Let’s work together

On occasion, I hear students lament the assignment of a group project. But as an instructor, I am adding team-based tasks to my courses, not reducing them. Here’s why.

My son is a first-year student at Rice University, majoring in computer science. Last fall, I visited him for family weekend. In addition to a campus tour and a football game, parents had the opportunity to attend a presentation from Rice’s Center for Career Development. We were eager to hear how our children would get jobs and internships.

Nicole Van Den Heuvel, the director of the center, discussed the results of a survey of employers who had visited Rice. Here’s the slide that she shared:

skills-employers-want

The most-wanted quality in a potential hire? “Ability to work in a team.” That’s what a group project can teach. Lower on the list? Grade point average and double majoring.

Group work happens in many professions every day. As a copy editor, I worked with teams to produce newspaper sections and websites. As a professor, I’ve worked on teams on various tasks, including admissions to graduate programs and revisions to our curriculum.

Many journalism courses simulate what it’s like to work in a newsroom or advertising agency. Much of the work in those environments is done in groups.

So the more I think about group projects, the more I want students to do them. I hope that they will learn the “interpersonal skills” and “problem-solving skills” that employers also value highly.

Are you ready to work with me?

Advertisements

Q&A with Amber Rupinta, ABC11 anchor

amber-rupinta

Amber Rupinta outside the ABC11 newsroom in downtown Raleigh.

Amber Rupinta is a reporter and anchor at ABC11 Eyewitness News. She has worked at ABC affiliate WTVD — which covers a section of North Carolina that includes Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville — since 2004. In this interview, conducted by email, Rupinta discusses her work at the station, the change from the morning broadcast to afternoons, and her experience in graduate programs in digital communication and meteorology.

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

A. A typical day in the ABC11 newsroom begins with a story shoot for me. We have a daily morning meeting with news managers and reporters that begins at 9 a.m. to pitch and assign stories to reporters.

I work on a little bit of a different reporting schedule due to my news anchoring duties at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. I set up my weekly story schedule on Fridays so I know where I need to be and when in order to get back in the studio in time to prepare for the evening news.

On a side note, working in the field means preparing for the elements as well, so every morning before leaving the house I have to pack a bag with a studio wardrobe while wearing appropriate clothing for the weather.

Depending on my story, I either meet my photojournalist at the studio and we leave together in a station vehicle, or I meet him on site to gather the story. If I make it back in time, I change clothing, mic up and jump on set at the end of the noon newscast to tease what we are working on for the news at 4 p.m.

As far as stories go, it runs the gamut for me. I can cover everything from human interest stories to celebrities or politicians in town to storms headed our way or a press conference with city officials about a big news story of the day.

The exciting thing about this job for me is that no day is typical and we can make a difference by bringing awareness to issues our community is facing. I switch gears quickly and often, and I learn new things all the time. The element of taking information and quickly breaking it down into an easy to understand story or format for viewers keeps it fresh, but I have to admit, sometimes the deadlines can be very stressful.

Working under the pressure of a deadline is constant, and it does take time to get used to working at that pace daily. There are also days when we have to interrupt programming for breaking news, so sometimes I am told to put on my mics and get on the set as quickly as possible.

We also have a lot of emceeing events in the community so I can spend a morning helping with a non-profit at a fundraising breakfast or an evening at a gala. Days are busy when your station covers 23 counties and more than 3 million potential viewers!

Q. In 2017, you moved from the morning to the afternoon broadcast. Why did you make that change, and how does time of day affect your work?

A. There were a few reasons I made the change to the afternoon broadcast. One of the biggest was it was a promotion and the opportunity doesn’t always come up for afternoon anchor jobs. And, in all honesty, as much as I loved the pace of a morning show and the camaraderie of a team that works at zero dark thirty, after answering a painful 2:30 a.m. alarm clock five days a week for nearly a decade, the timing was right to make a change and sleep(!) like a “normal” person again.

Moving to afternoons, I have found the pace of my day is drastically different. On a morning newscast, you hit the ground running, and most of your shift is spent on air. I would constantly monitor Twitter feeds or CrowdTangle for updates on breaking news.

Stories often are breaking and developing in the overnight hours, and that makes for a very fast-paced environment to deliver the news. The morning broadcast is on air from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., and we have to do a lot of updates to social media and weather and traffic.

