Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 19th of those posts. Natasha Townsend is a senior majoring in reporting and psychology. She has interned at The Hendersonville Lightning and the North Carolina Press Association, and she is a student researcher for the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Since last summer, I have been interning for Penny Abernathy, who leads the research team at UNC within the journalism school where she chronicles news deserts throughout the country. A news desert is a place where communities are vulnerable to losing newspapers because of many factors including poverty, polarization and political apathy.
Last summer, one of my biggest projects was to manage a database of thousands of newspapers across the country that have closed or merged from 2004-2018. We found that more than 1,000 communities throughout the country have no newspaper.
One of the most interesting things I’ve found from this research is that not only are there political implications, but also this has a direct effect on the amount of tax dollars that people are spending. Interestingly, when communities lose a newspaper, there’s less accountability from local government officials. For instance, our research has found that with this lack of accountability, the government is more likely to spend taxpayer money behind closed doors. Because of a lack of newspapers in poor, rural areas, there’s no watchdog institution.
With the lack of newspapers in these communities, journalists are also having more trouble finding jobs, and as a result, editors are having an even harder time. With newspaper consolidation and the current economic state of the field, there are fewer resources and fewer jobs for journalists. News companies are slashing their staffs and making people do more things, stretching the employees too thin. Editors, especially at smaller local papers, are being laid off, so reporters must take on the editor role themselves.
I saw this firsthand when I interned for the Hendersonville Lightning, a newspaper in my hometown. The paper is owned by Bill Moss, a veteran journalist. He saw a need for a hyperlocal newspaper to serve the needs of the community that weren’t being met by the competitor regional paper.
The Lightning is a one-man show, where Bill does the reporting, photography, editing, captions, you name it. As an intern, I found it was very hectic, and there was a lot of extra responsibility. While my official title was reporting intern, I had to fill additional roles, one of them being editing my own work. Bill would glance over my work and catch factual errors, but the more stylistic edits, such as captioning, photo, headline, design, things that are typical of a traditional editor, I had to do on my own.
This was indicative of how the field is changing and how the reporter role has become more flexible. Not only do reporters have to report their own work, but they also have to edit it and brand it to their individual style.
As a result of journalists becoming their own editors, a question arises of how objective the writing can really be without an impartial person also viewing the work. I think the editor role should be separate from the reporter role, because journalists can become too close to the story and lose sight of the ultimate objective or be subject to inherent bias in their writing.
Carol Jenkins worked for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, for nearly 22 years. As a page designer, she won an SND award for World’s Best Designed Newspaper as part of the newspaper’s design staff. Jenkins was assistant editor for community news at the N&O when she requested and received a buyout in 2010. For the past eight years, she has worked as marketing communications manager for SMT, a sports technology company in Durham, North Carolina. Jenkins lives in Raleigh with her wife, Carolyn Davis, daughter, Ellis, and two border collies, Josie and Abbey. In this essay originally posted on Facebook, Jenkins remembers N&O cartoonist Dwane Powell, who died this week at age 74.
I had just turned 21 and was still in the closet when I started working for The News & Observer in 1988. I detested the fear-mongering politics of Sen. Jesse Helms, so I was buoyed by the stances of the editorial board and empowered by Dwane Powell’s killer cartoons that skewered far-right politicians and their radical policies.
At the time, racist, sexist and homophobic jokes were still flying around — yes, even at this “liberal” newspaper. Although I was seen as a civil rights advocate, I was not yet courageous enough to announce to coworkers and family that I was gay.
When I first started working at the paper, I was little star-struck when I passed a Dennis Rogers or Michael Skube or Marion Gregory or Mary Cornatzer or A.C. Snow or — gasp! — Frank Daniels Jr. in the hallway or in the Pre Press department. But Dwane Powell was just so casually cool and humble that he made everyone instantly feel at ease. He was one of the most down-to-earth, unassuming, charming, friendly people in that building, and he just so happened to be a brilliant cartoonist whose views aligned with mine.
