Q&A with Sam Oches of Food News Media

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Sam Oches is editorial director at Food News Media, a B2B communications company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Oches discusses how the company covers the restaurant industry and what he looks for in candidates for jobs and internships.

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

A. My job is very much spinning a lot of plates.

I oversee editorial direction and strategy for both QSR and FSR magazines, which are trade publications for the national restaurant industry. That includes overseeing the production of monthly print issues for both magazines along with our ever-expanding digital presence, managing our five-person editorial team and maintaining a pool of a couple of dozen freelance writers.

But increasingly the job is oriented toward innovation and new products, as well as being an ambassador for the publications. So I’ve rolled out a new podcast for QSR called “Fast Forward” (which I also edit, produce, etc.) and launched a networking-event series for restaurant owners called Fast Casual Meet Ups, of which we’re doing 10 this year and 12 next year. Then I’ll also moderate panels, give speeches and talk with consumer media whenever appropriate.

My typical day depends on the timing of the month and deadlines we have on the horizon. Usually I’ll have a week where I’m mostly assigning stories and working with writers, then a week where I’m copy editing first drafts, then a week where I’m proofing the books and maybe a week where I’m doing more content creation, including writing and podcast editing.

In and among all of that I’m conversing with restaurant owners, executives and experts; researching trends and new restaurant concepts; and developing a plan and RSVP list for our next event. Then, of course, every day includes lots and lots of emailing.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Food News Media’s magazines?

A. Every piece of print content usually has three or four sets of eyeballs on it before it gets published. Each editor here has sections they manage, and they give each story a first pass in editing. Then another editor will give it a second pass before it gets laid out by design.

After the design team has laid out the entire issue, two editors proof each book, and we also have a freelance proofer who gives it a careful read. Then we have a 24-hour window right before publishing when each editor gives the book one final pass. Suffice to say, we rarely have typos or mistakes.

As for headlines, print headlines are usually established in the first or second pass at editing. We ask that the writer suggest a couple of possible heds.

Our digital process, of course, is a little different. Due to time demands, stories get much less editing attention, and so we have to trust our digital writers to create content that is as clean and quality as possible. I’ll often give our premier digital content a read just after it’s been published, to try to catch any mistakes that might have made it through.

Digital headlines are always crafted with audience engagement in mind — and yes, that means we’ve had to explore the more acceptable components of clickbait when possible. Our digital team is very good at walking right up to the line of clickbait without crossing it. Also, all of our print content gets new headlines when published online, because again, we have to consider audience engagement.

Q. You are a graduate of the journalism program at Ohio University. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you picked up?

A. I graduated from OU a decade ago, but it might as well have been a generation ago based on how much journalism and storytelling have evolved since then. We were just kicking the tires of social media when I graduated!

I learned all of the basics in school, of course, and copy editing and storytelling techniques were particularly important. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be good at copy editing. The world is filled with sloppy writers!

But the biggest thing I took away from my time at OU was learning about business-to-business journalism. During my junior year, my adviser pointed me toward a class she taught on B2B; I assumed it would be all about economics reporting and numbers, but it was far from it. We learned how you could take a niche subject and break it down into the nuts and bolts, then explore those nuts and bolts using reporting and writing.

To that point, I was hellbent on being the next Lester Bangs, but the B2B class helped me understand that the path to journalistic success was much more varied and had much more opportunity than I’d thought. That class led to an internship at an architecture trade pub, and that internship helped me land the associate editor gig at QSR when I graduated in 2009 — a big deal since we were in the thick of a recession.

Q. What do you look for in applicants for jobs and internships? Any advice for students interested in B2B writing and editing?

A. Believe it or not, the most important differentiating factors among applicants are usually passion, drive and curiosity. Your resume may be short and your clips may not be super sexy. But if you come into an interview demonstrating that you’ve researched our publications and that you’re committed to continuous learning — and *cough* you ask some good questions *cough* — then I’ll probably want to find room for you on my team. We can probably teach you the rest of it.

