A cool homepage

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Many news organizations use a homepage template, consisting of a main story with a photo surrounded by lists of headlines and smaller images. These designs are efficient, but they can make it difficult to emphasize a big story.

Last week, The News & Observer broke the mold of its homepage. The Carolina Hurricanes had clinched a position in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

This big news deserved bigger play. The N&O’s news judgment reflected that, with a larger image and all-caps headline.

Andrew Roman, audience growth producer at the N&O, explained how this cool homepage came together:

The N&O and other McClatchy papers in the Carolinas had an intricate deep homepage banner last fall during hurricane season that linked to multiple stories and displayed weather radar. A couple weeks ago, we decided we wanted to do something similar, but more simple, to honor local basketball teams that made this year’s Final Four. Since that didn’t happen, the opportunity arose to give a different momentous sports event the same treatment. I was working the night the Canes clinched a playoff spot; I made the call to use the banner, selected a suitable staff photo and wrote the display text.

Good luck to the Canes (and the journalists who cover them) on this playoff run. Take warning!

Student guest post: How the media’s fascination with negative news is hurting the industry

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Sara Hall is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Apex, North Carolina. After graduation, she plans to attend law school in either Boston or Washington, D.C., but she is unsure of the exact area of law she wants to pursue.

As you spend time clicking through news sites, skimming headlines that roll along the bottom of the CNN television screen and scrolling down your Twitter feed, it seems as though sensationalized, negative stories dominate. Rarely are media outlets filled with feel-good, tug-at-the-heartstrings headlines.

Instead, we see headlines laced with buzzwords, such as “Otto Warmbier’s parents issue blistering response to Trump,” that elicit curiosity and, inevitably, clicks. While the Warmbiers’ response is undoubtedly newsworthy, is the word “blistering” essential to the headline? Or did the editor put it there in hopes of drawing readers’ attention? My suspicion is the latter.

And this type of reporting — using loaded words and fixating on the negative — is not a new phenomenon. Some could argue that this sensationalism stretches as far back as Watergate, where headlines read “Watergate charge evokes image of manipulation.”

However, you don’t see this same infatuation with good news. In fact, you hardly, if at all, see a news outlet that has good news on their home screen or on their front page. Where is the news story praising the man who bought $540 worth of cookies so that the Girl Scouts didn’t have to stand out in the cold weather? Or about the mom who passed around goodie bags to passengers on her flight in anticipation for the 10-hour flight with her 4-month-old? Both of these stories are of extraordinary people who deserve to be recognized, yet you don’t see a major news outlet writing a click-worthy headline for these individuals. Why is it that only bad news is broadcast?

Take NBC’s “Nightly News” show as a counterexample to the norm. The nightly broadcast touches on the breaking stories that nearly every other station covers – shootings, weather devastations, an official’s sexual misconduct. However, something that NBC does differently is that the broadcast ends, every single night, with a heartwarming story about an individual or nonprofit working to better the world. Sure, the broadcast may be a 5-to-1 ratio of bad to good stories, but ending with a story like the mom handing out goodie bags to passengers leaves consumers with a more optimistic perception of the world.

Going back to why journalists only report bad news, I think the answer to that question comes down to what you think came first: the chicken or the egg – the chicken being consumer demand and the egg being news outlets focusing on the negative. Did news outlets start writing solely on the bad just because journalists were responding to the interests of the consumers and these consumers were most interested in the bad news? Or have news outlets always focused on the bad, and consumers have just been conditioned to always expect the worst when they read the news?

Regardless of what you think came first, the pessimism plaguing news outlets is becoming undeniably problematic. As I sat with a group of friends the other day, one said that he no longer wants to read or watch the news because he is “so tired of only hearing about tragedies or catastrophes or whatever the political scandal of the day is.” The rest of the room quickly came to the same consensus: The news is becoming increasingly unbearable to consume.

Maybe these individuals were anomalies, and the rest of the world’s perception of the media industry has not changed. But it’s hard for me to believe that this group of people are the only ones who think negatively of the media’s sensationalism of the bad. And I don’t think it will be long until their sentiment begins to be shared among more and more consumers.

Student guest post: the NBA’s headline surplus problem

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Jack Gallop is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Wilmington, North Carolina. After graduation, he plans to start a career in comedy and screenwriting. Gallop also plans to become better at writing third-person descriptions of himself.

