Q&A with Michael Lananna, assistant editor at Baseball America

Michael Lananna is assistant editor at Baseball America magazine, with a focus on college baseball and the Major League Baseball draft. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job and his predictions for the 2015 season.

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

A. Baseball America is a five-day-a-week, 9-to-5 kind of job. It’s a biweekly publication, so some weeks I’m busy writing and editing stories and preparing pages for production. Other weeks, all of my energy goes toward reporting.

I’m one of two main college writers for the magazine and the website, so I need to constantly stay on the pulse of what’s happening in college baseball. With the season starting a couple of weeks ago, our college coverage is in full swing, meaning that we’re doing podcasts, previews, features, top 25 rankings and roundups every week.

Of course, being a baseball writer, I try to get out to ballparks as much as I can, traveling on the weekends to catch teams or players that intrigue me. Baseball America is unique in that it focuses on baseball from a player-development perspective. Most of our coverage is geared toward finding tomorrow’s future stars.

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at Baseball America?

A. Every story that appears in our magazine goes through multiple rounds of editing. For every issue, we have a page budget, where different editors are assigned first and second reads of specific pages.

Our in-office editorial staff is a relatively small group, so everyone gets their hands dirty when it comes to editing. For the pages you’re assigned, you’re responsible for copy-fitting and writing headlines, subheads, captions and any other required maintenance. And when you’re done with the page, you print it out and hand it off to someone else in the office to proof.

We have our own style guide, so we edit for style as well as content and grammar. Headlines, for the most part, are written in a newspaper style — present tense with a subject and a verb. Our online headlines often differ at least somewhat from those in print for SEO purposes.

Q. You’re a 2014 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there are you using in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. Looking back at my four years in Chapel Hill, I’d say UNC’s J-school helped me build a very diverse skill set. Skills I learned in courses such as reporting, creative sports writing, feature writing and — of course — editing and advanced editing have all come into play to some degree.

From an editing standpoint, familiarity with InCopy and InDesign, the ability to use a stylebook, headline and cutline writing and editing for grammar and content are all skills that I employ every day. Sometimes, Andy, it truly does feel like I’m sitting in your advanced editing class.

As far as writing and reporting, I find myself applying lessons I learned in Tim Crothers’ creative sports-writing class and John Robinson’s feature-writing course with nearly every piece I write. Both professors pushed me to be creative with my writing, and I often try to imagine how they’d critique my stories as I write them.

I’d also say that the lessons I learned in Ryan Thornburg’s social media for reporters course especially come in handy. I’m working on a feature story right now that I dug up using Twitter, and my number of followers has doubled in the past month using some of the skills Thornburg taught in that class. (Follow me at @mlananna!)

New skills? I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of podcasts. That’s entirely new for me, but I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself too much yet.

Also, while I worked as a beat writer for The Daily Tar Heel, various internships and in reporting classes, this job is my first exposure to covering a national beat. We’re trying to cover college baseball holistically — not just a specific team or a localized group of teams. So there’s been some adjustment and learning on my part in trying to figure how to best handle such a wide breadth of coverage. I think I’m getting it, though.

Q. Last year, you were an intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers. What was it like to cover the same team for an entire season?

A. Serving as an associate reporter for Dodgers.com was an unbelievable learning experience and certainly a pinch-me opportunity for a lifelong baseball fan. It was also quite the grind. I covered every home game from May through the postseason.

You might think, “Oh, you’re getting paid to go to baseball games. That’s an easy job.” It’s not easy.

Often times, I got to the ballpark before some of the players did (there were many elevator rides down with Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, A.J. Ellis — you name it). And every night, I left hours after the players had already filed out of the locker room.

Most games, I worked with Dodgers.com beat writer Ken Gurnick, and we split the workload. Other games, I was on my own, responsible for writing a pre-game notebook, in-game notes, injury updates, a running game story and a game story write-thru. On some especially busy nights, I wound up writing six or seven pieces. And if there was a day game the next day? Well, I just didn’t sleep.

I learned that the life of a baseball beat writer — in a sport with a 162-game regular season — can be a rigorous and demanding one. However, it’s not without its perks, especially if you love the game like I do.

I had incredible access. I went into the locker room before and after every game to talk with players (some were very approachable; others, not so much). I sat in the dugout with manager Don Mattingly before every game for his pre-game media session. I shared a press box with Vin Scully. I had the opportunity to cover Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter and write a story about it.

I was in the clubhouse immediately after the Dodgers clinched the National League West, and I got champagne sprayed all over me. Covering the playoffs was an absolute blast and something I’ll never forget.