My advice to anyone interested in the B2B field would be to go out and find some publications covering subjects you’re interested in or know a lot about — there is a trade for just about every single subject, even in the arts (Billboard and Variety, anybody?). Read those publications and get a feel for how they approach content. Develop some pitches and send them to the editors.

Even if they don’t assign you the story, it’s great to have a foot in the door. Most editors will even jump on the phone with you to describe their process and how to get included in their freelance pool.

Follow Sam Oches on Twitter and learn more about Food News Media at its website.

Q&A with Kaarin Vembar, editor at Retail Dive

Kaarin_Headshot Kaarin Vembar is an editor at Retail Dive in Washington, D.C. Vembar has also worked as a fashion consultant, and she is co-host of the podcast Pop Fashion. In this interview, conducted by email, Vembar discusses her job at Retail Dive, including how headline writing works at the site. 

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

A. My day starts by gorging on news. I read as much as possible first thing every morning (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, CNBC, CNN, WWD, Business of Fashion, Tech Crunch, Seeking Alpha, Bloomberg, etc.). I’m also reading the wires, checking news that is emailed to me, reading Twitter and checking in on what other business reporters are chatting about on social media.

Then I move into either writing or straight into editing. I edit for between three to four hours in the morning. In the afternoons, I help decide what stories we are pursuing for the next day, and then I work on editing longer features.

My favorite part is collaborating with reporters and freelancers on large stories ideas. We get together and brainstorm and work through a story’s angle, potential sources and how to build it out. I typically have a couple of longer feature articles that I’m writing as well. That means doing research, calling sources, reading for background, conducting interviews and writing.

Throughout the week, there is a smattering of meetings to work on editorial planning, larger projects and pitching ideas.

At the end of the day, I do a round of reading SEC documents. Then at home I continue to read, read, read business news that happened during the day outside of my industry. Then I go on a walk and usually think of a story idea.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Retail Dive?

A. We go through multiple rounds of edits for each story.

Headline writing is first done by the reporter, but then is refined through the editing process. Many times we workshop headlines with another editor or as a group.

I’m a big advocate for sending headlines into a pun round. That means throwing it out to the group and seeing who can come up with a headline that contains a pun or doing a version that makes everyone laugh. The pun version rarely makes it to final copy. However, it is a fantastic exercise that helps us think creatively and gives us room to play with words. The one-upmanship always gets us to a more interesting place.

After a story is published, I see how other news organizations have worked their headlines and assess ours. Could we have worded it better? Positioned the story in a different way? My objective is to continually sharpen the language, the angle.

Q. You’ve also worked as a merchandising manager and fashion consultant. What is it like covering a profession that you’ve worked in?

A. Oh my goodness, it’s so freaking fun. It’s. So. Fun.

I’ve worked in retail in some form on and off since I was 17, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

As a fashion consultant, I started seriously following industry news, and it slowly became an obsession. Retail news is better than anything you will watch on TV. You see companies rise and fall. You follow audacious c-suite personalities and their decision making.

The stakes are high because there is so much money on the line. We are living through a huge time of change with retail, so following the business of it is all drama all the time.

My time as a fashion consultant and in merchandising directly informs my reporting and continually feeds ideas for pitches. That work gave me a practical understanding of trade relations and tariffs. Of margins. Of supply chain. Of  dealing with consumer frustration.

It also gave me discipline. I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. to go merchandise a store and think, “Now why am I doing this?” The grind of being in stores every day gave me a sharp eye for the reality of retail. It was an amazing education.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in internships and jobs at Dive sites?

A. Oh, dear goodness — apply! Apply!

It never occurred to me when I was in school that business-to-business (B2B) was a type of journalism that I could pursue. But B2B is a blast because you get to go deep on a subject matter. You get to nerd out and are surrounded by people who are just as into it as you are.

Industry Dive has lots of publications including Marketing, BioPharma, Banking, Food, MedTech, Restaurants and Smart Cities. I’m a cheerleader for this company because I’m surrounded by smart, passionate co-workers and leadership that believes in the power of great journalism.

Follow Kaarin Vembar on Twitter and explore career opportunities at Industry Dive.

