Happy birthday, NewsU

Poynter’s News University, an e-learning site for journalists and other communicators, celebrates its 10th birthday this week. Hooray!

I have worked with NewsU when it was a toddler and I was a new faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill. In August 2006, I saw a NewsU booth at the AEJMC conference in San Francisco and struck up a conversation with Vicki Krueger, who is now manager of NewsU. It was my first encounter with online education, and I quickly saw the power and effectiveness of this method of training and instruction.

Between then and now, I’ve worked with the NewsU crew to create a course on alternative story forms and contributed to a course on the fundamentals of editing. An all-new version of the ASF course will debut on the site this year. In 2013, I led a Webinar on headline writing for digital media.

I’ve also used several NewsU Webinars in my editing courses on topics such as verification and curation. My students learn a great deal from these guest speakers, and so do I.

To mark its birthday, NewsU will hold a Webinar on Friday called “NewsU at 10: Top Lessons from a Decade of E-Learning.” I’ll be there, and I look forward to celebrating the occasion with some virtual birthday cake.

Happy birthday, NewsU, and congratulations on 10 years of journalism education. Here’s to many more!

Student guest post: UVa newspaper shows limits of ‘satire’

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Nick Niedzwiadek is a junior from Latham, New York, majoring in journalism and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill. Like Jerry Seinfeld, he too transferred from SUNY Oswego.

It’s hard to be funny.

News organizations, which typically pride themselves on directness and objectivity, are particularly vulnerable to underestimating humor’s difficulty. Journalists can be tempted to show they don’t take themselves too seriously, but The Cavalier Daily showed how easy it is for satire to go too far and be offensive.

The University of Virginia’s student newspaper featured an April Fools’ Day story called “ABC agents tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels.” Not only was it reminiscent of the events that led to black UVa student Martese Johnson’s violent arrest earlier this month, the subhead “Students decry ‘Trail of Schmears’” offended Native Americans. The Cavalier Daily also ran an article titled “Zeta Psi hosts ‘Rosa Parks’ party.”

The backlash against the story resulted in the articles being removed from the newspaper’s website, and it quickly posted an apology.

The Cavalier Daily could have learned a lesson from N.C. State’s student newspaper, Technician, which ended its spoof edition in 2013. The Daily Tar Hell was typically published when N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill squared off in men’s basketball, and it copied the style of UNC’s paper, The Daily Tar Heel. The editor who ended the tradition, Sam DeGrave — perhaps prophetically — wrote that he did it because “the humor, if you can call it that, which the editions relied on was sexist, racist and most commonly homophobic.”

While these faux-newspapers are only meant to be light-hearted college hijinks, they often cross the line between pointedly funny and offensive — something even professional comedians can struggle with. Very few people fully appreciate the amount of time and thoughtfulness that goes into articles on The Onion, or even The Minor — which did a better job of ribbing UNC than Technician ever did.

An editor’s job is to uphold and protect the organization from embarrassing mistakes, even it leads to unpopular decisions like DeGrave’s. Besides, truth can be stranger than fiction anyway: The same day as The Cavalier Daily’s stories, The Daily Tar Heel’s front page included stories about the university possibly buying a porn domain name and a whistleblower lawsuit involving a sex-for-hire scheme in the housekeeping department. Both were real stories that didn’t have much trouble getting attention in print or online.

Student guest post: A farewell to the homepage

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Paige Ladisic is a junior studying editing and graphic design and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill. But most of the time, she’s the online editor at The Daily Tar Heel, studying how to manage a print-first college newspaper in a digital-first world.

Every day, between 25,000 and 30,000 people view dailytarheel.com, clicking on links from Facebook, Twitter and the homepage. But every day when I open our Google Analytics panel, I’m noticing a trend — it’s just a little change for us, but at newspapers all over the country, it’s happening a lot faster and with far bigger numbers.

The modern homepage is dying.

That doesn’t mean people aren’t reading news, although seeing that The New York Times lost 80 million homepage visitors over two years is a scary statistic. That just means that people are getting to news in different ways.

Instead of treating a homepage like a digital copy of a newspaper, readers find news through social media referrals, Google searches and something analytics sites call “dark social.” Instead of readers reading the news online at certain times throughout the day, people are grabbing bits of information here and there.

At The Daily Tar Heel, our homepage’s death is coming more slowly than 80 million pageviews lost, but I’ve been watching the decline and getting ready for it.

What’s a student journalist to do?

