Student guest post: Self-editing with our auto-correcting brains

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 14th of those posts. Kristin Tajlili is a senior who is majoring in editing and graphic design with a minor in creative writing. She has contributed to many on-campus publications including Should Does, The Daily Tar Heel and Blue and White. She gets excited over the most mundane of coincidences.

Why is self-editing hard? Blame our brains – the original auto-correctors.

Whenever I hit submit on a blog post that I have worked tirelessly on, I dread that it will be mangled with dropped words, wrong uses of there/their/they’re and sentences that don’t make sense.

It’s embarrassing, especially when people ask me: “If you want to be a writer, why don’t you know the proper use of there?”

Like many people, I can easily catch errors in other people’s work, but when it comes to correcting my own errors, I am useless.

The inability to self-edit can be attributed to our brain — the original auto-corrector, according to blogger Yuka Igarashi. Because our brains are very good at altering sensory information to be “correct” very quickly and unconsciously, it is difficult to catch our own mistakes.

In her blog, Igarashi uses this sentence to illustrate how humans perceive text:

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Did you see the word “the” twice? Even though I knew there was an error, I had to look at the sentence five times before I spotted it. My brain automatically removed the second the.

This ability of our brain can be helpful in situations where we have to think quickly, but it also makes naturally poor copy editors. For example, after proofreading my resume — which I had worked on for several hours before — I read the mistake “second-more viewed article” as “second-most viewed article.” Because I knew the message beforehand, my brain corrected it. A couple weeks later, after using this resume for a few job applications, I caught the mistake.

In order to become stronger editors, we must acknowledge our brains, like spell-check and many of the new grammar checkers flooding the market, are not reliable. Once we acknowledge that our brains are no good, we can look to other techniques to meet our copy editing needs.

In a handout about editing and proofreading, the UNC Writing Center lists several solid techniques, such as reading the paper out loud, slowly. I found this to be good advice, but when reading a paper longer than a couple pages, my vocal chords — and eyes — get tired. Also this isn’t helpful when it’s 5:30 in the morning and I don’t want my roommate to wake up to a lecture about the Roman Empire.

Instead of reading my own papers out loud, I usually find a free text-to-speech translator such as Mike. Unlike me, Mike sees the text for what it is instead of what it is meant to be. But for those who find Mike creepy, the UNC Writing Center allows students to download Read&Write Gold, a text-to-speech translator which offers more flexibility than those offered for free online. Just stop by SASB and ask for a copy.

When I’m not in the mood to hang out with Mike, I like to play with formatting on my word processor. I change the font type and size so that the text looks different than my original draft. In doing so, the errors have less room to hide.

That being said, it took me years to find effective methods for self-editing. What may work for me may not work for other people. There are dozens of tools and techniques to circumvent our auto-correcting brains. Finding what works may be the difference between landing an interview or staring at an empty inbox.

Student guest post: editing Usher

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 13th of those posts. Rebecca Shoenthal is a junior majoring in editing and graphic design and minoring in creative non-fiction writing. She is a publicity intern at Algonquin Books and loves dogs, tacos and Netflix.

Last week when I was driving, flipping through the radio stations, one of my favorite throwback songs came on: “My Boo” by Usher, released in 2004. I turned up the volume, ready to jam out, when Usher’s beautiful voice came out signing, “There’s always that one person that will always have your heart.”

Add it to the list of grammar casualties.

Maybe The Associated Press style was different in 2004 (Well, of course it was; there’s a new edition every year.), but all I could think about was the “that, which (pronouns)” category in the AP Stylebook. I edited Usher in my head, changed the station and “went home proud,” as my professor Andy Bechtel would say.

“There’s always that one person WHO will always have your heart,” but I guess that person isn’t Usher for me anymore.

This is the life of an editor, or in my case, a student editor.

I correct song lyrics I hear on the radio, posters I see walking around campus and friends’ Facebook posts without thinking twice. My friends text me asking, “Can you help me?” and it’s never about relationship advice.

