Student guest post: Are hubs the next wave or the death knell of copy editors?

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Miranda Murray is a junior majoring in editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She will work for Media General in Richmond, Va., this summer.

When I first got the phone call to hear that I had been offered an internship position this summer copy editing, I was so excited that it didn’t occur to me that there was no Tribune or Daily or Journal at the end of the company’s title — I just said yes. But after the initial rush, I looked up the company online to realize that I had been placed at an editing hub, a relatively new concept now being turned to as a solution as newspapers downsize and technology expands.

Like many other changes in the newspaper world, the advent of hubs has been greeted by both bitterness and hope. The entire point is to consolidate editing and design to be more cost-effective, with more emphasis placed on reporters’ abilities to turn in relatively clean copy that doesn’t require much reworking. This consolidation equals taking copy and design desks out of newsrooms, a move that several large media companies including Gannett, Media General and Tribune have been steadily pushing.

Here in the Triangle, the newspaper community felt these changes in 2011 when The News & Observer, one of the area’s largest newspapers, decided to move its design and editing desks from Raleigh to Charlotte. In fact, this blog was one of the loudest voices against this decision.

Succinctly, some of the criticism I could find of what seems to be the future of copy editing at the moment includes the loss of local knowledge, more miscommunication between the newsroom and the editing desks, and creating more responsibilities for an already thinly stretched staff.

But in the interest of fairness, several bloggers also fired back at the criticism, including Brian Throckmorton, who commented on a blog post by John McIntyre about his experience working at a hub. He wrote that taking a copy desk out of the newsroom won’t necessarily translate to a loss of local knowledge thanks to the ease of electronic communication. He also brought up the point that newspapers are dwindling in size and that there is not enough work to justify so many copy positions. Other bloggers simply took the mindset that people needed to cut their losses and adapt to this newer form of copy editing.

I personally find this tremendous discussion on the good and evil of copy-editing hubs intriguing, considering that I will spend my summer experiencing firsthand how the process works. Since I have no real experience working day-in and day-out on a copy desk housed within a newspaper, I have no prior expectations of what this internship will bring – but in the end, if this is the path I need to take to one day become a copy editor, I plan to take it.

If the Republican candidates were editors

I’m a sucker for political debates. In recent months, I’ve been watching the Republican candidates for president “spar” and “trade barbs,” as the headlines say.

As I watched the latest debate on CNN this week, I saw how this field of candidates might operate in a newspaper newsroom. So here are the Republican contenders, recast in their roles as editors:

  • Herman Cain: business editor
  • Rick Perry: sports/outdoors editor
  • Jon Huntsman: wire editor
  • Rick Santorum: city editor, religion columnist
  • Newt Gingrich: editorial page editor
  • Michelle Bachmann: health editor, parenting columnist
  • Mitt Romney: executive editor
  • Ron Paul: copy desk chief

A goodbye in Greensboro

John Robinson, former colleague and current friend, announced this week that he’s stepping down as editor of the News & Record  in Greensboro, N.C. The news came as a surprise to many, and it prompted me to reflect on Robinson’s influence on journalism and my own career.

My first job after college was in Greensboro as a copy editor. Robinson wasn’t running the News & Record’s newsroom yet, but he was a city editor, assigning stories to reporters and working with them on those assignments.

Robinson was a friend of copy editing and would stop by to chat with those of us working on the nightside. Maybe it was a matter of timing and proximity — his office was adjacent to the copy desk, and he often worked into the evening.

But he had a genuine appreciation for our work, and his sense of humor fit the tone of our desk as well. For those of us learning the culture of a newsroom, he was a great role model: confident, diligent, fair and respectful.

Later, as editor, Robinson pushed the News & Record toward an increasingly local newspaper. He also established himself and the newspaper as prominent players in blogging and other social media. Again, Robinson served as a role model for me (even though I was no longer at the paper) and other journalists.

Robinson and I disagreed at times, most publicly on the need (or not) to copy-edit blog posts on news sites. In that discussion with me and in those with others, Robinson always kept his cool and expressed himself clearly and concisely — a rarity in online conversations.

Robinson also took the time to speak to my editing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill on several occasions. He was a natural in the classroom, engaging students in thought-provoking conversations about news judgment and other topics.

