A new gig in online teaching and learning

Online master’s student Jennie Saia crosses the stage at commencement with her newborn child. Students in the Hussman School’s MADC program are welcome to take part in graduation ceremonies.

Today, I start a new role at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. I am director of the online master’s program in digital communication.

I have taught in this program for many years and will do so again this fall. I’m a big believer in online education, and I’m excited to have the chance to lead this program.

The MADC curriculum is intended for midcareer professionals who are looking to learn new skills and concepts. Students take two courses per semester and complete a thesis project. The program is rolling out a revised curriculum this fall.

You can read more about the MADC program in this FAQ. Or you can ask me!

When journalism and jazz connect — virtually


For several years, I have participated in the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop, teaching a component about journalism. It’s been a fun way to introduce students to the essentials of reporting, writing and editing about music.

The 2020 workshop will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All summer courses at UNC-Chapel Hill have moved online, and that includes the one-week workshop.

The show must go on! To make that happen, the workshop’s instructors will use a blend of Zoom, YouTube, Spotify and Dropbox. Stephen Anderson, the workshop’s director, has posted this video to explain how it will come together.

For the journalism segment, students will also use WordPress and Twitter. Here’s the syllabus and our plan for that part of the workshop:

Monday, June 15
Topics: Understanding news values and getting started with reporting and writing.
Exercises: Create a website at web.unc.edu. Post your review of a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Tuesday, June 16
Topic: Writing for social media and live-tweeting.
Exercise: Use Twitter to document a historic performance by Mary Lou Williams.

Wednesday, June 17
Topics: Exploring story formats for digital media.
Exercise: Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.

Thursday, June 18
Topic: Writing headlines and captions.
Exercise: Write headlines and captions.

Friday, June 19
Topic: Curating social media.
Exercise: Recap our week using the list format.

Q&A with Jordan Wilkie of Carolina Public Press

Black Mountain Crest Trail

Jordan Wilkie is the lead contributing reporter covering elections and voting security for Carolina Public Press. CPP is a nonprofit news organization based in Asheville, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Wilkie discusses his work there and the need for new business models for news.

Q. What is Carolina Public Press, and where does it fit into the state’s news ecosystem?

A. I think CPP is the future of the state’s news ecosystem, though I’m an odd combination of dreamer and cynic.

The elevator pitch is that CPP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, investigative newsroom that covers the entire state. CPP is one of the pioneering newsrooms showing there is a new model for news in North Carolina — free content, provided by a nonprofit newsroom that runs on grants, donations from individuals and business sponsorships.

Since CPP is a nonprofit, it has republishing agreements with other outlets across the state. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer have republished my work a handful of times. CPP’s nonprofit status also makes the newsroom predisposed to collaboration. CPP won several state press awards for its Seeking Conviction series, a “collaborative investigative project spanning 6½ months and including 11 news organizations.”

CPP is working with five other news organizations to cover COVID-19’s effects on the state. So far, I have been a part of one story on county boards of elections needing additional funding to carry off this year’s general election during a pandemic. I’m co-reporting a second story this week on the state’s response to outbreaks of COVID-19 in its prisons.

The future of news is nonprofit or highly localized for-profit outlets. In CPP’s case, this is still a bit of a pipe dream. CPP has a newsroom of three (when I start my salaried position in June, I’ll officially be part of the newsroom, but since I’m contracted to them full time now, I’m fudging just a little). Though CPP has a team of contributors, the organization itself remains quite small.

On the other hand, the business model for regional, for-profit newsrooms is broken.

When we think of North Carolina news outlets, the state’s long-standing regional newspapers often come first to mind. These papers have long histories of public service in watchdog journalism, and they still employ some of the best reporters in the state.

The for-profit journalism model, however, has struggled for a generation. The Charlotte Observer, the N&O and the Durham Herald-Sun are owned by the now-bankrupt McClatchy, having already suffered a decade of layoffs and forced retirements. The Fayetteville Observer, owned by Gannett Media, and the Greensboro News and Record, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, have not fared much better. Nationally, newspapers have lost half of their newsroom employees since 2008.

CPP does not have the same pressures as these much larger, for-profit newsrooms. Its ability to do investigative work actually supports the larger newsrooms, which have lost a lot of reporters and therefore opportunity to really dive into some stories. For now, CPP operates as a glue, filling gaps and providing support to other newsrooms, as well as working independently to do its own reporting.