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The other day, I was sitting with friends during lunch when the dreaded dilemma of among vs. amongst came up. “I think they’re interchangeable,” the table agreed before turning to me for a final opinion. “Among,” I corrected.

Later, of course, I double-checked my instinct against “Grammar Girl” who considers amongst “archaic and overly formal or even pretentious in American English.”

It’s not as if I advertise my status as an editing major, but once the word gets out that you’re good with grammar, it spreads quickly.

The thing is, I don’t know all of the answers. As my editing professor Denny McAuliffe once told me, “You don’t need to know the whole book, just where to look.”

But honestly, I don’t always use my AP Stylebook. In my day-to-day life outside of Carroll Hall, I don’t usually have it on me. (When will they release a pocket version like the Bible?) Usually, I refer to the previously mentioned “Grammar Girl” or, more commonly, I end up on “Grammar Girl” after a quick Google search.

Just the other night I needed to write a killer Instagram caption. I’d forgotten the rule for “each other” vs. “one another.” Which one was used for more than two people? Which one was used for indefinite numbers? (Spoiler: I chose “each other” even though I was referring to four people. The truth is sometimes you need to go with what sounds better.)

I’d hardly call myself a Comma Queen, but I do take pride in having an “Editor’s Eye.”

It does get in the way of jamming out in my car, though — like when I changed the station from Usher and the new One Direction song “History” came through the speakers. The chorus, “you and me got a whole lot of history,” made me seriously consider sticking to CDs. Do they even make those anymore?

Student guest post: A different kind of news judgment

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 12th of those posts. Katie Reeder is a senior journalism major and the managing editor of Southern Neighbor. She has a deep appreciation for coffee, witty humor and Carolina basketball.

I avoided social media after the Tar Heels lost the national championship on a Monday night in what was the most heartbreaking game I have ever watched. I did not want to see the comments — good or bad — or stories that I knew were coming. My friends had already agreed not to talk about basketball for the next few days.

By Wednesday, I decided I could handle the stories. March Madness was over, and I knew I would miss the college basketball coverage. I started with The News & Observer and ended with Adam Lucas’ column on GoHeels.com.

When I logged onto Facebook, the Lucas column was at the top of my news feed, and I could see that more than 20 of my friends had shared it. But what caught my attention was that my news feed also had a good number of blog posts friends had shared (mostly written by people other than themselves) about the season and what this team had meant to them.

I will admit that I read just about everything relating to Carolina basketball that I saw on my news feed. But as a journalist, I was struck by the seemingly illogical reasoning behind this. I was reading essentially the same story retold with a different personal angle. Most of those stories could be boiled down to this: We are heartbroken but proud, and we are still Tar Heels. There was no new information, but so many people read it and shared it anyway.

So what does this mean for journalists and editors? It’s tempting to say, “You’re talking about social media and blogs. There are different rules.” But when more than 50 percent of Americans consider Facebook a news source, the rules of Facebook are something to pay attention to.

Add in the fact that Facebook has an algorithm for what shows up in news feeds, and it begins to sound like the curation side of an editor’s job. The front page of The New York Times may still have the box boasting that it’s “all the news that’s fit to print,” but social media has taken away much of that authoritative voice and changed how people consume news.

I do not think all blogs are journalism, and I do not think the rules of social media are always transferable to traditional media. But the common denominator between the two is information intake. Both forms of media ask the question, “What do people care about?”

If my news feed the week after the national championship game is any indicator, people do not always care about fresh information or how timely a story is. The news values of proximity and magnitude came into play here, but do they fully explain why people continued to read and share similar stories? I don’t think so.

Sometimes people like to see the same story retold because they love a basketball team that lost a heartbreaking game, and reading those stories reminds them why they loved the team in the first place. Sometimes stories are about connecting with others and feeling like you can say, “Me too.”

We’re not always taught that in our newswriting classes, and this is not meant to discount the importance of objectivity and accuracy. But I think as journalists learn to navigate the increasingly social digital world, it’s important to remember that people don’t always share what we think they should share. Sometimes stories are more about fostering a sense of community than taking in new information. 