It’s all too rare in the world of the NBA that the main headline, or talking point for hoops fans, is something that transpired on the court. In today’s NBA, the headlines are riddled with trade requests, locker room issues or players’ dads telling the media which teams they want their son to play for — and I’m not just talking about the infamous LaVar Ball.

Another dad recently drew some buzz after revealing a team he doesn’t want his son to play for. If you’re a sports fan or live anywhere within 100 miles of New Orleans, you’ve heard the ridiculous amount of coverage on Anthony Davis’ trade request from the New Orleans Pelicans. It has reached new heights of ridicule.

Anthony Davis Sr., Davis’ father, revealed in the wake of his son’s trade speculation that he does not want his son to play for the Boston Celtics. His reasoning was because of the Celtics’ cold-hearted treatment of former franchise player Isaiah Thomas.

LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, has made countless headlines ranging from his criticisms of the Lakers coaches to his support (or lack thereof) for which team his son should be suit up for.

Journalism aside, why are grown men (Davis, 25, and Ball, 21) allowing their dads to affect their professional lives? I certainly respect my dad’s opinion, but I’d have to intervene if he began to publicly diminish my professors or say I should transfer to another university. Thanks for staying in your lane, Dad.

Does the NBA have too much news?

All jokes aside, the on-court NBA product is as entertaining as ever. It’s high-quality, fun-to-watch basketball, with statistical storylines being produced night in and night out. However, the on-court phenomenons become secondary to the reporting of aforementioned things such as trade requests or locker room issues.

The NBA has been wildly successful in their mission to make the league star-driven. But has the news coverage now confused these players, who are basketball stars, with celebrities?

In journalism, it’s easy to forget the initial reason for reporting. For example, the reason that Anthony Davis’ father’s comments are a story roots from Anthony Davis being a transcendent basketball player. The idea of that seems so far in the rear-view because the tremendous amount of news flow regarding players’ trade demands, trade scenarios, superstars teaming up and more.

The solution is up to the editors. Editors must adjust their news judgment so that one individual (see Anthony Davis) is not dominating headlines; rather, headlines involve statistical stories — which there is no shortage of. This may include James Harden’s scoring tear or the Lakers’ percentage chance to make the playoffs.

Enough is enough with the trade speculation. Commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver came up with a solution to reduce trade news, and this was for players and front office’s to handle trade requests behind closed doors. Once again, Silver gets it right.

One thing is certain: The NBA is fortunate that its popularity has caused a surplus of news stories each and every day during its regular season.

Is too much news possible?

This leads me to the big-picture journalistic question: is there such thing as a surplus of news? Is it important that the public know Anthony Davis’ dad doesn’t want him to play for the Celtics? Perhaps it isn’t a question of ‘is there too much news?’ but a question of ‘if people care, is it automatically news?’

The answer to the question is no — meaning I’ll just have to deal with the NBA’s ridiculous amount of trade news and headlines.

There is no such thing as too much, or too little, news. How much news transpires in a certain amount of time is uncontrollable. If there were a shooting every day in America for a week straight, each day would have to be riddled with large amounts of news. On a lighter note, the same applies to the NBA and its drama. If Anthony Davis requests a trade, his father makes a comment and he gets into a fistfight with a teammate in the locker room, (the latter being fictional), then all of that must be reported.

Strong news judgment recognizes that those stories about Davis should be considered newsworthy because they affect people; this may include season-ticket holders, fans, or even team-affiliated businesses — perhaps all with financial implications. If there is information in the world affecting people, it must be reported. So, all in all, I’ll have to suck it up through coverage of superstar athletes’ ongoing off-court drama.

Student guest post: Changing the world through community journalism

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Members of the spring 2019 staff of the Durham VOICE.

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the third of those posts. Spencer Carney is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill who is double-majoring in reporting and creative writing. She hopes to work as either an editor or a reporter for a community newspaper after graduation.

I never wanted to be a journalist or even a writer in general. In fact, I adamantly protested against it. Both my father and my oldest sister graduated through the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, but I wanted to make my own destiny.

