How journalism students get their news

Each semester, I ask students in my editing course: How do you get your news? The answers have changed over the years.

In the late 2000s, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was a frequent response. In 2015, The Skimm was very popular. One constant: The Daily Tar Heel, though less in print and more via its website and email newsletters.

This semester, the most frequently mentioned source of news is podcasting. Many of my students listen to The Daily from The New York Times and news podcasts from the BBC.

Others read news on the websites of their hometown newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer and Cherokee One Feather. A couple of students read the print editions at libraries on campus. Of the 40 students in the two sections of the course, none mentioned television or traditional radio broadcasts.

Will podcasts last, or will they go the way of “The Daily Show”? I’ll ask again in the coming semesters, and I will share any news here.

What I am teaching this semester

carrollhall
Carroll Hall is home to the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill has begun. Here’s what I am teaching this term at the School of Media and Journalism:

  • Two sections of MEJO 157, News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media. Each section has 20 students; the class meets twice a week. Here is the syllabus for the course.
  • One section of MEJO 711, 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. This course covers an array of digital writing, including headlines, newsletters and tweets. It has 20 students, and it meets asynchronously. Here is the syllabus for the course.

In addition to teaching these courses, I will chair a thesis committee for a master’s student. I’ll also serve on various committees in the journalism school, including the curriculum committee and the tenure/promotion committee.

Best wishes to faculty, staff and students on a successful semester!

Q&A with Jamie Hancock, editor and internship coordinator at the Dallas Morning News

Jamie Hancock portrait

Jamie Hancock is assistant politics editor at the Dallas Morning News. She also serves as the coordinator for the newspaper’s internship program. In this interview, Hancock discusses DMN’s approach to covering politics and what it looks for in interns.

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

A. Part of why I love working in journalism is that no day is typical. But I do start each morning with a meeting with other news editors to discuss what we’ll have for that day’s digital presentation and the next day’s print edition. I also check our political reporters’ digital metrics every day to see how readers responded to their stories.

Throughout the day, I’ll edit any daily or enterprise stories our reporters file. All of them except one work in Austin and Washington, so we mostly use Slack to communicate with them about their work. Two days a week, I write Political Points, a newsletter we started this year to engage with readers and help them reach our content.

My role as intern coordinator changes over the course of the year. With our summer interns in the building, I’m available to answer any questions they have and make sure they know when and where their weekly brown-bag sessions are held.

Last week, we toured our printing press in Plano. This month, I’ll start making plans to recruit our 2020 class and visit campuses for interviews, including UNC. Applications are due Nov. 1.

Q. Politics is a subject as big as Texas. How do you and your colleagues decide what news takes priority?

A. We view the news through a Texas lens. Reader metrics have shown that our Dallas audience wants us to provide political news with a local bent. They want to know what their elected officials are doing in Washington, so we don’t focus on every piece of news that comes out of the White House — only what directly affects Texans.

We adopt a similar approach with the Texas Legislature, writing stories about our North Texas senators and representatives and the legislation they’re introducing, as well as how the big bills working their way through the chambers will affect North Texans. This year, the legislative session was all about property taxes and school finance.

Q. You are a 2005 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you learned during your years in Dallas?

A. The journalism school and its excellent professors gave me the foundation I needed to succeed the moment I left Carroll Hall.

I learned the finer points of editing from Frank Fee and Bill Cloud, and I loved my sports journalism classes with Mick Mixon that taught me how to conduct a great interview. The fundamental reporting and editing skills I learned in college are still critical, even as the industry has experienced momentous change.

But with that change comes new responsibilities and areas of focus, such as interpreting reader metrics and audience behavior. It’s one of the most fascinating parts of my job, and it’s vital to our business strategy.

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors in Dallas who have helped me develop leadership and management skills. They’ve seen potential in me when I didn’t necessarily see it in myself, and I’ve tried to pass on the confidence I’ve gained and the lessons I’ve learned to younger journalists in the newsroom.

Q. What do you look for in interns for the Dallas Morning News? Any tips for students looking to apply?

A. We look for interns who are inquisitive, eager to learn and from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. We treat them like full-time staffers from their first day, so typically they’ve had strong experience interning for another professional publication. Our reporting interns have the skills to conduct interviews and write stories, sometimes under deadline pressure, and we also have interns in photo, audience, copy editing and digital design/data.

