Remembering Bill Walsh

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Bill Walsh (right) at the spelling bee at the ACES conference in Las Vegas in 2014. (Photo by Mark Allen)

Bill Walsh, the noted Washington Post copy editor and author of several books, died earlier this month of cancer at age 55. It’s a heartbreaking loss for his friends and family, and for the craft of editing.

I had the good fortune to meet Bill via ACES, the Society for Editing. We had shared interests in journalism, tennis and ’80s bands such as Aztec Camera. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him and to attend his wise and witty presentations at ACES conferences.

When thinking of Bill, I recall one ACES conference in particular. It was in New Orleans in 2012.

I was chatting with a journalism student at the post-conference reception at a bar in the French Quarter. Bill was nearby. The student mentioned how she had attended Bill’s session at the conference and how she’d like to meet him.

But she was nervous. Would Bill Walsh, one of the stars of the conference, be willing to talk with a college student attending an ACES conference for the first time? I assured her that yes, he would be happy to, and I introduced them. Bill greeted the student as he would a close friend or trusted colleague. I stepped away to give them time to talk one on one.

That moment was a prime example of the open and inviting atmosphere of ACES conferences. It doesn’t matter whether you are a novice or a doyen. We are all editors who can learn from each other.

Now, ACES has established a scholarship in Bill’s name. It is intended for a student interested in a career in editing news. Bill’s wife, Jacqueline Dupree, is generously matching initial donations to the scholarship fund.

I hope that you will consider donating as I have. It’s a significant way to keep the memory of Bill Walsh alive for many years to come.

Student guest post: Overhauling the copy editor’s arsenal

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Danny Nett is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is online managing editor and columnist at The Daily Tar Heel.

Let’s face it: The need for a copy editor to be socially conscious is more pertinent than ever.

With the surge of #BlackLivesMatter, queer rights and other critical movements into mainstream awareness, it’s not enough for an editor to pack the usual wide arsenal of grammar, style and fact-checking skills. We should also be coming to work with an understanding of the diverse and nuanced communities that have been thrust to the forefront of American politics.

When we don’t, we end up with stories like the infamous “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village,” in which a straight Daily Beast reporter essentially catfished athletes and posted identifying information of multiple people from countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Or if I’m looking closer to home, you can end up with a piece suggesting there should be a fence built to keep Durham crime out of Chapel Hill. Or you end up with the swath of articles that misgender trans victims, like a recent piece on the death of Symone Marie Jones that ran in The Charlotte Observer.

This isn’t a call-out post — as a fellow editor, I know firsthand that mistakes are going to happen in the workflow of a daily publication. But when it comes to covering members of some of the most marginalized communities in our society, we have a responsibility to do our due diligence.

I read a lot of stories that still call a trans person by their dead name or the wrong pronoun — or unnecessarily discuss details of their transitioning. I also hear a lot of fellow journalists justify these decisions as “explaining” trans people to their readers.

In these instances, I think about two sections in particular from the SPJ Code of Ethics:

  1. “Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience.”
  2. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

There are plenty of ways an editor can help contextualize trans experiences to a cisgender audience without being harmful. Rather than discussing a person’s surgical history or what name they were given at birth, discuss how health-care plans typically don’t cover hormone treatment and surgery for the transgender community.

Or talk about how legislation will directly influence the lives of queer young people or the fact that trans women of color face incredibly disproportionate rates of violence.

Looking at a broader sense, there are tons of things a journalist can keep in mind when editing stories about marginalized identities.

  • For one, make sure you’re not only covering a community when something is wrong. Celebrate the high points, too. And while you’re at it, check through the sources in every piece you edit. Make sure they’re not all cis, straight white guys.
  • Also, don’t be afraid to get input from other sets of eyes in the newsroom. Editing is a team sport — and chances are, the people in your newsroom will bring some different perspectives to the table.
  • Even if your staff is pretty diverse, take the time to educate yourself. Read up on experiences of people from different communities than you. Identities coverage shouldn’t be parachute journalism; so just like you’d do your research for an unfamiliar town, do the same for identity-based communities.

If you’re looking for other resources — particularly for updating your publication’s style guide — some other good points of reference are NABJ, AAJA, The Diversity Style Guide and GLAAD.

The latest from ACES

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ACES member Neil Holdway contemplates the organization’s new logo on his hoodie.

The 2017 ACES conference is over. I was fortunate to attend this annual gathering of editors, held this year in St. Petersburg, Florida. Of nearly 1,900 members of ACES, 591 were there for three days of training, fun and fellowship.