So, thanks, John, for all that you have done for journalism and for me and my students. Best wishes to you on the next adventure in your life.

UPDATE: Robinson is back to blogging at Media, Disrupted.

Guest post: Finding a new life after -30-

Laura Marshall is a Park Fellow in the master’s program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this post, Marshall offers her “top 10 takeaways” from a workshop at the j-school called “Life After -30-: How to Recast Your Journalism Career and Reinvent Yourself.”

Surviving life after “-30-” requires a willingness to change and to put the pieces of your own puzzle together in different ways, according to the panelists at an event for journalists and former journalists. The group met at Carroll Hall on Sept. 23 to help former and soon-to-be-former journalists determine how to shift from a career in news to a parallel track in another field.

The panelists came from a background in print or broadcast journalism, and they have moved from newsroom careers to lives in public relations, academia and other pursuits.

What are their Top Ten tips for navigating the choppy waters of a move from news into something else? A willingness to network, sell yourself and see your own skills through different eyes.

1. Make it a point to become an expert. Leslie Wilkinson said that as she worked for the Los Angeles Times as a page designer, she learned that the newspaper was laying off some of its most experienced reporters and her own position might be next. She took the opportunity while still at the Times to learn about social media so as to “become an expert” on technology and the newer forms of communication. That, and pursuing an MBA, helped her move into online media as managing editor at at Turner Communications.

2. Use your reporter’s skills to get a foot in the door. Julie Henry, a broadcaster turned public information officer for state government, found her ability to talk with total strangers about something she needed to learn translated well into being able to make cold calls to potential job contacts when she was looking for work.

3. Reinventing yourself is key. So said Emily Harris, who was a copy editor when she found out her now-former employer was planning to lay off dozens of people. She’d heard about part-time college teaching positions and used her experience teaching seminars and workshops to pitch herself for the position.

4. Fill the gaps in your knowledge between what you know and what you need to know to make a change. Chuck Small had always thought he might like to teach, but as a 20-something college graduate, he didn’t think he was old or experienced enough to teach people just a few years younger. He went into print journalism, but when the cost-cutters started looking his way, he decided it was time to follow his original dream. Small went back to school to earn the master’s degree he needed to become a guidance counselor.

5. Get someone outside your circle of friends to critique your resume. Bill Krueger was the Capitol bureau chief for The News & Observer for 28 years when layoffs hit him in 2009. He knew his resume was dated, but didn’t know what it needed until a career coach helped him rewrite it. He’s now an editor at the alumni magazine at N.C. State University.

6. Interview potential employers; don’t just let them interview you. The informational interview is valuable to get your foot in the door and to find out whether you’d be a good fit, said several of the panelists. Even if there isn’t a particular job opening to apply for, cold-call someone who can tell you about a particular employer and meet with them to learn more.

7. Create an online presence to sell yourself. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other website that suits your potential audience to keep your name and face in front of people who can help you. To a cartoonist looking for work, the panelists recommended mentioning new drawings on Twitter and linking them back to an online profile.

8. Do your own personal inventory and decide what you have to offer. Linda Conklin, a career coach, cited her own experience of moving 12 times and having to constantly “reinvent” herself as a way to gain what she called “unexpected wisdom.” List the things you know, not the jobs you have, when you determine how to sell yourself for a new job.

9. Share your news with friends and acquaintances if you get laid off. Krueger spent the days immediately following his own layoff connecting with friends of friends through LinkedIn and by talking about his situation whenever he had the opportunity. Those conversations led to potential job leads and connections that helped him in his search.

10. Volunteer work can help you meet the right people. Henry recommended spending some of your time working for free in places where you can make contacts and spread the word that you’re available.

Being flexible and giving yourself time to accept what’s happened and move on were important themes shared by the panelists. All have parlayed successful careers in journalism into parallel positions in fields that use the skills they developed in the newsroom in new ways.

Life after -30-

Today is the first day that The News & Observer, my former employer, will be without a copy desk. No page designers will come to work in downtown Raleigh either. That work will be done at an editing/design hub in Charlotte.

The decision to remove editing and design from the Raleigh newsroom affected about 25 people, who had to choose between moving to Charlotte or losing their jobs. About a half-dozen people took the offer to move.

