The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: journalism education

Student guest post: Writing headlines for smartphones

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing posts for this blog this semester. This is the 12th of those posts. Ashton Sommerville is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and women’s and gender studies. She plans to take a year off after graduation before pursuing a career in media law, excited to explore and follow the ever-changing mass media landscape. She enjoys coffee, reading and managing her wedding and pop culture blog kissingthecooke.wordpress.com.

Are smartphone-friendly headlines our next step? In the age of new media, many journalism students, like myself, face curriculums that focus less on traditional legacy media and more on how to grow as writers and editors who are producing creative content for an impatient and often fickle audience.

Media consumers in coming generations are proving to be less loyal to brands than generations past and more loyal to convenience, usability and brevity. The Internet has produced a level of media competition unlike any other platform in recent history. With so many options available to users, publications are challenged with being the best, the most interesting, and more importantly, the first.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, part of our copy-editing education involves practice with writing headlines for a number of mediums including print, Web and Twitter. But is that enough? Have we already fallen behind?

In January 2012, a Tumblr account popped up aptly titled Bad Headlines — a collection of publication blunders, the culprits ranging from BBC to The Associated Press. One thing many of the posts have in common is that they are screen shots from the bloggers’ smartphones, and the primary gaffe for each is a headline too long to be communicated via push notification.

Just as bumping headlines can cause confusion for print readers, headlines cut off in awkward places can make for very humorous and unintentional story twists. “Police make third arrest in murder of Colorado socialite” becomes “Police make third arrest in murder of Colorado.” “Romney praises Olympics security, says he won’t run for president” turns into “Romney praises Olympics security, says he won’t run.” The loss of just a few words completely changes the implications of the headline.

While it’s probably safe to say that most readers are wise enough to catch on, the situation remains that credible, revered media companies are being made the subject of a running online joke. So what can editors and educators do to combat this new social media challenge? I suggest two things:

  • Increase the educational focus on the five-second spot: Although the move to writing for an alert, involved Twitter audience is a challenge still being faced by media professionals, 140 characters is still a luxury when fighting for the public’s attention. Add smartphone-friendly headline creation into the curriculum, and encourage your students to prioritize clarity and succinctness when writing for online media that will be pushed to users on their cellphones.
  • Develop a character limit to act as a standard for the newsroom. Do some research and decide where the cutoff is that separates newsworthy from a good laugh. If there is a noun-verb construction in your headline that can’t afford to be separated, include it early to prevent an unfortunate misunderstanding. Create a procedure, and stick to it.

As the media landscape continues to morph and grow, it will be our job as creators and editors to do our best to keep up. Stay alert, stay brief and don’t forget who you’re writing for.

Editing in Hong Kong

Later this week, I will travel to the University of Hong Kong. I’ll spend a week there a guest lecturer.

My visit is part of an exchange program between HKU and UNC. Earlier this month, Kevin Sites of HKU spent a week in Chapel Hill, meeting with students and speaking on his experiences as a war correspondent.

The journalism program at HKU does not have a full course about editing, so I have been invited to talk about that topic. During my stay, I will meet with students and work with them on story editing, fact checking and headline writing, among other subjects.

It will be my second trip to this part of the world. In 2009, I spent a week in Beijing, working with journalists at an English-language news website. That was a rewarding trip, so I am looking forward to a similar stay in Hong Kong.

The bottom line: Editing is a global experience. I am grateful to play a role in it.

How to get certified in digital media

One of my former colleagues from my time at The News & Observer recently sent me an email. Here’s an excerpt:

I am woefully uninformed when it comes to digital journalism, and I’ve finally decided to try to do something about it. I’ve been putting out print newspapers for 20 years now, but at some point the profession passed me by.

My biggest problem is that I don’t even really know where to begin. It seems like different employers are looking for different things, and I have so little knowledge that I can’t determine where the best place to start would be.

Do you have a suggestion, maybe some basics that I could learn or some areas that I really need to know no matter where I work? Does UNC have a course of study, maybe as continuing education or a certificate program, that would help me?

I was happy to respond: As a matter of fact, we do, and I happen to be its incoming director.

The Certificate in Technology and Communication is aimed at people working in journalism and public relations who want to brush up on their skills and learn new ones. It consists of three courses, all online. I’ve taught one of them, Writing for Digital Media.

To apply for the fall semester, you need to submit a resume, a college transcript and a short statement of purpose describing what you hope to learn. The GRE is not required. The deadline is May 1.

If you have questions about the certificate program, contact me or Maggie Hutaff, program coordinator for e-learning. Perhaps we will see you in class this fall.

