Jazzed about journalism

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Next week, I am stepping out of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and spending my days at the music department.

I am one of several instructors in the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop. It’s the third time that I’ve participated in the one-week program.

So what is an editor doing at a jazz workshop? I’ll work with about a dozen students who want to learn about digital journalism as part of their workshop experience.

Here is our schedule:

Monday, June 18
Topic: Introductions. What is news? What makes a good post?
Exercises: Create a WordPress site at web.unc.edu. Post your impressions of this evening’s performance.

Tuesday, June 19
Topics: Exploring writing formats for digital media; basics of interviewing.
Exercise: Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.

Wednesday, June 20
Topic: Writing for social media and live-tweeting.
Exercise: Use Twitter (and more) to cover the evening performance.

Thursday, June 21
Topic: Writing headlines and captions.
Exercise: Write headlines and captions.

Friday, June 22
Topic: Pulling it all together.
Exercise: Use Wakelet to recap our week.

Thanks to Stephen Anderson, the workshop’s director, for the opportunity to work with these students. I’m looking forward to an exciting week of music, words and images.

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Q&A with Sergio Tovar, social media specialist at Duke University

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Sergio Tovar is social media specialist at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He previously worked as a sportswriter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. In this interview, conducted by email, Tovar discusses his job, the transition to higher education from news and life as a Tar Heels fan in Blue Devils country.

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

A. I’m in charge of social media for Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. That means I spend a large part of my day promoting our content, monitoring our different channels and covering school events. I also look at analytics to figure out long-term strategy to help us recruit prospective students and reach the overall community.

Aside from social media, I’m responsible for writing stories, press releases and other internal communication highlighting our students, faculty and research while also editing our student blogs. I also help with digital marketing and advertising as well as video and multimedia production.

I pretty much do a little bit of everything, and no two days are the same, which is something I really like.

Q. Before working at Duke, you were a reporter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. What was that transition like?

A. I like to tell people that being a journalist today requires you to wear so many different hats that it makes changing jobs – and picking up new skills as you go – a little easier.

I already had experience with a lot of what I do now while working in the newsroom, so that made it a pretty easy transition. I had no experience in higher ed, so I did have to learn about how the school operates, how recruitment works as well as other aspects of the field.

Honestly, the biggest transition was learning to take my time to work on projects. Working for an online-first publication, you pretty much have an ongoing deadline and are constantly trying not to get beat by a competitor. That’s a hard mentality to break away from.

Q. You’re a 2009 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What have you learned on the job?

A. I became a much better writer as a student there, and no matter what my job is, I’ll continue to use that every single day.

Knowing how to condense a big idea and communicate it to a specific audience is very important to my job. If you ever have to translate a scientific paper into everyday English, you’ll know what I mean. Everything from knowing how to interview people to some of what I learned in media law is still applicable to what I do.

Dating back to my Daily Tar Heel days, I learned the importance of knowing how to multitask, especially when you’re working under deadline. I’m constantly working on a few projects on top of my day-to-day responsibilities, so I can’t even begin to describe how important having that skill is in the real world. Other than that, I’ve learned to be flexible, to always take time to learn from my co-workers and to never stop looking for new skills.

Q. So you work at Duke but went to UNC. What’s your life like on Carolina-Duke game days?

A. I’m a huge Carolina fan, so I try to be as obnoxious about it as possible. If you take one look at my desk, there’s no question about where I went to school, and on game day I’m more than likely wearing Carolina blue to reinforce the point.

I don’t really work directly with people who care all that much about the rivalry, so I don’t catch as much flak as you would imagine. We also have several other Tar Heels in the building, so I have some backup.

Aside from a little bit of friendly trash talk, the worst thing has been having a co-worker hand deliver a copy of The (Duke) Chronicle after losses. When UNC wins, I don’t return the favor. I just show up in Carolina blue again.

A 40-year-old intern in L.A.

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Ten years ago this week, I was starting a seven-week stint at The Los Angeles Times.

At the time, I had been in academia and out of the newsroom for three years, and I was feeling out of touch with rapid changes in journalism. I sought to be a 40-year-old intern, with a digital focus, at a news organization.

The Los Angeles Times agreed to take me on for part of the summer. My official title was “contractor.” My work each day was as an editor, posting stories to the website and writing headlines, among other tasks.

Working on the Web desk of The Los Angeles Times refreshed my editing skills and allowed me to learn some new ones.  I also learned that you can get by in Southern California without a car, thanks to the Big Blue Bus. And hiking in Topanga Canyon and having a celebrity sighting (Larry David at a sushi restaurant) were part of the fun of living in L.A.

