Q&A with Megan Paolone, deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed

Megan Paolone is deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job and BuzzFeed’s approach to story editing, headline writing and stylebooks. 

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

A. As BuzzFeed’s deputy copy chief, I monitor BuzzFeed.com for spelling, grammar and style errors. My day-to-day consists of editing of basically any type of post that goes up on BuzzFeed (news stories, features, fun posts and lists, service pieces, etc.); fielding grammar and style questions from writers and editors; and helping to run the copydesk Twitter account we started a little less than a year ago, @StyleGuide.

My workday 99.9% of the time starts with checking my email as soon as I wake up, just to make sure there hasn’t been anything that’s come in overnight that needs our immediate attention. Our global copydesk is now seven people (three in New York, including me and our copy chief, Emmy Favilla; two in our London office; and two in Los Angeles), and adding the U.K. team that signs on around 5 a.m. ET along with those L.A. editors who are on later has put us close to a 24-hour copydesk — and alleviated a lot of the stress we used to have when there were just two or three of us.

Once I’m at the office, I’m alternating between checking email and Gchat (to answer questions, check on any drafts that editors have sent in for a read, etc.), editing in our CMS, keeping an eye on Twitter and Slack (to answer questions, pick up posts for backreads, and bounce questions/style stuff off the rest of the copy team), and monitoring the site and our live stats for trending posts that need edits. There’s a lot of “Does this sentence read strangely to you?” conversation happening among the copydesk throughout the day as we’re all working on different edits, as well as our ongoing fights about whether we should hyphenate or close up certain words.

We aim to be really accessible to everyone. Weekly we send out via email copy roundups (addressing common issues from the previous week and additions to the style guide) and copy Q&As (answering questions we’ve been asked over the last week).

We recently added a “guest editor corner” to our roundups where we let writers and editors talk about their biggest word pet peeves, and that’s been a really fun way to get the staff involved in what we do, which can probably seem tedious if they’re not interacting with us regularly. Typically once a month we hold copy classes and refreshers for the staff in the offices where we’re based (and sometimes virtually), as well as copy quizzes to test people’s skills and to see if they’re paying attention to the style guide.

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

A. At BuzzFeed, we put a lot of trust in the individual writers. Everyone has an editor whom they report to, and, especially in longer reported stories and features, who will give feedback throughout the writing process. We actually have a built-in commenting function in our CMS, but a lot of back-and-forth is also done via email, Slack, etc.

Especially for shorter one-off news stories, writers are responsible for their own headlines and deks, though there’s generally input and suggestions from their editors, and sometimes from us on the copydesk if we’re taking a look at a story before it’s published. Because so much of our traffic is social, and not search-based, we typically don’t worry about squeezing a lot of buzzwords into headlines for SEO purposes. This gives us a little more creative breathing room in headlines sometimes, because we can write a really short, two- or three-word hed, and then throw more important information in the dek. Especially for stories coming from BuzzFeed News, more descriptive headlines have also become less important for us as more and more people share “screenshorts” (not a typo!) of text on Twitter, which often contain a few sentences with the meat of a story.

We also do a lot of headline optimization and testing of different headline – thumbnail combinations, to see what shares best, what’s getting the most clicks, etc. It’s often just a really simple tweak (e.g., TK Struggles Only Copy Editors Understand vs. TK Things You Understand Only If You’re A Copy Editor). Our social and data teams have done a great job creating really easy-to-use optimization tools that work across editorial, whether you’re in the News, Buzz or Life divisions. “Optimized” heds that have been tested with these tools are always more successful, and that success can sometimes translate into tens of thousands of more views.

A lot of what we do is reading posts after they’ve already been published (i.e., backreads) and we prioritize breaking news and posts on the BuzzFeed.com homepage, as well as stories that are going viral and trending in our live site analytics. Because our team is pretty small compared with the rest of BuzzFeed’s edit staff, we prioritize whatever’s going to get the most eyes on it.

We do, however, always do at least two reads before publishing on longer, reported news and features pieces — usually anything that’s more than 1,000 words. Our edits on these longer pieces are sometimes done in Google Docs, but more often than not, we’re editing directly in our CMS, and sending along comments, concerns and questions to the editors/writers once we’ve finished our edit.

Q. BuzzFeed has its own style guide. How is it different from the Associated Press Stylebook, and how do you decide when to add or edit entries?

A. We like to say that the BuzzFeed Style Guide is a style guide for the internet. A lot of our style is based on AP and we still follow a lot of the AP guidelines, but our guide is really internet-specific and deals with words and style and issues that AP and even Merriam-Webster (which is our house dictionary) don’t delve into. It’s our attempt to standardize a lot of the slang and weird web terms that live in places like Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Reddit.

Beyond styling internet-y words like “Vine-ing” (as a verb, though “post a Vine” is preferred) and “hacktivist,” we also have pretty extensive language guidelines. Our LGBT section, for example, is really wide-ranging and inclusive. We borrowed a lot from GLAAD’s media guidelines (which we credit), but so much of it comes from conversations we’ve had and continue to have with BuzzFeed editors, as well as occasional input from readers. We’ve also just added a section on commonly misspelled names of celebrities and well-known public figures, and that’s been really helpful for our sanity, especially regarding weird contrived celebrity nicknames like J. Law and Kimye.