Q&A with Josh Awtry, editor of Gannett Carolina region

Josh Awtry is the incoming editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina and The Greenville News in North Carolina. Both newspapers are owned by Gannett. He comes to this job from Fort Collins, Colo., where he was executive editor at The Coloradoan. Awtry started his journalism career as a copy editor at The Independent in Grand Isle, Neb., and he has worked in various roles at newspapers in Utah, Idaho and Myrtle Beach, S.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Awtry talks about his return to the Carolinas and what’s in store at the Citizen-Times and the News.

Q. You’ve spent much of the past 10 years in newspapers in the West. Why the move to the South to lead the Asheville and Greenville newspapers?

A. Great question! I love the West — a lot of who I am was forged in that unique culture of independence and larger-than-life landscape that permeates every aspect of that part of the country.

But, ultimately, I’m a sucker for a fresh challenge. While it’d be presumptuous to string a “mission accomplished” banner up in Fort Collins, we did so many of the things we set out to do a little more than 2 years ago: Readership trends are going phenomenally, revenue is the highest it’s been in years, digital subscriptions are way up, and the community is a true media partner with the Coloradoan. We’ve had civic forums, great engagement and turned the relationship between a community and its news team around. It’s time for someone with fresh ideas to come in and figure out the exciting things that come next.

At the same time, I look at Asheville and Greenville — two communities who are incredibly different, but they share an equally engaged populace — and I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities. I think that there’s a great chance to blend some of what we pioneered in community journalism in Fort Collins with an all-new playbook we’ll invent as we go along.

When my wife and I lived in Myrtle Beach, S.C., we would often vacation up in the Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains (my doughy pastiness lends itself much more to the mountains than the beach). Western North Carolina and the upstate are beautiful, lush parts of the country, and I can’t wait to get my hiking boots muddy this spring.

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 9.41.46 AMQ. Asheville and Greenville are about 60 miles apart. How does that affect your day-to-day work activity?

A. I’m a horrible workaholic and have a hard time disconnecting from the endless stream of social feeds and notifications that can detract from deep thinking. That drive between the two communities has given me something I hadn’t expected: a quiet space to formulate strategies and plot courses around obstacles.

Leading two newsrooms across state lines, though, is a unique challenge that’s new to me. Even though the communities are close, the state line bifurcates everything from press associations and politics to sports allegiance.

While there’ll be a chance for the two newsrooms to partner up on regional coverage that doesn’t follow boundaries, I see more opportunities in strategic development. In some ways, the two newsrooms can be the real-world equivalent of A/B testing. Come up with similar ideas, but deploy them in different ways. If one starts succeeding more than the other, roll both news teams over to that approach.

Q. What changes can readers expect in their newspapers?

A. How much space do we have?

If we’re just talking newspapers, I think the changes will be significant, but readers will still recognize their familiar brands. The biggest shift print readers will see is in the caliber of stories we tackle.

Too many papers are reactionary, and they still cover incremental stories without setting up context and depth. They’ve become “a mile wide and an inch deep.” They rarely dig into an underlying issue, and never really explain the community’s big narrative arcs.

Print readers will see a definite shift to daily, dot-connecting enterprise on the front page. Those stories will need to be based around a local issue and involve the synthesis of multiple data points and community voices. They’re “why” stories, and a top priority is having them every day of the week.

Shooting for that every day is admittedly a big check to write. We’ll help give journalists the time to do this by getting off the hamster wheel. We still have a paper to fill, but the focus is going to be on big cover stories coupled with shorter items. Some of the routine “dailies” will be truncated or avoided to give folks the time for the important stuff.

Bigger and more exciting changes will happen outside of the paper, though.

The biggest revolves around service. Engagement is a buzzword, but, somewhere along the line, papers abandoned the notion that they truly serve at the behest of a community. Journalists need to be shoe-leather experts, connecting readers with answers. Our goal will be to answer every question that comes our way. That’s how you turn readers into loyal fans, and that, in turn, helps engender digital subscriptions, which lets us hire more journalists.

That will manifest on social media, of course, but readers will be able to expect “real world” events, too. Community forums that bring noted experts in for Q&A sessions on big community issues should happen frequently. Gatherings of members to speak to the journalists they support could easily follow.

Why be water cooler conversation when you can be the water cooler?

Ultimately — thinking far out, here — my goal is to make people feel a personal connection to the news team they support. Anyone can circumvent a paywall should they desire; my goal is to make sure they don’t pay a monthly fee because they have to, but because they want to. That’s the difference between a subscriber and member, or reader and fan.

It’s exciting stuff, and once you start thinking down that road, you start seeing a clear path out of the malaise in which we’ve put ourselves.

It’s a work in progress, though. That level of civic engagement is the fun part, but we can’t get there until our core journalism skills are strong. Getting journalists to return to an embrace of deeper, investigative stories often requires us to build muscle in many of the classic skills of open records requests, data crunching and narrative technique.

4. We’re seeing tremendous change in journalism. How do you recommend students prepare themselves for a field in transition?