Like any job, many days dragged. Sometimes the workload was overwhelming. But the highs were exhilarating. I’d recommend the internship for anyone serious about sports writing.

Q. College baseball’s season is already underway, and spring training for Major League Baseball starts soon. Care to make any predictions?

A. I like the Louisiana State baseball team quite a bit. I picked the Tigers to win the College World Series in our college preview issue, and I’m sticking to that prediction.

As for Major League Baseball, I have the Dodgers defeating the Mariners in six games for the World Series. Why the Dodgers? Because I’m not covering them anymore. Of course they’ll win it the year after I cover them. That’s just the way the world works.

Q&A with Roddy Boyd of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation

Roddy Boyd is president and editor of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, a nonprofit news organization based in Wilmington, North Carolina. Boyd has been a reporter at Fortune magazine and at The New York Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Boyd discusses SIRF’s mission, its process for editing and a recent collaboration with student journalists at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Q. What is SIRF? What is the site trying to achieve?

A. The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation is seeking to use investigative reporting to stand in the gap left by a pair of woeful developments: the diminished capacity of mainstream media’s business watchdog and accountability roles, and the Pontius Pilate-like federal regulatory refusal to engage with corporate fraud.

SIRF was constructed and launched on the view that using documents and deep-dive research, combined with shoe-leather reporting, would enable us to tell good stories and expose wrongdoing. In many cases, sadly, I find we are the only actor willing to illuminate self-serving activity and questionable dealings.

As business investigative reporting goes, SIRF’s lot isn’t easy. Every subject seems to be arrayed with multiple teams of lawyers and flaks; mistakes, even the slightest oversight, create the risk of litigation.

Our work has achieved much in the few years we’ve been alive. We’ve been the primary reason two hedge fund managers were indicted and sentenced to prison, we helped stop an initial public offering of an abusive multi-level marketing company and we identified a network of undisclosed promoters trying to inflate the shares of a so-called cloud computing company (it would fail and the shares collapsed under a series of investor lawsuits.) SIRF even managed to get a pair of billionaire brothers to acknowledge (implicitly) that their private foundations were being used to gather millions in dubious tax breaks while keeping control of the company in family hands.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that SIRF identified a veritable buffet of governance and disclosure abuses at a for-profit medical marijuana company; despite a series of legal threats, our two stories were the catalyst for concurrent Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations.

There’s a lot more, but that’s a good taste.

Fret not: This success won’t go to my head — I’ll be grateful to grow SIRF to where there are two months of paychecks lined up.

Q. What is your role at the site? How are story editing and headline writing handled?

A. I am the editor and president. Developing a close working relationship with copy and story editing staff has been an imperative for me throughout my career as an investigative reporter, especially one who makes frequent use of arcane legal and financial documents.

This kind of editing requires one to be on the lookout for A) rabbit holes and B) useless data distractions and convoluted arguments. Both copy editors and story editors have saved me repeatedly without compromising the reporting.

Moreover, the easiest way to diminish the power of good, original reporting is through poorly framed arguments that don’t flow, spelling and grammar errors, pointless hyperlinks; actually, now that I think about it, there are about a dozen ways to hurt a good piece when a copy editor isn’t around.

So SIRF has good copy editors that we pay fairly and listen to. It matters, a great deal, to the board and myself that the copy flows.

The headlines are my work, and I won’t lie: I think they attract the reader. I do, however, look forward to a day where my NY Post Biz desk refined headline skills are put out to pasture because we have a full-time staff of story editors and copy editors.

One day, perhaps.

Q. You recently worked with a team of student journalists on a story called “Who Owns Our Water?” How did that story come about, and what was it like to collaborate with students?

A. I had been aware of the story for some time and prior to the semester’s start, I think I spent a few days looking into the availability of documents and whether, to be frank, anyone had done a large piece on it. The piece wasn’t without its risks:

It seemed like a lot to bite off, and there were many points I wondered if we shouldn’t have done just a series of pieces, maybe two or three. But we got a 4,200-word effort off the ground, got some evocative photos, and I think it made sense.

Next year, I think the effort will be sharply more targeted so that we have an unmistakable “drop,” or angle on a story. It will force students to read documents more closely and report harder, every single week. Again, I wonder if we don’t do two pieces, so that deadlines are staggered.

The students were great and, fortunately for me, everyone had some collegiate journalism and work/internship experience. Our reporting unit worked best when the students were pushed to study financial documents they didn’t understand, sit in a courtroom and listen to ponder lawyers and rewrite copy that was good, but perhaps not specific enough.