Back then — in the era before desktop publishing — we pasted up news pages headline by headline, copy strip by copy strip, ad by ad and cartoon by cartoon. After the pages were shot and turned to negatives via a huge camera in Pre Press, we’d check the manifest for ads that were re-running the following week, strip the ads off the pages and file them in long, skinny drawers with the corresponding dates.
I stripped Dwane’s cartoons, too, and kept a sticky collection on the walls of my cubby, a body of work that conveyed in a single drawing the eye-rolling frustration, fury and pain at the policies of our hate-spewing legislators. For someone like me from a conservative-leaning family, feeling the validation of my world views from such a strong contingent of smart, reasoned, hard-working journalists was just what the goddesses ordered.
The News & Observer would be the place I would spend the greater part of the next two decades. Working late nights, weekends and holidays means having to gel with your coworkers, and these people became my second family. We would ride out storms in the downtown Hair Curler and walk miles into work through the ice and snow (hello, Jan. 25, 2000). We showed up for each other: birthdays, weddings, funerals, births, bris ceremonies, chemo treatments, musical gigs, acting performances — maybe even a kid’s baseball game.
Even though most of us are long gone from 215 S. McDowell St., we still show up for one another. When, in 2009, I held a fundraiser for a program for the Raleigh LGBTQ Center, Dwane happily contributed a collection of original cartoons for auction (topics included Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas, Roe vs. Wade, and, yes, Jesse Helms).
Dwane was part of our N&O family, and today I mourn his passing and celebrate his life. My deepest condolences to wife, Jan, daughter, Devon, extended family and friends, and to the entire N&O family.
Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 16th of those posts. Charlotte Spence is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is studying media and journalism, with a concentration in editing and graphic design, and political science while minoring in Hispanic studies. She has worked at The Daily Tar Heel throughout her time in college.
Before coming to college, I had little to no interest in journalism, and I never imagined I would pursue any role in publishing news.
In a desperate search to up my involvement on campus, I joined the copy desk at The Daily Tar Heel during my first semester. This helped me discover a career path I was passionate about and meet incredible friends along the way. To this day, the fundamentals have stayed the same — except the evolution of the function of the copy desk.
I was very nervous for my first shift at the DTH. I had no experience in editing, and I did not know anyone who worked there at the time. I will never forget how red my face became after asking my editor, “What’s a CQ?” and hearing several chuckles throughout the newsroom. Thankfully, she patiently guided me through all of my queries and uninformed edits. She played a substantial role in my interest in journalism, definitely more than she will ever realize.
I will also never forget how archaic the whole production felt to me. We used iMac computers that had greatly passed their prime and Adobe InCopy software that had not been updated since those computers were purchased. Because we only had access to a few desktops, every copy desk member would alternate using them for each individual story. It was crowded, bothersome and inefficient.
While our office was very well-furnished and spacious, the structure of our newsroom did not do the copy desk any favors. We sat at computers alongside the management team, while the rest of the writers and editors worked together in the room next door. This fostered little collaboration between the copy desk and the writers, and made me feel even more intimidated to ask them questions.
After returning from a semester abroad in Spain, I found that the copy desk had completely transformed. We stopped using InCopy and began using a content management system called CEO. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, CEO combines the user interface of InCopy with the comment functionality of Google Docs. This made a huge difference as it gave copy desk members the freedom of mobility — to ask questions, to approach writers and to read their comments.
On top of this change, I discovered that the paper was relocating to an office on Franklin Street. This office had no dividing walls separating the different desks, which gave me the opportunity to meet people from different specializations in the newsroom and ask them for feedback. It was also much closer to my house, which was a nice bonus.
Surprisingly, neither of these changes was the most dramatic to occur that semester. I realized that the copy desk and the online desk had morphed into one. This meant that copy desk members were also tasked with writing the DTH’s social media posts. We were challenged with writing a one-to-two sentence post that summarized the story well and also enticed people to keep reading.