It’s likely nothing students haven’t heard, but I can’t say it enough: Be a journalist equally proficient in all tools.

TV journalists have to be better narrative writers than ever before, print journalists have to be able to think visually. Master all the tools. Increasingly, we don’t send a reporter and photographer out to a breaking news scene — we send a journalist. Be as quick and comfortable with a notepad as you are with pinning a microphone on a source.

But, above any learned skill, be sure you’re curious about the world around you. That’s something you’ll not learn in any classroom setting. The best journalists are those whose inquisitive nature drives them to seek answers without being prompted.

And remember that journalists serve via the patronage of their community. Modern journalism isn’t just about telling the story that you want to tell — it’s about going to bat for your readership, answering their questions and being a resource.

It’s a cliche, but I do really believe it: This is a great time to get into journalism. 40 years ago, there was no reason for disruption; 40 years from now, smart folks will have this all figured out. But right here — right now — we get to make a difference in charting the future of information. And that’s heady stuff.

Student guest post: When wintry weather hits sports

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Aaron Dodson is a junior reporting major and history minor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is an assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel, and he will be an intern in the sports department at The Baltimore Sun this summer. 

In the past two weeks, many parts of the East Coast have gotten a chance to encounter what some see as the best part of winter and others, like myself as a native of the D.C. area, have come to dread — snow.

Don’t get me wrong: Snow can be beautiful. There’s nothing like a few fresh inches of white powder on the ground. And who doesn’t like a day or two off from work or school?

But not long after the snow first begins to fall, bliss turns into boredom. The snow turns from a pure, white fluff to a brown, muddy slush. People are stuck indoors and get cabin fever.

And the worst part — the snow puts you behind in terms of work and school by restricting your ability to do everyday things such as driving and walking.

For me, however, as a college sportswriter, the show must go on. In the past two weeks, I’ve twice had to battle through the elements to do my job — cover games. And through those two experiences, I like to think I’ve gained the knowledge to answer one question that inspired this post:

How does adverse weather affect sports media coverage?

I’ve determined the complete answer to this question must be broken down into three parts.

Part 1: Determining whether the game will be played.

At the beginning of January, I was assigned by the sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel to cover the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s game at Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.

I was excited. I’d never been to Atlanta, and the general manager of the DTH even got me and my fellow reporter Daniel Wilco plane tickets to go down so we wouldn’t miss too much class.

Then Jan. 28 brought a few inches of snow that many expected. But some cities, like Atlanta, were caught off guard.

Flights were canceled, cars were abandoned on highways and an overall sense of panic resonated through cities along the East Coast.

After being greeted with an email from Delta that said our 2:45 p.m. flight on the day of the game would no longer be taking off, Daniel and I have to ask ourselves: Are we going to cover this game?

In a sense, reporters can’t answer that question by themselves. Similar to a famous line — “If you build it, they will come” — from the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” if a game is played, reporters will come.

In our case, Georgia Tech and UNC turned to the following ACC postponement/cancellation policy:

“The only reason a game should be postponed or cancelled is if the conditions affect the safety of the teams or game officials involved. Provided the teams and officials are able to make it to the arena safely, the game will be played.”

With both teams and referees in Atlanta, the game went on. And somehow, Daniel and I made it.

But what if sports writers and media don’t get as lucky as we did? What happens when the elements are too much to overcome and they can’t make it to the game?

These thoughts bring me to part two of the answer.

Part 2: Press row or ghost row?

When we first arrived at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, Daniel and I expected to have to fight to get to our seats while saying “excuse me” every five seconds and attempting to avoid bumping into other reporters.

Once we finally got up to press row, however, all we saw was empty seats. Though we weren’t cramped like usual, given I got to spread my things out and my backpack even got its own seat, it was weird being one of only few there.

But the fact of the matter is reporters can’t always make it through harsh weather conditions to get to games. And when this happens, publications have a few different routes they can take to assure their audiences know what happened if the game does go on.

The first option is to employ the help of a trusty freelance writer.

For the Georgia Tech game, UNC sports publication InsideCarolina couldn’t get anyone to Atlanta. So a seasoned sports writer in the area picked up the slack, joking before the news conferences started that it’d been a long time since he’d covered a game.

But in most instances, so it seems like, publications just cut their losses and leave the game uncovered.

That was the case at the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s game, the night after the second snowstorm in two weeks hit. UNC’s opponent, Pittsburgh, somehow made it through the blizzard more than 300 miles to Chapel Hill. So the game went on.

My journey to Carmichael Arena was a bit less courageous, given I walked about half a mile through the slush from my room on south campus. But I did have to leap over a few large mounds of snow and ice, which didn’t go too well when I landed in puddles and got my feet soaked.

When I finally got there, I was only one of two reporters to cover a UNC team just three days removed of upsetting No. 3 Duke. So you can imagine it was kind of awkward in the post-game news conference with UNC’s coach and two players outnumbering the people asking the questions.

