Guest post: Why that ‘furry’ headline isn’t funny

 

furry-headline

Forrest Brown is an editor who has worked at numerous news organizations, including CNN.com, The Charlotte Observer and the Greensboro News & Record. This essay, shared on Facebook, is reposted here by permission.

What’s easy: To get on Facebook or Twitter and make fun of this headline.

What’s not easy: To go into work every night in what’s probably the most high-pressure, least-appreciated job at a newspaper these days — editing stories and writing headlines.

I imagine the person who wrote that headline is probably doing an amount of work that was likely spread among five or more people back around 1995. And you’re flying without a net. After all, you are the net.

He or she may have gotten that story just a few minutes before deadline. The editor may have been past deadline by a minute or two and just had to shove the page on out from a pub center hundreds of miles away.

He or she may have caught numerous typos and mistakes the very same night that a double “r” was typed in haste. I’d imagine the person knows the difference between “fury” and “furry.”

I loved copy editing, but it can be a downright vicious job at times. Your many triumphs are never noticed. Your rare mistakes are paraded out for mockery, including by — and especially by — other journalists. And most especially by journalists who tend to turn in mistake-laden copy themselves. The sloppiest ones really do seem to be the people who pile on the most when there’s mocking to be had.

You’re on a team that’s always first in line when they’re sharpening the ax for the next round of cuts. Do well, and no one ever notices you. Do poorly, and you will get noticed.

It’s probably the only newsroom job where you never, ever want to be noticed. At all. Which is why your team is first on the chopping block for cuts because all they know about you and your team is you mortified the paper six months ago one time.

Copy editing is — at best — a zero-sum game these days. The very best you can hope for: Don’t screw up big. Because you can wipe out a thousand good deeds with an extra R.

And I’m pretty sure when the publishers and managers do the post-mortem, they won’t be looking in the mirror when they ask how this can happen.

Resorting to print media

newsstand

The “newsstand” at the Club Med Cancun Yucatan.

I recently spent five days on vacation in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first time at an all-inclusive resort. At one price, I got food, drink, lodging, activities and air fare.

The price also included news in the form of a mini-newspaper available each day in the resort’s lobby. There were editions in English, Spanish and French. Each was eight pages, printed front and back on notebook paper.

The USA Times consists of news from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. It has the trappings of most print newspapers, including a crossword puzzle and baseball standings. Here’s the front page from the Sunday edition:

usatimes

The newspaper has no bylines or staff credits. It has no advertising. At the bottom of the back page, a textbox notes that it is produced by KVH Media Group. The company is based in the United Kingdom, and it edits such newspapers for hotels around the world.

In an age of smartphones and social media, I don’t know how long USA Times and its sister newspapers will be a part of the all-inclusive experience. But at a resort with weak WiFi, I appreciated getting some news from it during my stay.

Q&A with Karen Willenbrecht, editor at S&P Global Market Intelligence

willenbrecht

Karen Willenbrecht is associate coal editor at S&P Global Market Intelligence. She previously worked as a copy editor at newspapers such as Stars And Stripes, The Denver Post and The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Willenbrecht discusses her job at S&P Global and her transition from newspaper editing.

Q. Describe your work at S&P Global Market Intelligence. What is your typical day like?

A. Our teams are divided up by the industries we cover. My team covers coal and is fairly small: We have two editors, two U.S.-based reporters and a reporter based overseas.

Our day starts at 8 a.m., and my boss, the industry editor for coal, scours news sources for story ideas, assigns stories and checks in with the writers to form a coverage plan for the day. If he’s out, I handle that. Throughout the day, I edit stories as they come in and post them to our site. I also do some writing.

Q. The S&P office is in Charlottesville, Virginia, and you live in Raleigh, North Carolina. What is it like to work remotely?

A. Working remotely has benefits and drawbacks. I’ve found that people collaborate better when they’ve met face to face, and I’m grateful that my training was held in one of the main offices so I could meet most of my colleagues in person. Communication is obviously vital, and we use chat apps constantly. I also found it helpful to set up office space in my spare bedroom and not go in there when I’m not working, so I don’t feel like I live at work.

The biggest drawback for me is that I’m a fairly social person and I miss having people to joke with and bounce ideas off of. I’ve partly solved that by joining a co-working space, which has the added benefit of much better Wi-Fi and coffee than I have at home. I usually co-work two or three days a week and spend the other days at home. I’ve tried working from coffee shops, but the Wi-Fi is often unreliable or too slow. Plus, I wind up spending too much money and eating too many baked goods.

I also have two cats, who love it when I’m home all day. I have to be honest, though — they’re terrible office mates. I often tell them I’m going to file an HR complaint over their failure to respect boundaries.

Q. The company has a policy of paying $50 when a reader finds an error on the site. How does that affect the work of writers and editors there?

A. I was a newspaper copy editor for years and watched sadly as paper after paper decided that editing wasn’t important, so I was excited to work for a company that still valued editing and accuracy. And I like things to be right, so I enjoy being surrounded by people who feel the same and strive for that.

Our culture is all about transparency and accountability — every time an error is found in a published story, it’s logged and everyone responsible is notified, even if it’s caught internally. Part of our annual bonus is based on staying within our department’s budget for errors that result in a payout, so accuracy is a team effort.

Q. You previously worked at The News & Observer and other newspapers. What has the transition to a digital-only organization been like? What advice do you have for editors looking to make a similar change?

A. Transitioning to digital-only was easier than I thought it would be, in part because the N&O had shifted to a digital-first strategy, so it wasn’t a huge jump from “print is not our priority” to “print doesn’t exist.”

One nice thing, as an editor, is that there’s no extra work for converting a story from print to digital, since it was never set up for print. So, for example, there’s no need to write a print headline and a web headline.