My job every day is to make sure our website is produced with the reader and their experience in mind. I also oversee everything pushed to Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

Before, the goal of producing a website would just be to drive people to your homepage — but now, every social media post I write is a pitch to read that one story, to share it or to send it to your friends. People aren’t seeking out our news, because hundreds of articles are competing for every UNC student’s attention at any given time — we have to jump in the fray too.

When I open a story in our content management system, the first thing I do is write a headline — but instead of one headline, I’ll write two or three.

One is the normal newsy headline that will also be featured in the URL, one is a feature headline for the story page itself and the final headline is exclusively for social media sharing. I take advantage of that third headline to drive people from Facebook to the website, and the feature headline is important to keep people on the site once they click.

In the body text of the story, I link to everything I can — older stories with important context, profiles about key players in a story, topic pages and archives of related stories. And when it’s time to write the social media post, it’s more than just using all 140 characters — I have to take advantage of every single character to convince readers to click that link.

It’s all about getting people to the site, and once they get there, keeping them there.

RIP, homepage.

Q&A with Caroline McCain, account associate at communications firm Javelin

Caroline McCain is an account associate at Javelin, a communications firm in the D.C. area. In this interview, conducted by email, McCain discusses her work at Javelin, which has a social media focus, and prior jobs at two churches.

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

A. Javelin is a growing communications firm in Old Town, Alexandria. We do everything from public relations to digital to books to social media. I work as an account associate, and I help with PR projects and lead our growing social media offerings to clients.

Days are pretty full and fast-paced — you’re basically as busy as the news cycle is. Particularly in the world of digital media, there is always something to be done, so it’s not hard to stay busy. I love the fast pace and the range of clients we work with. It keeps me on my toes.

With social media, my days are spent in a pretty consistent rhythm of creation, publishing, measuring and tweaking. Some of our core values at Javelin are continual improvement and accountability — and those are two things that are absolutely necessary in any client-facing relationship, but particularly in social media.

Social is great and can be fun, but unless it’s leading to an actual return on investment, you’re just spinning your wheels. So I spend a lot of time checking in with clients about what’s working, what’s not, and how we can get better results.

Q. You previously worked at as communications director at a Virginia church. What was it like to make a transition from a religious organization to a secular one?

A. The transition, in and of itself, was one that I had wanted to make for a while. But it was a matter of making sure the timing was right. My time spent working for both the church in Virginia, and previously for a church in Durham, North Carolina, was vital to my professional development. Anyone who works in the nonprofit sector knows what it’s like to be given a lot of responsibility, but very limited resources. It forces you to grow quickly.

I was deeply passionate about where I was working, and so I wanted our communications across media to be as effective and excellent as possible. But often that looked like me learning how to code, or learning graphic design, or getting my feet wet with video. We didn’t always have the resources to hire someone who already knew how to do those things.

So those four years working with churches was so great for me. Out of necessity, I developed a whole new skill set, and I had the chance to lead teams of people.

Q. Your surname is a notable one in Washington politics. How has that affected your career, if at all?

A. Ha-ha. Honestly, it doesn’t affect things for me that much. I am immensely proud of my grandfather, and I am proud to call him family. But I hope that my work — both in scope and ethic — stands on its own.

I am more than happy to talk about my name when asked, but it’s rarely something I bring up from the get-go. I imagine here in D.C. people might wonder, but I don’t get asked about it as often as I thought I might. Then again, 2008 was a long time ago. People have moved on. :)

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. What skills that you learned there do you use in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up? What advice do you have for the Class of 2015?

A. It’s become trendy these days to knock on journalism degrees. But the skills and the relationships I gained at UNC are so invaluable. I took away some very practical skills: reporting, editing, what makes for a good story, asking the right questions. And in some of my classes, I was learning how to write good tweets and what Tumblr was long before either social network became as ubiquitous as they are now.

I was on a track to become a reporter, and now I’ve crossed over to the “dark side” and am working in PR! I never took one PR course when I was at UNC, and so it was a surprising step for me.

A lot of the skills I use day-to-day in terms of social media, growing audiences online, etc., are things I learned after graduation. A lot of learning by trial and error, self-education, etc. In the digital space, things are constantly evolving, and so you have to be committed to learning new things every day and adapting to change so you can keep getting better.

My biggest advice to the class of 2015 is to diversify your skill set as much as you can! The J-school already does a great job of this, but I’d encourage you to go beyond what’s required. Take that photo class, learn how to code, actually learn to speak a language conversationally. They seem like requirements now while you’re in school, but all those things will serve you well when you graduate.