Overall, the UNC-Pittsburgh game was the exception, not the rule. Games don’t always go on through the weather. I can’t tell you how many ESPN updates I got on my phone, saying games had been canceled.

This notion brings me to the last part of the post:

What happens when reporters make it to the game but both teams don’t?

Part 3: Finding a story when there’s no game.

As snow began to fall on Feb. 12, several hours between the first matchup of the year between UNC and Duke in arguably the greatest rivalry in college basketball, reporters anticipated the game would still take place.

So they made their way to the Dean E. Smith Center and waited, only to receive word that the Duke men’s basketball team would not be making the trip from Durham.

Obviously, when the news broke that the game would be postponed, it was the job of reporters to relay the information they received first from team spokesmen and others inside of the Smith Center, initially via Twitter. And when more information came to light, including the date of the makeup game, they pieced it together in the form of a story with other facts such as it was the first time since 2000 that a UNC game had been postponed.

ESPN.com North Carolina men’s basketball blogger C.L. Brown took to Twitter to express his feelings of making it through the snow for a game not to take place:

But while stranded in Chapel Hill, Brown found an alternative form of reporting the game’s postponement through a story on UNC students’ call for the university to allow them all to sit in the lower level during big games like Duke.

The ESPN blogger’s story was a nice complement to the frenzy that occurred on Twitter when the game was postponed.

And for the reporters that couldn’t make it cover the postponed game, they had fans like this who did their own form of in-depth alternative reporting.

I guess the moral of the story is weather at times affects media coverage of sporting events. But there are always those brave souls that find a way to cover games.

Don’t name that winter storm just yet

Snow covered the field at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., in January 2014. Was that work of winter storm Leon?

Snow covered the field at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., in January 2014. Was that the work of winter storm Leon?

Longtime readers of this blog may recall an exercise from my editing class in which students discuss unsettled or debatable style questions. Previous versions of the assignment have included “first-year student” vs. “freshman” and the now-retired “mike vs. mic.”

This semester, I added this question: Should our mythical publication, The Triangle Tattler, use the naming convention that The Weather Channel has come up with for winter storms?

Most students said no. These students said that winter storms are different from hurricanes and that the Weather Channel’s scheme seemed gimmicky and unnecessary. So Tattler style will be to delete names like Falco or Maximus should they appear in news stories that students edit this semester.

There was some dissent, however, with one student arguing strongly for raising awareness of winter weather and making individual storms more easy to identify now and for posterity. Another suggested a sentence like this in news stories: “The storm, sometimes known as Leon…” to help readers connect what they had seen on TV with what they were reading in print or online.

So what are some Triangle news organizations doing? UNC’s student newspaper has used the name of a winter storm in a headline and story, but The News & Observer and WRAL have not.

On Twitter, weather forecaster Nate Johnson points out that the National Weather Service does not recognize the Weather Channel’s names. You can read more about Johnson’s thoughts on the matter on his blog. His arguments are persuasive.

As an editor, I am unwilling to go along with this idea until the NWS endorses it. As a person, I prefer to blame all of the cold, snow and ice on a single villain. His name? Old Man Winter.

Q&A with Rylan Miller of Business Insider

Rylan Miller is Contributors Editor at Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job and how the site uses headlines and social media to attract readers.

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

A. I manage all of BI’s syndication partnerships and guest writers, which is an editorial job with some elements of business development mixed in.

My team has three main responsibilities:

  • We help choose the stories we will publish from our 370-ish partner publications, wire services, and blogs;
  • We package these stories so that they fit perfectly with Business Insider’s style;
  • And we act as the gatekeepers — I like to envision Gandalf shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when I say this — of every article that is republished on the site.

We ensure that editorial is following all of the partnership rules and industry courtesies when syndicating.

This job has a lot of moving parts, but for me, that’s part of what keeps it interesting. Some days I spend a lot of time talking to our point people at companies like Slate, Condé Nast, Wenner Media, and more. Sometimes I focus on teaching our editorial team what syndication is and how to do it the right way.

Other days I like to dive into setting up posts, which means formatting them so that they look great on BI, writing catchy headlines, and picking photos that really pop on the main page. Sometimes I tinker with formatting in our CMS, and I frequently study our analytics.

I have learned more about the world of online publishing from this one job than I ever thought possible. It’s really a fascinating mix of journalism, psychology, business, and management, and perfect for a generalist like me. It’s fun to know what’s happening in just about every section of the site, and — important job perk — people want you on their team for bar trivia.

Q. Headline writing for digital media is seeing a shift from SEO to “shareability,” as demonstrated by sites like Upworthy. What is Business Insider’s approach to headline writing?

