Quoted and tweeted out of context

One of the topics in my editing course is about the ethical use of quotes in news stories. Editors should ensure that reporters quote sources completely and accurately.

On occasion, a celebrity or politician will accuse a news organization of taking a quote out of context. Typically, this is an attempt to deflect criticism for an outrageous statement.

But sometimes, a news organization does use a person’s quote out of context, warping its meaning. Here is an example that I have used in class for several years.

A news story quoted Brad Pitt about his early days in Hollywood. Before getting into acting, he drove strippers to parties. One of the women recommended an acting coach who proved instrumental in Pitt’s rise to stardom.

The interviewer asked: “So a stripper changed the course of your career?” Pitt’s response facetiously: “Strippers changed my life.”

The resulting headline from The Huffington Post takes this quote out of context:

pitt-strippers

It’s misleading and unethical. It’s clickbait. It’s a good example of what not to do.

My example is stale, however. I’ve been looking for a new one. And this week, Fox News provided me with a fresh example of a quote taken out of context.

Jake Tapper of CNN said this on the air as his cable network covered a terrorist attack in New York City: “The Arabic chant ‘allahu akbar’ — ‘God is great’ — sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances, and too often we hear of it being said in moments like this.”

Here’s how Fox News reported Tapper’s remark via Twitter:

foxnews-tapper

The tweet warps Tapper’s statement, implying that he approved of the violence in New York. Tapper responded on Twitter:

tapper-response

Fox deleted the tweet, but a story about it stayed on its website. Fox host Sean Hannity repeated it on the air.

I feel bad for Tapper. No one likes to be misquoted or have their words distorted for any reason, including political attacks.

But I want to thank Fox News for this tweet. It’s a beautiful example of what not to do.

Advertisements

Scholarships that support editing

billwalsh

BILL WALSH (RIGHT) AT THE SPELLING BEE AT THE ACES CONFERENCE IN LAS VEGAS IN 2014. Proceeds from the bee benefit the ACES Education Fund. (PHOTO BY MARK ALLEN)

For nearly 20 years, the ACES Education Fund has offered scholarships to students interested in careers in editing. Once again, it’s time to apply.

What’s new this year is a scholarship named for Bill Walsh, an author and Washington Post copy editor who died earlier this year. That $3,000 award will go to a student interested in editing news.

The other five scholarships are open to editors in any field. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill student Marisa DiNovis won an ACES scholarship in 2015. She now works in book publishing.

Another UNC-Chapel Hill student, Danny Nett, was awarded a scholarship this year. He recently completed an internship at National Public Radio and is seeking a job in editing.

“It’s a good extra thing to be able to mention on my resume when I’m applying places,” said Nett, who graduated in May. “I actually had a co-worker at NPR realize I was one of the recipients (I guess when she went back through conference photos) and tweet at me freaking out, like, three months into my being here. That was kind of fun.”

In addition to the scholarship, the award provides financial assistance for winners to attend the national conference of ACES, the Society for Editing. The next conference will be in Chicago in April 2018.

Nett attended the ACES gathering this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, and found it beneficial personally and professionally.

“I interviewed for an internship while I was at the conference, and I ended up getting an offer. I definitely think meeting in person and getting the chance to talk helped a ton,” Nett said. “I also met a couple of friends down in St. Pete who I still talk to on a weekly basis. I loathe the word ‘networking,’ but it was a good way to get a bit further into some editing circles.”

The deadline to apply for an ACES scholarship is Nov. 15. To learn more, check out the ACES Education Fund’s page on the ACES website.

Good luck to all applicants!

Q&A with Dow Jones intern Alison Krug

Alison Krug recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund editing internship in Norfolk, Virginia. Krug is a 2017 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she did an independent study on stylebooks. In this interview, conducted by email, Krug discusses her internship and offers advice on how to get one.

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

A. I just finished up a summer as the Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at The Virginian-Pilot. DJNF is a program that provides interns with a weeklong training bootcamp to brush up on grammar, style, headline writing and page design — all to help you prepare for your summer on a copy desk.

At The Pilot, I worked Tuesdays through Saturdays, typically from 4 p.m. to 12:15(ish) a.m. As an intern, I worked as a rim editor, editing stories and writing headlines and cutlines before sending them to the slot editor.

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

A. Learning the coverage area and all the local quirks was a huge challenge for me. Norfolk (where The Pilot is headquartered) is home to the largest Naval station in the world, so that meant spending a little extra time reviewing the newspaper’s military style guide.

The paper covers Hampton Roads, which includes southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Even at the end of my internship, I was still learning all the towns in the coverage area and all their quirks.

The greatest reward was probably every time I got a pun into the paper.

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

A. If you’re going to apply for a Dow Jones News Fund internship (and you should), STUDY.

The DJNF application process consists of an online application and an editing test. The editing test includes sections on usage, current events and headline writing — and all previous tests (and their answer keys) are available online.