What of those who decided to stay? They’ll be looking for new jobs and new careers. That can be a daunting task, but there’s help out there.

Blogger and visual journalist Charles Apple has written this guide to journalists who are facing this transition. He covers everything from finding health care and dealing with depression.

Meanwhile, the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill is offering a free workshop on Sept. 23. It’s called “Life After -30-” and will include advice on recasting your resume, preparing for job interviews and using social media to look for work.

Losing your job is a painful experience. There’s a mourning period. But there is also hope and renewal.

I am confident that my friends and former colleagues at the N&O will find fulfilling work that will allow them to use their journalistic skills. Even though the newspaper business is changing, the skills of gathering information, distilling it and presenting it are still valuable and always will be.

Editing an interactive film

For the third consecutive summer, I’m participating in the Powering A Nation project at UNC-Chapel Hill. This year, the students producing the site decided to create a “special report” called “Coal: A Love Story.”

My role this time was the same as previous years, serving as a coach for the editing team. As work began on the project, however, I realized that this iteration of Powering A Nation would have very little traditional text, if any.

Indeed, what the students envisioned was an “interactive film” that combined video with interactive graphics. They even created a storyboard in the newsroom to map out the project and how its different components and characters would complement each other. It felt a bit like planning a season of “Lost.”

Still, it became clear that writing and editing in a traditional sense would be not only necessary but essential for the project to succeed. Words matter.

We needed headlines, blurbs and tags. We even needed poetry.

“Innovation” is a buzzword associated with Powering A Nation, which is part of the News21 project to push journalism education in new directions. I’d add “collaboration” to that. The student staff, coaches and consultants worked together on every facet of the site, including the project’s tagline: “It’s more than a rock. It’s power. It’s people. It’s a relationship.”

I encourage you to spend some time with the “interactive film” and experience it as one story. It’s a bold experiment in journalistic storytelling, and I’m proud and grateful to have been a part of it.

A tribute to N&O copy editors and page designers

Disastrous. Unbelievable. Shameful. Messed up. Breathtakingly bad. So sad.

These are just some of the adjectives used on Facebook and Twitter regarding McClatchy’s decision to shut down the copy desk and design desk at The News & Observer. That work will be done at an editing/design hub at The Charlotte Observer, which is also owned by McClatchy.

McClatchy is offering the N&O journalists a chance to keep their jobs, but they must move to Charlotte to do so. They have until July 1 to decide. So far, not many seem willing to uproot their lives and families to do that.

I spent the bulk of my newsroom career at the N&O, so this news hit me hard. I am sad for my former colleagues, and I worry about the quality of the newspaper that I still read every day. I am also angry that hard-working journalists must bear the brunt of McClatchy’s debt and business decisions.

N&O reporters, editors and designers (both past and present) have been expressing similar feelings on Facebook. Here’s a sampling of what’s being said there:

  • The News & Observer’s copy editors and designers are the most creative, smart, funny, reliable, kind and hard-working journalists you could ever hope to meet. They deserve better.
  • My heart’s with my editing and design friends left with the unenviable choice between job and community. And the work that is being sent isn’t merely “production.” It’s editing, design, news judgment, awareness of local community standards and interests. The chain doesn’t clearly understand that, or these positions would remain in Raleigh.
  • Well done, McClatchy. I hope you choke on your precious cost savings.
  • How can you have a newsroom without the excitement that rips through a copy desk when you’re getting out a paper with late-breaking news that’s important to people?
  • Another risky thing about having all the copy editing and page design for several newspapers in one place is that when a hurricane blows through and destroys the building or at least causes a lasting power outage, there is no desk in another location to pick up the work.
  • One good thing about this N&O nightside mess: When we have an inevitable get-together (picnic, anyone??), no one will have to take a raincheck because “someone has to put the paper out.”
  • I think I know how the people of Bến Tre felt.
  • Our desk will be lost in The Cloud; we’ll be lost in a fog. Readers and advertisers will feel the loss too.
  • It makes me sick to think that copy editing and page design are considered factory work, but I know that my colleagues and I are journalists and professionals.
  • That’s our heart and soul leaving.
  • Who’ll save my ass now?

I wish my friends at the N&O the best. I hope that they find fulfilling jobs where they can put their journalistic skills to good use.