A. One of our editor’s mantras is that headlines should “get clicks without being annoying.” It’s very easy to tease someone into reading a story online—I’m sure we’ve all fallen for the “7 Things That Will Completely Change Your Life” headline at some point.

But when you actually read the article and see that the headline is hyperbole, skewed, or a flat-out lie, you start to resent that publication. I think BI does a great job of getting people interested while also delivering a great story.

As a site that does breaking news, features, photo-centric slideshows, videos, syndication, and now longform, there really isn’t a magic formula for how we write headlines. Above all, we consider the reader and what he or she should know immediately before we think about SEO and “shareability.”

If a headline isn’t working for us, we can change it. The priority is still focusing on writing (or in my case, choosing) excellent stories that are worth sharing in the first place, and then pulling out the most interesting nugget or angle for the headline.

Q. Business Insider is active on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. What is the organization’s social media strategy?

A. Every single person on editorial puts in effort when it comes to our social media policies and strategies. Each section is responsible for maintaining and expanding their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and relationship with LinkedIn if it’s relevant. They also have to make sure their best work gets pushed out to BI’s main Twitter and Facebook accounts. We have a small bit of oversight at the top of this chain, but for the most part we rely on common sense and good news judgment when deciding what gets shared.

We’re constantly assessing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our social media strategies, and I think that’s served us well so far. Everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012. What’s the most important thing you learned there, and what have you had to learn on the job after college?

A. As someone who’s not in a traditional journalism job at a 100 percent digital news outlet, I’m surprised every day by how much of what I learned at j-school is still relevant to what I’m doing now. I’ve realized how important it is to have that solid foundation in place before learning new skills on the job.

Copy-editing classes taught me how to be nitpicky (in a good way) while reading through articles. My business journalism classes taught me basically everything I know about the industry I’m in now. Media law gave me a good understanding of where we can get photos, who holds copyright on freelance stories, and how to not get my employer sued for dumb mistakes.

I also cannot overstate how much I’ve learned on the job. I’d say most of what I’ve learned is in the technical and strategic aspects of how a news website functions. I’ve learned how publishers can work with each other to expand and improve, and I’m continually discovering what people feel compelled to read. Despite what you’re hearing, people aren’t solely interested in “reading” GIFs. And finally, I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Serial Comma And All-Caps Headline.

Follow Rylan Miller on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn. If you want to become a contributing writer for Business Insider, check out the Contributors FAQ or email contributors@businessinsider.com for more information.

What’s on the final exam in an editing course

It’s exam time at UNC-Chapel Hill and universities throughout the United States. So what’s on a final exam in an editing course? Here’s what I am asking my students to do:

  • Using InDesign and InCopy, edit a news story for everything we’ve talked about in class this semester: style, punctuation, grammar, structure, completeness, use of direct quotes, word choice, fairness, fact checking and legal and ethical concerns.
  • Write a caption for a photograph that not only describes the image but also connects it to the story.
  • Write a headline for the story for print media; this layout calls for a two-line, three-column, 36-point headline.
  • Write a headline for the story for digital media of no more than 65 characters.
  • Write a Tweet for the story of no more than 130 characters. (Leave some space for the link.)
  • Proofread a chart or map that goes with the story.

You may use any resource you would have in a newsroom: the AP stylebook, your notes, the Internet. I will play the part of the reporter, photographer and graphics artist, so if you have questions, ask me.

Good luck!

Q&A with Deborah Strange, Dow Jones News Fund intern

Deborah Strange is a student in the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In summer 2013, she had a Dow Jones News Fund internship at the Regional Editing Center of The New York Times in Gainesville, Fla. She has also been an intern at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Strange talks about her New York Times internship and what she hopes to do next.

Q. Describe your internship experience. What was your typical workday like?

A. I worked on the news service side of the Editing Center, so I read stories formatted for The New York Times print and Web editions, and edited them for our newspaper and magazine clients. This involved editing headers so clients would know how to budget our stories and editing copy for AP style, since the stories came over in New York Times style.

My day would start at 3 p.m. with editing the more feature-style stories, which would usually be ready while other news stories were developing. We would have a small mix of hard news stories early in the day, particularly foreign stories because of the time difference. I would also proofread the Times Digest early in the day, and that did usually take New York Times style.

We would receive the stories that were running on The Times’ front page by around 7:30 or 8, and it was then a race to get those stories on the wire by 9 p.m. Glances, or 100-word briefs of national, foreign and business stories, had a 9:30 deadline.

Throughout the workday I would trim longer stories to 300- to 400-word versions and check stories for new material or corrections. Sometimes updating a story would be an easy “adds new graf here,” and sometimes so much had changed that it was essentially a new story.

Things would slow down by 11:30, and I would do one last check for updates before leaving at midnight.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. Working at a news service is different from working at a newspaper or in a classroom. There are so many steps in the editing process to make sure everything makes sense to clients.

