Student guest post: Being a reporter and editor at the same time

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.

Student guest post: Changing the world through community journalism

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.

Student guest post: Is print really dead?

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the second of those posts. Diane Adame is a senior journalism student with a reporting concentration at UNC-Chapel Hill. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue investigative or foreign reporting.

If I want to catch up on today’s news, I don’t look for the nearest newspaper stand or check my mailbox. Rather, I check my email for The Daily Tar Heel’s morning newsletter or go to The New York Times website.

As of June 2018, about 93 percent of adults read their news online. Newsletters, apps, podcasts and aggregation platforms like Apple News allow outlets to reach audiences like never before.

Conversely, my grandfather still checks his front porch every morning for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Despite newspapers’ crucial role in the American news landscape, the number of subscribers has decreased since the early 2000s. Furthermore, the increase in website traffic has caused the daily U.S. print newspaper circulation to decline by 11 percent in 2014.

Such declines have caused various industries and organizations to ask: Is print dead?

The general consensus? Think again.

In terms of when and how audiences consume content, they want convenience and greater flexibility.

Print offers a unique experience that includes pertinent and personalized content to generate the reaction that most marketers want. Business Journals contributing writer Tom Sikora says this benefits print for three reasons:

  1. Print establishes an emotional connection. Customized print materials captivate audiences and can feel more personal. Distinct features of a magazine cover or travel guide can help engage consumers and increase promotional efforts.
  2. Print triggers a response. Individualized formats and statements using data-driven insights can increase consumer response. Print has become a one-to-one customization that forms significant and cost effective and efficient campaigns.
  3. Print informs. For decades, print has been the primary form of information. It is reliable and can be kept for reference again and again.

Despite digital media’s effectiveness and expansion, the value of print will continue to reinforce its relevancy.

Some publishers claim that older populations are generally print readers while younger audiences are drifting away from print. However, Iris Chyi, associate professor at the University of Texas and a news researcher, proves otherwise.

Her findings indicate that of news readers between the ages 18 and 24, 19.9 percent read a print newspaper that week. Over 7 percent read news digitally.

But Politico’s media critic, Jack Shafer, said Chyi’s numbers “do not exist in a vacuum.”

In other words, print is alive and stabilized in multiple areas outside of journalism.

Since 2013, print book sales have increased while various genres of electronic books have declined. According to surveys, university students also prefer print textbooks to electronic ones.

As publishers raise the price of electronic books to promote the sale of print, the cost of print newspapers is increasing. Though the number of print readers has noticeably declined, many newspapers still earn most of their revenue from print.

But revenue is not the only concern that accompanies digital media. Many, including Chyi, have shown concern for society and its reading experience.

Multiple recent studies indicate that online reading is less immersive and entertaining than print reading. Online readers are also more likely to skim through multiple pages and websites. Print reading can be less distracting and thus increase comprehension.

Though I enjoy the convenience of digital news platforms, I may begin picking up my grandfather’s habit of reading print editions. Maybe the elders really are wiser.

A perfect score for this story package


This story package that ran on the front page of the Los Angeles Times last week is an all-around winner. Here’s why it succeeds:

  • The main headline matches the tone and content of the story. It uses a subtle and original play on words.
  • The deck headline builds on the main headline, providing the who, where and why of the story.
  • The caption identifies the photo’s subject and tells us something what we can’t see in the image.
  • The story is thoroughly reported and wonderfully written by Blake Richardson. It’s an uplifting profile that adds variety to the front page.

Overall, I give this story package a 10 out of 10. Well done!

Giving back to the community


The Thanksgiving edition of U.S. newspapers is the thickest of the year. The bulk of that consists of advertising inserts from stores promoting Black Friday.

My favorite part of the Thanksgiving edition of The News & Observer is about giving, not buying. The annual Triangle Gives section looks at the important work that charitable organizations do in this region of North Carolina.

Using this section, I will select several organizations to help. If you missed the print edition or live outside the N&O’s circulation area, you can read about Triangle Gives on the newspaper’s website. I encourage you to take some time reading the profiles there and considering donating to the organizations of your choice.

Exploring news deserts


My colleague Penelope Muse Abernathy is making news about a lack of news.

As Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, she is researching “news deserts” — areas of the United States that are running dry on information. Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have gone out of business, many of them weekly publications.

It’s a problem that speaks to the heart of our society. Here’s how Abernathy describes it:

The stakes are high, not just for the communities that have lost newspapers — or are living with the threat of losing a local newspaper – but also for the entire country. Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished.

The latest research by Abernathy and her team consists of two parts: “The Loss of Local News” looks at the trend of diminishing publications and readership. “The Enduring Legacy of Our New Media Barons” examines changes in newspaper ownership, including the role of private equity firms and other investment companies.

These reports are making news of their own. Brian Stelter of CNN interviewed Abernathy for a story and podcast. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, cited her work in this column about the importance of local news.

I encourage you to explore “The Expanding News Desert,” a website that collects Abernathy’s reports on this topic. There, you can see where the news deserts are, who owns the newspaper in your community and much more.

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.