Student guest post: It’s time for euphemisms to kick the bucket

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 17th of those posts. Molly Sprecher is a junior double-majoring in reporting and English and Comparative Literature. She works as a digital intern for the General Alumni Association and as the publicity editor and assistant photo editor for the Yackety Yack yearbook. She also freelances as an event and landscape photographer.

If there’s one thing I know as an English and Comparative Literature major, it’s how to draw out the word count with beautiful, fluffy, meaningless chatter. You give me a phrase, and I’ll tell you one with three more adjectives and at least 25 more syllables.

But journalism values brevity and honesty, appealing to the shortening attention span of consumers overwhelmed with options. My professor for MEJO 358 (Opinion Writing), Angelia Herrin, gave me a reality check this semester when she told me I was such a clever writer that I seduced myself into not realizing I wasn’t writing about anything.

Journalists are often criticized for the practice of concisely, objectively reporting the news, and accused of not caring about the subjects they report on. Viewers see indifference and distance in journalists’ blunt style. In any other segment of public life, death is a four-letter word (please excuse the euphemism). But in the news, it is commonplace, and according to The Associated Press Stylebook, the only acceptable choice.

But journalists’ rejection of euphemisms and fluff phrases is a testament to their dedication to telling the public the truth. Such as, Howard Schultz is a billionaire, not a “person of means,” and “alternative facts” are just lies. Editors delete phrases that have little concrete meaning, like “passed away,” “powder your nose,” “vertically challenged” or “au natural,” not just because they are awkward, but also because they don’t serve to inform the public, which is a journalist’s primary responsibility. Changing the wording doesn’t change the facts, but can skew public perception.

The AP Stylebook recently announced that the phrases “racially charged” or “racially motivated” should be replaced with “racist.” Herein lies another instance of giving up what is comfortable in favor of what is. Downplaying the significance of what journalists’ report on would be a disservice to those reported to.

To say that someone died, was racist or is homeless is to recognize the shared humanity of the audience. The people in the news are human beings, not abstractions to decorate with pretty phrases.

This distinction is more important than ever as society takes on the challenge of practicing inclusive language in a diversifying community. Editors must be aware not only of what the stylebook says, but also of the preferences of the public. Tip-toeing around these sensitive phrases only serves to alienate or condescend to the community involved.

While increasing budget cuts and online options call for cutting word count, it is still important for journalists and editors to remain cognizant of any attempt to create a language buffer between ideas and the audience. Avoiding the issue won’t make it stop existing, it will just make the line of communication between journalists and the public that much more convoluted.

In journalism, both the public and the individual matter. No, we cannot report on every single person. But we can show that we see their humanity in word choice. Your grandmother died; she didn’t pass away. Her employee was fired, not let go or between jobs. He is a member of the LGBTQ community, not batting for the other team. They are victims, not collateral damage.

Hard facts and objective reporting, instead of eliminating emotion, can be humanizing and help end the “other” perception of marginalized groups. The AP Stylebook’s transition to “racist” as an accepted phrase is a step in the right direction.

As journalists, we have promised to pursue and report only the truth. We have not promised flowery language, only that we will not shy away from difficult issues, and that we will respect what we have the responsibility to report. Disregarding meaningless phrases only sacrifices denigrating important issues, not our journalistic integrity nor our human sympathy.

Student guest post: Style changes debut at ACES conference

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 15th of those posts. Johnny Sobczak is a UNC-Chapel Hill junior from Fayetteville, North Carolina. He is majoring in journalism, with a concentration in reporting, and minoring in global cinema. He writes for the Durham VOICE. He is most strongly interested in the film industry and writes about film on his personal blog. He hopes to pursue a career in film journalism after college.

Anyone involved in the journalism industry knows AP style like the back of his or her hand. From reporters to editors, it’s the standardized style and usage maintained by American journalists that work in connection with The Associated Press. Every year since 1997, ACES: The Society for Editing has held a conference to improve their editing skills, learn about style and usage trends, and meet fellow editors from across the country. One of the conference’s most interesting and discussed events is the AP’s reveal of the changes to the stylebook.