If they got anything out of my class, it was hopefully to develop a keen appreciation of document-seeking. I wouldn’t shut up about it and likely never shall. People lie, documents illustrate. Whether you think “Who Owns Our Water?” is good or milquetoast, we sure had the documents that supported some of our more compelling claims.

A final note: UNC-Chapel Hill can do a lot more to help young journalists avoid getting sucked into the giant collapsing journalism clickbait machine. Self-servingly, at least having the rudiments of investigative reporting won’t hurt, even if they wind up anchoring the evening news.

But the JOMC administration fearlessly took big steps and placed a lot of faith in me and what I hold dear. Look around: There aren’t many other J-schools willing to do this. Chris Roush and Susan King deserve one hell of a round of applause.

Q. Investigative journalism is expensive and time-consuming. How can it be sustained in an increasingly difficult economic environment for the media? What does the future hold?

It is indeed expensive and time-consuming. The value proposition, even more unfortunately, for this work is defined by imagining its absence as much as its presence: asking people to imagine a world without investigative reporting is not quite like asking them to imagine a world with segregation still in place or without clean drinking water.

But much of the equity, accountability and honesty in our nation exists because reporters, editors and sources risked much to inform fellow citizens about abusive conditions in factories and mental hospitals, political graft, corporate dishonesty and governmental waste. It is the only check on entrenched institutional power, whether governmental, cultural or corporate, that cannot be readily bought off or silenced.

In the for-profit realm of legacy media, investigative reporting will always exist, but it will become even more rare and as such, great stories will stack up, unreported for want of staff.

Nor should we forget that in many corners of the earth, like China, Russia and the Mideast, performing this reporting will be to flirt with instant incarceration or death.

The only bright spot is nonprofit, independent news outfits, like SIRF, ProPublica and dozens of others, from coast to coast. The challenge here is money. For now, the shear volume of operations will guarantee a steady stream of stories. My guess is that a thinly funded, yet journalistically vibrant independent media cohort will motor along until a series of benefactors set up foundations with deep funding streams to ensure these operations can obtain grants.

I have in mind something akin to what occurred on the right wing in the 1970s, when foundations like Olin and Bradley funded magazines like National Review and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation to ensure these views remained widely available.

That being said, a recent example of a benefactor taking an interest in journalism is disappointing. First Look Media, with its purportedly deep pockets, is apparently content to use its assets to frame opinion, rather than dig and gather hard news.

In the short term, opinion always sells, and lord knows it’s easier to write and present.

Student guest post: Don’t forget to check facts online

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the second of those posts. Jessica Castro-Rappl is a third-year editing and graphic design student from Raleigh, North Carolina. Her interests include travel, baking and procrastination.

One of the great things about the Internet is that it gives us the capacity to spread information instantly. This also doubles as one of the not-so-great things about the Internet.

The velocity of information on the Internet leads to a race to publish news, and news outlets might sacrifice quality in order to quickly deliver information to readers.

This isn’t a new concept — a rush to publish has affected our field for years. But when information can be spread to a virtually unlimited audience with a couple of clicks, it’s important that that information be accurate.

And it can be tricky to make sure that your story is accurate! When an event happens and there isn’t a plethora of reliable sources and you’re working on a deadline, maybe you don’t have all the information you need before going to print.

But your first duty is to your readers, and that means giving them the highest-quality information you can offer.

A couple of weeks ago, a California man sent an elementary school into lockdown when he was spotted carrying what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun.

That’s not how the story was reported, though. Online article titles read “Suspect who waved sawed-off shotgun near Otay Elementary in custody” or “Man receiving psychological evaluation wielding a sawed-off shotgun near school.”

The problem? The man wasn’t wielding a sawed-off shotgun. Police reported him as “possibly carrying a sawed-off shotgun.” In reality, it was a replica firearm.

The worst part to me, though, is that some of the stories that reported the gun was a replica were the same ones that put “sawed-off shotgun” in the headline. It’s unclear if the headline writer even read the whole article.

Even if you’re rushing to write an eye-catching headline, even if you’ve got to publish the story online as soon as possible and even if you’re working with limited sources, there is no excuse for providing your readers with misinformation.

Before style or grammar, editors (and writers!) should focus on fact-checking and source verification.

Then, maybe, we can take true advantage of the instantaneousness of the Internet, using it to deliver accurate information to readers — without them having to wait for the morning newspaper.

Q&A with Katie Jansen, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Katie Jansen is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. This summer, she had a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Jansen talks about what she learned over the summer and what’s next for her.