Many morning viewers are watching in shorter time frames but need all the headlines and any issues affecting them before heading out the door. After the morning news, I would head out to gather a story and could be live in the noon news. The morning team works in a fast-paced environment, and it is very exciting.

The afternoon broadcast is also exciting, but the pace is a little less hectic compared with the morning news as we can monitor and watch a story develop throughout the day. As a reporter, getting ready for the afternoon broadcast brings the opportunity to take your time gathering interviews and crafting a story. It allows for more time to do research and investigate, and there are more resources in the newsroom during the day shift, which can help tremendously when you are in the field. It is also much easier to call people for interviews or information during “normal” hours, so that can make your job much easier.

Q. In the past few years, you earned a certificate in digital communication from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a certificate in meteorology at Mississippi State. What did you learn from those programs that you use in your job at ABC11?

A. I enrolled in the certificate program in digital communication at UNC-Chapel Hill because I felt I needed to sharpen my digital skills after working for more than a decade in the day-to-day broadcast news side of the business. I truly felt I was going to get left behind as the shift to digital became more apparent from an industry standpoint.

The certificate program was exactly what I needed to get a handle on new online tools and resources for investigative journalism and simply to uncover information a reporter needs. It also helped me sharpen my digital writing skills. There is a huge difference in how you write for a news broadcast, which is more conversational, to how you must write for digital. I hate to admit it, but, I was very rusty writing for digital or print-style format and the program really helped boost my confidence.

I was able to bring a lot of the information I learned back to the newsroom, and I am happy to say our entire newsroom now uses Grammarly, a program I learned about through the certificate program. Several co-workers also have inquired about and enrolled in the program as digital changes so rapidly. It is a great way to keep up with the tools and is completely doable while working.

As far as the certificate in meteorology through Mississippi State University, this was a program I began nearly a decade ago. I put it on the back burner when I took a job with ABC11. After covering numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters and living through massive property damage from huge storms, I realized I wanted to finish my degree for a better understanding of weather events that affect so many people.

I enjoyed learning about meteorology so much that I went on to earn a B.S. in geoscience. Not only did the program enhance my knowledge of understanding the atmosphere, but it also makes me a better journalist.

All of the programs I enrolled in help me cover weather events, which are always top news stories. They also help me report on multiple platforms, especially digital, which is the future of journalism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering a career in broadcast journalism?

A. The best advice I can give to students is to learn and understand the business.

Many students (I was also guilty) are so laser-focused on the journalism but never learn about how the company or business makes money. Understanding how ratings translate to revenue and how clicks are monetized through different digital platforms is crucial to understanding changes in operations, job expectations and job opportunities!

The TV industry — as well as newspaper and radio — are quickly changing due to digital content. The immediate, widespread impact of social media has changed how we approach stories, sped up our deadlines and made us rethink who is in our audience.  We can now shoot and edit in the palms of our hands, and go live anywhere with backpack units.

And now, more than ever, with all of that in mind, it is more important to be RIGHT, before being FIRST. Social media spreads like wildfire — and it’s next to impossible to put out that fire once it spreads. Get the facts, get a second source to verify the facts, cover the story truthfully with no bias, and go.

It’s an exciting career. You never know where you’ll end up. Just tell the story — don’t become the story.

Follow Amber Rupinta on Twitter and learn more about her on the ABC11 website.

What I am teaching this semester

carrollhall

Carroll Hall is the the home of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The spring semester of 2019 begins this week at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what I am teaching:

  • MEJO 157, News Editing. This course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. The class meets twice a week and has 19 students. Here is the syllabus.
  • MEJO 557, Advanced Editing. This course builds on MEJO 157 by incorporating specialty areas such as features, opinion writing and sports. Students also collaborate with other courses on projects such as The Durham VOICE. The class meets twice a week and has 20 students. Here is the syllabus.

You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school at the Park Library website. Best wishes to all on a successful semester!

Q&A with Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at Poynter

doristruong

Doris Truong is director of training and diversity at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. Prior to taking that job earlier this year, Truong worked in various roles at The Washington Post, including homepage editor, and as a copy editor at The Dallas Morning News. She is also a past president of the Asian American Journalists Association. In this interview, conducted by email, Truong discusses her new role at Poynter and offers advice to student journalists.