Our story headers would have slugs, headlines, bylines, attention lines, contributor notes, art notes, trim notes, update notes, embargo notes. When editing the copy itself, taking out courtesy titles and periods in abbreviations became second nature. There are more obscure differences between Times style and AP, though, like the spelling of Russian and Arabic names.

It’s a lot to keep track of when preparing a story for the wire, and it definitely felt overwhelming at first.

It was very, very surreal to work for The New York Times Co. The internship was filled with opportunities; I learned from some of the best editors in the industry every day, and I got the chance to write a column for the International Weekly publication.

But there was nothing like finding and fixing a fact error before it went on the wire. It was even more rewarding to find a fact error before The Times’ print deadline, saving a correction both on the wire and in the print edition.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. Do apply for an internship, even if you might not want to go into copy editing. No matter your background — reporting, design, multimedia — there are skills you can bring to editing, and there are skills you can gain from it.

If you do apply, be confident and know your strengths. I had only reporting experience when I was applying, not including half a semester of a news editing course at UNC. But reporting and editing go hand in hand, and that’s what I wrote about in my essay.

Know your weaknesses and study them — and do study for the editing test. I’ve always felt solid in grammar and word usage, but I was more horrible at geography than I’d like to admit. I spent the weeks before the test studying maps and, not just events from the summer, but where those events had happened on a map.

And finally, know that there are real people grading your test and reading your essays. There are no Scantrons, and the organization isn’t looking for black-and-white applications.

Write down thoughtful questions when you’re editing stories during the test. If you know the answer to one part of a two-part question, write it down, and answer the other part to the best of your ability.

Show what you know. The graders don’t expect you to know everything.

Q. You are planning to graduate in December. What’s next for you?

A. I love both editing and reporting, so I’m looking for those jobs at daily newspapers now. This semester, I’m freelance reporting for The Chapel Hill News and tutoring elementary school students in writing, so I have fun ways to do both.

I’m also trying to develop as many new skills as possible, like HTML coding and economics reporting, as well as making more connections in the industry.

UPDATE: Deborah has accepted a full-time job with the editing center in Gainesville. Congratulations!

Take a look at Strange’s portfolio and follow her on Twitter.

Q&A with Lauren Brownlow of ACCSports.com and FOX Sports Carolinas

Lauren Brownlow is a freelance sportswriter with a focus on the Atlantic Coast Conference. She has also written for N.C. newspapers such as the Herald-Sun in Durham and the Sanford Herald. In this interview, conducted by email, Brownlow discusses her job, offers career advice and talks about her love of GIFs.

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

A. I’m a freelance contributor to FOX Sports Carolinas, and my contract stipulates that I do at least five articles a week for them. And with all the sports going on right now, I usually do more than that. And then I also work for GoHeels.com’s digital magazine as a freelancer (I do weekly stories for them), and my weekly previews for ACCSports.com. So it’s a balancing act.

But my main responsibilities are covering football and men’s basketball for the Triangle-area teams (and a little bit of general ACC thrown in) for FOX. So each week, I try to find a topic or angle I can take with each area team’s upcoming game and do one piece for each.

I can also come up with a more “fun” piece that doesn’t involve interviews or heavy analysis. For example, I did a piece on the various odd fashion choices from NBA stars back in June. And I did a piece on football “coachspeak” in August.

During football season, Monday and Tuesday mornings are usually filled with press conferences, and so I try not to schedule myself for any stories due on those days. UNC’s presser is Monday at 11:45 and N.C. State’s is at 1:00, so I usually have to choose one or the other. Duke’s is Tuesday at 11:30.

So basically, I spend most of the day (and night) on Wednesday and Thursday writing. Especially Thursday night, when I’m finishing my ACCSports.com previews (which go up as early as possible on Friday).

On Friday, I usually have a little more time off, and so I try to catch up on sleep, take care of things around the house, etc. Sometimes, I’ll write my GoHeels.com stories on Friday. Saturday, I cover at least one game and do a write-up afterwards — either a “Four Downs” recap where I talk about the four most important aspects of the game, or a straight-up column.

If a game is at noon, I’m usually not home and/or finished with my story until 8 or 9 or so. It’s a full day.

I get up early Sunday and do my weekly power rankings, and I also write up my budget for the next week with my five stories. If I have a GoHeels.com piece to finish, I’ll do that too.

And I watch the Carolina Panthers on Sundays and die a little inside with each gut-wrenching loss. After years of doing this, the Panthers are my last outlet for true fandom/homerism/etc., and thus it’s extra painful when they lose in the fourth quarter for the 1,000th time in the Ron Rivera era.

I also have Sunday Ticket, so I’ll flip back and forth to Red Zone. This isn’t work, per se, but I’ve somehow gained Twitter followers based almost solely on my nutso Panthers’ tweets, which are filled with rage and sadness.