My first year trying to do just that was a flaming disaster that would’ve found me in the academic advising office trying to drop out by the end of the second semester. However, in reviewing my first year, I realized that the only two classes I had enjoyed were the two English classes I’d taken.

I let my parents talk me into taking a basic journalism class the next semester. By the end of this semester, I will have completed a reporting major at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Why does reporting matter? Why does community journalism matter? Doesn’t everyone just get their news online now anyway?”

People have asked me these questions since I declared my reporting major.

“Our system rests on citizens’ ability to make discriminating judgments about policies and politicians. Without the news, information and analysis that the media provides, this would be impossible,” said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, in an article published by the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

In their book “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel define the principles and purpose of journalism “by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.”

This semester, I am taking MEJO 459 (Community Journalism), where the students of the class work to cover the Northeast Central Durham area, which is an underserved community. We work to serve the people who live there by producing the Durham VOICE newspaper and website.

This project is important because without us, the community is essentially forgotten by the other areas of Durham. When events occur in this part of Durham, the Durham newspaper often doesn’t cover it. No one deserves to be forgotten, and no one should feel like they don’t have a voice.

The purpose of community journalism, as taught in this class, is to be relentlessly local. We cover this community because people want to know what’s going on where they live. Who’s in the paper that they know? What new restaurant is going up near their neighborhood?

For reporters, working for a community newspaper also gives you the chance to be more than just a reporter. For example, many newspapers are tiny and may only have one or two editors for a ton of stories for each edition. This matters because hopefully, you will make friends with your editors and not want to cause them additional stress by poor grammar and incorrect facts that they have to fix, but also because it will be your name on the byline. If something slides past the editors, you’re going to be the one who gets pinned for it.

It’s not always as high pressure as working to maintain accuracy in your stories. At the Durham VOICE, I’m the assistant print editor, and I get to help design the print edition layouts using Adobe InDesign. I also work as a student reporter and get to turn in photos I take with my stories.

Big newspapers such as The New York Times matter because it’s important to be informed of what’s going on in the rest of the world, but people also want to know what’s going on at home, too.

Growing up, I had a poster in my room that said, “One day I will change the world.” I’m going to accomplish this. I believe that everyone has a little bit of “I want to change the world” in them. I also believe it’s OK to just change the world for one person.

Before this class, I wanted to work for a big city newspaper. I still do, but not right away, and definitely not for forever. Instead, I want to work for community newspapers for a while and work on my world-changing plans one article at a time.

Q&A with Bryan Hanks, editor of Neuse News

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Bryan Hanks is the editor of the Neuse News, a recently launched news website covering Kinston and Lenoir County in Eastern North Carolina. A U.S. Army veteran, Hanks worked at newspapers in Lincolnton, Gastonia and Shelby before arriving in Kinston in 2002 as sports editor of The Free Press, where he later served as editor. Hanks left The Free Press in 2016 and has worked with the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce and as the public-address voice of the Down East Wood Ducks, a minor-league baseball team. He also has been the media director for Raleigh’s John Wall Holiday Invitational basketball tournament since 2007.

Q: What is Neuse News? What are your goals for the site?

A: It is a hyper-local news site created and published by former Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy with one simple goal: Present local news without favor or bias on a site that requires no subscription fees and that doesn’t force you to sit through irritating pop-up advertising.

Because of the manner in which print media literally gave away its product online when the internet exploded, consumers became accustomed to reading stories for free for almost 20 years. When those same print media outlets then tried to begin forcing consumers to read their product after going through paywalls (which include those irritating pop-ups and subscription fees), you can’t blame the readers for being upset. It was a bad business model in the beginning to give away your product and then expect your customers to start paying for it after they’d been getting it for free for decades.

I like to use this analogy: Imagine McDonald’s has given away Big Macs for 20 years by delivering them to your living room whenever you want them. Yes, they’re tasty but when — all of a sudden — McDonald’s expects you to start paying for those burgers, you’re going to be upset. On top of that, when you have to eat three celery sticks before you can even get to the Big Mac, it irritates you further and makes you begin going after other options.

With Neuse News, our goal is to deliver a better product than the local newspaper, which makes you pay for its non-local content and forces you through pop-ups even after you’ve paid for their content.