I took old tests, scrolled through some online grammar quizzes and had a lot of fun making a style and usage study guide for myself. (If making a style and usage study guide sounds fun for you, you might be a good fit for this internship).

What really sets DJNF apart is the training you receive at the editing bootcamp. It’s a great atmosphere and incredibly exciting to be surrounded by a group of other young copy editors passionate about grammar and AP style and all things copy. You end the week feeling very prepared to start your internship.

Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I just wrapped up the internship a week ago and am highly employable! My email is alisonkrug@gmail.com, my Twitter is @alisonkrug and my desire to talk about grammar is endless.

UPDATE: Krug has accepted a full-time position as an online editor for the Roanoke Times website.

Pushing the news

Each semester, I ask students in my courses at UNC-Chapel Hill how they get their news. I encourage them to be honest, and I tell them that there are no right answers.

As in recent years, several mentioned The Skimm, an email newsletter. Others said they regularly read CNN.com and the digital versions of The Washington Post and The New York Times. A few said they still like to get news in print via The New York Times or The Daily Tar Heel.

No one mentioned regional newspapers such as The Charlotte Observer. Same for radio and television.

Several students said that they rely on push notifications on their phones. In previous semesters, I had never heard that answer. Those students said that they relied on the notifications to let them know about big news. They catch up on other things later.

Like a headline, a push notification should match the tone of the news and the tone of the organization. Editors must use news judgment to decide when and how to send such notifications. Too many can be overwhelming.

I will keep an eye on how news organizations are exploring how to push news in this way, perhaps incorporating that into my editing course. If students receive news that way, they should know how to send it.

What I am teaching this semester

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins today. 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, with a dash of social media. Each section has 18 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 asynchronous course covers different types of digital writing, including blogs, headlines, newsletters and social media. It has 14 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 to all on a successful semester!

Q&A with Ryan Wilusz, reporter at the Morganton News Herald

ryanwilusz

Ryan Wilusz is a breaking news reporter at the The News Herald in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Wilusz discusses his job reporting and editing at the News Herald.

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

A. I will describe my job for you, but I don’t know how much of it will be typical. In the two months I have been a breaking news reporter with The News Herald, I have reported from funerals and emergency rooms, and I have witnessed multiple car chases, a water rescue and a large warehouse fire (just to name a few things). Each day is completely different, and that’s why I love what I do. But there are some routine parts of each day.

As soon as I wake up, I turn on the police scanner if it’s not still playing from the night before. I have it playing in my car, and it will continue playing throughout the day as I work. It’s just something you have to get used to.

Another typical part of my day is going through the arrest and incident reports on the local law enforcement websites. If I find anything notable, I follow up during the day.

I also make sure to load the software we use to track our stories as soon as I get in the office. It’s very important to know your audience, and the software allows us to see how many people are viewing our stories at any given time and how they are accessing them.

Once these programs are loaded and these tasks are completed, the rest of my day is up in the air unless I have a meeting or event I already plan to go to. You have to be prepared for anything that might come over the scanner. That means having multiple changes of clothes and shoes, a safety vest for roadside stories, a full charge on your phone, an SD card for your camera and a plan to send content back to the office from the field.

You never know what you might have to cover, and you never know how long you’ll be out of the office.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at the Morganton paper?

A. All editors are different, and I am lucky enough to have an editor who believes in giving the writer a say when it comes to editing. Each story is submitted to our editor through the program we use to place content in the physical paper.

At the top of our document, we write a suggested overline and headline. We also include our own subheads and cutlines, too. The story is then edited and placed in the “ready” folder. As long as the headlines and overlines are not terrible, they are usually returned with minimal changes. A lot of times, the headline will be bumped down to a subhead in the physical paper for space purposes.

After the story is returned with edits, we place it online ourselves. We are also in charge of linking and placing photos and other content on the website.

Students are always taught that being a journalist is a collaborative process. My editor understands that collaboration not only happens between reporters but between editors and reporters, too. When it comes time to decide on story placement in the paper and what should be a primary photo for a story, my editor always asks what we think. And no matter what, she has our backs for whatever feedback we may receive from the public.

Q. While at UNC, you wrote for the College Town website. How did that experience help you start your journalism career?

A. I don’t believe that any one form of experience is good enough to help you start a career. Luckily for students at UNC-Chapel Hill, there are plenty of opportunities to gain real-world experience before the job search begins. I say it is best to dip your toes in as many areas as possible.

College Town helped redefine my idea of what can be considered “news.” As I stated before, it is very important to know your audience. Readers were not going to College Town for breaking news. They were visiting for news that was fun and different but also informative. So I was encouraged to craft themed playlists, stories about campus jogging routes and a Q&A with my own mother about me moving away. But this background wouldn’t land me a job at a newspaper alone.

The Durham VOICE helped me step outside my comfort zone and write stories about people very different than me and about issues I never experienced. My internship at the Statesville Record & Landmark helped show me what an actual career in journalism was like and helped me gain multiple bylines in a professional setting.

