Q&A with Leo Suarez of The Raleigh Connoisseur

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Leo Suarez)

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh during Capital City Bikefest in September 2014. (Photo by Leo Suarez)

Leo Suarez is a blogger and a server engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He runs The Raleigh Connoisseur, a blog that focuses on the city’s downtown. In this interview, conducted by email, Suarez discusses the blog’s origins and purpose as well as his thoughts about downtown Raleigh.

Q. What is The Raleigh Connoisseur, and what inspired you to start it?

A. The Raleigh Connoisseur is a blog that focuses on new developments and the planning of downtown Raleigh. There are two perspectives that I take with it. The first consists of things that I see from walking the sidewalks while the second has a more civic angle that follows City Council and committee meetings. The two perspectives usually complement each other through the writing and photos that I post.

After being pulled into the online conversations and news articles about downtown’s Fayetteville Street makeover in 2006, I couldn’t get enough of it. There wasn’t enough content online to feed my hunger for urban development chatter in Raleigh.

I found myself talking about it so much in front of friends and family that they saw me as a downtown know-it-all. At the time, I was looking for a platform to post photos about downtown, and a blog seemed natural. The writing slowly grew around the photos and almost nine years later, I’m still posting.

Q. There’s a lot going on in downtown Raleigh. How do you decide what to write about?

A. lot of it revolves around any changes I see taking place while just being in downtown. If a sign for something new goes up, I’ll check it out. If something is removed, I’m curious to know why. When something is out of place or can be done better, I’d like to know how it can be improved. Walking the sidewalks does inspire topics that you can’t get while being at home or in an office.

If anything does stick with me for a few days, that usually means it’s something I want to put into writing. In some cases, a single photo can tell the whole story without that many words, so the camera is an important asset too.

Q. Where do blogs like yours fit into the media landscape in Raleigh? How do you complement and contrast with larger news organizations like WRAL and The News & Observer?

A. I want the blog to be more about conversations rather than news. Conversations involve more than just what is happening but why it’s happening. This can also be mixed in with a little history and data. Trends and the analysis of them are what I think is missing in the Raleigh media landscape.

I think that larger news organizations are experts on answering, “What is going on?” but haven’t mastered answering, “Why is it happening?” Data, history and personal experiences are what I’m trying to bring into the blog in order to allow readers to step back from an issue and really understand it.

Q. You’re a fan of downtown Raleigh. What are some of its key accomplishments and issues, and where do you see the city going from here?

A. Downtown revitalization projects are happening all across the country, and the city has done a good job of ensuring that our downtown is ready to meet today’s demand of businesses and residents who want to be there. I’m happy that the city recognizes downtown as a key ingredient to the overall city’s success and takes time to plan appropriately.

I do think the city is heading in the right direction, but I’m worried that we’re following the standard “downtown revitalization playbook” that all other cities are reading. I haven’t seen strong leadership come from the city council on how to make urban Raleigh unique.

When we face a new issue, like parking or noise, we always look to other cities for the answer rather than create a solution that fits Raleigh. I’m not saying we discount what other cities do but soon, as Raleigh keeps growing, new leaders need to take us to the next level where we think more independently.

Follow Leo Saurez on Twitter and learn more about him on his personal website.

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Q&A with Ben Swanson, associate editor at DenverBroncos.com

Ben Swanson is associate editor at DenverBroncos.com, the official site of that NFL team. A 2013 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, he previously covered the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team. In this interview, conducted by email, Swanson talks about his work with the Broncos, how he got into sports journalism and how the two teams will fare in their respective seasons.

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

A. Right now the typical work week has a bit of a rhythm to it. Game days are the baseline, our center of the week. Stories lead up to them, and after they finish, we recap and break down the action and look forward to what’s next.

We have recurring features to keep our readers coming back from week to week, including film analysis, a rundown of how our divisional opponents fared that week, a podcast and plenty more. It’s a hectic schedule this time of year, as you might imagine.

Taking care of all the bases and media availability can stretch you thin some days, like Wednesday when Wes Welker made his return to practice and spoke at the podium while Seahawks PR had Richard Sherman available via conference call in the media workroom. Naturally, it also requires extremely good communication between departments since we’re also responsible not only for just stories, but also updating website information for other departments.

As creators of our written content, we also have the responsibility for what goes in our Gameday Magazine publication, which is handed out to fans at the stadium at home games. Our terrific graphics, marketing, community relations and public relations departments come together to contribute what goes in (statistics, coaches bios, community stories, magazine layout and design) and our digital media department adds in editorial content: the cover story and Q&As with a player and a coach. We also proofread and edit the magazine before it goes to print.

This all goes on during the season, by the way. Mismanaging your time can really put you in a tough spot, but sometimes you can do everything perfectly and still find yourself in a crunch to put things together.