The position of the copy editor in a newsroom is a challenging one in that we wear a multitude of hats. We edit stories for Associated Press style, clarity and grammar. We write headlines and abstracts. And now, we write tweets and Facebook posts. In my four short years working at the DTH, I have seen that copy editors must own all of these hats — and wear them well.
While our work sometimes may go unnoticed, copy editors are the foundation of the newsroom. Throughout my time in college, I have learned how copy editors can serve a more dominant role in the production of news and how we can do so efficiently.
While the position of the copy editor is constantly evolving, it will never lose its purpose. Behind every good writer is a great editor.
Amber Rupinta is a reporter and anchor at ABC11 Eyewitness News. She has worked at ABC affiliate WTVD — which covers a section of North Carolina that includes Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville — since 2004. In this interview, conducted by email, Rupinta discusses her work at the station, the change from the morning broadcast to afternoons, and her experience in graduate programs in digital communication and meteorology.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. A typical day in the ABC11 newsroom begins with a story shoot for me. We have a daily morning meeting with news managers and reporters that begins at 9 a.m. to pitch and assign stories to reporters.
I work on a little bit of a different reporting schedule due to my news anchoring duties at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. I set up my weekly story schedule on Fridays so I know where I need to be and when in order to get back in the studio in time to prepare for the evening news.
On a side note, working in the field means preparing for the elements as well, so every morning before leaving the house I have to pack a bag with a studio wardrobe while wearing appropriate clothing for the weather.
Depending on my story, I either meet my photojournalist at the studio and we leave together in a station vehicle, or I meet him on site to gather the story. If I make it back in time, I change clothing, mic up and jump on set at the end of the noon newscast to tease what we are working on for the news at 4 p.m.
As far as stories go, it runs the gamut for me. I can cover everything from human interest stories to celebrities or politicians in town to storms headed our way or a press conference with city officials about a big news story of the day.
The exciting thing about this job for me is that no day is typical and we can make a difference by bringing awareness to issues our community is facing. I switch gears quickly and often, and I learn new things all the time. The element of taking information and quickly breaking it down into an easy to understand story or format for viewers keeps it fresh, but I have to admit, sometimes the deadlines can be very stressful.
Working under the pressure of a deadline is constant, and it does take time to get used to working at that pace daily. There are also days when we have to interrupt programming for breaking news, so sometimes I am told to put on my mics and get on the set as quickly as possible.
We also have a lot of emceeing events in the community so I can spend a morning helping with a non-profit at a fundraising breakfast or an evening at a gala. Days are busy when your station covers 23 counties and more than 3 million potential viewers!
Q. In 2017, you moved from the morning to the afternoon broadcast. Why did you make that change, and how does time of day affect your work?
A. There were a few reasons I made the change to the afternoon broadcast. One of the biggest was it was a promotion and the opportunity doesn’t always come up for afternoon anchor jobs. And, in all honesty, as much as I loved the pace of a morning show and the camaraderie of a team that works at zero dark thirty, after answering a painful 2:30 a.m. alarm clock five days a week for nearly a decade, the timing was right to make a change and sleep(!) like a “normal” person again.
Moving to afternoons, I have found the pace of my day is drastically different. On a morning newscast, you hit the ground running, and most of your shift is spent on air. I would constantly monitor Twitter feeds or CrowdTangle for updates on breaking news.
Stories often are breaking and developing in the overnight hours, and that makes for a very fast-paced environment to deliver the news. The morning broadcast is on air from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., and we have to do a lot of updates to social media and weather and traffic.
Many morning viewers are watching in shorter time frames but need all the headlines and any issues affecting them before heading out the door. After the morning news, I would head out to gather a story and could be live in the noon news. The morning team works in a fast-paced environment, and it is very exciting.
The afternoon broadcast is also exciting, but the pace is a little less hectic compared with the morning news as we can monitor and watch a story develop throughout the day. As a reporter, getting ready for the afternoon broadcast brings the opportunity to take your time gathering interviews and crafting a story. It allows for more time to do research and investigate, and there are more resources in the newsroom during the day shift, which can help tremendously when you are in the field. It is also much easier to call people for interviews or information during “normal” hours, so that can make your job much easier.