As a a digital-first news organization, we’re looking for interns who are armed with social media expertise and knowledge of story metrics and online performance. Students looking to apply should pay attention to detail in their application packets and make sure they submit error-free résumés and cover letters. We expect our interns to work hard, but they have a lot of fun, too.

Follow Jamie Hancock on Twitter and subscribe to the Political Points newsletter.

Don’t pass me by

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The AP Stylebook plays an important role in my editing courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. Students use it to take quizzes and complete assignments, and they may consult either the print or online version of the stylebook.

My goal is not for students to memorize style entries but to have them learn how to identify potential problems and use a reliable resource to resolve them. Everything is open stylebook.

In class, we discuss how and why style guidelines evolve. Each year, the stylebook changes. One of the signature events of the national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing is the announcement from AP editors about new, deleted and revised entries.

The headline-grabbing updates this year included a new entry on race and a change from percent to % in most uses. These changes, which went into effect immediately, were topics of conversation at the conference and on social media.

I overlooked one update, however, and it affected my class, at least in a small way.
Shortly after the conference, my students edited and posted stories to the Durham VOICE website, which covers news in a section of Durham, North Carolina. One of the stories mentioned “passersby,” and I docked the student editor a few points for not making it “passers-by,” as the stylebook has long recommended.

After class, the student asked me about the grading of her assignment. She showed me that the freshly updated digital version of the stylebook has “passerby” as one word. My print edition of the 2018 stylebook still had it with a hyphen, of course.

The student and I weren’t on the same page anymore. After verifying that the AP editors had made this update, I refunded the points to the student and thanked her for pointing out the change.

Here’s a rule to remember: Don’t let your stylebook pass you by.

This post also appears in the summer 2019 edition of Tracking Changes, the quarterly journal of ACES: The Society for Editing. The journal is one of the many benefits of ACES membership.

How I am spending my summer

It’s summertime. As I’ve noted in the past, this time of year for faculty members is not a three-month vacation. The pace is certainly slower, but there are plenty of things to get done.

Here’s what I have been up to so far this summer:

  • Reviewed applications for UNC-Chapel Hill’s certificate program in digital communication.
  • Reviewed applications and graded comprehensive exams for students in an online master’s program in digital communication.
  • Advised a student in that program on his master’s thesis.
  • Updated my IRB ethics training as required by the university.
  • Prepared and taught a one-day workshop for journalists at Industry Dive in Washington, D.C.
  • Prepared and taught the journalism component of the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop.
  • Helped revise the journalism school’s usage and grammar test.
  • Wrote posts and conducted interviews for this site.

Here’s what I have planned between now and the start of the fall semester on Aug. 20:

  • Update the stylebook of the School of Media and Journalism.
  • Prepare and submit a nomination for the Robinson Prize, awarded by ACES: The Society for Editing.
  • Assist with orientation for the master’s and certificate programs in digital communication.
  • Attend two faculty retreats and other pre-semester meetings.
  • Review and update course materials for the three courses that I will teach.

I hope you are having a great summer!

Dealing with data

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Data is a character who appears in “Star Trek” TV series and movies. People differ on whether the noun “data” should take a singular or plural verb.

A colleague recently expressed surprise that the latest edition of the AP Stylebook recommends using a singular verb with the word “data” in most instances. He asked: Isn’t that word plural? Is AP wrong?

The short answers are yes and no. Let’s take a look at the data.

Merriam-Webster defines “data” as “factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.” The dictionary’s entry for the word notes that it is technically a plural form for the word “datum” but singular or plural in construction. M-W says “data” may take a singular or plural verb.

Stylebooks help writers and editors decide what to choose when we have such options. That guidance builds consistency whether we are working on a book manuscript, a magazine or a company website. It would be distracting to see “data is” in one paragraph of a news story or press release and “data are” in the next.

Here’s what the entry in the 2019 AP Stylebook says about “data” and verbs:

The word typically takes singular verbs and pronouns when writing for general audiences and in data journalism contexts: The data is sound. In scientific and academic writing, plural verbs and pronouns are preferred.

Most, but not all, U.S. news organizations use AP style. Some have their own style.

Regarding “data,” The Washington Post uses the singular verb: “Their bipartisan bill would also require the companies to regularly disclose the ways consumers’ data is being used.” The New York Times does likewise: “The data shows how personal it is.”