Here are the headlines:

  • The American Copy Editors Society is now ACES, The Society for Editing. The organization has a new logo, and a redesigned website will come soon.
  • ACES is establishing a scholarship in memory of Bill Walsh, the noted Washington Post copy editor and book author who died this month. You can contribute here.
  • The Associated Press Stylebook is opening the door to the singular they in the upcoming edition. It (they?) will still recommend avoiding using it when possible.
  • In the headline contest, The Daily Tar Heel won first place in the Student Publications category for the sixth consecutive year. Congratulations!

You can learn more about the conference via Twitter and on the ACES website. The 2018 conference will be in Chicago. I hope to see you there.

Real news, real editing

For many years, students in my Advanced Editing course have collaborated with counterparts in a community journalism course to put together the Durham VOICE. It’s a fun and fruitful collaboration.

This semester, I’ve expanded that idea. In addition to work on the VOICE, my students are collaborating with students in a feature-writing course to create a website called Omnibus. The site’s name reflects the broad spectrum of stories there.

Both the VOICE and Omnibus let students edit real stories written by their peers. They also write headlines and captions, and add links. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them gain this experience.

Student guest post: How to build a better in-house style guide

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Alison Krug is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the managing editor and copy editor of Southern Neighbor magazine and the newsroom director and former copy chief at The Daily Tar Heel.

Last fall, I embarked on an independent study focusing on the construction of style guides. For my final project, I spent the semester rebuilding the in-house style guides for The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor magazine.

The DTH is an independent, student-run paper at UNC-Chapel Hill that publishes in print four days a week and online every day. Southern Neighbor is an independent, student-run monthly magazine that focuses on business, arts and education around Orange County, North Carolina. Both operate under DTH Media Corp.

Both publications had existing guides that were in disarray, so I conducted interviews with copy editors at publications including The Technician (N.C. State University’s student paper), BuzzFeed and the Washington Post to get an idea of what makes an effective style guide.

By the end of the semester, I had two fresh in-house style guides.

Here’s what I learned are the steps you need to take when constructing an in-house style guide:

1. Read the (news)room.

Before I touched a single style entry, I conducted a few informal interviews with DTH editors and staffers to find out what difficulties they had with the stylebook. Based on these interviews and my experience as copy chief, I could assess which aspects of the stylebook were the most urgent and crucial to fix.

I discovered that the DTH staff wanted a new way to host the stylebook (the Google Doc it lived on was a mess) that was easy to share with staffers and didn’t involve logging in to anything.

It sounds simple, but after logging 80 pages of style entries for the DTH guide, I wouldn’t want to distribute it to the newsroom only to then find out I had to make some huge structural or content change to suit the staff’s needs.

2. Find an in-house balance.

The old DTH and Southern Neighbor style guides were gummed up with sections reiterating AP style rules over and over again. Both Southern Neighbor and the DTH use AP style and then use in-house guides to make additions to or overwrite the AP.

I realized about halfway through my construction of the new guides that I was not being consistent in my decisions to scrap or keep an AP style entry. I decided that because each DTH desk has an AP stylebook account, I wouldn’t copy AP entries unless they were a style point the newsroom often struggled with.

3. Find your structure.

The best advice I have for figuring out formatting is to cherry-pick from existing guides.

For the DTH and Southern Neighbor, I based my format heavily off of the 2008 DTH style guide. I began with a mission statement (the DTH prides itself to be a teaching paper, so the mission statement’s main purpose is to guide new copy desk staffers as they make editing choices), a quick rundown of AP basics, an A to Z of style points and then a collection of topic-specific mini style sheets (the 2008 DTH guide did something similar with mini style sheets, but I refined the format based on BuzzFeed’s meticulously organized guide).

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding on structure:

Who will be using the guide?

For the DTH, it would be a newsroom of over 200, including about 30 copy editors — many who would be brand new to journalism. This led me to make sure my AP basics section and how-to-copy-edit mission statement in the most visible spot on the first page. For Southern Neighbor, there’s often just one copy chief who is very familiar with the ins and outs of the publication, so a how-to-edit guide was not as crucial to prominently display.

What medium will the final guide be in?

Will it be printed? A Word file? I knew both guides I was creating would have an online home, so I put emphasis on making sure subheads for sections and individual entries could be found through a cmd+f search for keywords.

Where can I look for inspiration?

I found the guides of news organizations that shared the same news values or had the same copy desk difficulties to be the most helpful. If you’re writing an in-house guide for a college publication, get in contact with another college copy editor. You’ll probably find you’re facing similar problems, and it’s fun to talk to someone who works the same horrific hours as you.

