Student guest post: The crossover between editing and other media

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Brittney Robinson is a UNC-Chapel Hill transfer student studying journalism, with a prior degree in broadcasting and production. Having previously interned at TV station WLOS in Asheville, North Carolina, and radio station WNCW, she is looking to gain skills in print media as well.

As I walked through the doors of the place where I was going to spend a majority of the next few years of my life, an eagerness to learn coupled with excitement and nervousness swept over me. It was my first day of college, and I was ready to learn all there was to know about the field of mass media. Over the next couple of years I learned all about television and radio, which brought me to internships in both, teaching me skills in just about every aspect of the two.

Here I am now, having transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, learning about print news and editing. Over the past few years, I’ve realized just how diverse my skills have become as a result, and why this is so important in current times.

Technology is advancing at rapid speed, and so has the expectation for employees to have broader skills. Here are some commonalities I keep encountering across all areas of news, which can be assets when editing in today’s technology world.

To start, no matter what aspect of news and information you go into, the skills gained in one area will likely cross over. For example, if your expertise is broadcasting, that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of those skills to land a job in editing print later. Yes, media is competitive and no two areas are exactly alike, but if you want to expand your job options, there are plenty of similarities between platforms.

Digital, broadcast, radio and print all require deadlines and news judgement. So does editing. You will need to be able to adhere to deadlines and have a keen eye for news. This includes being able to spot errors, pick proper stories and communicate effectively. Even if you aren’t the one interviewing people, you will still need to be able to understand the details of a story to get your thoughts across to consumers and peers.

According to “The Great War: The Similarities and Differences of Print and Television Media” by the website Inquiries Journal, Scott Berghegger mentions “both media report the same stories, and both carry within them a message within a message.”

Having an eye for detail is another aspect I’ve come across. Early in my academic career, I was surrounded by student peers that were mainly interested in behind-the-scenes production. I usually elected to be on camera when we had to form groups and pick roles. When it came time for me to take my first stab at my own video production, I was petrified. Here I was, a freshman, putting on my training wheels.

Little did I know this would be the most memorable moment to date in my academic career. Why? Because it challenged me to think on my own, look for proper video to complement my story and realize my own potential.

As a journalism student, I can’t stress enough how crucial these skills are in regards to editing. As an editor, you present a finished product that is both appealing and compelling. And possibly more important than anything, is the ability to not always agree with your colleagues on stories.

So those are my tips. The communication skills I learned in college, along with the day I was tasked with tackling the video camera, helped me develop the confidence needed. In addition, the internships I later took with WLOS and WNCW proved to me that I could carry the skills I learned to the editing desk as well.

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Student guest post: How to navigate the crucial writer-editor relationship

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Adam Phan is a UNC-Chapel Hill student studying journalism with a minor in art history. He is an assistant Arts & Entertainment editor at The Daily Tar Heel and hopes to write for Entertainment Weekly magazine one day.

I haven’t been working at The Daily Tar Heel for too long. In fact, I only joined the student publication this past spring. I was a newly minted staff writer with no journalism experience.

Fast-forward to a year later: I’m now an assistant Arts & Entertainment editor at the paper. Instead of doing the writing, I’m now doing the editing. Oh, how the tables have turned. In addition to editing, I’m responsible for other things like assigning stories and attending budget meetings.

Wait, that’s all? No, not really.

My most important duty as an editor is maintaining a good relationship with my writers. If you’re on shaky ground with them, they might not be putting out their best work. After a semester of being an assistant editor, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to navigate the crucial relationship between a writer and an editor.

1. Get to know your writer.

I remember coming into the office to read my first story — a review of the CW drama “Riverdale.” I barely knew my editors, so I was sort of shy. But that quickly changed because they made an effort to get to know me.