My editing classes at UNC-CH taught me how to write headlines and how to be a more precise and concise writer. My audio/video/photography classes at UNC-CH helped me find new ways to be a creative storyteller outside of just words on paper.

The journalism industry is changing, newsrooms are shrinking and employers are looking for candidates who can do it all. And if you want to land a great job, you have to have experience across the board.

Q. What skills that you learned in the journalism school are you using in your job in Morganton? What new ones are you picking up in your newsroom?

A. Literally every skill the journalism school taught me is being put to use at The News Herald.

I’ve often heard students talk about how useless a class may be because in their minds, the skills being acquired have nothing to do with they want to do as a career. But I have found that some of the skills I have learned are coming to use in unexpected places.

I had no plans to be an editor coming out of school. But I ended up landing a job at a place that encourages writers to take on some of those editing skills such as headline writing. I may be a breaking news reporter, but my creative sportswriting class taught me how to think outside the box (or the pyramid) to tell an intriguing, detailed and creative news story. I may not have had plans to be a photojournalist, but I am at a newspaper without a full-time photographer. My photography skills have helped us have compelling centerpieces on what may seem like dull news days.

I will say there are some skills that I wasn’t able to acquire at UNC-CH that I have been forced to pick up along the way. I would love to see a breaking news or crime reporting class in the journalism school. A lot goes into working a breaking news event or a crime scene. Safety of the reporter is always an issue. You also have to know how to work well with law enforcement officers.

There’s a certain amount of give and take between reporters and police officers, and you want to make sure you get your photo and information while avoiding confrontation with officers and bystanders. Breaking news can be hectic, and you don’t want to add to it.

With that being said, however, don’t let anyone influence you or your job. Know your rights! And that kind of goes into the other big skill I have picked up while on the job.

When you are in school, all that’s really on the line is your grade. But when you are reporting sensitive stories about death and about crime, you are the target of a lot of frustration. People will be upset when you report on them or their family members (especially if they are a minor) and will often feel you are the cause of their ruined reputation.

You have to know how to take those phone calls from upset readers and subjects. And trust me, there are a lot of phone calls!

You have to know how to firmly justify and stand by your decisions, but you also have to show some level of compassion because those people who are calling are the same ones who subscribe. Just always remind people that you don’t make the news, you report on it.

Q&A with Colin Campbell, editor of The Insider

Colin Campbell is editor of The Insider State Government News Service, a website and newsletter in Raleigh, North Carolina. He previously worked as a reporter at The News & Observer, covering state politics. In this interview, conducted by email, Campbell discusses his role as editor and The Insider’s operations.

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

A. When the legislature is in session, I’m usually juggling a bunch of committee meetings and floor votes, writing short items for the newsletter. Outside of session, most of the stories I write are enterprise stories following up on state government news that didn’t get much attention initially.

Our newsletter comes out at midnight, so I typically log in from home around 10 p.m. to give it a final proofread once our production crew has put everything together. On Fridays, we record our weekly podcast with the N&O political team, and I write a weekly column on politics that’s syndicated to papers across the state.

Q. How is The Insider different from The News & Observer and other media that cover state government?

A. The Insider publishes news items from a wide variety of sources to ensure our subscribers get a comprehensive view of the day’s state politics and government news, so we have partnerships with WRAL, The Associated Press and others to use their coverage, as well as the N&O’s stories. That means the Insider’s original reporting can and must go beyond the breaking news of the day that the N&O will be covering.

Our subscribers are lawmakers, lobbyists and business leaders, so we don’t have to focus on topics of interest to a general audience and can instead delve into wonky policy stuff that other outlets typically ignore. We can also be somewhat of a community newspaper for the Legislative Building, looking at minor things like new furniture purchases and building security that are of interest to people who work here often.

Because the Insider is owned by the N&O, the N&O periodically publishes our stories after they appear first in the newsletter.

Q. You and your staff members are frequent users of Twitter. What role does social media play in your coverage?

A. The North Carolina political world is heavily plugged into Twitter, so it’s an invaluable tool for reporting. I frequently find story ideas by browsing the #ncpol hashtag and the people I follow.

It’s also been a helpful way to connect with the political world and establish ourselves as experts, to drive traffic to the N&O’s website, and to promote the Insider newsletter to potential subscribers.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in covering state government in North Carolina and elsewhere?

A. Be prepared to start small by covering town or county government — that’s the best way to learn how state and local governments operate. Jobs covering state politics are hard to find these days, so experience at a community newspaper is often the best way to start (for UNC students, Jock Lauterer’s community journalism course is the best available for that career path).

It can also be helpful to specialize, as North Carolina and other states have a number of subject-specific start-up news organizations like N.C. Health News and EducationNC, so knowledge in those subjects can be helpful. Keep an active social media presence to make connections and catch the eye of fellow reporters and editors.

Follow Colin Campbell on Twitter and learn more about The Insider in this short video.