Student guest post: Four takeaways for journalists from a reporter in elementary school

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Tatiana Quiroga is a first-year master’s student at UNC-Chapel Hill specializing in reporting. She hails from the Sunshine State and cheers on the Gators and the Tar Heels.

Last week, a 9-year-old girl and her journalistic endeavors went viral.

Hilde Kate Lysiak is the one-person team behind Orange Street News, a monthly newspaper delivering all the noteworthy happenings in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, to its residents. The newspaper has a print and online version, and though her older sister films and edits the site’s videos, Hilde is the lone reporter.

She doesn’t just cover entertainment (“Exclusive: Taylor Swift Coming to Grove in June!”) and community events (“Library mini golf a hit!”), but also crime and public health. The reporter published a series of posts on a vandalism case and even investigated local water quality.

So on April 2, when she learned of an alleged homicide on Ninth Street, Hilde chased the story and published the facts she gathered.

That’s when the criticism and insults from Selinsgrove residents rolled in. In a video posted on her site, spunky Hilde reads the personal messages and fires back. One person suggested she should be having tea parties instead of reporting on a major crime.

At the age of 9, Hilde has already learned some important lessons about journalism – lessons even veteran reporters could be reminded of.

1. Negative feedback can be a driving force.

In her response to critics, Hilde spoke in a direct, gutsy way, and with a bit of humor. We have heard it time and time again: Journalists need to develop thick skin. It’s not uncommon for a reporter to take angry calls from viewers or readers, listen to them rant, thank them for their feedback and move on.

It’s crucial for journalists to learn how focus on the next task at hand. Negative feedback can even motivate us in our work. Since Hilde posted her response to critics, she’s reported on an exchange student from Brussels and the Selinsgrove Borough Council voting to limit public comment at meetings. She’s clearly not stopping anytime soon.

2. Community publications matter.

Hilde is covering news that matters to the people who live in Selinsgrove, which has a population of 5,790. Orange Street News is a hyperlocal news site that uniquely serves the community by covering issues that are highly relevant.

Journalism acts as a watchdog for society and holds powerful people accountable. And it’s a reporter’s job to get out all the facts. “I just like letting people know all the information,” Hilde told The Washington Post.

3. Have a healthy skepticism and be curious.

As my college reporting professor often reminded us, “If your grandma says she loves you, check it out.” Journalists need to develop a nose for news. What is unusual and out of place? That’s what we need to cover.

And if we aren’t curious about the world around us, we won’t ask the hard questions, and we won’t dig deeper. Curiosity seems to come naturally to Hilde, who also investigated drug rumors at a middle school and local park.

4. Perseverance is key.

When Hilde heard from a credible source about the homicide on Ninth Street, she said she confirmed it and then began to knock on doors in the neighborhood to get more information. That relentless search for the truth is what makes a good journalist.

The young reporter told The Washington Post that her passion for journalism isn’t a childhood phase. “It’s just what I really want to do,” she told the Post. “And crime is definitely my favorite.”

Maybe Hilde’s tenacity and spirit can inspire us all to continue on in our pursuit of truth.

Student guest post: 5 reasons why listicles are good for modern journalism

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Carly Peterson is a senior journalism major with a reporting specialization who enjoys music and the arts. She writes for the UNC-Chapel Hill branch of Her Campus, an online publication that targets college-age woman.

Just admit it, we all read listicles. They are everywhere you look — as you scroll through your Facebook feed, as you check today’s email newsletter, and as you spend endless hours mindlessly reading BuzzFeed. Listicles are the hot topic in today’s journalism.

Listicles have driven journalists to choose a side — either pro-listicles or anti-listicles. Journalists who are typically pro-listicles acknowledge that they are useful as an alternative story form for reporting and are not completely mindless, while journalists who are anti-listicles criticize them as uniformed and representative of bad writing.

As a descriptive writer, I have to admit I had to get use to writing listicles for Her Campus, but now I really enjoy putting a well-written and informed list together that will interest the website’s audience. I do not believe that listicles are the death of quality journalism, but they should be looked to as a viable option for an alternative story form.