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

A. I just started my role as director of training and diversity in August, so there hasn’t been enough time to establish a routine. I can already tell that most days will be marked by the lack of routine: I might be preparing to teach (or teaching), writing a piece for Poynter.org, taking meetings with stakeholders or planning months ahead on Poynter’s curriculum.

However, it’s a much more manageable day — in terms of pace and stress level — than being in a 24/7 newsroom. I do miss The Washington Post, especially on Election Day and during breaking news. But I don’t miss receiving dozens of push alerts from multiple news apps each day just to be sure there’s not a major story reported elsewhere that deserves a spot on the homepage.

Q. What are some shortcomings you see in news organizations regarding diversity and inclusion? Success stories?

A. Newsrooms don’t become more diverse and inclusive overnight. It’s a moral and financial imperative — and newsroom leaders need to make hires that mirror their diverse audience to be able to accurately represent those stories.

Many newsrooms fall into a trap of thinking that diversity is a binary issue, but it’s not able just looking at races of people on staff. It’s also a matter of someone’s life experience, which broadly includes socioeconomics, religion, age, family status, sexual orientation, military background, languages spoken and even the places where they have lived (urban vs. rural, domestic vs. international, coastal vs. landlocked). The news audience isn’t easily defined, so neither should the staff be.

One of the success stories is Chicago’s City Bureau, which takes diversity, equity and inclusion seriously in its hiring practices and employment policies. You can see the difference in the coverage City Bureau produces. Part of the success is because diversity and inclusion were baked into City Bureau since its founding in 2015. Legacy media have generations of old habits to overcome.

Q. You previously worked as a copy editor and homepage editor. How do you use those skills in your current position?

A. The skills of a good copy editor are always in demand. I help with taking a final look at marketing materials and grant proposals.

My homepage skills have been handy because Poynter.org is in the middle of a slight redesign as we switch software on the back end. For the site visitor, we hope the content will be easier to navigate — and the search function should be a lot more useful.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists who are starting their careers?

A. Be as widely read as you can. Having a little bit of general knowledge in many subjects will help you know when something might be fishy and needs a bit more research.

Specialize in at least one thing. I’d stick to core journalism principles because who knows where technology will take us, but key strengths such as writing, editing and fact-checking will always be necessary to produce quality journalism.

Know how everyone else does their jobs. If you’re a word person, learn what’s important to designers and visual journalists (these might be videographers or photojournalists).

Stay on top of trends. You don’t have to master everything, but know what technology can do and be able to speak about it with some familiarity.

Learn to meet deadlines (and to work quickly but accurately).

And join a journalism association! I recommend the Asian American Journalists Association, which has a convention newsroom that recruits college students from a variety of backgrounds.

Network with your peers and identify mentors (you don’t always need a personal connection to have a mentor — take Sheryl Sandberg, for example). Ask questions. And always follow up when you get someone’s business card (or contact information). 

Exploring news deserts

desert

My colleague Penelope Muse Abernathy is making news about a lack of news.

As Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, she is researching “news deserts” — areas of the United States that are running dry on information. Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have gone out of business, many of them weekly publications.

It’s a problem that speaks to the heart of our society. Here’s how Abernathy describes it:

The stakes are high, not just for the communities that have lost newspapers — or are living with the threat of losing a local newspaper – but also for the entire country. Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished.

The latest research by Abernathy and her team consists of two parts: “The Loss of Local News” looks at the trend of diminishing publications and readership. “The Enduring Legacy of Our New Media Barons” examines changes in newspaper ownership, including the role of private equity firms and other investment companies.

These reports are making news of their own. Brian Stelter of CNN interviewed Abernathy for a story and podcast. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, cited her work in this column about the importance of local news.

I encourage you to explore “The Expanding News Desert,” a website that collects Abernathy’s reports on this topic. There, you can see where the news deserts are, who owns the newspaper in your community and much more.

Q&A with Sarah Rabil, talent editor at The Wall Street Journal

Sarah Rabil is assistant managing editor for talent at The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked as a reporter and editor there and at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Rabil discusses her role in career development, what the Journal looks for in applicants and what she learned in journalism school and beyond.

