Q&A with Kristin McKnight, copy editor and page designer at International NYT

Kristin McKnight is a copy editor and page designer at The International New York Times, a newspaper previously known as the International Herald Tribune. She has also worked at the Chicago Tribune and the Irish Independent. In this interview, conducted by email, McKnight talks about her job and her newspaper’s name change as well as what it’s like to be an American journalist living abroad.

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

A. I work as a copy editor and designer based out of the Hong Kong office. I fill a variety of shifts, and so my start time can vary from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A typical day on the layout shift is either being assigned to design finance or news. If you’re assigned news, you’re also in charge of designing Page One (PDF) and making editorial decisions on skyboxes, photos and refers. You also keep track of page flow throughout the night. We have two designers to design the first edition, with another two designers on staggered shifts to tweak layout for later deadlines.

A typical day on the copy desk is usually being assigned stories from either news or finance and occasionally some features or sports copy. Any story that has already run in the New York or Paris editions receives a quick read, and new material is gone over with a fine-tooth comb by both the rim editor and slot. After a page is finished, it is printed by the designer and then proofed in its entirety by another copy editor.

Later shifts in the day involve doing a combination of copy editing, tweaking and copying pages and updating our news app.

Kristin McKnight and other staff members of The International New York Times bring in the paper's new name with some celebratory cake.
Kristin McKnight, center, and other staff members of The International New York Times bring in the paper’s new name with some celebratory cake. (Photo courtesy of Kristin McKnight)

Q. The International Herald Tribune is now The International New York Times. What is behind the change, and how has it affected what you do?

A. The name change was a move to strengthen and consolidate the brand of The New York Times and bring it to an international audience.

We were all sad, of course, for The International Herald Tribune’s name to change because it was a great paper and had been for a long time. But what we’ve come to find is that it is still the same great paper, just under a different name.

Not much content-wise has really changed besides our style guide being updated to match New York’s. The only real shift is that there is now a stronger focus on digital production.

We recently started copy editing posts for our new Sinosphere and India Ink blogs, and we all received iPad minis the week of the name change. We also gained a printing deal with The Japan Times, which caused the deadlines for our first edition to move up by an hour and a half. Our first edition’s deadline is now at 6:30 p.m., rather early for a newspaper, and our last is at 11:45 p.m.

Q. What is it like being an American journalist living in Hong Kong?

A. The great thing about being an expatriate and a journalist in Hong Kong is that the news media scene is small here. I’ve been able to make contacts in large publications like The Wall Street Journal, Time, CNN, etc., which would have been much harder to do in the U.S.

There’s a club where everyone gathers mainly for journalists called The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and stepping inside makes you feel as if you’ve just been transported to a 1940s Hong Kong. The Asian American Journalists Association is also active, and it holds a conference here every year.

Overall, Hong Kong is a great place to live; the city is safe and is a perfect jumping off point to travel around Asia. I get a lot more vacation living abroad than I ever would working in the States, and I think that keeps journalists here and adds to a high quality of life.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008. What skills you learned there are you using, and what new ones have you picked up since then?

A. One of the most important skills I learned at the journalism school was to be trained in more than one area. My focus was visual communication, and I was able to take classes in copy editing, graphic design, multimedia and infographics.

One of the managing editors at the Chicago Tribune, where I used to work, once said to me that it was very rare to find a job candidate that was skilled in the three main areas of newspaper production: copy editing, page layout and graphics. He said that a candidate who was skilled in two of those areas would be beneficial for the company, but a candidate that was skilled in all three areas would stand above.

I have definitely found this advice to be true. Though getting any job is a combination of luck and hard work, my training at UNC gave me a solid foundation to be a competitive job candidate.

A skill that I have learned since leaving school is not to be afraid to take calculated risks and to be resilient when it comes to your career.

After I graduated from college in 2008, I backpacked in Europe for the summer and made the decision to move to Ireland. Everyone told me I would fail miserably and not be able to find a job, but it had always been my dream to live abroad. I knew I had to try.

After about two months of applying to jobs, I wound up landing a position at one of Ireland’s leading newspapers, The Irish Independent, as a graphic artist and copy editor. It was this international experience, in turn, that made me stand out when I was applying for a job at The Chicago Tribune and later at The International Herald Tribune.