1. Listicles are time-saving tactics for writers.

The journalism industry is a fast-paced business. A journalist’s goal is to get the story first and to send the story out to the public before another publication can. A journalist could probably write a couple of listicles in the time it takes to write and report one story. Even though the writing is short, listicles do not give journalists room to be lazy in their writing and grammar skills. A listicle should be informative but concise, which can be harder for descriptive writers like me.

2. Listicles are helpful for a busy audience.

In today’s world, everyone is on the go. The public has less time to sit down and read a newspaper front to back except for maybe on the weekends. Listicles are a great way to get a news or human-interest story to the public. The listicles’ best feature is that they are easy to scroll through. Since the story is essentially a list, they are easy to format for cellphones or tablets. The public spends a great deal of time on these devices.

3. Listicles already come with a headline.

The typical format for listicles is a number plus what the list is conveying to the reader. The nature of listicles incorporates attention-drawing headlines that capture the reader and encourage them to click to read more, which is termed “clickbait.” The reader automatically knows what this story will be about just from the headline for example this headline from BuzzFeed:

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4. Listicles draw attention and keep readers.

Listicles contain numbers that stand out automatically from all the other text-heavy articles. The list format helps to make the article easy and fast to read. Most use some sort of picture or GIF to go with each number listed. From my experience with listicles, I am drawn to the article because I am curious as to what the numbers are and then find myself reading the entire article when I just meant to skim it. I am sucked into the article anticipating what the next number will hold.

5. Listicles are great for social media.

The best part about listicles for a publisher is that they are easily shared on social media feeds such as Facebook and Twitter. I believe the listicles that draw the most traffic on social media are the ones that tap into human emotion and life experiences, or incorporate informative tips as seen here at BuzzFeed:

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Listicles do not have to be for everyone, but do not turn them down before you try them. As a writer, I was skeptical at first, but now I find listicles as a fun and easy way to engage with the audience. They can be timsaving tactics that come with eye-catching headlines. Readers will want to read the listicle because they can scroll through the article quickly while on the go. The list can be effortlessly shared on social media, which means more traffic to the publication’s website.

Q&A with Aaron Dodson, assistant editor at The Undefeated

Aaron Dodson is an assistant editor at The Undefeated, a website that will examine the relationship between race and sports. Dodson is a 2015 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where he worked at The Daily Tar Heel as a reporter and copy editor. While in college, Dodson had internships at the sports departments at The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Dodson discusses the objectives of The Undefeated and his job there.

Q. What is The Undefeated? What should we expect to see on the site?

A. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question — “What is The Undefeated?” — since I got hired, and the beautiful thing is my answer is constantly evolving. At its core, The Undefeated will be a site that ESPN has envisioned to explore the intersection of race, sports and culture, particularly through the lens of the African-American experience. But as we get closer to our launch date, which we are still in the process of finalizing, and once the site gets up and running, I believe our identity as a multi-faceted, storytelling platform will continue to shape itself.

One thing I can say is people should expect a high quality of bold, passionate and honest stories. My favorite part of journalism is longform, which The Undefeated will certainly have a great deal of. We want to tell the stories that deserve to be told but in many cases get overlooked. For example, we will make an effort to highlight historically black colleges and universities — a sector, especially in the sports realm, that often goes uncovered.

The site, however, will not be limited to the longform style of storytelling. Expect to see a unique mix of longform, shortform, commentary, audio and visual journalism and even your everyday lifestyle blogging.

Since its inception, The Undefeated has been referred to as “The Black Grantland,” though that’s not a label we want to embrace going forward. This is by no means a knock on anything Grantland produced — content we all grew to know and love in the four years of the site’s existence. It’s just that we want the opportunity to create our own identity — to be simply The Undefeated.

And I think under the leadership of our editor-in-chief Kevin Merida, former managing editor of The Washington Post, we have a very bright future ahead of us. I’m just happy to be a part of the team.

