Atlanta that I hadn’t seen in 12 years. As an adult, I became their third son in the house.

That was the start I needed. There was more financial interest in elections coverage than in covering prisons and jails, which was my focus coming out of graduate school.

I worked my ass off to become an elections specialist. I read the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on Russian interference in the 2016 election, I read the Mueller report, I read hundreds of pages of court documents where states were sued over poor election practices and use of insecure technology, I paid my own way to conferences.

To this point, my advice boils down to go where the good jobs are (being able to move freely takes its own amount of privilege), get that job as quickly as you can, and when you get an opportunity — even if it is underwhelming on paper — develop some kind of specialization (mine, specifically, was in election technology and administration).

In early 2019, The Guardian was at the beginning stages of its Fight to Vote series. The U.S. editor came to Atlanta to meet with Emory University voting rights historian Carol Anderson. Due to my reporting on the intersection of election security and voter suppression, I was invited to the meeting by an acquaintance of Professor Anderson. That introduction with The Guardian gave me the opportunity to freelance a handful of stories with them. The breakthrough would never have happened if I hadn’t been in the room.

My next piece of advice: When you cover a beat like elections, look up all the experts in your area and talk to them, even if it’s not for a story. Make sure they know who you are, what you’re doing, what you want to do, and why it’s in their best interest to keep you in the loop. This will help your reporting, and it will help you connect with the people who can advance your career.

Freelancing for The Guardian, though, did not make my career. First of all, I had to fight with them to get paid, and it almost made me miss a month of rent.

Next piece of advice — be proactive about getting paid. Read your freelancer contracts. If the news organization has a liability waiver (also called an indemnity clause), does not pay you adequately or does not guarantee you will get paid on a reasonable schedule, ask them to renegotiate the contract. If they don’t, walk away. The Guardian’s contract was solid on all of these fronts, yet it was clear their priority wasn’t not to get a new freelancer his payment quickly.

After all this, it was clear that I did not have the disposition to make a career out of being a freelancer.

It was also clear to me that there was a gap in reporting on elections between national and local outlets. Elections are, ultimately, local affairs. Every county and, often, every municipality runs its own elections. Those elections add up to state and federal results.

But covering election integrity on a national scale, as I was doing for The Guardian, seems like a Quixotic endeavor. There are, after all, 3,000 counties in the U.S. One 1,000-word story can’t possibly begin to cover the problems in any substantive way.

I saw an opportunity. Here’s my next piece of advice. Always exploit an opportunity. At least know that if you don’t, someone else will.

There was going to be money to be had to cover the 2020 elections, and I wanted a chunk for myself.

North Carolina’s election coverage was mostly focused on politics — horserace stuff, who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s making what ridiculous claims about their opponents. The ballot fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional District turned attention to election fraud and the actual administration of elections, but once that was resolved, reporters were reassigned to their regular beats.

No reporter in North Carolina was dedicated to covering voting systems and election fraud.

I decided to make that job for myself.

Next advice. Learn about funding. Learn this while you’re still in school. How do newsrooms get their funding? What are the funding cycles? Who are the local innovators in news models? (In N.C., it’s Fiona Morgan and Melanie Sill.)

In June 2019, I wrote a proposal for a newsroom to hire a reporter to cover North Carolina’s 2020 elections by examining election security and administration. I designed the proposal to be attractive to funders so that if a newsroom was interested, they could take my work and turn it into a grant.

I gave the proposal to CPP. They were a bit shocked. I had only written one story for them nine months before. I was still a bit of an unknown factor. They liked the proposal and, after talking with me, they trusted me. CPP took the application and turned it into a funding application. Report for America gave CPP the funding it was looking for.

I created the proposal on June 3, 2019, and I’ll start working for CPP as a Report for America corps member on June 1, 2020.

Through the summer and fall, freelanced stories for CPP on the state’s acquisition of new election equipment and other election stories. I took a job with another statewide nonprofit newsroom in the fall to cover the bills.

In the spring, CPP brought me on as a full-time contractor, with the expectation that I would get the Report for America position with their newsroom (I had to apply to Report for America independently from CPP). With the onset of COVID-19, I added coverage of prison and jail conditions to my portfolio, returning to what brought me into journalism in the first place.

I never would have made it through these two years without the friendship and guidance of my UNC professors (special shoutout to Ryan Thornburg and Andy Bechtel) and without the support of Durham of freelancers, reporters and mentors. Barry Yeoman has been the most helpful, both for hope and for practical advice.

Recently, Barry told me that he found it amazing how much more work young freelancers had to do these days just to get a job. I had to create a job in order to get it.

It’s not getting any easier. Opportunities are shifting, but I’m not convinced they are becoming more prevalent.

My last piece of advice is to build a community of support and to ask for help. You really have to ask. Get your mentors to buy you lunch and give you free advice. Get other freelancers to connect you to the editors they know. Have more experienced freelancers teach you how to read a contract and to negotiate a better contract. When a news organization steals your story or screws you over, get drinks with your journalist friends and commiserate.