Thanks to everyone at The Los Angeles Times — especially Henry Fuhrmann, Eric Ulken and Daniel Gaines — for their guidance and camaraderie for that time in 2008. Thanks also to my friends Frank and Jody, who invited me to live in their guest room on the Westside.

Ten years later, I am doing my best to keep up with changes in journalism so I can teach my students well. Webinars, workshops and conferences are helpful, but I’m due for another newsroom experience. If you are looking for a 50(ish)-year-old intern in 2019, let me know.

Two N.C. journalists sign off

In my nearly 30 years in professional journalism, I have been fortunate to work with many talented colleagues in newsrooms and classrooms. Two of them retired last week:

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Dan Barkin at his sendoff from The News & Observer. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Hyman)

Dan Barkin stepped down as managing editor at The News & Observer. He previously served as business editor at the Raleigh newspaper, leading one of the country’s best business sections.

I worked closely with Dan in the early 2000s when he was deputy managing editor and I was Nation and World editor. He helped the N&O newsroom coordinate coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war and the 2004 presidential campaign. His advice and guidance were invaluable.

Dan plans to spend time with his grandchildren, go for long walks and enjoy the North Carolina coast.

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Jock Lauterer at his sendoff from the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Jock Lauterer stepped down as senior lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school. In his 17 years of teaching at his alma mater, he led the Carolina Community Media Project to boost local journalism. He’s written a textbook on that topic and led workshops at community newspapers throughout the state.

In 2008, Jock started the Durham VOICE, a student-produced website and monthly newspaper that covers a part of Durham that is often overlooked by other news organizations. Students in my Advanced Editing course contribute by editing and posting stories to the site. Our collaboration brought back that unique feeling of working in a newsroom.

Jock plans to return to the VOICE in spring 2019 as a part-time instructor. He’s also taken up the cello.

Best wishes to Dan and Jock on their retirements. Thank you for making me smarter and for bringing the news to readers across North Carolina.

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Covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Each spring, journalism students from UNC-Chapel Hill create a multimedia project that focuses on a place and topic. Last year, students covered trends among young people in Cuba.

This year, another group of students visited Puerto Rico to document the island’s struggles after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. The result is Aftermath, a website that includes video, photography, story text and infographics to tell this important story.

Congratulations to the students and to my colleagues Pat Davison, Tamara Rice, Christa Gala and Kate Sheppard. Thank you for inviting students in my Advanced Editing class to contribute to the success of this project.

Student guest post: Lessons from both sides of the editor’s desk

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 13th (and last) of those posts. Mimi Tomei is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a concentration  in reporting. She is a contributor for CollegeTown and works with the Yackety Yack, the UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook, as 2018 assistant photography editor and 2019 co-associate editor-in-chief.

This semester, I’ve had the unusual but rewarding privilege of simultaneously occupying both sides of the editor-writer relationship in my work in both John Robinson’s feature writing class and Andy Bechtel’s Advanced Editing course. In Advanced Editing, we edit some of the stories feature writing creates as classwork.

When I was finalizing my schedule at the beginning of the semester, I sent an email to both Professor Robinson and Professor Bechtel explaining that I had enrolled in both their courses explaining my situation. I thought it would be weird editing the work of my classmates.

But as the semester draws to a close, I’ve come to realize that my knowledge of the process of reporting and writing a feature helps me in my editing process immensely. It has its logistical advantages, because I have the opportunity to communicate with the writers I edit in person twice a week in class. In Professor Robinson’s course, I learn what makes a good feature story, which helps me look for these elements in the pieces I edit.

On the flip side, learning to edit has made me a better writer, too. Before I submit my feature stories to Professor Robinson, I devote time to running through my stories, checking AP style and catching as many small errors as I can. I want to let my editor focus on bigger picture things. Roy Peter Clark’s “55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” formed part of our lectures in feature writing. Tools like #37, “In short works, don’t waste a syllable,” can be just as applicable to editing as they are to writing.

Sometimes our roles as editors and writers aren’t as clear-cut as in these two courses. When we as editors curate content on a Wakelet page, create a photo slideshow or even produce layouts for the Durham VOICE, we consider things like story structure and paragraph and sentence length that are crucial to putting together an effective feature.

And the value of this experience isn’t just limited to news professionals. As part of our midterm in Advanced Editing, we read Carol Saller’s “The Subversive Copy Editor.” On her website, the first line of her biography is “As both a creative writer and long-time editor on the staff of The Chicago Manual of Style, I’ve seen it all from both sides of the publishing desk” – note the italics this Chicago style aficionado uses. Saller is an editor for the Chicago Manual of Style, a style more familiar to book authors than news writers.