All that said, a lot of things don’t necessarily work out in that rhythm. We spend bus rides from the stadium after an away game to a waiting red-eye flight transcribing post-game interviews and sharing them amongst ourselves via email, flash drive or Dropbox, and then we write our stories on the flight.

Also, we too can get caught off-guard by breaking news. You’ve got to be ready for anything sometimes.

It’s a very trying work schedule, but an extremely fun and rewarding one.

Q. You established yourself in sports journalism with a blog about the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) of the NBA. How did that experience help you get your job with the Broncos?

A. Covering the Bobcats, though small-time, allowed me to cut my teeth and find my voice and stand out in a smaller market. I started covering the team while I was a sophomore at UNC, which meant I was learning about covering the team, writing in a consistent style and carving a groove as a unique writer covering the Bobcats, who had an extremely small media spotlight already.

Before I was the managing editor of the SB Nation blog, I had written for the Bobcats’ team blog after being named one of their winners in a contest, and months later after I had landed the SBN editor spot, I was the Bobcats’ digital media intern, which gave me plenty of experience and insight into the workings of the franchise from the team side.

The other major component is that running the blog gave me important experience in a number of ways. I began hiring writers to contribute to the site a few years ago, which got me more comfortable with addressing writers’ stylistic or grammatical issues head on. Communication is so key when talking through concerns about writing or in regards to things that cross departments.

In regards to time management, managing the blog was a crash course. I mentioned earlier that I started running the site when I was a sophomore, and it wasn’t an easy transition because I was by myself at that point. When you cover NBA basketball from the East Coast and the team makes a West Coast road trip where they spend a couple of nights with 10:30 p.m. tipoff times, sleep becomes what you sacrifice. I would spend mornings in class and nights watching basketball, leaving myself to unintentionally fall asleep during classes.

As time went by, I realized I needed more help and reached out to a couple of fellow young writers. In the couple of years since, I learned to set a schedule on a weekly basis, assigning stories, game previews and recaps to our writers. Still, even with better preparation, I had to take some things on the fly, writing breaking news stories during some classes or getting game previews our writers might have forgotten written and pushed out in the morning of my 9 a.m. media theory class.

With over three years of experience cultivating my writing and voice as one of the most prominent covering the Bobcats, I’d learned a solid all-around skill set. I knew social media; I could write straight news, a feature story or a column with knowledge of multiple perspectives; and I knew how to communicate up or down the ladder and how to manage my time.

Q. Sports franchises and leagues are no longer reliant on outside media for coverage. They can cover themselves. Do you see a difference between writing and editing for the Broncos official site vs. doing that at the Denver Post?

A. The distinction is harder to make these days, and we’re no exception.

We’re present at the same locker room availability sessions, press conferences and everything. We have a columnist in Andrew Mason who can write independent editorials and we have people who write straight features like profiles or normal stories.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not all rose-colored glasses, though we do focus on who plays well for the most part. The Post, of course, is on a different level as an independent outlet compared to us, but we’re not all that different.

Q. Which team will go further this season: the Broncos or the Hornets?

A. Honestly, I’d say the Broncos. I’m extremely excited to see how the Hornets’ offseason moves come to fruition, but the Broncos went to the Super Bowl last year and the Hornets (Bobcats) got bounced in a first-round sweep.

With Denver already proving they can get to the deepest parts of the postseason and the Hornets still relatively unproven, I’ve got to go with the Broncos. But I’d be absolutely tickled pink if the Hornets somehow got to the Finals. I’d be there with bells on.

Q&A with Jordan Rogers of Raleigh & Company

Jordan Rogers is co-creator and an editor of Raleigh & Company, a collaborative website that consists of the work of nearly 20 writers. In this interview, conducted by email, Rogers discusses the site’s mission and its position in the Triangle’s media landscape.

Q. What is the objective of Raleigh & Company? What do you hope to achieve?

A. There were a lot of us sportswriters or freelance writers in the Triangle area who were already running our own blogs or writing creatively on our own. At some point a few of us figured, why not do this together and get the spillover from each other’s readerships?

We want to tell great stories, talk about important topics and give creative and smart people a platform to reach those in the area who would like to hear from them.

Q. How are writers selected for the site? Are their posts edited by you or other editors?

A. It has started with a loose group of writers, and we’ll do a mixture of invitations and accepting requests. Anyone who wants to potentially contribute should absolutely contact us. Most of the currents are either a professional writer, in an interesting professional field, or simply were such good writers we couldn’t say no.

I’ve done a little over half of the editing so far. That’s usually a good idea early in the development of any site to keep things similar stylistically, but we’ll spread out more duties as we go along.

Q. You’re on Twitter. How does Raleigh & Company plan to use social media?

A. As our main source of traffic. We simply hope to give people great stuff to read. If they like it, they’ll share it. I don’t know what else to say.