Q. Describe your internship experience. What was your typical day like?

A. My internship experience was very valuable. On my first day, I was shown the computer program and thrown right into the thick of things, where I was expected to write headlines, deckheads and cutlines.

I normally only did first reads so that someone more experienced could read behind me, but I really felt myself growing throughout the internship. I worked Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m., and by the third or fourth week I was already being trusted with some A1 copy.

It was always a thrill for me when I made a good catch or asked a question someone else hadn’t thought of. I once found a mistake in which the AP had written the entirely wrong country, and the slot editor called the AP and got them to issue a write-thru.

Also, I feel like it’s worth noting that everyone treated me with the utmost respect. They acted like I was a colleague instead of just some goofy college grad.

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

A. The biggest challenge was probably just getting into the flow of what copy needed to be read when as well as trying to figure out which advance copy needed to be read first. Some times of the night we wouldn’t be very busy, but I tried to do things that would be as helpful as possible. That just took time and asking questions so I could learn about which sections had deadlines first, etc.

The greatest reward was definitely stepping up my headline game and seeing a lot of my heads in print. Every time I wrote a headline, I jotted it down, and then at the end of the night after deadline, I would check to see which heads had been kept and which had been changed. As the summer progressed, I became a stronger headline writer, and more of my headlines survived.

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

A. I would say studying for the test is the most important. I kind of took the test on a whim and didn’t think I’d land the internship, but I did study for it because I was interested in improving my craft. The application process may seem kind of mystifying, but if you study for the test and make it into the program, they teach you so much from there.

My weeklong residency before my internship was a great professional experience. It gave me the opportunity to learn from professionals in the field, and I felt like I was improving as a journalist every day.

Q. So what’s next for you?

A. I have moved back to reporting for the time being. I got a job with The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., and I have officially been on the job for a week and a half. It’s going well so far but keeping me really busy.

I don’t want to say I’m done with copy editing, though. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to it sometime in my career. Even so, the Dow Jones training has also made me a stronger writer because now I’m more aware of things like transitions, repetitive words and what pieces need to be in a story to make it complete.

Aww, shucks — this headline just doesn’t work

Jim Romenesko’s website calls our attention to a recent headline in the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama. The story is about Auburn University’s narrow defeat to Florida State in college football’s championship game. That’s front-page news for papers in Alabama and Florida, and perhaps elsewhere.

au-shucksThe “AU SHUCKS” headline didn’t go over well with Auburn fans who apparently read “shucks” and “sucks.” Tom Clifford, the editor of the Montgomery paper, reported that he received a “barrage” of phone calls and email from furious readers.

Clifford defended the headline on the grounds that it was clever wordplay on an abbreviation of the school’s name. The intent was something like this: “Aww, shucks. Auburn almost won that game.” Clifford noted that this headline followed through on previous ones in the Advertiser about Auburn victories such as “SHOCK AND AU” and “AU YEAH!”

I asked my colleague Chris Roush what he thought of the headline. Roush, who teaches business journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, is an Auburn alumnus who follows the football team closely. Here’s his response:

“As an Auburn fan, it doesn’t bother me. But as an advocate of good word usage, it is a poor headline. When I think of shucks, I think of opening raw oysters. I don’t understand how that can be compared to Auburn losing a football game. I think the headline writer tried too hard in this case. But it’s not offending to me as a third-generation Auburn graduate.”

I agree. I have no connection to Auburn, so my measure for assessing this headline is the “pun form” created by Steve Merelman, a former News & Observer editor who now works at Bloomberg.

“AU SHUCKS” fails the first point in Merelman’s six-part test of whether a wordplay headline should be published or posted: “The headline makes immediate sense to the reader and does not distort syntax or usage to make the pun and/or wordplay.”

This headline doesn’t make immediate sense to me. My brain doesn’t hear “AU” as “awww.” My eyes see “AU” the way you would say that aloud: “A-U.” So “AU SHUCKS” baffled me when I first read it. Other readers, for whatever reason, are reading “shucks” as “sucks.” I didn’t and can’t explain why some people see it that way.

It’s obvious that the Advertiser didn’t mean to offend its audience; it would be bad for business to insult its readers or an entire fanbase in football-crazy Alabama. But this is a headline that needed a rewrite before it went into print. Next time, use the Merelman Test.

Q&A with Rylan Miller of Business Insider

Rylan Miller is Contributors Editor at Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job and how the site uses headlines and social media to attract readers.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like at Business Insider?

A. I manage all of BI’s syndication partnerships and guest writers, which is an editorial job with some elements of business development mixed in.