The most significant change this year was the addition of a new section that will attempt to improve race-related coverage by pulling together similar, scattered entries, updating AP guidance, and attaching more importance to the topic, according to Paula Froke, lead editor of the AP Stylebook. My colleague writes about those race-related style changes here, so I want to discuss a couple of the other notable changes made for 2019. As a student reporter and editor, my colleagues and professors are constantly debating the merit of AP Stylebook choices. It’s important to not only know the style, but the reasoning behind the choices, and I think most of the AP’s changes are for the better.

One of the AP style choices that has always baffled me was the decision to forego the % sign. To me, journalistic writing is about conciseness and communicating information as effectively as possible, so spelling out “percent” in every instance seemed antithetical. To remember it, I began forcing myself to type out “percent” in every context, whether it was a text to my mom or a Twitter message to a friend. Thankfully, the AP has come around and is now allowing the use of the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases. In casual uses, the word will still be preferred, such as in “he has zero percent chance of winning.”

The hyphen is another point of contention that has been cleared up this year. As most of my fellow students know, the use of the hyphen with modifiers can be tricky business. The previous rule made phrases like “third-grade teacher” and “first-quarter touchdown” standard. Now, the AP is suggesting that no hyphen is necessary if the modifiers are commonly recognized as one phrase, such as “chocolate chip cookie” or “early morning transaction.”

I feel like this is another example of a good, common sense move to improve clarity. Of course, this still means using the hyphen when it’ll help make things easier to understand for the reader. Recently, I was editing a piece and was about to leave out a hyphen for “small business owner.” My editing professor reminded me that we wouldn’t want any readers thinking the business owner was small in stature, so I opted to leave it in. The elimination of superfluous hyphens is also being extended to combinations with double-e construction, such as “reelect” and “preexisting.”

As I have grown increasingly familiar with AP style, I think it’s fair to say I’ve at times also grown increasingly frustrated. Some of the style choices might seem arbitrary or confusing, but the ultimate goal of the AP is to recognize which are most troublesome and improve as much as possible each year. These new style changes are just two of many that will make my work, and the work of journalists across the country, a little bit easier.

Student guest post: AP addresses nuances of race, identity

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 14th of those posts. Mitra Norowzi is junior majoring in Journalism and English. She freelances at InHerSight and works as an editorial assistant at academic journal Southern Cultures.

When it comes to editing for AP style, I like to take the “Pirates of the Caribbean approach” – as the character Hector Barbossa says, “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

This has been especially true for me when making editing decisions relating to identity. When I served as an editorial intern at InHerSight during the summer of 2018, I was tasked with cobbling together a style guide for our content since the editorial side of the site was relatively new. Because InHerSight tackles workplace inequality through an intersectional feminist lens, it was extremely important that our style guide reflected that. I used The Associated Press Stylebook as a starting point, but I had to make my own calls on some terms including:

Use LGBT+ instead of LGBT or LGBTQ. This was a difficult call, but after reading a lot of discourse on the subject, I decided that LGBT wasn’t as exclusive as I would have liked, but while some often add a “Q” for “queer” at the end as an umbrella term for everyone else, I saw that many members of the community were not comfortable with this term. Historically, “queer” has been used as a slur against the gay and transgender communities, and it’s true that many individuals are choosing to reclaim the term, but I didn’t think it was my place to cast it onto everyone when it still invokes pain and violence for some people.

Don’t use “people of color” if you mean Black Americans or African Americans. Many issues do not have the same contexts or consequences for people of different minority groups, so avoid using umbrella terms if you’re really only talking about one specific group. Additionally, don’t be afraid to use “Black Americans.” After all, “African Americans” implies that the group of people is of African descent, but some Black people might not have recent or significant ties to Africa.

Use Latinx instead of Latino and Latina. Beyond unnecessarily gendering a group, Latino/a only takes into account binary genders, excluding those who identify outside the gender binary.

I had to declare these rules for the site because in this arena, I didn’t feel the 2018 AP Stylebook’s entries on identity were nuanced enough. So, I was really excited to see that the updates for the 2019 edition offered much more thoughtful options. This is what the revised entry for “race-related coverage” now says:

Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.