With that said, get to know your writers. I’m managing a staff of 25 writers. Yes, it may seem like a lot of people to get to know, but it’s the first step in maintaining a good relationship with them. By learning their names and a few facts about them, they’ll begin to feel more comfortable around you. It’ll break the awkward silence and tension that can happen while you’re editing their stories. And trust me, I’ve been there before, and it is not fun.

When a writer comes in, I make it a habit to ask them how their week has been so far. Ask if they have anything important or exciting coming up and go from there. Crack some jokes with them. Let them know you’re looking out for them and that you care about their development. And help them if they ever need anything, like advice on homework or someone to talk to during some tough times. You’re their friend, and they’re yours.

2. Communicate often with your writers.

Communication is very important in a writer-editor relationship. It can make or break the story.

Sometimes writers may have some trouble finding or contacting sources, or they’re struggling with the lede or structure of a story. Your job as an editor is to help them. So I give out my phone number to my writers so they can message me anytime with their questions. They can email me, too, but I respond much faster to text messages since I have my phone on me at all times.

But remember, communication is a two-way street. If they don’t reach out to you, you need to reach out to them. Make sure they’re held accountable for updates and deadlines. It’s crucial to know where they are with their stories. You don’t want to them waiting to the last minute to contact their sources to write their story.

To keep them accountable at all times, the Arts & Entertainment desk has a Google Sheets spreadsheet where our writers can update us on their stories. We encourage them to fill it out each day. On the day of their deadline, they must update the document by 2:30 p.m., or we’ll text them inquiring about their story.

3. Respect your writers.

Your job as an editor is to edit your writers’ stories. But that doesn’t mean you can go off on a power trip. You may be in a position of power over them, but they are still your equal, so treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were a writer. Don’t talk down to them when they make a mistake. Your job is to help them grow as a writer. After all, the DTH is a learning newspaper.

Just like communication, editing is a two-way street. Be sure to always edit side-by-side with the writer. Engage them in the editing process. If you come across something strange while editing their stories, ask questions. For example, “Why did you phrase it this way?” Don’t just automatically change something.

Writers can get defensive about changes at first, so by asking questions, you can come to understand their reasoning behind it. And you may not change something because of it. However, if you still think something should be changed, be sure to have a good reason for it, too.

Also, don’t forget to compliment them on their good work. Give them credit where it’s due, and you’ll have a happy writer. And a happy writer means you’re a good editor.

Learning from the Durham VOICE

For nearly 10 years, the Durham VOICE has covered the northeast-central area of Durham, North Carolina.

The VOICE is a student-produced publication and a collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University. Teen journalists contribute material as well.

Students in my Advanced Editing class play a role in the VOICE too. On five occasions this semester, they will edit stories reported and written by students in the Community Journalism course taught by my colleague Jock Lauterer. In addition to editing posts, adding links and writing headlines in WordPress, my students also create printer-friendly PDFs of the stories using InDesign.

This week, we posted the second batch of stories. They show the array of people, places and issues in an area of Durham that is often overlooked by other news organizations.

I encourage you to check out the VOICE website and Facebook page. You can also follow on Twitter.

My students learn a lot from the VOICE. Perhaps you will too.

Student guest post: The Daily Tar Heel celebrates 125 years, but it needs your help for 125 more

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PEOPLE LINE UP TO BUY EXTRA COPIES OF THE DAILY TAR HEEL A DAY AFTER THE MEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN APRIL 2017. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JOCK LAUTERER)

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Ana Irizarry is a senior studying journalism and political science. She is the state and national news editor at The Daily Tar Heel, a reporter for N.C. Business News Wire and previously interned for The Herald-Sun in Durham.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s independent, student-run newspaper, will turn 125 years old on Friday, Feb. 23.

The DTH’s 125th Anniversary Conference and Gala, which takes place Feb. 23-25, will celebrate over a century of independent student journalism. The weekend will involve panels and speakers discussing the past and future of journalism and The Daily Tar Heel.

Alongside celebrations, the newspaper and its student journalists will (hopefully) raise money to fund the continuation of the paper’s mission to “aggressively pursue all news of the University, University community and all who are affected by the University.”