Beyond journalism, the Chicago Manual of Style says either verb is fine with “data.” I asked my Twitter following, which consists mostly of editors and writers from an array of disciplines, what they recommended. Here are the results of that informal poll:

twitter-data

A few responded: “It depends.” That’s essentially what the AP entry says too.

If the use of singular verbs and pronouns with “data” bothers you because of the word’s plural heritage, consider other English words imported and modified from Latin. “Agenda” comes from the singular “agendum.” Today we apply a singular verb to it without a second thought.

In my editing classes, I share with my students a love of language and a recognition that words and meanings evolve. Sometimes, there is no right or wrong. As we write and edit, we should consider the context of the piece and use resources such as stylebooks and dictionaries to make smart choices.

So it is with “data” and other matters. That’s my agenda.

Book review: Dreyer’s English

cover of Dreyer's English

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. New York, NY. Random House, 2019. 279 pp. $25.00. ISBN: 978-0-8129-9570-1

Many people, including journalism students, want firm rules on how to write and edit, but English is messy with gray areas and endless debates over commas. That’s where stylebooks and other usage manuals step in, offering clarity and guidance.

“Dreyer’s English” isn’t a stylebook that represents an organization as The Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style do. It certainly has the characteristics of one, with sections of advice on punctuation, word choice, redundancy and other matters that writers and editors care about.

What sets this book apart from others on writing and editing? As indicated by its title, “Dreyer’s English” is a style manifesto of one editor: Benjamin Dreyer.

Dreyer is copy chief at Random House, and he has edited writers such as E.L. Doctorow, Frank Rich and Shirley Jackson, author of the short story “The Lottery.” He has worked at Random House since 1993 in nonfiction and fiction.

Editing those writers (among others) makes Dreyer ideally qualified to take on the task of writing this book, which offers a look at the inner workings of a publishing house. His background, coupled with a sense of humor, makes “Dreyer’s English” feel like an AP Stylebook with wicked one-liners. In a section on word choice, for example, Dreyer takes on business jargon: “It feels like a terribly short walk from ‘onboarding’ a new employee to waterboarding one.”

Like any editor, Dreyer has strong views on many language topics. Among them:

  • He still takes “literally” literally, calling it the “Intensifier from Hell.”
  • He is holding on to “whom” despite talk of its decline: “Until someone can come up with a better word, we are stuck with it.”
  • He is an advocate of the Oxford comma: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”

Yet Dreyer is a flexible editor, and he cheerfully acknowledges that his preferences may not be yours. He is all right with “alright” on occasion. He suggests that “enormity” can mean more than “monstrous evil” but advises avoiding it in positive contexts such as “the enormity of her talents.” He’s getting more comfortable with the singular they.

The section on punctuation, presented in a list format, neatly describes how using a comma, semicolon or period can alter the pace and tone of writing. Dreyer also offers a helpful tip for students who struggle with appositives with a guideline he calls the “only” comma. And he illustrates the difference between an em dash an en dash.

Dreyer also provides helpful guidance on fact checking. Journalists and public relations practitioners will want to turn to his lists of frequently misspelled names, companies and organizations. Apocryphal quotes from famous people, a bane of journalistic writing, are also addressed. Be wary of words of wisdom attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker and Mark Twain, among others.

In a chapter on editing fiction, Dreyer goes in depth on the need for continuity of characters and timelines. Street names, historical references and vocabulary must match the time period. Readers will notice such errors.

As in journalistic writing, redundancy can weaken fiction. Dreyer warns against “the angry flaring of nostrils” and “the quizzical cocking of the head,” among other wordy constructions. And he once encountered this doozy: “He implied without quite saying.”

So where does all of this guidance take us? In Dreyer’s view, editing is about serving the writer. It’s a collaboration for the benefit of the reader. He writes:

An attentive copy editor should become attuned to and immersed in the writer’s voice to the point where the copy editor has so thoroughly absorbed the writer’s intentions that the process turns into a sort of conversation-on-the-page.

“Dreyer’s English” would work well in a variety of courses in journalism and English departments. For example, in a class on book publishing, “Dreyer’s English” would be perfect in tandem with Carol Fisher Saller’s “The Subversive Copy Editor.”

Beyond the classroom, “Dreyer’s English” will appeal to writers and editors alike. It is a worthy addition to the library of any lover of language.

This review also appears in the Summer 2019 issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Educator.