Q. Describe your job at The Wall Street Journal. What is your typical day like?

A. I support recruiting, hiring and career development across the newsroom. I loved editing the Journal’s media and advertising coverage in my last role (and still get an adrenaline rush when news is breaking!), but I’ve enjoyed shifting that energy into ensuring that this already stellar newsroom is diverse and welcoming and hiring exceptionally talented journalists.

Four months into this job, I’m learning that no day is typical. I got into journalism for the variety, the lifelong learning and the hope that my work helps people, so I appreciate that my current role allows me to constantly meet new people and support 1,230+ of the best journalists I’ve ever known.

One day I may be strategizing about how to define new roles, meeting with Journal reporters to discuss potential next steps in their careers, and interviewing candidates for personal finance reporting or data editing. The next day I may be attending a journalism conference to scout for new talent or spending a day at a university to meet with students and spread the word about our internship opportunities.

The chance to step back and discuss ambitious journalism and figure out how we can help support and train the next generation really is inspiring.

Q. What does the Journal look for in applicants for jobs and internships?

A. Each job opening is an opportunity to think creatively and ambitiously about how we want to evolve our coverage, better serve our two million-plus subscribers and continue to broaden our audience.

When we are hiring reporters and editors, I am looking for skilled writers with a proven ability to chase down (or shepherd) scoops and come up with interesting enterprise stories. The best way to get on my radar is to do great work that I wish we had published ourselves.

I’m also increasingly seeking out video producers, data scientists, interactive graphic designers, newsletter writers and specialized reporters for our Professional Products. The Journal is far more than a newspaper these days. We are very much a digital-first news organization.

For internships, I’m looking for students and recent grads who come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom. You don’t have to be an expert in business, finance and economics to intern at the Journal, but an interest and willingness to learn are key.

I look for interns to bring curiosity, passion and new ideas into the newsroom. I’m seeking out students with a foundation in newsgathering and some prior news deadline experience.

Beyond that, I’m also keen to welcome interns who can bring much-needed digital skills that will help us continue to innovate — whether that’s an interest in audience analytics, creative video editing, social media savvy, comfort with data analysis or the ability to code.

Q. You previously worked as a deputy bureau chief at the Journal and as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg. How do those experiences help you in your current job?

A. I tend to think of the Journal newsroom and the broader news/journalism industry as my new beat. Recruiting and offering career advice are, in a way, very similar to developing the relationships with sources that allow you to be a successful beat reporter or developing the relationships with reporters that help you become a better editor.

I also had the benefit of studying our own publication/company and our media competitors for many years from the reporting side. Over the course of 11 years, I was a media reporter, team leader for a global deals column and an editor for coverage of media, telecommunications and advertising. I like to think that it gave me insight into the rapid evolution of the news industry, and I’m enjoying applying that knowledge to shape our talent strategy going forward.

And when it comes to talking to potential job candidates, I can directly speak to what it’s like at the Journal being in the trenches during breaking news, going through the process to publish a front-page enterprise story or brainstorming a visual digital package. I like to think that makes me more credible when I speak about our news values, strategy and culture.

Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you acquired?

A. I like to say that I got my journalism degree at UNC. Then I got the equivalent of an MBA on the job as a business reporter.

UNC’s journalism school gave me a solid foundation in reporting and an introduction to business and economics (I also got a business minor at Kenan-Flagler Business School).

Chris Roush’s business reporting program really gave me a leg up in the job market. I was comfortable writing on deadline, deciphering SEC filings, studying the market and interviewing executives. Another great professor — Phil Meyer, a legend in using social science methods in journalism — inspired me to dig deeply into complex topics, ask the tough questions and use data and statistics to test my assumptions and support my conclusions.

Browse the job listings at The Wall Street Journal and follow Sarah Rabil on Twitter.

How I will spend fall break

carrollhall

Carroll Hall, home of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, will be quiet during fall break.

UNC-Chapel Hill is on fall break later this week. That means no classes or meetings on campus Thursday or Friday.

Here’s how I will spend this time:

  • Grade assignments from the three courses that I am teaching this semester.
  • Prepare presentations and assignments for next week’s classes.
  • Write a recommendation letter for a student who is applying to law school.
  • Review a colleague’s materials and write a report for the journalism school’s tenure committee.
  • Order textbooks for next semester’s courses.
  • Read a draft of a master’s thesis.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Buy a new laptop.
  • Vote.
  • Party like a professor.