How I will spend my spring break

Spring break is next week at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although I won’t teach classes or have meetings to attend, I will stay busy. Here’s my “to do” list:

  • Grade a headline-writing assignment for the News Editing course.
  • Grade midterm exams for my Advanced Editing course.
  • Prepare materials and assignments for the week after spring break.
  • Work with a student in an online master’s program on her thesis project.
  • Finish judging a book competition.
  • Take a breather from a busy first half of the semester that included an accreditation visit. We passed!
  • #Partylikeaprofessor.

Student guest post: Month of turmoil unites UNC students

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Kathleen Harrington is a born-and-raised North Carolinian and die-hard Tar Heels fan. She hopes her adoration for dogs, countless hours spent in the School of Journalism dungeon and overall Pinterest prowess can somehow translate into the perfect career. There’s a job for that, right?

February has been a tumultuous month for the UNC-Chapel Hill community and its appearance in the news. It started Feb. 7, 2015, with former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith’s passing. Though his deteriorating memory was a clear sign that his health would not last forever, his death was still a shock to both the UNC and sports worlds.

Three days after his death, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot and killed by a neighbor in Summerwalk Circle – a neighborhood less than 5 miles from campus. Barakat, a UNC School of Dentistry student, had been married to his wife, Yusor, a N.C. State University graduate, for six weeks when they were killed. Razan, Yusor’s sister, was a sophomore at NCSU.

A little over one week after the shootings, UNC experienced a devastating 92-90 loss in overtime against Duke University in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 18. Unlike most, a loss to Duke is especially hard because of the national devotion to its rivalry with UNC.

Just three days later on Feb. 21, Coach Roy Williams chastised UNC fans for not being more enthusiastic during a resounding 89-60 win against Georgia Tech in the Smith Center. The Tar Heels had opened the game with a tribute to Smith and his famous Four Corners offense.

“We need some more support. My gosh. We’re trying to honor the greatest coach I’ve ever — maybe one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever known. And I can understand if you didn’t recognize it because it sort of went quickly. And it was nice to get a backdoor layup. But don’t sit over there and feel like we have to entertain you. This is a team thing,” Williams said to a reporter after the game. The reaction went viral in the UNC community because of the situations leading up to the game.

In short, we, as Tar Heels, are exhausted. February consisted of endless headlines covering the bad news in Chapel Hill.

Smith’s death filled newspapers across the nation because of his work in both basketball and civil rights, and his legacy will not soon be forgotten. The shooting victims brought thousands of students at both UNC and NCSU together in remembrance of their lives. National news speculated on the intent of the shooting – was it a hate crime or senseless violence? It feels as though everyone has had a say in how our town will be thought of nationally.

Instead of looking forward to seeing the university’s name recognized nationally, I am left with a sense of anguish knowing that it won’t be for a positive reason. Even the Duke loss and Georgia Tech snub hit students at the core because the bliss that is Chapel Hill was questioned.

In the coming days, I hope to see editors take a second glance at our small town. Chapel Hill has had losses this month. It has dealt with hardship. But, more importantly, it has risen above it and come together as a community.

Multiple moments of silence at both home and away games in honor of Smith have been a small comfort. NCSU’s massive support for the fallen students has been bolstered by the Facebook group “Our Three Winners,” which now has almost 184,000 likes. We have a chance to come back at Duke this Saturday for a spring break rematch in the Smith Center. Williams successfully stirred the crowd for the NCSU game that followed Georgia Tech and felt apologetic for not living up to expectations. For each of our struggles, we have responded with strength and a sense of community.

I challenge editors to follow up on the downtrodden Heels. Reporting thus far has been thorough and accurate – as reporting should be. The difference is where we’ve gone since those newspapers  left their boxes. True to our name, the Tar Heels have fought through adversity and refused to let these challenges set us back.

The Heels are here to stay, regardless of February’s strife. How’s that for a headline?

Q&A with Michael Lananna, assistant editor at Baseball America

Michael Lananna is assistant editor at Baseball America magazine, with a focus on college baseball and the Major League Baseball draft. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job and his predictions for the 2015 season.

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

A. Baseball America is a five-day-a-week, 9-to-5 kind of job. It’s a biweekly publication, so some weeks I’m busy writing and editing stories and preparing pages for production. Other weeks, all of my energy goes toward reporting.

I’m one of two main college writers for the magazine and the website, so I need to constantly stay on the pulse of what’s happening in college baseball. With the season starting a couple of weeks ago, our college coverage is in full swing, meaning that we’re doing podcasts, previews, features, top 25 rankings and roundups every week.