I also find that the writers think differently about timing — no one has the holdover idea that they’re working toward a print deadline and don’t need to file before 6 p.m. Stories are filed as soon as they’re written, and the writers do things like inserting links to related stories that are often done by editors or web producers at a newspaper.

That would be my main advice for an editor looking to make that transition: You have to let go of the mindset of working toward a fixed deadline and adjust to a real-time environment. I still sometimes miss that adrenaline rush of racing against deadline and the wave of relief once everything is done, but it’s probably better for my blood pressure that I don’t do that anymore.

Student guest post: A first-hand look at a championship win in a student newsroom

dth-police

Staff members of The Daily Tar Heel hand out copies of the newspaper the day after UNC won the national championship in men’s basketball.

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Hannah Smoot is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She spends most of her waking hours working at The Daily Tar Heel.

On April 3, UNC won the NCAA national championship in men’s basketball. As a senior at UNC, this was a dream come true. As managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s independent, student-run newspaper, my feelings were a little more complicated.

More than anything, I was excited — this year, The Daily Tar Heel stopped producing a print newspaper on Tuesdays, but we had a special edition championship edition in the works.

Part of me was apprehensive at the same time. While we’re used to putting together a print paper every day, this would be an especially taxing night.

In preparation, we moved our print deadline to 2:30 a.m. — and missed it by about an hour. We were stuck waiting on writers in Phoenix (the site of the Final Four) to find Wi-Fi and send in their stories. In this situation, we had to figure out how editors can effectively communicate with writers and hold writers to a deadline.

Before we sent writers to Phoenix, we sat down and asked them what a reasonable deadline would be. We talked about how long it would take them to check stats, interview players and finish writing, and then brought that deadline to our printers and worked out a deadline.

Of course, the night of the game, this deadline was much harder to hold our writers to. Holding writers to a deadline can be difficult enough when they’re in the same room as you — but we realized just how hard it could be when they’re not even in the same state.

While we missed our deadline, we were able to get the pages to the printer in time to start handing out papers at 7 a.m. This was in part because we were firm with the writers — and made sure they knew why the deadline needed to be followed as closely as possible. Communication is always important, but in this case, over-communicating our needs with the writers was critical to printing a paper at all.

When we finally got the stories, we sped-read the stories, checking for accuracy in record speed. We went to bed, woke up at 7 a.m. and started handing out papers.

In all, I got about one hour of sleep and worked over 30 hours almost nonstop in two days. While it was one of the most exhausting days I’ve had at the DTH, working for a student newspaper during the NCAA championship was an incredible experience unlike any other Franklin Street rush.

How a college newspaper won the national championship

dth-line

People line up to buy extra copies of The Daily Tar Heel a day after the men’s basketball team won the national championship. (Photo courtesy of Jock Lauterer)

Like many college publications, The Daily Tar Heel is free and distributed via newsracks placed across campus and in downtown Chapel Hill. That makes it easy to pick up a copy on the way to class.

But that system broke down one day in 2009. The men’s basketball team won the national championship, and people grabbed more than one copy of the DTH from newsracks. Some snatched dozens and sold them on eBay. A lot of people missed a chance to get a souvenir of UNC’s victory, and the DTH missed a chance to make some money.

This week, UNC did it again, defeating Gonzaga to win the NCAA Tournament. But this time, the DTH changed the way it distributed this keepsake edition of the newspaper.

To do that, DTH staffers handed out newspapers at various locations on campus — one copy per person. If a person asked for more than one copy, the staff member told them that extras were available at the DTH office for $1 each.

“We wanted to ensure that everyone in the community got their one free copy and avoid people getting 50 copies,” said Erica Perel, the newspaper’s adviser.

The plan worked. Basketball fans got souvenirs. The DTH gave away or sold more than 50,000 papers compared with 10,000 on a typical day. That’s significant for a news organization that has struggled financially in recent years.

So, congrats to both groups of Tar Heels — the men’s basketball team and the student journalists. You both won big.

A newspaper as tocsin

The Washington Post made news this week with a new slogan at the top its homepage: “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Newspaper slogans are not new, of course. The New York Times has “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The Chicago Tribune is “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.”

In North Carolina, The News & Observer of Raleigh calls itself “The Old Reliable.” For decades, it has also published this quote from publisher Josephus Daniels:

tocsin

When I posted this image to Twitter in a discussion about the Post’s new motto, a few followers took note of “tocsin” in the quote. It is an unusual word, one that I looked up when I started working at the N&O many years ago.

A “tocsin” is an alarm bell or warning signal. Here is what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says about the word:

Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

A news organization does many things. It informs and entertains. It serves as a check on government and powerful institutions. And on occasion, it warns of dangers to our well-being: physically, mentally, emotionally and politically.

Like Daniels, I would wish that the N&O, the Post and other news organizations will continue to be “the tocsin” for years to come.

A newspaper helps with giving

trianglegivesThe Thanksgiving Day newspaper is typically the largest of the year, loaded with advertising for Black Friday. That’s true of The News & Observer, the paper I read every day.

My favorite section of the Thanksgiving edition of the N&O is Triangle Gives. In print, it consists of 40 pages of profiles of nonprofit organizations that do good things in North Carolina. Some, such as Habitat for Humanity, are familiar. Others, such as the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, may be less so.

I’ll use the Triangle Gives section to select a few organizations for donations during the holidays. I’ll ask my 16-year-old son to do the same.

And if you live in North Carolina, I’ll ask you too. If you missed the section in print, you can read it online. Either way, I hope you will follow the advice of one of the headlines in Triangle Gives: “To do the greatest good, write a check or volunteer.”