I fear I may be overstating CPP’s influence here, at the risk of drawing the ire of my collaborators at the regional papers and TV stations. But I really do think that journalism needs a new business model, and I’m certainly not thinking like a pioneer nor a radical here.

Certainly, I do not want to overstate my importance or contributions. I’m still very much a green reporter. I’m taking every opportunity I can to learn from great reporters around the state; the chance to collaborate with reporters I have been reading for years was a major reason I pursued a job with CPP. I’m just starting my career, and I’m doing it with CPP — another reason I’m hopeful we will be the future of reporting in the state.

Q. Describe your role there. What is your typical day like?

A. I’ll spare you the drudgery of my actual day-to-day work habits and just focus on my role.

I wrote my first story for CPP about conditions in the Cherokee County Jail, where the State Bureau of Investigation was looking into violence against detainees and where a detainee had recently died. That was one of my first stories out of graduate school, where I focused on covering conditions of confinement in jails, prisons and juvenile detentions.

That was just supposed to be a two-day story looking at the recent death, but I got ahead of myself and submitted enough records requests to drag the reporting out over a couple of months. By the time we actually got it published — and set the stage for a half-dozen follow-up stories by CPP’s new investigations reporter, Kate Martin — I had taken a job covering Georgia’s 2018 midterm elections.

Fast forward to now, and I’m CPP’s prisons and elections expert.

Technically, I’m joining CPP’s newsroom through the Report for America program just to cover election fraud and security. The COVID-19 pandemic, though, called for a broader focus in my reporting. So now, I’m bouncing between looking into county election budgets in the morning and arguing with the Department of Public Safety over releasing records in the afternoon.

One of the great pleasures of working with CPP is that they give me the latitude to get really into the weeds. Since CPP doesn’t have the same pressures to create content as larger, for-profit newsrooms, I’m able to spend more time reading a lot of technical documents like National Institute of Standards and Technology research on voting systems, or the Health Care Policy Manual from the Division of Prisons. I find this really helpful when talking to state agencies because I know what records they have and I know the things that they should know. It helps me know what information to ask for — even if they rarely give it to me — and to know when they’re trying to lead me around by the nose.

To summarize, my work looks like going to board meetings, reading technical documents and reports, and making records requests. My goal, especially with elections coverage, is to make the national stories make sense here, from a local angle. I see it as a kind of translation.

The challenge now is to figure out the balance between long-term stories, deep dives, investigations and the needs of the day-to-day.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at Carolina Public Press?

A. CPP has a pretty linear process for in-house stories. Collaborations are an entirely different beast.

For in-house stories, the editing and headline process is pretty streamlined. I write my story and propose a headline (I’m awful at this) and then send it off to my managing editor, Frank Taylor. He takes a look, checks in with me if there’s anything more than a cosmetic change, then sends it off to the copy editor before putting it up on our website.

I witnessed my first collaborative editing and headline effort earlier this week: five newsrooms, something like eight reporters and editors. Luckily, I contributed to the reporting, but was not responsible for writing the story. Emily Featherston of WECT bore that burden and did so with aplomb.

All of the contributing reporters put our data in spreadsheets and add vignettes to a shared document. The lead reporter takes that information, along with her own reporting, and crafts a story draft. Once she’s ready, she throws the chum to the hungry sharks.

We’re working with some of the best reporters in the state for this collaborative project covering COVID-19’s impacts. The document was filled with suggestions, clarifications, and praise. It was left to Emily (mostly) and me to respond to each and every comment.

This process took several hours. Emily’s writing was strong to begin with, and the story was bulletproofed by the end.

As the editing for the body of the story slowed, attention turned to the headline. The conversation moved off the Google doc and into a thread on Slack. I tried to stay away from that back and forth. There were maybe a dozen suggestions and micro-edits to phrasing and punctuation.

Once the story is set and the headline decided, all the newsrooms decide when to publish, and, as if it were magic, the story pops up all over North Carolina.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in working for news organizations like Carolina Public Press? 