Read Kristin McKnight’s blog and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Q&A with Jeff Gauger, executive editor of the News & Record

Jeff Gauger is executive editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. He previously worked as an editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. In this interview, conducted by email, Gauger discusses his transition to North Carolina and the News & Record’s future under new ownership. 

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

A. I’ve not met the typical day yet, which is one of the blessings of my job. The one constant, I suppose, is meetings — news meetings, small-group staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with staff, department-head meetings with my peers and the publisher, meetings inside and outside the office with people who want my attention or with folks whose time I’ve sought. Today, I’ve had two meetings, a light day. Tomorrow, four. The next day, seven.

I spend time daily reading our content before and after publication. I also read other news websites and news trade publications. I look for talent, even when we’re not looking to hire immediately. I interact with readers by email and phone.

There’s always nitty-gritty administrative stuff: handling vendor contracts, dealing with occasional personnel issues, etc. And I write for my blog and a Sunday column, although I have and spend less time writing than I’d like.

I try, with more success some days than others, to make time to think. It’s easy with the daily scrum in a newsroom to stay busy. It’s harder to discern what not to do now to make time for thinking — about content next week or next month, about how to meet the business challenges we face, about how to succeed in a competitive market.

Q. Before coming to Greensboro in 2012, you worked at newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. What has it been like to make the transition from the Midwest to the South?

A. I also worked for a newspaper in Illinois and for a handful of weekly newspapers in my home state of Washington. By far, though, I spent most of my career in the Midwest before moving to Greensboro.

The transition has not been difficult, with one exception. My newspaper career has taken me to five states and eight communities. I’ve learned that there are good people everywhere, good things about every community and problems in every community.

I’ve also learned that no one is harder on a community than the people who live there. I choose, consciously and deliberately, to like where I live. It isn’t hard. There’s always much to like.

The Midwest and South (with Greensboro and a few trips around the state as my reference points) have much in common, including a continuing appreciation for agriculture and the land. They share a hard-to-define sense of being places apart, proud of what they are and sensitive about hints of disdain from what they view as urban elites elsewhere.

In the Midwest, it’s sensitivity about what’s implied by the phrase “flyover country.” I’m less sure how to describe it for the South, so I won’t try to put words to it. Also, people in both regions embrace family and tilt red on the political spectrum.

There are differences, of course. Greensboro has more newcomers, more residents who have moved from other states, than the parts of the Midwest where I’ve lived. The Midwest has lots of churchgoers, but Greensboro has more. Labor unions, including those representing government workers, are a much bigger presence in the industrial Midwest (not in Nebraska, a right-to-work state).

Parts of the Midwest have stunning outdoor wonders (don’t knock Nebraska as a flat state if you haven’t seen its remarkable Sand Hills or Ohio as an industrial rust belt if you’ve never driven through the lush rolling hills of the Holmes County Amish country), but little with profiles as high as the Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Civil War remains a living presence in the South, which is a revelation to a newcomer, even to one who lived nearly five years in Ohio, which paid heavily in blood during that war. I suppose my surprise stems in part from my roots in Washington, which achieved statehood only in the 1880s. From Washington, the Civil War can seem an abstraction because the Pacific Northwest is so far from where the war occurred. The war is not an abstraction here.

The exception to my otherwise comfortable transition to the South was a column I wrote just a month ago. The column presented fictional characters discussing issues undertaken by the N.C. legislature.

My presentation prompted criticism from readers who suggested I was an elitist outsider mocking North Carolinians. A “Condescending Ahole,” according to one email that now hangs on my wall. While many readers praised the column, the depth of the critics’ anger surprised me.

In every community where I’ve worked, in every state including North Carolina, people have said: “Folks won’t think you belong here until you’ve lived here for 30 years.” From the new scrapes and bruises of my recent experience, I think I can say that’s more true in the South.

I’m an outsider, and for my critics, I played to type. I learned a lesson.