Q. In the past few years, you earned a certificate in digital communication from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a certificate in meteorology at Mississippi State. What did you learn from those programs that you use in your job at ABC11?
A. I enrolled in the certificate program in digital communication at UNC-Chapel Hill because I felt I needed to sharpen my digital skills after working for more than a decade in the day-to-day broadcast news side of the business. I truly felt I was going to get left behind as the shift to digital became more apparent from an industry standpoint.
The certificate program was exactly what I needed to get a handle on new online tools and resources for investigative journalism and simply to uncover information a reporter needs. It also helped me sharpen my digital writing skills. There is a huge difference in how you write for a news broadcast, which is more conversational, to how you must write for digital. I hate to admit it, but, I was very rusty writing for digital or print-style format and the program really helped boost my confidence.
I was able to bring a lot of the information I learned back to the newsroom, and I am happy to say our entire newsroom now uses Grammarly, a program I learned about through the certificate program. Several co-workers also have inquired about and enrolled in the program as digital changes so rapidly. It is a great way to keep up with the tools and is completely doable while working.
As far as the certificate in meteorology through Mississippi State University, this was a program I began nearly a decade ago. I put it on the back burner when I took a job with ABC11. After covering numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters and living through massive property damage from huge storms, I realized I wanted to finish my degree for a better understanding of weather events that affect so many people.
I enjoyed learning about meteorology so much that I went on to earn a B.S. in geoscience. Not only did the program enhance my knowledge of understanding the atmosphere, but it also makes me a better journalist.
All of the programs I enrolled in help me cover weather events, which are always top news stories. They also help me report on multiple platforms, especially digital, which is the future of journalism.
Q. What advice do you have for students considering a career in broadcast journalism?
A. The best advice I can give to students is to learn and understand the business.
Many students (I was also guilty) are so laser-focused on the journalism but never learn about how the company or business makes money. Understanding how ratings translate to revenue and how clicks are monetized through different digital platforms is crucial to understanding changes in operations, job expectations and job opportunities!
The TV industry — as well as newspaper and radio — are quickly changing due to digital content. The immediate, widespread impact of social media has changed how we approach stories, sped up our deadlines and made us rethink who is in our audience. We can now shoot and edit in the palms of our hands, and go live anywhere with backpack units.
And now, more than ever, with all of that in mind, it is more important to be RIGHT, before being FIRST. Social media spreads like wildfire — and it’s next to impossible to put out that fire once it spreads. Get the facts, get a second source to verify the facts, cover the story truthfully with no bias, and go.
It’s an exciting career. You never know where you’ll end up. Just tell the story — don’t become the story.
Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the first of those posts. Bailey Aldridge is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science. She is the managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel, and she hopes to start a career in reporting after graduation.
I’ve been managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel for about five months and, so far, this school year has been characterized by breaking news event after breaking news event.
I wasn’t prepared for all of this breaking news coming into the year, and I wasn’t prepared to handle it in my editor role. After the events that have transpired this year at UNC, I’ve learned a lot about how to handle the editor-reporter relationship and what my role as an editor should be when it comes to breaking news.
It can be difficult to navigate my role as an editor in instances of breaking news. I’ve had to learn when to delegate and when to do things myself, how to be supportive of the writer and how to have difficult conversation with my colleagues.
One of the things I’ve struggled with the most is delegating when breaking news happens. I have the instinct to hear about it and start writing a story myself. However, this isn’t the most effective way to handle the situation as an editor.
Throughout the year, I’ve found that our newsroom operates on breaking news best when those of us in a management role allow other editors or reporters to write breaking news. I’ve found it’s more efficient to use my position to oversee the coverage of a breaking story and to polish it after it’s written. It can be hard to let go of responsibilities as an editor sometimes but, in the end, it helps things flow more smoothly.