A. In my experience, get a sugar daddy.

To put it in a less salacious manner, maximize your privilege and support networks. Once you start working, you’ll be more independent. The hard part is actually getting there (I don’t start a salaried position with CPP until June 1 through support from Report for America). It’s been a hard road in the two years since I graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2018.

There’s a reason why newsrooms are predominantly white and why papers of record are disproportionately populated with private school graduates.

The only reason I’m still in journalism today is because for the first year out of grad school I was living with my boyfriend who made a lot more money and who covered my rent and food. Without that, I would not have had the freedom to hustle to build my resume as a freelancer or to wait for grants and funding to come through. I would have had to get a job outside of journalism, as a majority in my cohort of master’s students did. The only difference I see between them and me is that I had the social privilege and financial support of my boyfriend and of my family.

I know this first few paragraphs read as, “be white, middle class or richer, and it doesn’t hurt to be a straight man.” That’s not really advice, but it’s the reality you’ll face.

My first real piece of advice is to know without a doubt that our economic system writ large is broken and unfair, and the inequities stack up based on race, ethnicity, wealth, sex, gender and sexuality. This is no different for a job in journalism, an industry that has been called out over and over since Ida B. Wells was slandered by The New York Times in the 1800s. Only now are we beginning to be even hopeful of working in a more equitable and just industry, and even so it will take another generation of dedicated effort.

I have a lot of privilege and, even so, finding my way to stable employment was a drag-out fight. I moved out of my boyfriend’s place a year ago. I’m still sleeping on the floor on top of two yoga mats, a foam camping pad and a mattress topper. I’ve been too close to the financial edge to buy a mattress for the first time in my life and, besides, my room is too small to fit a proper bed and a desk. I roll up my sleeping mats every morning and get to work.

Much of my struggle likely came from changing careers at 26 years old. I graduated with my master’s at 28 and have been in a rush to make up for lost time. I made the right personal choice to stay in North Carolina after I graduated, but it was the wrong professional choice.

As soon as you graduate, your degree starts losing value, no matter what level you are at.

If I was making a purely professional decision, I should have moved anywhere in the country (or even the world) that offered me a good job as soon as I got my master’s. Instead, I tried to build a career from scratch here in North Carolina.

That didn’t work. By mid-September, almost four months after graduating, I was feeling pretty desperate. I took a low-paying job with a newsroom I had never heard of to cover Georgia’s 2018 midterms. The only way I could afford to take that job was to move in with some family friends in Atlanta that I hadn’t seen in 12 years. As an adult, I became their third son in the house.

That was the start I needed. There was more financial interest in elections coverage than in covering prisons and jails, which was my focus coming out of graduate school.

I worked my ass off to become an elections specialist. I read the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on Russian interference in the 2016 election, I read the Mueller report, I read hundreds of pages of court documents where states were sued over poor election practices and use of insecure technology, I paid my own way to conferences.

To this point, my advice boils down to go where the good jobs are (being able to move freely takes its own amount of privilege), get that job as quickly as you can, and when you get an opportunity — even if it is underwhelming on paper — develop some kind of specialization (mine, specifically, was in election technology and administration).

In early 2019, The Guardian was at the beginning stages of its Fight to Vote series. The U.S. editor came to Atlanta to meet with Emory University voting rights historian Carol Anderson. Due to my reporting on the intersection of election security and voter suppression, I was invited to the meeting by an acquaintance of Professor Anderson. That introduction with The Guardian gave me the opportunity to freelance a handful of stories with them. The breakthrough would never have happened if I hadn’t been in the room.

My next piece of advice: When you cover a beat like elections, look up all the experts in your area and talk to them, even if it’s not for a story. Make sure they know who you are, what you’re doing, what you want to do, and why it’s in their best interest to keep you in the loop. This will help your reporting, and it will help you connect with the people who can advance your career.

Freelancing for The Guardian, though, did not make my career. First of all, I had to fight with them to get paid, and it almost made me miss a month of rent.

Next piece of advice — be proactive about getting paid. Read your freelancer contracts. If the news organization has a liability waiver (also called an indemnity clause), does not pay you adequately or does not guarantee you will get paid on a reasonable schedule, ask them to renegotiate the contract. If they don’t, walk away. The Guardian’s contract was solid on all of these fronts, yet it was clear their priority wasn’t not to get a new freelancer his payment quickly.