Basketball season will change my schedule somewhat, and the overlap between football and basketball will be especially brutal. But right now, that’s my workweek.

Q. You are known for your “GIF-tastic” previews of the week’s ACC football games. How do you put those together?

A. Well, it actually takes awhile. I’m a procrastinator by nature, and I work best in the early-morning deadline hours (or so I tell myself), so I put off a good deal of it until then.

But I do a lot of it throughout the week, filling in a the teams/records/details first, then a narrative here or a prediction there if it crosses my mind, or even a player to watch or a key to the game. I have a very casual (and, I’d like to think, funny) approach to writing these, and so I don’t want to sit down and write a game preview when my mind is focused on finishing other articles or I’m not feeling particularly silly or goofy.

Jim Young (editor of ACCSports.com) sent me a template when I started working for them last year for the basketball previews. I’m using a scaled-down version of that for football, since there’s a lot more detail involved in each game.

It’s keys to the game for each team, a player to watch from each team, various random statistics from the game notes and then, everyone’s favorite, narratives. For instance, when UNC loses in basketball, it becomes an indictment on Roy Williams as a head coach. And thus, a narrative is born.

I can’t remember if it was Jim or I that came up with it, but I’ll give credit to Jim. I think we were trying to find another category for the previews and throwing around ideas, and he suggested it. I’m happy to credit my editor, either way. (Note to future journalists: Editors are your friend!)

Last year, the site wouldn’t load GIFs properly, so I would use images quite a bit for my “narrative” if a team won or lost. Image of a mushroom cloud of a dumpster on fire, for instance.

But this year, GIFs do load on the new site, and it’s really expanded what I can do. I can include a pratfall to signify the kind of fail it would be if Team X lost a game it was heavily favored in, or I can use a GIF of someone crying. Those tend to get the point across a bit better than a still image.

The GIFs are the most creative part of what I do, and so I enjoy that. What I’ve done is gone through one of the more organized GIF sites (giphy) and gone through various categories, bookmarking GIFs that I think I will use in the future. I already have one of a 2-year-old falling on his face trying to dunk on a toy basketball hoop that I’ll use for basketball season. But I prefer GIFs from great movies and television shows, if I can find them.

The GIFs I use in my previews are generally from those shows, and when “Breaking Bad” went off the air a few weeks ago, I did a narrative for each team, win or lose, with a “Breaking Bad” GIF for each. It was well over 20 GIFs.

I do feel, though, that if I hadn’t started writing those previews, I never would have been able to fully develop as a writer. When you spend so much time writing fact-based content, it’s hard to flex your stylistic muscles, so to speak. And that’s also why I always enjoyed (and agonized over) writing features whenever I’ve gotten the opportunity.

But the previews are fun because they really allow me to be myself and write in my own voice. Writing a good feature, though, is one of the hardest things you can do in sportswriting (or just writing in general). When it’s good, you know it’s good. And when you know you could have done better, it haunts you. There’s never that self-doubt with my previews. It’s just me.

Q. Twitter seems to have changed sports journalism in a big way. How has social media affected how you and other sportswriters do their work?

A. I rarely ever knew another way, or if I did, I don’t remember it all that well. I’ve been doing this since the fall of 2005, and obviously Twitter didn’t come out until … 2009, maybe? That’s when I signed on.

I think it initially changed things for me by giving me a peek into the way other writers did their jobs. At that time, I was working for Tar Heel Monthly full-time, and I didn’t have a ton of exposure to that part of it. National, local, whatever — I got a glimpse into their world and how hard they had to work to be good at their jobs. (Or not, in some cases.)

But to answer the question, Twitter gave me the chance to write in my voice, so to speak, before I started writing the previews. I was restricted to 140 characters, obviously, so it was tough — but it also helped me become more economical in my prose, I guess.

Last year, I was just a freelance writer for a small newspaper and wondering if I would ever work full-time again. The more active I was on Twitter, the more people in higher places started to pay attention to me, and I think that kind of networking paid off, too. Also, if you’re funny and/or you know what you’re talking about, people will find you. I’d like to think that I’m both of those things.

Other writers tend to use it differently than I do. At a news conference or a game, I’m not going to inundate my followers with a quote every minute or so, or even with updates on the score or how many points a person has. There are traditional beat writers they can follow for that kind of information, and I am conscious of the need to avoid flooding people’s timelines.

I want to have the kinds of tweets from games that stand out. I’d rather observe something interesting (well, interesting to me anyway), either about the game itself or even about the mascots or something. I don’t want to be a Twitter user that people scroll through during games because they don’t care about an update on the action — they’re generally watching the action themselves.

So I’ll tweet a quote or two if it seems particularly newsworthy, or I’ll tweet an observation from a game. For instance, I think one of my more retweeted tweets from the past few weeks was “UNC’s defense is basically like the big paper sign that high school teams run through before games.” (This was during the ECU game.) It’s informational, but still tongue-in-cheek, and it gives you something different.