Of course, there are things as editors that we won’t ever be able to learn from writers. The writers who create the Durham VOICE have a deeper understanding of the community they cover, Northeast Central Durham, than I’ll ever have sitting in a classroom in Chapel Hill. And with features, as with pretty much anything else I or my classmates will edit, we won’t have been there for interviews. This means we don’t have the memory of the interview to help guide us as we help punctuate quotes, for example.

Learning to understand what the other cogs in the metaphorical wheel of news media do is especially important as the media industry continues to require us journalists to have increasingly multifaceted skill sets. Perhaps as we do this, we can learn to harness this expectation and allow these skills to complement, not confront, each other.

Q&A with Gabe Whisnant, digital editor at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

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Gabe Whisnant is assistant managing editor, digital, at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com in South Carolina. He previously worked as a news editor at The Shelby Star and sports editor at The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Whisnant discusses his job in Spartanburg, news coverage of the Carolina Panthers training camp and the skills journalism students need to succeed.

Q. Describe your job at the Herald-Journal. What is your typical day?

A. I try to spend the first of the morning looking at our page views, visitors and other metrics over the last 24 to 48 hours via Parse.ly and Google Analytics. Whether our numbers are up or down, I check … Is the website fresh? Is there something that may be buried on the site that should be moved to a more prominent position? Are there stories or photo galleries on news partner sites that may be valuable or interesting to our readers? Are our social media pages fresh?

I keep an eye on the AP South Carolina wire to get the top state news on our site. The AP moves amazing photos, so I search and post regional and national galleries that may grab some attention. Being the first editor in the building, I also work closely with the morning crime/cops reporter on editing and posting breaking or overnight local news.

I try to spend the last half of the day looking at goals and objectives for the week and month ahead. We have in-house and corporate web/mobile traffic, video/audio and social goals we want to meet, so it pays to look at progress daily so we’re not playing catch-up.

I monitor our site and social media feeds on nights and weekends, but the goal is to have a plan in place where that is at a minimum. Our night/weekend editors do a great job and deserve a lot of credit for keeping the site fresh.

Q. You previously worked at newspapers in Shelby and Gastonia, among others. What was the transition to a fully digital job like?

A. Given the vast capabilities we have with web projects, video and audio – and the 24/7 power of social media and mobile – I am fortunate to be in a position to point my focus forward in web-first journalism. I do miss planning A1s and Sports fronts – there is something really special and sacred about that daily task – but digital news is the present and future, of course. I would like to think I was already working with a “digital first” mentality as a news and sports editor, but when you’re having to think about print and pages, that can be easier said than done.

During our 3 p.m. budget meetings – when the other editors are talking about print placement — I give a rundown of our page views for the day, thus far, and we discuss website placement and social media timing for articles and galleries.

Good place to note, the Herald-Journal works closely with Shelby, Gastonia and Hendersonville within a Western Carolinas cluster of the larger GateHouse Media Carolinas group. All of the above share and communicate regularly – from tagging each other’s sites on galleries to long-term projects like Travel in the Carolinas.

Q. Spartanburg is host to the Carolina Panthers training camp each summer. How does the Herald-Journal prepare and cover that event?

A. Last year was my first working, training camp experience, so I had a lot to learn and get up to speed quickly. Across departments, we start planning months in advance.

Our sports staff focuses on the X’s and O’s, roster cuts and press conferences at Wofford College. Before, during and after camp, the news side writes about the Spartanburg city/business/restaurant impact of hosting training camp as well as special fan and event features. Our photo staff stays busy shooting and creating galleries of all of the above.

Where I saw a small void in our camp coverage was a full saturation of social media, so I helped fill in that gap with Facebook live videos, Instagram posts and making sure everything we produced ran through our GoUpstate Twitter feed. With an event that draws over 100,000 people per year, we want to own Panthers camp from all local angles.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in digital news?

A. Be diverse in your skills (but you probably already know that). Yes, you still need to be solid in information gathering and writing, but be prepared to know or learn how to do all-things reporting – photography, video, audio, special projects. If/when you find a niche in which you are more proficient or enjoy, follow it, but also stay well-rounded.

Don’t be hesitant to be a leader within your newsroom, even if you are a newcomer. If you’re picking up on a trend or something new for the web or social your newsroom needs to incorporate, talk to your editors. They will appreciate it.

Keep following other reporters and editors on social media – in and out of your market and of publications of all sizes and forms. We are in an industry that has a great ability with forums to learn from each other. Never stop reading and learning.