Of course, being a baseball writer, I try to get out to ballparks as much as I can, traveling on the weekends to catch teams or players that intrigue me. Baseball America is unique in that it focuses on baseball from a player-development perspective. Most of our coverage is geared toward finding tomorrow’s future stars.

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at Baseball America?

A. Every story that appears in our magazine goes through multiple rounds of editing. For every issue, we have a page budget, where different editors are assigned first and second reads of specific pages.

Our in-office editorial staff is a relatively small group, so everyone gets their hands dirty when it comes to editing. For the pages you’re assigned, you’re responsible for copy-fitting and writing headlines, subheads, captions and any other required maintenance. And when you’re done with the page, you print it out and hand it off to someone else in the office to proof.

We have our own style guide, so we edit for style as well as content and grammar. Headlines, for the most part, are written in a newspaper style — present tense with a subject and a verb. Our online headlines often differ at least somewhat from those in print for SEO purposes.

Q. You’re a 2014 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there are you using in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. Looking back at my four years in Chapel Hill, I’d say UNC’s J-school helped me build a very diverse skill set. Skills I learned in courses such as reporting, creative sports writing, feature writing and — of course — editing and advanced editing have all come into play to some degree.

From an editing standpoint, familiarity with InCopy and InDesign, the ability to use a stylebook, headline and cutline writing and editing for grammar and content are all skills that I employ every day. Sometimes, Andy, it truly does feel like I’m sitting in your advanced editing class.

As far as writing and reporting, I find myself applying lessons I learned in Tim Crothers’ creative sports-writing class and John Robinson’s feature-writing course with nearly every piece I write. Both professors pushed me to be creative with my writing, and I often try to imagine how they’d critique my stories as I write them.

I’d also say that the lessons I learned in Ryan Thornburg’s social media for reporters course especially come in handy. I’m working on a feature story right now that I dug up using Twitter, and my number of followers has doubled in the past month using some of the skills Thornburg taught in that class. (Follow me at @mlananna!)

New skills? I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of podcasts. That’s entirely new for me, but I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself too much yet.

Also, while I worked as a beat writer for The Daily Tar Heel, various internships and in reporting classes, this job is my first exposure to covering a national beat. We’re trying to cover college baseball holistically — not just a specific team or a localized group of teams. So there’s been some adjustment and learning on my part in trying to figure how to best handle such a wide breadth of coverage. I think I’m getting it, though.

Q. Last year, you were an intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers. What was it like to cover the same team for an entire season?

A. Serving as an associate reporter for Dodgers.com was an unbelievable learning experience and certainly a pinch-me opportunity for a lifelong baseball fan. It was also quite the grind. I covered every home game from May through the postseason.

You might think, “Oh, you’re getting paid to go to baseball games. That’s an easy job.” It’s not easy.

Often times, I got to the ballpark before some of the players did (there were many elevator rides down with Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, A.J. Ellis — you name it). And every night, I left hours after the players had already filed out of the locker room.

Most games, I worked with Dodgers.com beat writer Ken Gurnick, and we split the workload. Other games, I was on my own, responsible for writing a pre-game notebook, in-game notes, injury updates, a running game story and a game story write-thru. On some especially busy nights, I wound up writing six or seven pieces. And if there was a day game the next day? Well, I just didn’t sleep.

I learned that the life of a baseball beat writer — in a sport with a 162-game regular season — can be a rigorous and demanding one. However, it’s not without its perks, especially if you love the game like I do.

I had incredible access. I went into the locker room before and after every game to talk with players (some were very approachable; others, not so much). I sat in the dugout with manager Don Mattingly before every game for his pre-game media session. I shared a press box with Vin Scully. I had the opportunity to cover Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter and write a story about it.

I was in the clubhouse immediately after the Dodgers clinched the National League West, and I got champagne sprayed all over me. Covering the playoffs was an absolute blast and something I’ll never forget.

Like any job, many days dragged. Sometimes the workload was overwhelming. But the highs were exhilarating. I’d recommend the internship for anyone serious about sports writing.

Q. College baseball’s season is already underway, and spring training for Major League Baseball starts soon. Care to make any predictions?

A. I like the Louisiana State baseball team quite a bit. I picked the Tigers to win the College World Series in our college preview issue, and I’m sticking to that prediction.

As for Major League Baseball, I have the Dodgers defeating the Mariners in six games for the World Series. Why the Dodgers? Because I’m not covering them anymore. Of course they’ll win it the year after I cover them. That’s just the way the world works.