Additionally, our entire staff — all freelancers for the most part — live and work in Kinston and Lenoir County and care only about this area. That can’t be said for the local newspaper, whose publisher lives in Wilmington (and is rarely in town) and whose editor lives in Craven County (and is responsible for editing several other newspapers). Its newsroom staff has only a couple of county residents who are responsible for a lot of coverage for not just Kinston and Lenoir County but for areas outside the county.

Q: You previously worked at newspapers in Kinston, Gastonia and Lincolnton. How is Neuse News different for you?

A: The hyper-local thrust that B.J. insists upon is refreshing to me. We care about what is going on in Lenoir County — not what’s happening in New Bern, Jacksonville, Wilmington, Raleigh or Charlotte (unless, of course, it directly affects our folks in Lenoir County).

In my last few years at the local newspaper, we were forced to do more with less on a daily basis — have more local bylines with less staff and cover more news with fewer resources. It was frustrating to lay off and furlough talented journalists who wanted to do nothing more than be great reporters. It was also frustrating to try to recruit reporters to an area when you knew in the back of your mind they’d probably end up eventually being laid off or fired because of the corporate structure of news-gathering organizations.

With Neuse News, we’re already delivering a superior product by employing former local journalists who have moved on to other chapters in their lives. They still have that passion for local news, and this is an avenue for them to pursue that passion.

Q: It’s a tough economic environment for news organizations. Neuse News promises no pop-up ads or subscription fees. How will the site survive and thrive financially?

A: That’s probably a question best answered by B.J., but I know this much: A bunch of local businesses and individuals — who have missed local journalism by journalists who live in their community (the way it used to be here) — have stepped up to help us start this venture.

We are thankful and grateful to those businesses and individuals for their help. Honestly, the Neuse News doesn’t exist without that help because we are committed to being that free source of news to Kinston and Lenoir County.

Q: You’re a strong advocate for Eastern North Carolina. What makes the region special to you?

A: I grew up in Wilkes County in northwestern North Carolina, then went to college and began my career in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Shelby area. For nine years, I dated and then married my late wife, who lived in Raleigh. As a freelancer, I traveled to literally every corner of the state, so I feel like I know North Carolina a little better than the average Tar Heel.

Kinston and Lenoir County is unique in a lot of ways. It’s about an hour from the beach, 30 minutes from Greenville and ECU, less than 90 minutes from the Triangle and three hours from the mountains, so you’re in the middle of everything.

But the difference is the people that are here; again, I’ve lived and worked all over the state, and I’ve never seen a community of people that truly love their home the way folks do here. This area has been through several hurricanes and floods, a tragic plant explosion (West Pharmaceuticals in 2003), the loss of major economic drivers such as tobacco, but the folks here continue to love and advocate for Kinston and Lenoir County.

I may have been raised in Wilkes County, but Kinston and Lenoir County is my home. I plan to be here for a long, long time.

The front page still matters

Roseanne Barr made news this week when ABC canceled her show a day after she posted a racist tweet. Puerto Rico was also in the news because of a study that put the death toll from Hurricane Maria at more than 4,600 people — much higher than previously reported.

Which story is more important? A lot of the discussion I saw on social media argued that the Roseanne news was overplayed and Puerto Rico underplayed. Here’s an example from Twitter:

It’s interesting that the writer uses the print edition of The New York Times as a measure of its priorities. In 2018, he is judging its news judgment based on a printed page — not a website, podcast or Facebook posts.

Here in North Carolina, I noticed that The News & Observer, the newspaper I read every day, placed the Roseanne story on page 2A and the Puerto Rico story on 7A. Local stories about the state budget and gentrification in Durham made the front page. That makes sense, given the Raleigh newspaper’s focus on the state’s Triangle region.

Page number alone doesn’t provide a full picture of story emphasis. In this instance, the N&O ran about nine column inches on the Roseanne story but more than twice that on the Puerto Rico story as well as a photo.

Nowadays, many of us primarily read our news not by turning pages, but by scrolling on smartphones and laptops. We get news in a timeline format on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Algorithms influence what we see there.

Yet many readers still rely on the front page in print — with stories selected by editors — to reflect the important news of the past day and the day ahead. These readers see the front page as an indicator of a news organization’s values. What does this newspaper care about? What are its priorities? How is it serving the community?

These are questions that can be answered on a front page. Even in 2018.