It’s no secret the DTH has struggled financially since 2011. The paper’s former general manager, Betsy O’Donovan, wrote a post for Medium about the situation, and The Poynter Institute reported on it.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the paper was operating on a deficit of more than $300,000. By the end of the year, O’Donovan helped cut the paper’s debt to less than $30,000 — mostly thanks to the sale of over 50,000 papers after UNC’s men’s basketball team won the NCAA national championship.

The paper will relocate from its East Rosemary Street location to a smaller office across the street to help save money. The development of The 1893 Brand Studio and Friends of The Daily Tar Heel have also helped raise money for the nonprofit.

I started working at The Daily Tar Heel the second semester of my sophomore year.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Looking back, my first assignment covering a news conference about textbook funding seems minuscule. I could write that story in my sleep if I had to today. But in January 2016, the task seemed monumental.

That first story was a crash course in AP style, interviewing and deadline writing. As the weeks went on, my articles were cleaner, and I got faster at writing.

The semester I started at The Daily Tar Heel was also the semester I took my first news writing class, and as much as I loved that class and as much as I learned from my instructor, it didn’t compare to the education I got from my real-world experience.

Now as an editor for the paper, I know more about the journalism side — although I can always learn more — but I don’t know much about the business side.

Last school year, The Daily Tar Heel held “money talks” every Friday to go over the paper’s financial situation. At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the paper’s new editors were informed on the situation. While we can brainstorm strategies to improve our finances, we need help from our community.

We need to hear what works, what doesn’t and what the community needs from us.

The rise of the internet spurred the decline of print journalism — and student journalism was no exception. U.S. newspaper advertisement revenue peaked in 2005 at over $49.4 billion, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center. Newspapers collected an estimated $18.3 billion from advertising in 2016 — a 69 percent plummet in 11 years. Independent college newspapers like The Daily Tar Heel and George Washington University’s The Hatchet are facing similar realities.

Even university-funded newspapers are under threat: Many fear funding cuts and censorship, such as the University of Louisville’s The Louisville Cardinal and Wesleyan University’s The Argus.

The numbers seem dismal, but I believe in the role The Daily Tar Heel plays in the university and in the Chapel Hill community. Serving as not only the university’s paper, The Daily Tar Heel acts as the paper of record for Chapel Hill. It has reported local elections, Town Council meetings and local housing. It also educates future journalists like me.

If you’d like to celebrate The Daily Tar Heel’s 125th anniversary and have it run 125 more years, consider donating here.

Q&A with Liz Bell, reporter at EdNC

Liz Bell is a reporter at EdNC, covering K-12 education and policy across North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Bell discusses her work, her beat and her experience at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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

A. There truly is no typical day for me. Depending on the time of year, I could be at the state legislature and in education committees, regularly covering policy on class size or school choice or educator preparation.

Even when the legislature is in session, EdNC’s senior reporter Alex Granados and I switch off what we are covering. We could both be at the legislature covering separate topics, or one of us could be visiting a school somewhere three hours away while the other holds down the fort in Raleigh.

When the legislature isn’t in session, my day revolves around what story and what kind of story I’m working on. I recently finished a video project on racial equity in N.C. schools, so my days included a lot of traveling to Charlotte and eastern Edgecombe County, interviewing and filming subjects in courtrooms and classrooms, at churches and conferences, on sidewalks and in their workplaces.

Before in this most recent project, my days revolved around a written feature of a high-poverty school in Winston-Salem struggling with its academic performance but making large strides in students’ learning growth. I would travel to the school on some days, work from home at times and write and work in our office in downtown Raleigh at others.

EdNC is flexible as far as the specifics of where and when we work, which has helped me figure out what keeps me personally motivated and the most effective at my job.

Q. What do you like about reporting and writing about education?

A. When I was in journalism school and writing for The Daily Tar Heel, I wasn’t set on writing about education — or any other beat. I had dabbled in political reporting but mainly wrote about social issues affecting UNC students and communities as a University Desk/investigative team reporter.