It’s important as an editor to support whoever is writing a breaking story. I’ve found this can mean a lot of different things. It can be giving an advice on a lede, what to include, what sources to get up with and how to structure the story. It can also mean helping call sources or going to a scene to find out more details.
I’ve learned that more goes into editing than just fixing spelling, grammar and style. I’ve found that one of my most important jobs as an editor is supporting and helping writers on their stories, breaking or otherwise. Part of what goes into being supportive is having tough conversations when they are necessary.
We’ve had a lot of big news this school year. A lot of that news has been breaking, and a lot of that news has been heavy and has required hard conversation and tough decisions. Those decisions are even more difficult when they have to be made quickly.
Dealing with these has taught me to be direct when talking to other editors but also to listen to them and collaborate when making decisions.
Overall, I’m glad this year has been so eventful because it’s taught be a lot about how to be an effective, helpful editor and, more generally, how to function in a newsroom.
Doris Truong is director of training and diversity at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. Prior to taking that job earlier this year, Truong worked in various roles at The Washington Post, including homepage editor, and as a copy editor at The Dallas Morning News. She is also a past president of the Asian American Journalists Association. In this interview, conducted by email, Truong discusses her new role at Poynter and offers advice to student journalists.
Q. Describe your job at Poynter. What is your typical day like?
A. I just started my role as director of training and diversity in August, so there hasn’t been enough time to establish a routine. I can already tell that most days will be marked by the lack of routine: I might be preparing to teach (or teaching), writing a piece for Poynter.org, taking meetings with stakeholders or planning months ahead on Poynter’s curriculum.
However, it’s a much more manageable day — in terms of pace and stress level — than being in a 24/7 newsroom. I do miss The Washington Post, especially on Election Day and during breaking news. But I don’t miss receiving dozens of push alerts from multiple news apps each day just to be sure there’s not a major story reported elsewhere that deserves a spot on the homepage.
Q. What are some shortcomings you see in news organizations regarding diversity and inclusion? Success stories?
A. Newsrooms don’t become more diverse and inclusive overnight. It’s a moral and financial imperative — and newsroom leaders need to make hires that mirror their diverse audience to be able to accurately represent those stories.
Many newsrooms fall into a trap of thinking that diversity is a binary issue, but it’s not able just looking at races of people on staff. It’s also a matter of someone’s life experience, which broadly includes socioeconomics, religion, age, family status, sexual orientation, military background, languages spoken and even the places where they have lived (urban vs. rural, domestic vs. international, coastal vs. landlocked). The news audience isn’t easily defined, so neither should the staff be.
One of the success stories is Chicago’s City Bureau, which takes diversity, equity and inclusion seriously in its hiring practices and employment policies. You can see the difference in the coverage City Bureau produces. Part of the success is because diversity and inclusion were baked into City Bureau since its founding in 2015. Legacy media have generations of old habits to overcome.
Q. You previously worked as a copy editor and homepage editor. How do you use those skills in your current position?
A. The skills of a good copy editor are always in demand. I help with taking a final look at marketing materials and grant proposals.
My homepage skills have been handy because Poynter.org is in the middle of a slight redesign as we switch software on the back end. For the site visitor, we hope the content will be easier to navigate — and the search function should be a lot more useful.
Q. What advice do you have for student journalists who are starting their careers?
A. Be as widely read as you can. Having a little bit of general knowledge in many subjects will help you know when something might be fishy and needs a bit more research.
Specialize in at least one thing. I’d stick to core journalism principles because who knows where technology will take us, but key strengths such as writing, editing and fact-checking will always be necessary to produce quality journalism.
Know how everyone else does their jobs. If you’re a word person, learn what’s important to designers and visual journalists (these might be videographers or photojournalists).
Stay on top of trends. You don’t have to master everything, but know what technology can do and be able to speak about it with some familiarity.
Learn to meet deadlines (and to work quickly but accurately).
Network with your peers and identify mentors (you don’t always need a personal connection to have a mentor — take Sheryl Sandberg, for example). Ask questions. And always follow up when you get someone’s business card (or contact information).