As for adding new entries, we do it when it’s necessary — usually if there’s a place where we differ from both AP and Merriam-Webster and is worth noting because it’s a term we use regularly. As I mentioned earlier, we’re all constantly chatting about how we’re using different terms, and if there’s a word we’re seeing a lot that hasn’t been in the guide and isn’t standardized anywhere else, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll add it. We recently added “thinkpiece,” and decided to close up “afterparty” (we’d had it hyphenated previously, and were seeing the one-word use was a lot more common).

Q. Editing for BuzzFeed sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking similar jobs or internships?

A. So my job actually started as an internship right after I graduated j-school from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. I think the single most important piece of advice I can give is to get as much diverse experience as possible, both writing AND editing via internships, college student-run publications and even freelancing.

I started as a copy editor and writer at my college paper in undergrad and got of a lot of diverse experience doing news and entertainment reporting and writing, as well as a crash course in AP style. Once I got to Syracuse, I blogged and edited for a few of the student-run magazines and websites (writing a few features and a lot of entertainment-type blogs and reviews), as well as interned as a breaking news reporter for the regional newspaper there, the Syracuse Post-Standard and Syracuse.com.

Copy editors specifically have to be incredibly detail-oriented, and must know their AP Style and grammar stuff inside and out, and I’m a firm believer in continuing to do your own writing and reading to practice these skills. Reading a lot of good writing is really important because it helps you start to recognize what works and what doesn’t, and teaches you how to think critically about what you’re reading — which is among the most important skills to have in any type of editing that you’re doing. One of my favorite things about my job at BuzzFeed is that I get to read and edit so much different content (both in style and subject), so I try to keep my personal reading habits just as diverse to keep up with what other sites like BuzzFeed are doing.

And, finally, everyone’s favorite: networking. It’s how I got my internship that’s turned into a job I really love and feel continually challenged by. Reach out to the writers and editors whose work you love, via Twitter, via email, etc. But have a reason (i.e., you loved a piece that they recently published), and don’t ask for a job, or for them to look at your résumé immediately. Personalize your emails and cover letters — people can recognize a form letter a mile away. Show you’ve done your research and you’re familiar with their work or the place where they work, and be specific; there’s nothing more frustrating than someone writing, “Tell me about BuzzFeed.”

Don’t stress! Job searching seems really daunting, but as long as you stay organized and do your research, you’ll be OK. Good luck!

Q&A with Andrew Dunn of the Charlotte Agenda

Andrew Dunn is editor-in-chief of the Charlotte Agenda, a digital news organization in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dunn previously worked as a reporter at The Charlotte Observer, covering business and education. In this interview, conducted by email, Dunn discusses his job at the Agenda as well as the rivalry between Charlotte and Raleigh.

Q. What is the Charlotte Agenda?

A. We are a start-up news organization that has become a must-read among Charlotte’s young professional community. We focus obsessively on the things that impact our readers’ lives, with the goal of making Charlotte a smarter, more human city.

Q. Describe your job as editor-in-chief. What is your typical day like?

A. No day is the same. I’m responsible for all of the content on our site, so I spend a lot of time evaluating story ideas, reading drafts, discussing pieces with our reporters, deciding our daily lineup and copy editing.

I also try to take a 10,000-foot view of what the most important issues are in Charlotte and how best we can explain them to our readers. I report one or two stories every day, and I’m working on getting a mix of quick-hit daily stories and long-term enterprise.

Q. How do headline writing and story editing work at the Charlotte Agenda?

A. Headlines are one of the most important things we do. As an online publication, they’re sometimes the one time we’re able to convince somebody to read. We aim for a more conversational style. Most of the time, the writer of the story will suggest a headline. Sometimes I will tweak it to better fit our style.

Story editing at the Agenda works in two basic parts. I’ll usually do a first read when the story is submitted, where I’ll look at the story thematically, analyze it for any major holes and evaluate its potential. This will determine what level of revisions need to be made and story placement. As we get closer to publication, I’ll do a line-by-line edit for word choice, style and grammar.

Q. You previously worked as a reporter at The Charlotte Observer. What is it like to make that transition?

A. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been a lot of fun. I have nothing but love and respect for the Observer and all the people who work there. But I’ve really enjoyed being on the ground floor of something that’s building and growing every day. It’s really forced myself to think about the best way to tell a story.

Very little of what we do would fit the model of a standard newspaper story, which has certainly been an adjustment. We put a premium on experimentation. Sometimes we try something new, and it flops. We move on. But more often, we try something new and it resonates with our readers, and it’s so rewarding.

Q. On a lighter note: Raleigh and Charlotte have a rivalry of sorts. Care to comment?

A. Oof. That’s a tough one. I grew up in the Triangle (Apex, the Peak of Good Living!) and always kind of made fun of Car-lot. But over the past four years, I’ve come to love Charlotte and its aspirational ethos and really never want to leave. We bought a house here a year ago, so I guess we’re pretty serious about it.

I’ve honestly thought a whole book could be written about the Raleigh vs. Charlotte relationship and rivalry. The stereotype is that business runs Charlotte, and government runs Raleigh. Charlotte is buttoned-up culturally, and Raleigh has more of a techie-startup undercurrent. But there’s a creative class in both cities that’s growing rapidly, and it’s such a good thing for North Carolina.

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.