4. Get input.

My preferred method of getting feedback was emailing iterations of the guides out to editors and begging for their input. A Google Form or JotForm might work better for you.

5. Be ready to be flexible.

All of my points listed above could be distilled to one takeaway: Do the groundwork beforehand so you don’t have to make major changes once you’re 50 pages into your guide.

But it’s a copy desk: Things happen. It’s good to have a plan to anticipate changes to the guide.

The N.C. State University student newspaper meets once a year to discuss style changes. A style summit like this might work for college papers and smaller newsrooms (like the DTH), while a larger operation or a publication where contributors don’t come in to an office (like Southern Neighbor) might benefit from a Google form or some other online submission form paired with a regular email on style updates from the copy desk.

Student guest post: Lauren Duca interview shows how female journalists aren’t taken seriously

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Paige Connelly is a senior at the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s interned for The News & Observer, and she currently interns at Chapel Hill and Durham Magazine. She also writes for The Daily Tar Heel and enjoys Jack Kerouac and boybands. 

Back in December, a Teen Vogue journalist by the name of Lauren Duca went on Fox News to chat with Tucker Carlson about an article she wrote criticizing Donald Trump. Carlson and Duca quipped back and forth, naturally, but about halfway through, the discussion turned into an argument, and Duca’s responses to Carlson’s condescension points to an important notion within newsrooms right now: the changing role of female journalists.

Duca had no reservations, and when Carlson mentions her writing, saying “Here’s your description of the Trump Administration, you wrote this piece for Teen Vogue, which I guess you write for,” Duca lashed out, “Which you guess I write for? That’s not fake news,” she said. “You guess? That’s really patronizing…you have my Teen Vogue article right in front of you.”

Carlson’s patronizing comments don’t stand alone. They represent a patriarchal institution, upheld specifically by outlets like Fox News, where female journalists can exist, but only if they don’t get too loud (as exemplified by Megyn Kelly’s resignation from the network after she spoke out about sexual harassment at the hands of her boss).

The interview also exemplifies the idea that female writers have a place, and it’s not in politics.

“A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics,” was how Duca responded when Carlson questioned her credibility after learning she also writes about popular culture. “Those things are not mutually exclusive. You know, now that you bring up Teen Vogue – we treat young women like they don’t have a right to a political conversation.”

The things women like and create aren’t often taken very seriously – music, books, entertainment, etc. – so when a female journalist and a female-centered publication decide to take a stance, that’s not taken seriously, either.

This exchange, and Duca in particular, represents the way that journalism is changing but still has a long way to go. And it doesn’t help that female journalists are often portrayed as incompetent.

I can name countless rom-coms and sitcoms where the main character works in either publishing or media: All three Bridget Jones’ Diary movies, “13 Going On 30,” “Trainwreck,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Sex in the City,” “Never Been Kissed,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” The list goes on.

Bridget Jones sleeps with her boss when she’s a publisher, then gets a new job as an anchor and does nothing but stumble around. “Trainwreck” portrays Amy Schumer as a party girl who sleeps with her sources. Rory Gilmore is always unprepared and, once again, sleeps with her sources. Anne Hathaway in “Devil Wears Prada” sleeps with sources and knows nothing about fashion.

The flaws go on and on. “Spotlight” is the only movie where a female journalist actually takes her job seriously, but her character still lacks depth and personality.

So why can’t we accept professional female journalists?

Maybe because it’s threatening to a patriarchal flow of information. Only men know what they’re talking about, and we’ll leave the entertainment news and ethical breaches to women.

It also solidifies a subtle form of objectification – that women aren’t more than their bodies, so therefore that’s their only advantage when it comes to their jobs. Not their intelligence, not their perseverance, and not their ethics.

Newsrooms are still 64 percent male, while enrollment in journalism schools, right now, sits at 75 percent female. This means the landscape is going to change soon, but does it mean that women will be allowed into the more serious roles relating to journalism? Or will we only be taken seriously as far as our opinions on Ariana Grande’s thigh-high boots?

What I am teaching this semester

Today is the first day of the spring semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what I am teaching this term:

  • MEJO 157, News Editing. This is a course on the fundamentals of editing for print and digital media. It includes headline writing and caption writing. Here is the syllabus.
  • MEJO 457, Advanced Editing. This is a course that focuses on subject areas such as features, opinion writing and sports. Students also collaborate with other courses on projects such as The Durham VOICE. Here is the syllabus.

In addition to my coursework, I will serve on several committees for master’s theses, and I’ll chair one.

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