Q. You’ve announced a reorganization of the Greensboro newsroom, including new hours and roles for some copy editors. What’s the reason for the change, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

A. We blended three separate copy desks — news, features sports — into a single “universal” desk. The goal was to reduce staff for print page-making and to reassign those positions to digital work and news-gathering. The change permitted us to create new positions for online news editors and a community engagement editor. We also added a business news reporter.

The changes were difficult, but necessary. Copy editing and page design are important crafts. They’re also more scalable, within limits, than news-gathering.

With finite resources, we must continue to find ways to devote a greater proportion of our human effort to making and presenting a digital report and to engaging with readers and consumers. Our changes got us closer to those goals.

Q. The News & Record was bought earlier this year by Berkshire Hathaway. What does that mean for the newspaper, and what do you see as the future of the News & Record in print and online?

A. It means resources. Unlike many newspaper companies, Berkshire Hathaway is well capitalized (newspapers account for little more than flea in its family of companies, hardly enough to make a blip in its earnings reports).

No one is handing out bags of cash, and there’s no less focus on expense control. But we have replaced worn-out equipment, and we are talking about investing in new print and digital products with a seriousness I haven’t seen in newspapers since about 2006.

It means standardization of some vendor relationships and consolidation of some back-shop functions that the consumer doesn’t see.

It means cooperation and collaboration among Berkshire Hathaway newspapers in North Carolina, which include the Winston-Salem Journal, the Hickory Daily Record and the Statesville Record & Landmark. Former competitors are beginning to share content. In time, we’ll see deeper, more meaningful cooperation.

Finally, and most importantly, it means focus on going all-in with digital. We’ll have a strategy and a roadmap for getting to the mountaintop, with technical support to provide the needed tools.

UPDATE: In April 2015, Gauger resigned as executive editor of the News & Record.

Jumping into the pool on Election Night

Here’s how I see the presidential election going tonight. Yes, I could be wrong.

Election Night on a newspaper’s copy desk is characterized by long waits for results from reporters and wire services, followed by a frenzy of editing and headline writing.

This year, I will spend Election Night elsewhere, getting results online and watching coverage on television. The morning after, I’ll look for my newspaper to tie it all together and tell me what it all means. It could even be a keepsake.

Free pizza for the newsroom was one of the traditions of Election Night in the newsrooms where I worked. An “election pool” was another one. Those of us who chose to participate predicted the outcome of various races. The winner claimed bragging rights of being politically astute, although luck may have been involved too.

I can’t join one of those newsroom pools tonight, but I will offer my predictions here. To be clear, this is who I think will win, not who should win. My voting preferences are between me and my ballot. And away we go:

FEDERAL RACES

President: Obama, with 303 electoral votes

Senate, Connecticut: Murphy

Senate, Florida: Nelson

Senate, Massachusetts: Warren

Senate, Missouri: McCaskill

Senate, Nebraska: Fischer

Senate, Virginia: Kaine

CONTROL OF CONGRESS

HOUSE: Republicans, 230-205

SENATE: Democrats, 53-47 (independents there usually caucus with Democrats)

N.C. RACES

Governor: McCrory

Lt. Governor: Coleman

Auditor: Wood

7th Congressional: McIntyre

8th Congressional: Hudson

13th Congressional: Holding

Keeping the editorial page local

When I read recently that the editorial page editor of The News & Observer is retiring after the 2012 election, I was nervous. What would happen next?

In recent years, the Raleigh newspaper and Charlotte Observer (both owned by McClatchy) have combined some areas of the two operations, including coverage of state government and sports. In 2011, the copy desk at the N&O was dissolved, with those tasks shifted to an editing/design hub in Charlotte.

So that’s why I was nervous: Would McClatchy outsource editorials and column writing to Charlotte as it it had done with editing and design? Would the N&O lose its local flavor in the editorial pages as it has on occasion on the news pages?

Thankfully, the answer is no. This week, my friend and former N&O colleague Burgetta Wheeler posted a note on Facebook that she will serve as associate editor of the editorial page. Ned Barnett, a city editor and former sports columnist at the N&O, will be the editorial page’s editor.

I worked with both of them in my time at the N&O. They are thoughtful, talented people who will excel as the leaders of the editorial pages. And they live here.

Congratulations to Ned and Burgetta. And thanks to McClatchy for keeping the editorial page local.

 

 

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.