A fond farewell to a cherished colleague

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Professor Chris Roush, left, shows students how to use a Bloomberg terminal at the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Roush has won numerous teaching awards over the years.

I am fortunate to work with brilliant and dedicated colleagues at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. They inspire our students every day.

One of those colleagues, Chris Roush, is moving on to lead the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. He begins work there on July 22.

In an email announcement to Quinnipiac students, faculty and staff, Provost Mark Thompson wrote:

Chris’ clear sense of vision and mission for the School of Communications, coupled with his commitment to a collaborative and transparent leadership style, made him the ideal candidate to lead the school.

Since coming to Chapel Hill in 2002, Roush has built a spectacularly successful program in business journalism. His students have gone on to work at North Carolina news organizations such as The Charlotte Observer and Triad Business Journal, and at national ones such as Reuters, Bloomberg, Business Insider, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Roush has written two textbooks on business journalism, and he is the co-author of the SABEW stylebook. His website, Talking Biz News, is the go-to destination for news about business journalism.

Roush is an award-winning teacher. He and I have adjacent offices at Carroll Hall, and I have informally observed his interactions with students over the years. He has high expectations, pushing students to do their best. In doing so, he uses warmth and humor as he shares the skills and concepts of reporting and writing.

Congratulations and best wishes, Chris, in your new role. We will miss you in Chapel Hill. The students, faculty and staff at Quinnipiac are lucky to have you.

Student guest post: What I’ve learned writing for a business news wire

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 18th of those posts. Nick Thompson is a graduating senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in media and journalism. He has experience writing for The Daily Tar Heel, reporting and technical directing for Carolina Connection, and writing for the North Carolina Business News Wire.

Choosing to write for a business news wire service has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences that I have undertaken since coming to UNC.

Writing about the volatile and fast-paced world of businesses and the stock exchange taught me to go after stories outside of my comfort zone and how to be able to make sense out of the wordy and convoluted nature of government forms. If anything, writing business stories reassured my previous notion that writing about data and statistics is the closest thing to complex math that I’m willing to do in my professional career.

It may seem like the world of business journalism consists of nothing more than series of red and green numbers accompanied by the jagged features of company line graphs.

And while objectively speaking, this viewpoint holds true, what separates a good business journalist from the rest of the lot is the ability to delve deeper into public company filings and press releases, to find the stories based on the sensitive data companies begrudgingly have to provide, as per the rules laid out by Uncle Sam.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, a branch of the federal government, requires that all publicly traded companies compile forms to announce news that could sway investor decisions. For a business reporter, these forms are your greatest assets for gaining detailed information about a company and what they have been up to.

Some key things I would recommend you look for when going over these documents:

  • Financial figures: Always follow the money. Investors want to know the reason that money is changing hands. Other things to consider are the company’s marketing strategy, recent industry trends and the overall status of the market. Comparisons between company financial statistics should be made with the company’s standing this time the previous year, as business fluctuates on quarterly, and comparing quarterly can give off an inaccurate perception of the company’s earnings.
  • Executives: When writing an business piece, always include at least a line about the given company’s executives or top executive. Has their compensation gone up? Did they recent move positions? How many shares of company stock do they own?
  • Share prices: Every story about a publicly traded company should mention the price that the company’s shares closed at, and it should include a line stating also how the stock performed for that given day.

When looking for a company’s filings, Sqoop and BamSEC are going to be your best bet when it comes to curating information on a company. You can set up email alerts to always be up to date when a company on your news beat posts a filing.

When writing news business stories, it is important to understand your main audience. In the case of business-related stories, that means you’re writing to would-be investors or market analysts who have some level of interest of stake in the company that you are covering.

These readers are looking for quick insights to aid in their decision-making on whether to buy or sell that company’s stock. With such a fast-paced demand for information, these readers will have little interest in articles longer than a few hundred words. So keep your text clean and concise, with a focus on the data.

Writing these business stories taught me how to make the most of each word I use in my stories and how to let the facts speak for themselves. I recommend business journalism to anyone who likes to go deep with their investigations, unknowing as to what kind of fantastic stories lay hidden in plain sight, buried under heaps of corporate jargon.