After all this, it was clear that I did not have the disposition to make a career out of being a freelancer.

It was also clear to me that there was a gap in reporting on elections between national and local outlets. Elections are, ultimately, local affairs. Every county and, often, every municipality runs its own elections. Those elections add up to state and federal results.

But covering election integrity on a national scale, as I was doing for The Guardian, seems like a Quixotic endeavor. There are, after all, 3,000 counties in the U.S. One 1,000-word story can’t possibly begin to cover the problems in any substantive way.

I saw an opportunity. Here’s my next piece of advice. Always exploit an opportunity. At least know that if you don’t, someone else will.

There was going to be money to be had to cover the 2020 elections, and I wanted a chunk for myself.

North Carolina’s election coverage was mostly focused on politics — horserace stuff, who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s making what ridiculous claims about their opponents. The ballot fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional District turned attention to election fraud and the actual administration of elections, but once that was resolved, reporters were reassigned to their regular beats.

No reporter in North Carolina was dedicated to covering voting systems and election fraud.

I decided to make that job for myself.

Next advice. Learn about funding. Learn this while you’re still in school. How do newsrooms get their funding? What are the funding cycles? Who are the local innovators in news models? (In N.C., it’s Fiona Morgan and Melanie Sill.)

In June 2019, I wrote a proposal for a newsroom to hire a reporter to cover North Carolina’s 2020 elections by examining election security and administration. I designed the proposal to be attractive to funders so that if a newsroom was interested, they could take my work and turn it into a grant.

I gave the proposal to CPP. They were a bit shocked. I had only written one story for them nine months before. I was still a bit of an unknown factor. They liked the proposal and, after talking with me, they trusted me. CPP took the application and turned it into a funding application. Report for America gave CPP the funding it was looking for.

I created the proposal on June 3, 2019, and I’ll start working for CPP as a Report for America corps member on June 1, 2020.

Through the summer and fall, freelanced stories for CPP on the state’s acquisition of new election equipment and other election stories. I took a job with another statewide nonprofit newsroom in the fall to cover the bills.

In the spring, CPP brought me on as a full-time contractor, with the expectation that I would get the Report for America position with their newsroom (I had to apply to Report for America independently from CPP). With the onset of COVID-19, I added coverage of prison and jail conditions to my portfolio, returning to what brought me into journalism in the first place.

I never would have made it through these two years without the friendship and guidance of my UNC professors (special shoutout to Ryan Thornburg and Andy Bechtel) and without the support of Durham of freelancers, reporters and mentors. Barry Yeoman has been the most helpful, both for hope and for practical advice.

Recently, Barry told me that he found it amazing how much more work young freelancers had to do these days just to get a job. I had to create a job in order to get it.

It’s not getting any easier. Opportunities are shifting, but I’m not convinced they are becoming more prevalent.

My last piece of advice is to build a community of support and to ask for help. You really have to ask. Get your mentors to buy you lunch and give you free advice. Get other freelancers to connect you to the editors they know. Have more experienced freelancers teach you how to read a contract and to negotiate a better contract. When a news organization steals your story or screws you over, get drinks with your journalist friends and commiserate.

If you are a young journalist trying to get in the game, find me on Twitter. My DMs are open. I’ll support you in any way that I can. Especially reach out if you are a journalist of color, went to a community college or are a fellow queer journalist.

How I will spend my summer

It’s summertime, academically speaking. As I’ve noted in the past, this time of year for faculty members is not a three-month vacation. The pace is slower compared with the fall and spring semesters, but there are plenty of things to do.

Here’s what I have planned this summer:

  • Review applications in UNC Hussman’s online master’s program in digital communication (MADC).
  • Grade comprehensive exams for MADC students.
  • Advise a student in the MADC program on her master’s thesis.
  • Redesign my MADC course on writing and editing, which will now be called Multiplatform Storytelling.
  • Prepare to become director of the MADC program effective July 1.
  • Prepare and teach the journalism component of the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop, which will be held remotely this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Revise my undergraduate course in editing, with an eye toward teaching a blend of in-person classes and online.
  • Update the stylebook of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
  • Serve on a search committee for a position teaching business journalism.
  • Serve on the board of the Education Fund of ACES: the Society for Editing.
  • Collect materials and write documents for post-tenure review, which is required every five years.
  • Write posts and conduct interviews for this site.

