What I am teaching this semester

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins today. Here’s what I am teaching this term:

  • Two sections of News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. Each section has 16 students; the class meets twice a week in a computer lab. Here is the syllabus for the course along with a handout on noteworthy names in the news.
  • One section of Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. The course covers different types of digital writing, including blogs, headlines and social media. It has 12 students, and it meets all the time online. Here is the syllabus for the course.

Feel free to adapt, revise or ignore the materials here. You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school here.

Best wishes for a successful semester!

Just exactly what the facts is

The good people at Copyediting offer a cornucopia of online training for editors. In September, I’ll join this effort.

My class, “Getting Your Facts Straight,” will give you advice on how to ensure that the material you are editing is accurate. You wouldn’t want to mix up “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” would you? Or attribute a quote to Mark Twain that he never said?

The audio class, which costs $79, will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22. It will last about 90 minutes. It’s intended for editors of all sorts, and I hope to see you there.

Q&A with Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications for the Carolina Hurricanes

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The front page of The News & Observer from June 2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.

Mike Sundheim is vice president for communications and team services for the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job, social media and the team’s outlook for the 2016-17 season.

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

A. One of the best sports books out there is Ken Dryden’s “The Game,” and one of my favorite parts is when he describes the rhythm of the season. Essentially, days of the week are irrelevant, and our lives are dictated by whether it is a game day or a practice day and whether we are home or on the road.

On a home game day, I arrive at work around 7:45 a.m. and leave about an hour after the game ends. During that time, I am responsible for media access after a morning practice, two hours prior to the game and five minutes after the game, as well as rights-holder interviews throughout the game.

Beyond handling media access, there’s plenty to do at my desk, from writing news releases or letters for executives to fielding media calls, monitoring social media and working with all of the other departments in the company regarding communication needs. A few years back I also took on team services, which includes handling hotels and bus companies for team travel as well as meeting the everyday personal and scheduling needs of the players and coaching staff.

I split the travel with my co-worker, Kyle Hanlin, so my quietest days in-season are typically when he is with the team on the road and I am home. But even those days can fill up quickly, taking care of everything I didn’t have time to deal with when the team was around.

Q. What role does social media play in your work?

A. When people ask what the biggest change to my job has been since I started, social media is a clear number one. Look at it this way, when I came on full-time in 2000, Mark Zuckerberg was a 16-year-old high school student. There was no social media, and the news cycle was much more structured.

Because of social media, everything is immediate. That affects how and when we send news releases, the ways in which major news is delivered and, more than anything else, our ability to turn off our work brains. I can be sitting at home playing with my kids at 8 p.m. and start getting texts about something a player tweeted or an impending personnel move. This job has always had a bit of an always-on-call element to it, but social media has significantly intensified that.

Q. During your time with the Hurricanes, the team has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning in 2006. But Carolina has missed the playoffs the past several years. How do the ups and downs of sports affect what you do?

A. There is no doubt wins and losses affect those of us who work in sports, from general office morale to our company’s bottom line. When we won the Stanley Cup, we were playing in front of standing-room-only crowds, and I could hardly keep up with the flow of media requests for our players.

After seven consecutive non-playoff seasons, we have understandably smaller crowds and I spend more time pitching stories than fielding requests. Our major local newspaper didn’t travel a beat writer on the road last season.

When you’re winning, you can’t wait to get to the office, and when you’re losing, it is much more of a grind. The positive for us is that we feel like we are very close to turning a corner on the ice, and we are already seeing some positive business momentum based on that optimism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering careers in sports communication?

A. Your classes are important, and there are plenty of things I learned at UNC that help me every day in my job. But I would not be where I am had I just gone to class, graduated with straight A’s and started looking for a job.I spent two and a half years at The Daily Tar Heel, which helped me in many ways including the development of my writing and my understanding of deadline pressure.

I then spent my junior and senior years working for the Hurricanes as an intern and UNC’s sports information department as a student assistant. It was in those positions that I learned how to actually do my job and gained the connections and experience to land full-time work after school.

The last time we had an open position — a part-time, hourly job that only paid about $15,000 for the season — we had more than 300 applicants in a few days before we closed it off. I wrote about the experience on my blog for our website, and pretty much everything I said in there still stands. I eliminated 75 percent of the resumes instantly because they had no sports experience.

Also, a lot of people hear “sports PR” or “sports publicity” and picture all of the glamorous aspects of traveling with a team and working with media. But most entry-level sports communications positions are heavily based in writing, working with statistics and preparing game notes. If you don’t love writing or you can’t truly geek out on sports stats, this isn’t the right career path for you.

Q. Let’s look ahead. How do the Hurricanes look going into the 2016-17 season?

A. This is the most excited I’ve felt about the future of our team in a long time. Ron Francis has done a phenomenal job of staying patient and rebuilding the right way — collecting prospects and draft picks and building from the defense forward.

