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!

Q&A with Bob Bryan, reporter for Business Insider

Bob Bryan at the Chairman's Room at the New York Stock Exchange.
Bob Bryan at the Chairman’s Room at the New York Stock Exchange.

Bob Bryan is markets reporter for Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his beat and headline writing and social media at BI.

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

A. As a markets reporter, my team usually gets an early jump on things. Four of us are in the office by 7 a.m., looking at overnight news in European and Asian markets or covering quarterly earnings that are announced before the opening of the market.

From there the day can really be anything. Since Business Insider has a relatively slim team, we have a lot of freedom to explore topics that interest us, For instance I could write about Obamacare, the Wells Fargo scandal and how inflation is impacting the Federal Reserve all in one day (and have before).

Posts usually come out of three places: breaking news (which can come from anywhere: Twitter, press releases, email tips); research from banks and economic analysts such as the International Monetary Fund or the Fed; and interviews done with market followers, economists, and major investors.

I’m usually on the go until 3 to 3:30 p.m. when I stop to start planning the Facebook Live broadcast I host every day at 430 p.m. That involves going through the headlines of the day selecting what I want to talk about, getting graphics and charts made up by our markets graphics guru, and planning chyrons with the video team. I typically write myself a rough outline, but ad lib most of the show.

The show usually wraps at 4:50 p.m., and afterwards, I check some emails and maybe finish a post I was working on. Typically, I leave the office anywhere from 5:15 to 6:00, though I may do some work at home if news breaks afterward.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use social media as part of your job?

A. Social media is incredibly important for my job, Twitter being the most prominent.

Not only is Twitter a source of ideas, but for financial journalists, there is a robust conversation between finance media and those in the markets world. There is a great group of economists and traders that use Twitter and are active in conversing with others. Heck, even current Fed president Neel Kashkari takes question on Twitter from time to time.

Obviously, Facebook is also important not just as a source of traffic, but it’s also where I do my daily videos.

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

A. Everything starts with the writer. At BI, the reporters write their own headline, tweet, pick their picture, write the captions. Even the short browser title you see from search engines is done by the writer.

Stories are then sent via Slack to an editor, unpublished, to be looked over. It may go by a second editor occasionally depending on the subject matter. For longer features, the copy desk will look over the text before it goes live. If it is a normal, shorter post, the copy desk looks over the story after it goes live. We strive for speed, so the copy desk is incredibly quick at making edits to a story once it goes live.

Headlines are usually collaborative as well. If we try a headline that doesn’t get a lot of reader attention, we may change it or try a different construction to connect better with readers. This is usually discussed with the editor who read the story via Slack or, more likely, verbally. A lot of changes are discussed verbally since the office is open with shared tables and most of editorial is in one big space.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What advice do you have for the class of 2017?

A. Say yes. When you’re starting out, always be the first to jump on something when it’s offered. If there is a story idea thrown out, say yes even if you’re not sure about it. It’s a great way to learn, prove your capable, and add value to whatever newsroom (or any other job) you’re in.

For instance, I said yes to a story about UnitedHealthcare’s quarterly earnings in which it turned out they were leaving a majority of their Obamacare markets. Now six months later, I’m the primary Obamacare and health insurance reporter, which draws a lot of reader interest. If I had said “I don’t know too much about that,” then I would’ve missed one of the best opportunities of my career so far.

Read Bob Bryan’s posts on Business Insider and follow him on Twitter.

How to prepare for the Dow Jones editing test

dowjonesnewsfundIt’s Dow Jones season. That’s when students across the country apply for editing internships with the Dow Jones News Fund.

The application includes a one-hour test that assesses skills in story editing, headline writing, word choice and current events. Here are some tips on how to get ready for this closed-book test:

  • Review news for the past year, including deaths of noteworthy people. Sports may be included along with national and international news.
  • Know the terminology of journalism such as search engine optimization.
  • Study word pairs listed in the AP Stylebook: who/whom, affect/effect, flounder/founder, etc.
  • Memorize the state locations on a U.S. map. You’ll need to link current events to the states they took place in.
  • Watch math carefully. You can expect math errors in the stories you edit.
  • Practice headline writing for print and digital media. Know how to tweet.
  • Take tests from past years on editteach.org.

Good luck to all of the students taking the test this year.