Best wishes to all faculty, students and staff on a safe and productive summer.

Discovering barriers in Belize


Each spring, journalism students from UNC-Chapel Hill create a multimedia project that focuses on a place and topic. Previous subjects have included the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and a refugee crisis in South America.

This year, the students focused on environmental issues along the coast of the Central American nation of Belize. The stories include topics such as the impact of cruise ships and the plight of coral reefs.

Students in my Advanced Editing class contributed to the project — called Barriers — by editing the text stories and captions, and test-driving the site. Thanks to colleagues Pat Davison, Tamara Rice and Kate Sheppard for inviting us to participate.

Q&A with Sara Pequeño of INDY Week

pequeno headshot

Sara Pequeño is digital content manager at INDY Week, an alternative weekly newspaper and website that covers the Triangle region of North Carolina. A 2019 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Pequeño was a student journalist at The Daily Tar Heel and an intern at Our State magazine. In this interview, conducted by email, Pequeño discusses her work at INDY Week, including coverage of COVID-19, and what she learned in journalism school.

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

A. My title at INDY is “Digital Content Manager,” but I think a more apt title would be “The Person That’s Always Online.” During a normal workday, my job has three components: I add events to the INDY calendar (in print and online), I manage our social media accounts, and I write.

When it comes to writing, I don’t have an assigned “beat,” like some of our other writers. I have written stories that need to go out in minutes, exposed racists, reviewed music, and even got to talk about my love of opossums.

While I don’t know if anyone has a “typical” day in news, I would say the days I have most often go something like this: I get to the office and start scheduling tweets if I didn’t do them the night before. I have to schedule them from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so I try to make sure we have a nice mix of news and culture stories.

Once I’ve finished that, I do one of three things: Ask our editors if there’s a story we need to get out, search for quick stories on Twitter and other social media sites, or start working on a print piece that requires more reporting. Generally, once I’m done with this, I do things to wrap up and prepare for tomorrow: scheduling social media posts, setting up interviews, and making sure that I’m ready for another day of crazy.

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

A. The editing process depends on if the story is for print or online.

If you’re writing a blog post, you tend to edit as you go and write your own headline. Then, you may hand it to someone else, be it another reporter or our editor-in-chief, to glance over and edit. Then once the final changes are made, it gets published on our website. Certain stories go through multiple rounds of fact-checking.

For instance, when I wrote about a Durham business owner calling someone the n-word on Facebook, my EOC and I spent two hours alone going over every single piece of evidence I’d compiled. And this was after I had personally fact-checked and screenshot every comment, phone call and previous issues.

Print is a bit different. We go to print on Tuesdays (although sometimes we have an early deadline on Mondays), so we try to get stories to their respective editor by Friday. From there, we workshop a headline, and you’ll look over any edits they made and shoot it back to them. Then, once it’s laid out on the page, it is “pencil-checked,” where we look for grammatical errors.

All of this is happening with the six writers we have on staff, so it’s pretty important that you make sure your copy is clean and that you’ve caught as many grammar and spelling errors as possible. Normally, I look over these stories once more before they hit the website, just to make sure there weren’t any stray commas or small spelling errors.

Q. The big story of the year (so far) is COVID-19. How has the coronavirus crisis affected your work and INDY Week generally?

A. This is the busiest I’ve been in the six months I’ve worked here.

We are trying to provide people with as much insight and information as possible, but it’s difficult when people are no longer picking up your print copies at their coffee shop or bookstore. We’ve switched to printing every other week for the time being, but we’re still trying to post as much as possible on our website.

This switch to digital puts more pressure on me to break stories, keep our articles circulating on social media and look for voices that are being left out of the narrative. It’s been challenging, but it’s also nice to feel like my job matters this much more.

I have a daily blog quota of ~2 posts a day, and again, I have no beat. I’ve been covering Orange County’s coronavirus response (thankfully I covered the Orange County Health Department for a college class). This week, the paper focused specifically on folks who were being left out of the typical “coronavirus narrative,” and those that could easily fall through the aid program cracks — bartenders, undocumented migrants, tattoo artists, etc.

Q. You are a graduate of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use in your job, and what new ones have you picked up?