Sarah Rabil is assistant managing editor for talent at The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked as a reporter and editor there and at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Rabil discusses her role in career development, what the Journal looks for in applicants and what she learned in journalism school and beyond.
Q. Describe your job at The Wall Street Journal. What is your typical day like?
A. I support recruiting, hiring and career development across the newsroom. I loved editing the Journal’s media and advertising coverage in my last role (and still get an adrenaline rush when news is breaking!), but I’ve enjoyed shifting that energy into ensuring that this already stellar newsroom is diverse and welcoming and hiring exceptionally talented journalists.
Four months into this job, I’m learning that no day is typical. I got into journalism for the variety, the lifelong learning and the hope that my work helps people, so I appreciate that my current role allows me to constantly meet new people and support 1,230+ of the best journalists I’ve ever known.
One day I may be strategizing about how to define new roles, meeting with Journal reporters to discuss potential next steps in their careers, and interviewing candidates for personal finance reporting or data editing. The next day I may be attending a journalism conference to scout for new talent or spending a day at a university to meet with students and spread the word about our internship opportunities.
The chance to step back and discuss ambitious journalism and figure out how we can help support and train the next generation really is inspiring.
Q. What does the Journal look for in applicants for jobs and internships?
A. Each job opening is an opportunity to think creatively and ambitiously about how we want to evolve our coverage, better serve our two million-plus subscribers and continue to broaden our audience.
When we are hiring reporters and editors, I am looking for skilled writers with a proven ability to chase down (or shepherd) scoops and come up with interesting enterprise stories. The best way to get on my radar is to do great work that I wish we had published ourselves.
I’m also increasingly seeking out video producers, data scientists, interactive graphic designers, newsletter writers and specialized reporters for our Professional Products. The Journal is far more than a newspaper these days. We are very much a digital-first news organization.
For internships, I’m looking for students and recent grads who come from a range of backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom. You don’t have to be an expert in business, finance and economics to intern at the Journal, but an interest and willingness to learn are key.
I look for interns to bring curiosity, passion and new ideas into the newsroom. I’m seeking out students with a foundation in newsgathering and some prior news deadline experience.
Beyond that, I’m also keen to welcome interns who can bring much-needed digital skills that will help us continue to innovate — whether that’s an interest in audience analytics, creative video editing, social media savvy, comfort with data analysis or the ability to code.
Q. You previously worked as a deputy bureau chief at the Journal and as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg. How do those experiences help you in your current job?
A. I tend to think of the Journal newsroom and the broader news/journalism industry as my new beat. Recruiting and offering career advice are, in a way, very similar to developing the relationships with sources that allow you to be a successful beat reporter or developing the relationships with reporters that help you become a better editor.
I also had the benefit of studying our own publication/company and our media competitors for many years from the reporting side. Over the course of 11 years, I was a media reporter, team leader for a global deals column and an editor for coverage of media, telecommunications and advertising. I like to think that it gave me insight into the rapid evolution of the news industry, and I’m enjoying applying that knowledge to shape our talent strategy going forward.
And when it comes to talking to potential job candidates, I can directly speak to what it’s like at the Journal being in the trenches during breaking news, going through the process to publish a front-page enterprise story or brainstorming a visual digital package. I like to think that makes me more credible when I speak about our news values, strategy and culture.
Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you acquired?
A. I like to say that I got my journalism degree at UNC. Then I got the equivalent of an MBA on the job as a business reporter.
UNC’s journalism school gave me a solid foundation in reporting and an introduction to business and economics (I also got a business minor at Kenan-Flagler Business School).
Chris Roush’s business reporting program really gave me a leg up in the job market. I was comfortable writing on deadline, deciphering SEC filings, studying the market and interviewing executives. Another great professor — Phil Meyer, a legend in using social science methods in journalism — inspired me to dig deeply into complex topics, ask the tough questions and use data and statistics to test my assumptions and support my conclusions.