Q. The Triangle region of North Carolina is a crowded media market online, with not only traditional media like The News & Observer and WRAL, but also blogs like the Raleigh Connoisseur. How does Raleigh & Company fit into that market, and how can it thrive here?

A. You’re right, there are fantastic media options in and around the Triangle. It’s almost overwhelming.

WRAL is a national leader in local news, and it’s hard to get away from their footprint. (And there’s a reason for that — they’re insanely good.) INDYWeek has been so successful in this area in a time when other print weeklies have failed nationally because the Triangle demands an alternative and smart source of great writing and they’ve delivered for decades. And although in Greensboro, Our State magazine has been making a strong online push on social media with some great content. WCHL is a staple in Orange County, the N&O does fantastic work, and I should just stop there because I would leave someone out and the band orchestra is starting to play.

But that is what a smart and educated populace is all about: options; different points of view and topics. We might do a long form look at recreational adult leagues in the Triangle, discuss whether a terrible comic book has value, or do some reporting on the homeless that no one else is willing to talk about.

We might send a sportswriter to cover a cooking contest (and he did a fantastic job, didn’t he?) or we might send a culinary writer to cover the dining options at a basketball game at PNC. The Internet allows us to do a lot of different things and we plan on taking full advantage of that.

But to your point, we’re interested in making interesting things, and if people like it, they’ll respond. I couldn’t be less worried about “competing” and I only hope RaleighCo can be a part of the great media in the area.

Where to find copyright-free photos

The photo service Getty Images made big news this week when it said that it would unleash millions of images free of charge.

It put some qualifiers on that, saying that the use had to be for noncommercial purposes and that bloggers and journalists need to embed the photos in a way to give Getty credit. You can see examples of how this looks in this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Getty isn’t the only place to find free images. I’ve used Creative Commons on occasion, and this semester, the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill posted a page of handy links to sites offering free stock photos, archive images and logos. Thanks to librarian Stephanie Willen Brown for putting that in one place.

Stock images can bring visual flair to a story in print and online. They can also be abused. Not every story or post needs an image, but many do. My advice: choose wisely and give credit where it’s due.

Charles Apple goes solo

Since 2010, my friend and former colleague Charles Apple has written a popular blog on the website of the American Copy Editors Society. Now Charles is leaving ACES and taking his insights to a new site under his own name.

Charles explains his reasoning in full in this introductory post, but basically, it sounds like he is ready to be a solo artist. He will still touch on familiar themes about editing and design. I am certain that Charles will continue to be a must-read on those topics and on journalism generally.

Thank you, Charles, for your work with ACES. Best wishes on your new venture.

Student guest post: Editing, writing go hand in hand

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the last of those posts. Ben Swanson is the managing editor of RufusOnFire.com, covering the Charlotte Bobcats for the past two years. You can find him on Twitter at @CardboardGerald.

People often ask me how to make it in sports writing.

First, the main thing is to write your [expletive] off. But the other thing that’s emerged in importance is being able to edit.

Eyes moving from paper to screen for news and sports coverage have lessened the barrier between traditional media and new media. As a result, we’re seeing increased access being granted to bloggers as credentialed members of the media.

Even with growing respect for new media such as blogs, it’s not enough to just write a lot. Not only should writers be able to write well, but they should be able to edit, too. Creating consistently well-written works is crucial to keeping readers returning to your site and keeping their respect for your writing.

When I talk about consistency, I mostly mean style. I adhere to AP style, but regardless of preference, find a style (or create one) and stick to it. It’s also important to remember that style can bend. You’re writing to connect with people.

Above all, write so that readers of varying levels of knowledge can understand what you say. This also includes fact-checking, checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. You should have an inner editor following behind your fingers as you write.

Content placement is also key. With some websites, posts are automatically organized reverse-chronologically. But if you can change that, think critically about which stories will attract the most eyes from the home page.

Blogging is not the dirty word it once was. Starting a website is easy, but to break through and rise into the world of sports writing, an enterprising person needs to not only be able to write but also edit.

A good writer and editor that can write attractive headlines, engaging posts and draw readership can rise through the ranks and enter into the sports writing world with hard work. Being able to do it all in running an independent blog has never been so important in an industry where the level of access required is increasingly being leveled.

Thank you for a record-breaking month

This blog saw its heaviest traffic ever in September, with 6,445 visits. The previous high was in April 2012, with 5,425 visits. In September 2011, the blog had 4,449 visits.

September has been a busy month for several years as people find this post on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This year, Clint Eastwood and Abe Simpson were very popular as well.

On occasion, I see articles like this one that say that blogging is moribund. This blog isn’t, and I thank you, the reader, for that. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.