A, Everything I learned about writing, I learned in the journalism school. I’ve always been a writer, but journalism wasn’t even on my radar before I came to college. My professors taught me how to write for news by ripping apart my stories and showing me how they could be stitched back together.

When I went with the MEJO 584 class my senior year to Medellín, Colombia, I realized what makes a good reporter. No one is kidding when they say you have to do your homework; the hours we spent learning bits of Spanish, reading everything we could on Venezuela and the migrants fleeing the economic collapse there.

It also nailed home one of the most important things to learn in journalism: You have to separate your human emotions from your job. I was writing about a family struggling to get adequate health care for their children as undocumented migrants in Colombia. The children were all under 10, and the family had been through a lot in their journey and continued to go through a lot in their new lives in Medellín. It was really hard to separate the human need to help immediately from the greater good of highlighting the Venezuelan economic crisis as a whole. To be honest, I think I could have separated myself more. But I’m glad I learned that in school, rather than reporting a hard story in the field and getting too attached to a subject.

On the other hand, working in a newsroom is a lot different than the imaginary one we create in the j-school; it’s even different from the traditional style of The Daily Tar Heel. Working at an alt-weekly means I don’t have to shy away from picking a side on things I care a lot about: I can call racism what it is. I can advocate for blue-collar workers. I can tell a U.S. senator to resign. It’s been a new experience learning to develop my voice in this way, after working for years to remove any bias and just get to the facts.

Read Sara Pequeño’s stories on the INDY Week website and follow her on Twitter.

A cat cameo in class


We are entering the third week of teaching online at UNC-Chapel Hill because of the COVID-19 crisis. My two editing courses that met in person are now a blend of synchronous meetings via Zoom and asynchronous learning via readings and assignments.

Students and faculty alike are adapting to this new environment. One thing I learned the first week: A cameo by a pet will bring a Zoom session to life in a hurry.

That’s what happened when my cat appeared in the background in my 8 a.m. class. The students loved it, and the chat window in Zoom filled with questions:

  • What’s his name? (Zazzle)
  • How old is he? (about 12)
  • He looks chonky. (he weighs 20 pounds)
  • Is he still there? (no, he walked away)

Zazzle hasn’t been to class since then, preferring to patrol the kitchen cabinets and other areas of my home before taking his morning nap. But the students still ask about him, and I hope he will make another cameo before the semester concludes.


Teaching amid the coronavirus crisis

For several years, I have wondered what it would be like to teach my editing courses online. Now, because of the coronavirus, I am about to find out.

UNC-Chapel Hill, like most universities in the United States, has decided to switch in-person instruction to online. Spring break has been extended a week to help faculty members prepare for this transition.

We’ve been asked to reach out to our students during this time. Here’s what I sent:

As you know, the university has altered the schedule for the semester because of the coronavirus. Spring break has been extended one week.

In this email, I will outline how this change will affect our course. The good news is that I have taught courses in our online master’s program for many years. In my experience, it’s a fun and effective way to teach and learn.

My plan is to make the course mostly asynchronous. That means we will not all meet live at a set time.

Instead, twice a week, I will post slides and links to Sakai and via email for each “class meeting” along with assignments. I will also add a Forums section to Sakai for group discussion. This method keeps the pace of our course the same, just in a different environment.

I will hold “office hours” on Zoom on the days that our course would have met in person. I will connect with you by email and in the Forum threads.

In the coming days, I will revise the syllabus, and it will include some different assignments to replace those that can only be done face to face. I will post that syllabus to Sakai by Wednesday, March 18.

We will start this portion of the course on Monday, March 23, and settle into our Monday/Wednesday routine for the rest of the semester. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

The next five weeks will be challenging, but I am confident that we can still make our courses meaningful and engaging. The university is providing a full array of training and support.

Best wishes to students, faculty and staff on the rest of the semester. And wash your hands!

What I will do during spring break

UNC-Chapel Hill is on spring break next week. It’s a welcome respite for students, faculty and staff.