I really think this entry nails it. AP does list some more specific changes to make, but I appreciate that overall. It encourages writers and editors to evaluate their race-related language on a case by case basis. I think having a rigid, unyielding approach to something as dynamic as race is a recipe for disaster, so I like that AP is moving away from that. Here’s a quick summary of the more specific updates when it comes to race.

Race: Think about whether including a racial descriptor is necessary. Often it’s not, but there are some cases, like when police are searching for a suspect, where a physical description is appropriate. However, once a suspect has been apprehended, including their race is no longer appropriate.

Racist or racism: Casting someone or something is a pretty serious statement, but basically the AP says, if the shoe fits. If you can identify specific racist doctrines, you need to label them as such. No waffling around with euphemisms like “racially charged” if the subject is clearly, objectively racist.

Black(s), white(s): While the terms “blacks” or “whites” are acceptable as plural nouns or adjectives, do not use them as singular nouns.

Dual heritage: No hyphen.

African American: No hyphen. Not necessarily interchangeable for all black people. For example, some black people prefer “Caribbean American.”

Asian American: No hyphen. It’s an acceptable term, but be more specific by identifying someone by their country of origin if possible — for example, saying Chinese American rather than Asian American.

Caucasian: Avoid using this term unless it’s in a quote.

People of color, minority: Generally acceptable to use to describe people that are not white in the United States. Avoid using the acronym POC or calling someone a minority unless it’s said in a quote.

Transracial: Just don’t use this term.

Latino/Latina: Although some prefer the new term “Latinx,” only use this term in direct quotes or in the names of people or organizations who request it, and provide a brief explanation of what it means. For groups of women, use “Latinas,” and for mixed groups use “Latinos.”

Hispanic: Follow a person’s preference. Be more specific by identifying someone by their country of origin if possible.

American Indians, Native Americans: Both are OK in reference to two or more members of different tribes in the United States. For individuals, identify them as members of specific tribes.

Reverse discrimination: Just use “discrimination” instead.

Generally, I think these changes are a marked improvement, and many mirror the changes that some editors have already made. Although I disagree with AP’s decision to limit use of “Latinx,” I approve of the updates and the nuanced approach to race that AP is recommending.

Student guest post: Making informed decisions on style in the #MeToo era

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Karyn Hladik-Brown is a UNC-Chapel Hill junior from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a copy editor at The Daily Tar Heel. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in library science, with a specialization in school librarianship.

I’ve been working at The Daily Tar Heel since the first semester of my first year at UNC-Chapel Hill. And I’ve been on a variety of desks — I started when arts and entertainment was called Swerve. Then I was the arts and entertainment editor. Now, I’m a staffer on “Onlopy,” a merger between online and copy desks.

My usual shifts are spent copy editing, fact checking and writing headlines, abstracts and social media posts. Sometimes I get to perform other tasks, like creating a graphic explaining how Student Body President elections work or documenting every time we published a story on Silent Sam.

But the task that I find the most interesting is working on the style guide.

The general style rule at the DTH is that DTH style overrules Associated Press, and then AP overrules everything else. And like the AP Stylebook, DTH style goes through changes. Our copy chief and assistants began going through and editing the guide at the beginning of the school year, and they’re still making changes.

A lot of the changes have to do with student organizations that may no longer exist or now-defunct committees.

But with the rise of the #MeToo era, as a paper, it’s important we have a set of style guidelines for when it comes to reporting on sexual violence. It became my job to begin conducting research to make decisions on the language the paper will use to write about this topic.

I began my research by looking up legal definitions. A lot of terms used to describe acts of sexual violence overlap, like how rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape (according to definitions from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). I also consulted various style guides (like AP and BuzzFeed), but I also consulted sexual violence prevention groups.

This is when things began to get tricky.

When reporting on this subject, specificity is important. By using the wrong words, you could be diminishing the severity of what happened. This is why the AP Stylebook prefers “sexual misconduct” to “sexual harassment.” While the phrase “sexual harassment” can be used as an umbrella term for many different kinds of unwelcome sexual advances, it may not get across the severity of the crimes committed.

But it’s also important to note that while “sexual harassment” has a legal definition, in most states, “sexual misconduct” doesn’t. So is it truly accurate to describe something as misconduct if criminal charges are involved?

And when it comes to referring to parties involved, various stylebooks and advocacy groups are split.