If you are a young journalist trying to get in the game, find me on Twitter. My DMs are open. I’ll support you in any way that I can. Especially reach out if you are a journalist of color, went to a community college or are a fellow queer journalist.

How I will spend my summer

It’s summertime, academically speaking. As I’ve noted in the past, this time of year for faculty members is not a three-month vacation. The pace is slower compared with the fall and spring semesters, but there are plenty of things to do.

Here’s what I have planned this summer:

  • Review applications in UNC Hussman’s online master’s program in digital communication (MADC).
  • Grade comprehensive exams for MADC students.
  • Advise a student in the MADC program on her master’s thesis.
  • Redesign my MADC course on writing and editing, which will now be called Multiplatform Storytelling.
  • Prepare to become director of the MADC program effective July 1.
  • Prepare and teach the journalism component of the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop, which will be held remotely this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Revise my undergraduate course in editing, with an eye toward teaching a blend of in-person classes and online.
  • Update the stylebook of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
  • Serve on a search committee for a position teaching business journalism.
  • Serve on the board of the Education Fund of ACES: the Society for Editing.
  • Collect materials and write documents for post-tenure review, which is required every five years.
  • Write posts and conduct interviews for this site.

Best wishes to all faculty, students and staff on a safe and productive summer.

Discovering barriers in Belize


Each spring, journalism students from UNC-Chapel Hill create a multimedia project that focuses on a place and topic. Previous subjects have included the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and a refugee crisis in South America.

This year, the students focused on environmental issues along the coast of the Central American nation of Belize. The stories include topics such as the impact of cruise ships and the plight of coral reefs.

Students in my Advanced Editing class contributed to the project — called Barriers — by editing the text stories and captions, and test-driving the site. Thanks to colleagues Pat Davison, Tamara Rice and Kate Sheppard for inviting us to participate.

Honoring the best in editing


Each year, ACES: The Society for Editing awards the Robinson Prize. This award honors the editor of the year.

This year’s winner is Laura Poole, my friend and fellow resident of Durham, North Carolina. Laura is a freelance editor who specializes in scholarly nonfiction.

I met Laura in 2016 at the ACES conference in Portland, Oregon. I was quickly impressed with her expertise, energy and entrepreneurship. Since then, she has been a frequent visitor to my editing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill.

It was my privilege to nominate Laura for the Robinson Prize, and I am thrilled that she won. Read more about this year’s award at the ACES website, and watch this brief video of Laura accepting this honor.

Congratulations, Laura!

Student guest post: Integrity in the face of gotcha journalism

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 15th of those posts. Caleb Schmidt is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and video production. When he is not writing, Caleb likes to spend his free time watching TV or losing at Super Smash Bros. against his brother.

On April 25, the tabloid website TMZ reported that the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, died due to a botched heart surgery. Naturally, this sparked a huge reaction in the world of Twitter. From memes to serious reports, my feed was nothing but news about Kim Jong-un’s reported death.

However, as time went on, conflicting reports from Shukan Gendai, a Japanese magazine, reported the Kim was in “a vegetative state.”

That morning, I woke up seeing #KIMJONGUNDEAD, followed by various reports and takes on the death, not that he was in a vegetative state. All of these comments cited the TMZ article, which was widely shared among my peers.

For me, the shock was not necessarily for the reported death of a leader with whom tensions were high. Rather, it was at TMZ.

I know … I know. TMZ is controversial and not necessarily and more tabloid than factual. However, my problem with TMZ is that they are vicious. They don’t spend time fact-checking, nor do they give time for people close to the deceased to learn the news.

In 2009, when Michael Jackson died, TMZ was the first source to report it. However, Michael Jackson did not die until after the report came out. Just last January when Kobe Bryant died, TMZ was the first to report it, and they were criticized for not allowing Vanessa Bryant and her family to hear the news.

You may argue: “But TMZ is tabloid, celebrity gossip.” They may be. However, I would counter by looking at tabloids like the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer’s stories are so outlandish that they are taken with a grain of salt. TMZ’s stories often are very close to factual. That’s their problem. They are too close to being factual without being factual.

TMZ hears a report and works to be first, not right.

They do not care who they offend, who they hurt or who they ruin. As long as they are getting clicks and views, they are good to go in their mind.

As editors, we should ask ourselves: “Is the story factual?” It is not that hard of a question to answer, but it is the most important one. Without it, journalistic integrity disappears quickly, trust vanishes and credibility is thrown out the window.

In a time where people’s trust in the media is at an all-time low, journalistic integrity is needed now more than ever. Websites like TMZ do not help this cause. News websites like ABC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News write their stories on a factual basis and will often have sources to support their claims. Even if they are wrong, they at least had multiple sources and reliable basis.

As editors, our role should be almost as a defense against gotcha journalism and tabloid sites like TMZ. Our goal should not be to be the first to publish a story. Rather, our goal as editors should be to cut corners, not to defy basic morality, not even to be the first news source to publish a story. Rather, our goal as editors should be to make sure our reports are fair, accurate and respectful.