Q&A with Lisa Tozzi of BuzzFeed News

Lisa Tozzi is global news director at BuzzFeed News, a position she has held since 2013. She previously worked at The New York Times, contributing to coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. In this interview, conducted by email, Tozzi discusses her work at BuzzFeed and offers advice to student journalists.

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

A. I oversee the breaking news, newsroom operations teams and curation (the team that helps manage and grow BuzzFeed News’s presence on various platforms) and work with the editors and reporters from other BuzzFeed News desks like world, investigations, politics, tech, etc. to coordinate news coming from their reporters. I also have the great fortune to be media editor Craig Silverman’s editor and to work with him and Jane Lytvynenko on fake news and debunking.

Breaking and curation is a 24/7 operation, and we have a reporters and editors in New York, Los Angeles and London and hand off to one another, which is especially critical when big news happens overnight or early in the morning.

I tend to loudly and nervously laugh when someone asks me what a typical day is like because I don’t remember typical days. Most days begin with looking at Twitter too early in the morning and needing a lot of coffee.

But every day is a bit of a wild ride, particularly over the past few years when the world feels increasingly chaotic and it is more important than ever that we are providing people with clear, reliable information around the clock. Luckily, I work with a magnificent team of reporters, editors and producers who are incredibly creative and smart and collaborative and just make me feel I won the lottery when I come to work no matter how crazy things get.

Q. Before working at BuzzFeed, you were at The New York Times. What was that transition like?

A. It wasn’t a shocking transition as I had long been more digitally focused at the Times and loved doing breaking news. But there were definite differences I noticed immediately.

One was that I suddenly didn’t have to think at all about a legacy product. I love The New York Times, I grew up reading the New York Times, I still get the print paper delivered to me on weekends. But it was interesting — dare I even say liberating — to not have to think about cutting a “web story for print” or ordering column space for Sunday on Thursday afternoon anymore. Stories didn’t need to be held for a slot on Page One, we could run them when they were ready to go. (I should note that The Times has changed a lot in the five years since I left.)

Also five years ago, news at BuzzFeed was very small and newish, and I had a chance to help build an operation and a culture rather than try to change a long-established one. Oh, yeah: There was also the whole bit of reporters having to constantly spelling B-U-Z-Z-F-E… when on the phone with sources when identifying themselves (DOESN’T HAPPEN AS MUCH ANYMORE!) and reading stories about BuzzFeed that talk about whether a site that is “known for cat GIFs” can do news. (STILL, SHOCKINGLY HAPPENS!)

Q. BuzzFeed is known for its headlines. What trends in headline writing are you seeing?

A. I don’t have any clear-cut trends to report, but we’ve always talked about writing stories people want to read and share at BuzzFeed. Some of what goes into that is thinking about how you frame a story vis-a-vis the headline.

We always stress that headlines should be conversational and not include jargon, as if you are telling a friend about the piece you’re writing. We experiment with different headlines in a story to see how they perform which can teach us a bit and help us inform future decisions. (Sometimes the headline conventions that a lot of people claim to hate are the ones readers respond to.)

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in working for BuzzFeed?

A. I think a big mistake some journalists make is they come out of school and expect to immediately be an investigative reporter or think that they must immediately have a beat as if they’re picking a college major. At BuzzFeed News specifically, and for journalists in general, it really helps to be flexible and to experiment with different types of reporting and writing styles.

One of the many tragedies about the collapse of local newspapers around the country is that they were the best training ground for new journalists. I got my start as a general assignment reporter at a newspaper in New Jersey and covered everything from City Council meetings to crime to courts to political campaigns, and it was incredibly valuable to learn to be fast and versatile.

Reporters and editors on the breaking team at BuzzFeed News need to be able to write about everything from natural disasters and mass shootings to how YouTube and Instagram are changing celebrity to the viral story about a woman flushing her hamster down an airport toilet. We take social news really seriously and apply the same rigor we do with “hard news” to the quirky talker, and readers respond to that. Newsrooms shouldn’t think they’re above a certain kind of story if it is something that readers really care about, which is something we’re really conscious of.

Also: Learn how to spot misinformation and fake images. And read a lot.

Update: In February 2019, Tozzi announced on Twitter that she is leaving BuzzFeed News.