The AP Stylebook recommends using the word “alleged” when writing about an unproved action and “accuser,” as opposed to “alleged victim.” According to AP, a phrase like “alleged victim” could be interpreted as skepticism on the victim’s account.

BuzzFeed has a differing opinion. Its stylebook recommends avoiding “accuser” — it implies blaming the victim. Instead, they recommend using “alleged victim.”

Advocacy groups say that the word “victim” should be avoided in general, and instead the word “survivor” should be used. But the AP Stylebook tends to shy away from that word, especially if someone wasn’t in danger of death.

I never finished writing my stylebook entry, but I learned an important lesson — when making decisions on style, consult as many sources as you can. There isn’t a set way to do anything, but the more informed you can be for when you make your final decision, the better.

Q&A with Dow Jones News Fund intern Trevor Lenzmeier

trevor-lenzmeier

Trevor Lenzmeier is a Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A 2018 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he wrote for The Daily Tar Heel, QSR magazine and Media Hub while in college. In this interview, conducted by email, Lenzmeier discusses his internship experience, his journalism education and what’s ahead.

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

A. I interned with one other Dow Jones intern on the universal desk at the Post-Gazette.

My typical day includes reviewing stories on the web that have already been published when I get in, editing print pages in the evening, plus page design and putting together briefs — little recaps of the four or five biggest stories from around the country and world for the next day’s paper.

I write headlines for the U-desk, but I have also worked on a reporter’s podcast and been allowed to write some concert reviews and foodie pieces, which has been awesome.

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

A. The hours are long, and everything happens in a flurry. You have to be able to go from 0 to 60 in an instant while handling a few different pots on the stove.

There are also daily challenges you have to roll with, like everyday technical errors and last-minute breaking stories, while keeping a cool head and communicating with a big team of journalists.

You get a daily, physical reward, though, in the form of a newspaper in the morning. Noticing corrections I’ve made in our copy is intensely gratifying.

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

A. Take the practice tests online, review the AP Stylebook, taking note of what trips you up, and read the news! Reading news stories from The Daily Tar Heel to The New York Times leads to better news judgment and more familiarity with unfamiliar style conventions.

Write for the DTH and take Professor Bechtel’s class (he didn’t ask me to say this). UNC had me very prepared for the Dow Jones editing bootcamp at Temple University. Get work experience early; the Daily Tar Heel is an excellent place to start.

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

A. I’m thrilled to be staying in Pittsburgh. I’ve accepted an offer to be a two-year associate editor on the sports desk.

My internship wraps up at the end of August, and I’ll start my real-world gig in the middle of September. More of the same and a whole lot more editing to come.

I’m incredibly grateful to my j-school professors, the Daily Tar Heel and Dow Jones for the opportunity!

Student guest post: Lessons from both sides of the editor’s desk

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 13th (and last) of those posts. Mimi Tomei is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a concentration  in reporting. She is a contributor for CollegeTown and works with the Yackety Yack, the UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook, as 2018 assistant photography editor and 2019 co-associate editor-in-chief.

This semester, I’ve had the unusual but rewarding privilege of simultaneously occupying both sides of the editor-writer relationship in my work in both John Robinson’s feature writing class and Andy Bechtel’s Advanced Editing course. In Advanced Editing, we edit some of the stories feature writing creates as classwork.

When I was finalizing my schedule at the beginning of the semester, I sent an email to both Professor Robinson and Professor Bechtel explaining that I had enrolled in both their courses explaining my situation. I thought it would be weird editing the work of my classmates.

But as the semester draws to a close, I’ve come to realize that my knowledge of the process of reporting and writing a feature helps me in my editing process immensely. It has its logistical advantages, because I have the opportunity to communicate with the writers I edit in person twice a week in class. In Professor Robinson’s course, I learn what makes a good feature story, which helps me look for these elements in the pieces I edit.

On the flip side, learning to edit has made me a better writer, too. Before I submit my feature stories to Professor Robinson, I devote time to running through my stories, checking AP style and catching as many small errors as I can. I want to let my editor focus on bigger picture things. Roy Peter Clark’s “55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” formed part of our lectures in feature writing. Tools like #37, “In short works, don’t waste a syllable,” can be just as applicable to editing as they are to writing.