When a job covering education opened up, I was interested to see what focusing on a more narrow issue would be like. In some ways, zooming in on one issue helps me feel like I know the broader context to whatever story I’m working on. Everything is connected, and I usually know what sources to reach out to and what gaps in my background knowledge I need to fill.

In another sense, however, writing about education really means writing about kids and their families. Children’s development and education don’t just happen inside the school building and are affected by economics, family structures, housing, health care, the justice system, etc. An education story often ends up being about a mix of these and tons of other factors.

Q. How do headline writing and story editing work at EdNC?

A. I did not anticipate how much headline writing and self-editing I would be doing after journalism school. I was used to there being multiple layers of editing for content, copy editing, and headline writing with tons of different people (and opinions) at the DTH.

We have a managing editor, Laura Lee, who plans and manages content for the long term and also does daily story editing, along with a million other things. She does an amazing job but is only one person.

I always try to read through my stories multiple times, fact-check everything, read them out loud and make sure they’re the best they can be content and organization-wise before I send them over for Laura to edit. I write my own headlines as well, which are sometimes changed and sometimes are not.

Q. You are a 2016 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use now, and what new skills have you acquired?

A. As I mentioned, I do a lot of self-editing. All of the basic and important writing and editing skills I learned in journalism school are put to use every day.

I’m also constantly trying to improve upon the foundations of reporting (asking tough questions, getting sources to open up, managing uncomfortable conversations) I learned both in the journalism school and at the DTH. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without the love for storytelling (both journalistically and creatively) that I developed during college with help from professors and peers.

Since graduation, I have filmed and edited video throughout the months-long production of a short film series. Though I knew the basics of Premiere Pro from an audio/video class in journalism school, I have learned most of what I can do now through lots of Googling and learning as I go. I take photographs for all of my stories and never took a photojournalism course in school. I also feel I’ve grown in areas like public speaking, event planning, social media management and radio/TV appearances.

Read Liz Bell’s stories on the EdNC website and follow her on Twitter.

Student guest post: My experience at the Salisbury Post

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Savannah Morgan is a junior studying journalism and English. She is also a member of the piccolo section in the Marching Tar Heels and the Athletic Bands.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at The Salisbury Post as an intern. The paper serves Rowan County — a mostly rural county in the southwestern part of North Carolina.

Having the privilege to work at a functioning paper was a very good experience not only because I could take notes on what the paper did well, but also because I could learn from the paper’s problem areas. One of the struggles that I observed during my time at the Salisbury Post involved news judgment and news curation.

The editor and reporters at the Post felt it was important to serve each part of the diverse county equally. This involved giving each school (especially the high schools) in the county equal press time, reporting on things that rural readers would care about and reporting on things that readers in the more urban and suburban areas would find interesting. This included an article about the retirement of the local school system’s nutrition director one week and an article about the summer’s crops a few weeks later.

To combat the problem of giving all parts of the county equal coverage, the Salisbury Post also runs an interesting story series, which I was able to see in progress during my internship. The series is called The Dart, and the paper describes it like this: “The Dart is a regular feature that requires reporters to throw darts at a map of Rowan County and use the locations to find a story.”

Not only does this interesting story series allow reporters to give a voice to people who may not otherwise have ever been featured, but it also allows for a diverse blend of stories to come from diverse parts of the county. Although I never wrote a Dart story during my internship, I did find it fascinating to hear updates from the reporters as they looked for stories.

Another problem I observed during my internship dealt less with the Salisbury Post specifically and more with a general problem that I am sure many papers face. Keeping readers’ interests from week to week can be difficult—especially in the summer months, which I found were often slow for news. This problem can be heightened by the fact that it is often necessary to keep the same topic relevant for more than a few days or a week.