If you’re watching the game, you KNOW the UNC defense is bad. You don’t need proof. I was trying to get across HOW bad in a concise and (I’d like to think) humorous way. That’s how I like to use Twitter.

Q. Each semester, I have several students in my classes who want to go into sports journalism. What advice do you have for them?

A. I was very fortunate coming out of school. I won’t lie and pretend hard work and years of internships and fantastic grades landed me in this situation, because it didn’t.

I had Mick Mixon as a professor at UNC twice, and he was the first person who really believed in me as a writer. He recommended me for an internship to Adam Lucas (for what was then Tar Heel Monthly and TarHeelBlue.com), and Adam trusted Mick enough to take his word for it. I worked for him for five years, straight out of college, in a full-time position with benefits.

But in this business — much like in sports — you have to be lucky and good. You just do. And sometimes, you can be really good, and no organization has a good use for you or the money to hire you.

Sportswriting is changing so much that a lot of Internet outlets are cutting back more and more, either firing full-time employees or just having those employees cover most events from home, posting blog/wire updates. Newspapers will give young talent a chance, but it’s competitive and the work is extremely difficult.

My point is that it’s a hard world out there, and even if you’re really good, you might not get hired right away. Just keep at it, and something will open up.

I have spent two years already since I left college as a freelance reporter, unsure of what to do next or when (or if) I would ever make real money again, so I know that feeling. I’m lucky enough that my husband supports my career and believed in me enough to let me work ridiculous hours for very little money until the opportunity that I have now came up, but that’s not always practical for some.

Here are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve received along the way, though. I don’t always obey them all, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth remembering:

Put the same time/effort into your work as you expect to get out of it. This is particularly true in freelance. This isn’t just about money, although that’s important. There’s no need for you to agonize over a high school football game story if you’re only making $30 or $40, for instance. But if that high school football game story will be on a high-traffic site like WRAL.com, then maybe you spend a few extra minutes on it.

Don’t forget that you can be paid in exposure, too, and that’s as valuable as a currency sometimes as money. If the right eyeballs are reading your stuff,  you can move to a higher-paying position eventually. That doesn’t mean you should turn down certain jobs because of how much they pay, though. Any experience you can get is very valuable. Exposure, experience and economics. The three E’s. (I just made that up.)

There have been plenty of times where I didn’t want to spend as much time on something as I did because I knew no one would read it, but then I remembered how much I was being paid to write it. That matters, particularly in our line of work.

It would be nice if those who pay more for good work get that good work in return. And sometimes, you have a great idea for a high-concept piece that you’re doing for an outlet that won’t pay you much for it (and that no one reads), and you end up wasting your day trying to research it when you could have been doing something else. That’s not a good use of your time.

Network, network, network. Make friends (or at least, acquaintances) with as many people that work around you as possible. For way too long, I never bothered to do that. After I did, I couldn’t believe I’d been so hesitant. Old, young, it doesn’t matter.

If it’s like sportswriting, these people are often the only other humans you see besides your family on a daily basis, and so why not be friends with them? This is especially hard when you’re first out of college and you think you need to hang on to those friends, but you have to move on.

One word of caution: You have to be very careful in our business — there’s plenty of backbiting that goes on, and so you should avoid being overly gossipy — but it won’t take you long to figure out who your friends are.

Be social. Go to lunches or out for drinks or to the hospitality room, or whatever it is that those people are doing. It will pay off down the road.

If one of those friends moves up to a higher position, they can put in a good word for you (and vice versa). Or they can pass along job openings when they hear it about from a friend of a friend from an old job in Nebraska, or whatever. And you can talk shop with them, bounce ideas off of them and what not. It just never hurts at all to have friends in this business.

Especially if you don’t have steady work, start a blog. I got this piece of advice from a friend of mine, and I don’t know if I’d still be doing this today if it weren’t for that (or for him). It’s a way for prospective employers to quickly get a sense of your writing style.

You can mix in more serious pieces with some funnier things — I did that for my blog, where I did my own version of the previews — but it wouldn’t take long for someone researching you to find out if you know your stuff.

Be able to be your own editor. I have editors at FOX, but often they don’t have time to parse over my writing the same way a newspaper editor would. And I have to create my own budget each week as well, for the most part.

I’m happy to do that, but you have to be able to generate your own ideas and edit your own work. This is becoming more and more of a problem in our industry, as outlets want to cut back on copy editors (particularly in the newspaper world).

It’s just a reality we all have to face, and if you want your story going out into the universe as a fully formed, grammatically correct piece of writing, then you’ll have to be responsible for that. I’m sure UNC is preparing you for those kinds of realities, but I know I thought writing would be a much more collaborative venture than it ultimately was based on my J-school experience.

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