Although I am not teaching any classes during the break, I have plenty to do. Here’s my list:

  • grade midterm exams and other assignments, including guest posts for this site;
  • review applications for an online master’s program in digital communication;
  • review applications for a faculty position in business journalism;
  • review entries for the headline contest sponsored by ACES: The Society for Editing;
  • gather information and write a report for the university about our certificate program in digital communication;
  • write a recommendation letter for a student applying for a scholarship;
  • prepare materials and assignments for classes;
  • take care of personal matters such as taxes, medical appointments and car maintenance. Fun!

Best wishes to my students and colleagues on a refreshing break. See you soon!

Q&A with Andrew Kenney, reporter at Colorado Public Radio


Andrew Kenney is a reporter at Colorado Public Radio in Denver. He previously worked at newspapers such as The Denver Post and The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and at digital startup Denverite.

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

A. I’m one of two public affairs reporters for CPR. Bente Birkeland and I are mostly tasked with covering state politics, which means that most days from January to May are spent in the statehouse.

A typical day there is spent between committee meetings, the two chambers and (just as importantly) finding legislators to interview in the ornate red onyx corridors of the Capitol. Bente and I also pick up Colorado coverage of our federal elections — so I’m writing this from the press pen at the Trump 2020 rally in Colorado Springs.

I also like to take political stories out of the statehouse. A story about, say, the transition to renewable energy, or the effects of Airbnb in mountain communities — those are great reasons to drive to the far-flung cities on Colorado’s mountains and plains.

The statehouse is its own bizarre and interesting world, with plenty of intrigue and politicking to watch. But it’s also the crossroads for tremendously important issues that start and end in the real world.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at the CPR site?

A. CPR has built itself from a public radio station to a full-fledged multimedia product, so stories can take a lot of forms — principally audio and text. I come from newspapers, so the text stories are more straightforward for me. I’ll pitch the idea, get an edit or two from my editor, and whip the thing into shape.

Our digital production team helps us figure out an interesting and appropriate headline, along with technical stuff like search engine optimization. We’re trying to get digital involved earlier in the process to help us find sharp, web-friendly angles on our stories. You can’t just expect your editors to pull a good headline from a pointless story!

Audio stories come in many different packages: a “debrief” where a host interviews me, a shorter item that I record myself, or a longer feature story. Each of those can involve varying degrees of field-recorded audio, ranging from a simple “bite” to a fully designed audio piece.

Partially due to my inexperience in audio, I discuss these pieces a lot more intensively with my editor before I produce a draft. The more naturally I can explain it in conversation, the better the finished piece will be. In some cases, we might even record those conversations to capture a more natural style. (I also like to mumble my scripts to myself. There’s a lot of mumbling-to-self in the newsroom.)

What’s interesting about CPR is how many hands might touch a single story. Especially in my later newspaper years, I could take a story soup to nuts: Report it, write it, take the photo, get it online.

With radio, I’m more likely to have a producer or editor helping me assemble the story. Then it also has to get scheduled, the host has to get their own script to introduce it, and of course there’s all kinds of technical wizardry to keep the broadcast running. I’ve had to plan and communicate more intensively as a result.

Q. You are a 2008 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. My strength was my ability to research deeply and explain concisely, which is helpful when you have just a few minutes of airtime for a piece on a complicated topic. Your headline-writing sessions were especially helpful in tightening up my writing. Column-constrained headline writing may seem obsolete, but fitting big ideas in small spaces will always be relevant. (I am failing at that in this interview…)

I also went deep into the photojournalism curriculum with Jock Lauterer and Pat Davison. I don’t have an SLR anymore, but multimedia editing and photo chops have helped me get more than a couple jobs. Everyone needs a spare photographer.

Separately, I took a couple of stats classes. Everyone should take stats classes. Excel is ridiculously useful.

Q. You have worked for daily newspapers, a digital news startup and now public radio. What advice do you have for journalists looking to make similar changes in their careers?

A. Do things for a reason. Each assignment can be an excuse to learn a new skill or a new subject. The more expertise you accumulate, the more adaptable you’re going to be. Also, I’ve tried to educate myself in the business of journalism, and I always experimented or at least followed along with formats outside of print.

But, more importantly, journalists need a moral and philosophical grounding for their work, and they need to take care of themselves. We’re swimming upstream. The industry’s in chaos.

Find a reason to care about what you do. Try to make it matter. Ask for help.

Read Andrew Kenney’s stories on the CPR website and follow him on Twitter.