Sometimes our roles as editors and writers aren’t as clear-cut as in these two courses. When we as editors curate content on a Wakelet page, create a photo slideshow or even produce layouts for the Durham VOICE, we consider things like story structure and paragraph and sentence length that are crucial to putting together an effective feature.

And the value of this experience isn’t just limited to news professionals. As part of our midterm in Advanced Editing, we read Carol Saller’s “The Subversive Copy Editor.” On her website, the first line of her biography is “As both a creative writer and long-time editor on the staff of The Chicago Manual of Style, I’ve seen it all from both sides of the publishing desk” – note the italics this Chicago style aficionado uses. Saller is an editor for the Chicago Manual of Style, a style more familiar to book authors than news writers.

Of course, there are things as editors that we won’t ever be able to learn from writers. The writers who create the Durham VOICE have a deeper understanding of the community they cover, Northeast Central Durham, than I’ll ever have sitting in a classroom in Chapel Hill. And with features, as with pretty much anything else I or my classmates will edit, we won’t have been there for interviews. This means we don’t have the memory of the interview to help guide us as we help punctuate quotes, for example.

Learning to understand what the other cogs in the metaphorical wheel of news media do is especially important as the media industry continues to require us journalists to have increasingly multifaceted skill sets. Perhaps as we do this, we can learn to harness this expectation and allow these skills to complement, not confront, each other.

Student guest post: Three lessons from my publishing internship

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Jackson Smith is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior with a double major of editing and graphic design and history. He is an avid player of golf and tennis, and he enjoys hobbies in carpentry, woodworking and gardening. He has interned in news design and publishing, and he is training in SEC compliance standards in preparation for graduation.

In the spring of 2018, I started an entry-level unpaid internship as an assistant copy editor at a small publishing company. Through this internship I was able to gain many valuable experiences in editing that I have condensed here into three basic principles.

1. Don’t be set on that college stylebook

As a student in the School of Media and Journalism, I have learned a great deal about the editing processes of journalism, but the field of copy editing is vast and ever-changing. The positions are becoming less rigid in their structure, and the fields that editors work in are much more than just the newsroom today.

In publishing, as with many fields, the AP Stylebook is not always king. While at school we worked almost exclusively in AP style, at my internship I was quickly introduced to the wide range of style choices in academic media, most notably the Chicago Manual of Style.

The differences between these two stylebooks are stark. In the office, Chicago style relied heavily on the Oxford comma, and after years of being almost totally averse to using any non-necessary commas, to change in my thought process was difficult. My advice to the burgeoning editor is to be flexible on your principles of punctuation and rigid in your discipline, and the difficult change of style books can be greatly diminished.

2. You have to be a team player.

In the world of publishing, in the office or anywhere else as an editor, you will be faced with a variety of challenges when it comes to your coworkers. The process of copy editing is a long one, especially in the publishing field.

Starting at the initial look-over, the documents from the client can go through up to three edits, then composition, then proofing and indexing, then a final round of editing among various people to eliminate any mistakes, and improve the flow of the story. Among your colleagues in the office, many people can touch the proofs before and after they are formatted and converted either into an ebook or a PDF for final printing. This process is arduous, and takes many hours of reading and editing. Working with your fellow editors to know their strengths and weaknesses and being able to spot these in read-behinds is vital to all editors.

3. It is all in the details.

Editing is one of the most detail-oriented jobs in the media world. It is good to imagine yourself as an artisan of grammar.

In my experiences with copy editing at my internship, I realized that a book can have thousands of mistakes, large and small, that have to be corrected and reordered before the project is ready for publication. A young editor should be prepared to learn a great deal in a short time, and to put that knowledge to practice in the job.

Being diligent in your initial readings, light edits and read-behinds is vital, even if you have read the same five chapters of a book five times. Even when it is boring, or your eyes hurt, it should be your prerogative to look at every page like you have never read it before and are starting fresh. You cannot transpose that pesky quotation mark before punctuation mistake after printing.

Conclusion

Copy editing is a detail- and team-oriented job, with processes that require many stages of alterations. When you first start that internship or job, the best advice I can give you is to focus and not let the overwhelming materials get the best of you, and you will become a grammar artisan in no time.