Q. Describe your role at The Undefeated. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’ve been with The Undefeated for about a month and, to be honest, there hasn’t really been a typical workday yet, which has been very exciting.

My normal role with the site will be working as a copy editor, but since we’re still assembling our team and preparing for the launch, there hasn’t been normal copy flow. This period has allowed me to contribute in many different ways, and the best way to describe my current role is to employ a sports term. So far, I’ve been a “utility player.”

I’ve been able to pitch a few stories that I will have the chance to write myself and am working on. I’ve also been collaborating very closely with one of our senior writers in a research capacity for a few pieces she’s envisioning. Even more exciting, I received an opportunity to make my first-ever television appearance on a local station, during which one of The Undefeated writers and I got a chance to talk about the NCAA Tournament and what the future holds for The Undefeated.

It’s definitely been an adjustment going from a college newsroom last year to a professional newsroom last summer during my internship with The Washington Post to now being involved with a completely new site. Regardless, I’m enjoying every minute of this experience, which is why I’ve been so open to helping in any way I can.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there are you using in your job? What have you learned on the job?

A. The most important thing I learned during my time in UNC’s journalism school was to be open-minded while chasing the goals you set for yourself in the journalism field. I always knew I wanted to work in sports media, and for the longest time I solely wanted to work in a print journalism capacity as a sportswriter for a daily newspaper.

Then I took Andy Bechtel’s News Editing course, which exposed me to a different side of the process of producing content — the editing process. Now, my first full-time job out of college is as a copy editor, though I’ll still have an opportunity to contribute as a writer! That semester in News Editing eventually turned into another semester in Advanced Editing, and finally I found that the skills I learned in these courses translated into improvements in my writing, reporting and even my personal brand through social media.

The journalism school taught me that it’s nice at times to take a step back from what you’re doing — how you’re striving toward a certain career path — and look at it in a different way. It took me a while to figure things out, but in order to find a place within the field of sports media, I had to embrace the realization that having a diverse skill set is better than being a one-trick pony.

I might’ve looked too deeply into this question, but I do think a lot about your courses and some of the things my other journalism school professors, like John Robinson, taught me while I was at UNC. You guys tested me, kicked my butt at times, but I wouldn’t have been able to get to ESPN without you.

Q. Sportswriting is a popular pursuit among journalism students. What advice do you have for them?

A. The best advice I could give is to never pass up on an opportunity. The more opportunities you tackle — freelancing, blogging, covering games (especially the ones no one wants to cover) — the better you will get.

In a sense, becoming a good sports journalist is a matter of trial and error. Eventually, you’ll begin to look at sports news, games, players and stories in different and exciting way. This brings me to my next (and probably cliché) piece of advice: dare to be different! When I interviewed with The Undefeated, I was asked to pitch a story idea even though I applied to be a copy editor, not a writer. I pitched a story that was weird and something the editors had never heard of or even thought about. The idea came to me as a product of how much time I’ve spent in the last few years writing, editing and reading as many stories as I can.

After I got hired, I was told that my story pitch was what got me the job. I hope to eventually get a chance to write that story for The Undefeated, but in the meantime I’ll keep looking at sports journalism in unique ways. I think this open approach is beneficial to anyone pursuing a career in sportswriting.

How I am spending spring break

UNC-Chapel Hill is on spring break this week. It’s a needed respite for students and faculty alike.

Although I am not teaching any classes this week, I have plenty to keep me busy. Here’s how I am spending my spring break:

  • grading midterm exams and other assignments
  • preparing presentations and assignments for class for next week
  • reviewing applications for an online master’s program in communication and technology
  • submitting reviews for the Tankard Book Award
  • preparing for sessions at the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society

Spring break isn’t all work, though. Last weekend, I spent a long weekend with friends at a lake house. This weekend, my son and I will attend NCAA Tournament games in Raleigh. In between, I had lunch with a longtime friend whom I don’t get to see often enough because of geography and work schedules.

I’ll be back in class first thing Monday morning. When colleagues and students ask whether I had a good break, I am certain that the answer will be yes.