Our defense last season included four players who were 23 years old or younger, including Noah Hanifin, who was just 18. The ages of our top seven scorers were 23, 27, 23, 21, 23, 24 and 25. And we have 10 picks in this year’s draft – seven of which are in the first three rounds. That gives us a ton of flexibility to either continue to collect prospects, or wheel some of those picks for players who can immediately jump into our lineup.

The idea isn’t just to compete for a year or two and then suffer another playoff drought. It’s to build an organization that is a factor in the playoffs every single year. That’s exactly what Ron is doing.

Students interested in internships with the Carolina Hurricanes can contact Sundheim via this page.

Q&A with Kevin Uhrmacher, graphics editor at The Washington Post

Kevin Uhrmacher is a graphics editor at The Washington Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Uhrmacher discusses his work there and offers advice to journalism students looking at careers like his.

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

A. I’m involved in making everything from simple maps and charts to more meaty interactives and data visualizations. I also spend some time making sure our graphics are being copy-edited and included with related stories that others in the newsroom are writing.

My days vary quite a bit, but it’s typical that each includes some combination of responding to breaking news, working on daily and longer-term projects and getting our team’s graphics work published across platforms and promoted on social media.

Today, for example, I went in at 7 a.m. to get a jump on updating our page covering the EgyptAir Flight 804 crash. Another graphics editor, Denise Lu, and I updated the page periodically throughout the day as more information became available. As we pushed out updates to the page, we were sharing them on our @postgraphics Twitter account. We were also working on a couple of other projects intermittently.

I should also mention that the members of our team regularly solicit and offer feedback to one another about projects in progress.

Q. How does editing and headline writing work for graphics at The Washington Post?

A. Any graphic I create goes through several layers of editing, including my own editors on the graphics team, other content-specific reporters and editors, and a small army of very attentive copy editors.

Headline writing is a team effort here, for sure. While we’re writing a headline, we do a lot of sharing and testing to see what connects with people. Often that means sharing headlines in an internal chat room and asking others to offer suggestions for how to improve something.

Often, the most valuable feedback you can get on a headline is from someone who has no preconceived notions about the story. This helps you see how much interest your headline generates and make sure your story (whether it takes the form of text, graphics, video or some combination of things) delivers on whatever you promise in the headline.

We also have a new-ish tool that helps us A/B test promotional material for our stories (headlines, deks and — especially helpful for our graphics — promo images) You can read more about it here. We’re fortunate enough to have a tremendous engineering team to build tools like this one.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use day to day? What have you had to learn on the job?

A. I think the most obvious thing I took with me out of the journalism school, and many nights in The Daily Tar Heel, was a keen sense of news judgment. By that I mean being able to identify the crux of a story and making sure that it is coming across in the way it is presented. It also means recognizing stories that are not being told and finding a unique way to tell them.

That reminds me of another thing UNC taught me, which is how to learn something that I don’t know. There are plenty of new skills and concepts that didn’t exist when I was in school just a couple of years ago. The key is knowing how to adapt and learn them.

Q. Being a graphics editor at The Washington Post sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students considering similar career paths?

A. Well, first let me say it IS a good gig!

As far as advice goes, I would say students should not be devastated if they don’t get their dream internship or job on the first try. Never cut off a relationship with someone at a company you want to work for because you assume they don’t want you. For all you know, you’re at the top of their list for the next open job.

This one can be awkward but really pays off: Ask what you could do to improve your chances for the next time around. Do you need to beef up your portfolio in some way? Need to show more similar experience on your resume? Occasionally send them an email when you publish something you’re really proud of. Don’t underestimate the power that putting yourself on someone’s radar has for your future prospects.

I also recommend getting involved in professional organizations such as the Society for News Design, the Online News Association or the American Copy Editors Society. The annual conferences are great ways to meet people and learn more about what’s happening in the field you one day hope to work in.

What I’m doing this summer

It’s summer, at least according to UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic calendar. As I’ve noted in the past, summer for faculty members is not synonymous with a vacation. Here’s what I have planned:

  • Teach JOMC 157, News Editing, during a condensed term called Maymester. We’ll cover an entire semester’s worth of material in less than three weeks.
  • Review applications for a certificate program in media and technology.
  • Grade comprehensive exams for an online master’s program.
  • Teach writing for social media as part of a week-long jazz workshop.
  • Research and write a proposal for a course on freelance editing, with a focus on nonfiction.
  • Contribute to a top-to-bottom review of the curriculum in the journalism school, with an eye toward major revisions.
  • Read the new edition of “The Subversive Copy Editor,” which I use as a textbook in my Advanced Editing course. (This is my beach book.)
  • Review and update course materials for the fall semester, which will begin in mid-August.

That’s plenty to keep me busy. Happy summer!

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:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 3.03.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.39.00 AM

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?