For example, the summer I was at the Salisbury Post, two people drowned in High Rock Lake in the eastern part of the county. After the initial stories about the drownings broke, the editor felt it was important to keep the story relevant.

So she had me to interview the head of the emergency department at the local hospital to learn more about drowning and then to speak with the head of the Rowan County Rescue Squad to learn what to do in a situation where someone might be in danger of drowning. After that story was written, the consensus from the newsroom was that High Rock Lake had been getting a bit too much bad press.

To balance our coverage of the lake, the editor assigned me a positive story about it. I wrote about the lake economy and the many ways the people of Rowan County enjoy the fun the lake has to offer. The two stories ended up running alongside each other.

Providing equal coverage for all of the readership area, choosing stories that interest all readers and keeping the readership interested are all problems that many small or local newspapers frequently face. My experience at the Salisbury Post working under the experience of the editor, Elizabeth Cook, and her staff helped me to learn how to combat these obstacles.

Student guest post: Three ways news editing is like tap dancing

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Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Janna Childers is a senior studying reporting and global studies with a creative writing minor. She is also an events and exhibitions intern with UNC Global.

My dance teacher didn’t really like tap. And neither did I.

But from the time I was 5 years old until I graduated from high school, she kept giving us tap lessons every week. She told us it was good for our brains, that it would improve our agility and our athleticism. She made us take tap lessons even if we didn’t want to be professional tap dancers.

As a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill who still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she graduates, I find my dance teacher’s philosophy applicable to my current situation. While I may not want to be a professional journalist or news editor, that doesn’t mean that the skills I’ve learned at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism are not valuable.

In fact, I would argue the opposite. The skills I have learned are extremely beneficial, are good for my brain and will make me a better communicator and professional in whatever profession I choose to pursue.

Here are three similarities I find between news editing and tap dancing.

1. It’s all in the details.

Tap shoes have two metal plates on the soles of the shoe: one at the ball of the foot and one at the heel. In order to make sounds, tap dancers do small movements to tap either the ball of the foot of the heel of the foot on the ground. The movements are intricate and fast. And whether you are trying to stay in unison with a whole group of tappers or keep up the rhythm during your solo, it takes meticulous attention to every tiny detail for the taps to sound good.

Similarly, in news editing, details are extremely important. It’s the editor’s job to help shape the story so that the what the writer wants to communicate clearly shows through. Both the big picture of the story structure and the little commas have to be scrutinized and accounted for.

2. It’s exercise.

Tap dancing is quick and intricate. It gets your heart rate up, and it requires agility and balance. Not only that, but memorizing the long patterns of small movements improves your memory and is good for your brain.

I look at news editing the same way. Looking carefully at a mound of words in front of you and deciphering which hyphen has to go is a hard mental task, one that I don’t practice often as a student. Being able to pick apart a sentence, a paragraph, even a whole story and put it back together again with clarity, accuracy and of course, AP style, is a skill that works my brain in a way that sitting in lectures and writing essays does not. Add in deadline pressure with a 1,000-word story in front of you, and I’m pretty sure your heart rate would significantly increase as well.

3. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

I haven’t taken a tap lesson in four years, but I still find myself doing shuffles under the table after I’ve had my morning coffee. I flap when I’m waiting in line. I even remember a step from our tap dance from my senior year: flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank heel toe heel stomp. I do that one when I’m wearing my black boots that make a wonderful noise on the kitchen floor. Somehow or another, tap dancing has stuck with me all of these years.

News editing works in a similar way. I can’t go to a restaurant now without searching for a style inconsistency. When I watch commercials, I always comment on whether I thought their copy was clear and effective. And I get a lot of joy when I find a spelling error in a New York Times online article. A lot of joy.

Overall, I’ve loved getting to learn about news editing and putting those skills to practice. It’s something I enjoy and know is making me not only a better editor, but also a better writer and a better communicator. And although I may not want to be a professional tap dancer or a professional news editor, I do believe news editing skills will serve me well in my future whatever I choose to do.