My team has three main responsibilities:

  • We help choose the stories we will publish from our 370-ish partner publications, wire services, and blogs;
  • We package these stories so that they fit perfectly with Business Insider’s style;
  • And we act as the gatekeepers — I like to envision Gandalf shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when I say this — of every article that is republished on the site.

We ensure that editorial is following all of the partnership rules and industry courtesies when syndicating.

This job has a lot of moving parts, but for me, that’s part of what keeps it interesting. Some days I spend a lot of time talking to our point people at companies like Slate, Condé Nast, Wenner Media, and more. Sometimes I focus on teaching our editorial team what syndication is and how to do it the right way.

Other days I like to dive into setting up posts, which means formatting them so that they look great on BI, writing catchy headlines, and picking photos that really pop on the main page. Sometimes I tinker with formatting in our CMS, and I frequently study our analytics.

I have learned more about the world of online publishing from this one job than I ever thought possible. It’s really a fascinating mix of journalism, psychology, business, and management, and perfect for a generalist like me. It’s fun to know what’s happening in just about every section of the site, and — important job perk — people want you on their team for bar trivia.

Q. Headline writing for digital media is seeing a shift from SEO to “shareability,” as demonstrated by sites like Upworthy. What is Business Insider’s approach to headline writing?

A. One of our editor’s mantras is that headlines should “get clicks without being annoying.” It’s very easy to tease someone into reading a story online—I’m sure we’ve all fallen for the “7 Things That Will Completely Change Your Life” headline at some point.

But when you actually read the article and see that the headline is hyperbole, skewed, or a flat-out lie, you start to resent that publication. I think BI does a great job of getting people interested while also delivering a great story.

As a site that does breaking news, features, photo-centric slideshows, videos, syndication, and now longform, there really isn’t a magic formula for how we write headlines. Above all, we consider the reader and what he or she should know immediately before we think about SEO and “shareability.”

If a headline isn’t working for us, we can change it. The priority is still focusing on writing (or in my case, choosing) excellent stories that are worth sharing in the first place, and then pulling out the most interesting nugget or angle for the headline.

Q. Business Insider is active on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. What is the organization’s social media strategy?

A. Every single person on editorial puts in effort when it comes to our social media policies and strategies. Each section is responsible for maintaining and expanding their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and relationship with LinkedIn if it’s relevant. They also have to make sure their best work gets pushed out to BI’s main Twitter and Facebook accounts. We have a small bit of oversight at the top of this chain, but for the most part we rely on common sense and good news judgment when deciding what gets shared.

We’re constantly assessing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our social media strategies, and I think that’s served us well so far. Everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012. What’s the most important thing you learned there, and what have you had to learn on the job after college?

A. As someone who’s not in a traditional journalism job at a 100 percent digital news outlet, I’m surprised every day by how much of what I learned at j-school is still relevant to what I’m doing now. I’ve realized how important it is to have that solid foundation in place before learning new skills on the job.

Copy-editing classes taught me how to be nitpicky (in a good way) while reading through articles. My business journalism classes taught me basically everything I know about the industry I’m in now. Media law gave me a good understanding of where we can get photos, who holds copyright on freelance stories, and how to not get my employer sued for dumb mistakes.

I also cannot overstate how much I’ve learned on the job. I’d say most of what I’ve learned is in the technical and strategic aspects of how a news website functions. I’ve learned how publishers can work with each other to expand and improve, and I’m continually discovering what people feel compelled to read. Despite what you’re hearing, people aren’t solely interested in “reading” GIFs. And finally, I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Serial Comma And All-Caps Headline.

Follow Rylan Miller on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn. If you want to become a contributing writer for Business Insider, check out the Contributors FAQ or email contributors@businessinsider.com for more information.

We’re going to put four normal people into a conference room at a Las Vegas hotel and ask them to react to real headlines. What they’ll say may blow your mind.

vegas

Preparations are under way for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. This year’s gathering is in Las Vegas in March.

I’m helping put together and will moderate two sessions at the conference. One will be about getting into teaching, either as an adjunct or a full-time, tenure-track faculty member.

The other session will be about headlines. In a revision of a session from previous conferences, we will invite “regular folks” to give feedback on a series of headlines. The twist this time: We’ll include “shareable” headlines from sites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy. (The one on this post is an example of that type of headline.)

For more about the ACES conference, check out the official site. I hope to see you in Las Vegas.

UPDATE: This session is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 21, at 4:30 p.m at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. If you or someone you know in the Las Vegas area would like to be a panelist, please contact me.