Making a case for Ukraine on the front page

Earlier today, I posted this on Twitter: “Wondering what it will take to get Ukraine on the front page of US newspapers.”

That Tweet generated several responses:

  • “A visit from Miley.”
  • “Put a celebrity on a plane.”
  • “For it to be moved to Florida or somehow incorporate sports?”
  • “A time machine back, to say, 1975.”

That last response was from John Robinson, a friend and former colleague from my days at the Greensboro News & Record. He went on to say that American readers would be unlikely to read stories about unrest in a faraway country. Besides, coverage of international news is available on TV and online. Seeing those stories on the front page is a thing of the past.

I agree with Robinson to an extent. I do not believe that readers want to read inverted-pyramid stories about Ukraine’s protests and politics, and I am not suggesting that U.S. newspapers publish those stories on their front pages. But I do think that many people have a curiosity and concern about the world, not just their communities. I saw that this morning when I noticed that “Ukraine” was a trending topic on Twitter in Raleigh, N.C.

The situation in Ukraine appears to be at a boiling point today, with dozens of people killed on the streets of Kiev. But why?

That’s where newspapers (in print, but also on their websites and apps) can step up to provide context and background. How about we use today’s events as a news peg to publish a deeper explanation of what’s happening there? Write and edit an alternative story form (like this one from the BBC) to provide context and background to the images that people may be seeing on TV and in slideshows. Include a map and other visual elements. Give readers the big picture, like Charles Apple does with his focus pages in the Orange County Register.

It will take more than a standalone photo or an Associated Press wire story to adequately tell the Ukraine story on the front page. It will require a thoughtful approach that explains the situation there and goes beyond the daily developments. I hope some U.S. newspapers will rise to the occasion.

UPDATE: Apple joins this conversation on his blog: “Once a reader’s curiosity has been sparked, there’s no telling what can happen.”

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 Amy Seeley, communications coordinator at Autism Society of N.C.

Amy Seeley is communications coordinator at the Autism Society of North Carolina. Prior to taking that job, she worked as a copy editor and page designer at North Carolina newspapers, including The News & Observer in Raleigh and the Star News in Wilmington. She was editor of two of the N&O’s community newspapers, Midtown Raleigh News and North Raleigh News. In this interview, conducted by email, Seeley talks about her new job and the transition from newspapers.

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

A. I am part of the three-person communications department of the Autism Society of North Carolina, a nonprofit that has about 1,000 employees serving individuals with autism and their families across the state. My main focus is on editing and writing stories. I have a co-worker whose focus is design, and we report to the director of communications.

Obviously, with such a small department, we all do a little bit of everything. I feel like it is kind of an unusual communications job, because we have several audiences.

Many people probably think our big focus is on “awareness,” teaching the community about autism. That’s part of what we do, but our main audience is individuals with autism and their families, because if they don’t know what the Autism Society does, they won’t come to us for help. And of course, we do have the PR component, which we used to sneer at in the newsroom. But I have to say, asking for money and bragging about the good work of your organization doesn’t feel bad when it’s for a cause like autism!

Right now we are really focused on publicizing our Run/Walk for Autism fundraisers around the state – Raleigh’s is the last on Oct. 12. For each of them, I have looked for and written compelling local stories of how we as an organization have helped families.

These have been one of the most rewarding parts of my job so far, and also the hardest. As the mom of a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have a hard time hearing some of the stories of what families go through.

We then put those on our blog so our families can read them and promoted them to targeted local media through emails. Besides the stories, I am writing basic press releases as you would expect and editing emails that go out to participants. I also work closely with the development department to edit grant applications so we can keep adding sources of funding.

At the same time, we are in a period of expansion, adding services and coverage areas, so that means brochures need to be redone, pages added to the website, promotional fliers created, etc. Much of that work means I receive content from other departments, and I need to edit it to varying degrees; sometimes it just needs a few commas, and sometimes I need to rework it so people outside of the service professions will understand it. I am also the editor for our twice-yearly magazine, monthly email newsletters and an end-of-camp magazine, all of which are for our families.

So in a typical day, I might interview a parent, write a story about them, edit material from a co-worker, update our website, set up Tweets and edit a grant application. I am often working across multiple platforms, but it all amounts to one thing: making sure families know how we can help them.

Q. How does the Autism Society use social media to get its message out?

A. We have a Facebook fan page, where our designer posts almost every day, doing a great job of adding images to content to attract attention. We also have an active group page and use Facebook event pages for major events. We also post to Instagram and Pinterest, but not as often. Last spring, they did a PSA campaign on YouTube for Autism Awareness Month.

I set up most of the Twitter posts in advance, using it to highlight not just upcoming events around the state, but longstanding services that we offer, with links to our website. We gain several followers every day, and I want to make sure they know all the ways we can help.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with seeking Retweets for our Triangle race from influencers; people have been mostly willing to help us out. We also use Twitter to link to autism news.

We also have a blog, as I mentioned, where we share news about our organization as well as informative articles written by our staff members for families.

Q. Before taking this job earlier this year, you worked at newspapers for nearly 20 years. What skills were you able to take with you, and what did you have to learn anew?

I think the most important skills I brought to my new job were news judgment and storytelling capabilities. Just as at the paper we were always talking about how to get people to keep reading, one of my focuses here is how to get people’s attention.

We need families to hear our message so we can help them, and we need others to hear it so they might donate to help us continue our work. A compelling story pulls people in, no matter where they read it. (And it doesn’t hurt that I have some idea of what an editor might be looking for in a story pitch!)

Having been a copy editor, designer and community paper editor, I also had plenty of organization skills and practice at overseeing an entire operation as I shepherded projects through to completion. Of course, here we do not have projects every day!

And that brings me to skills I needed to learn and am still working on. Outside of newspapers, organizations have more time, and more people want to have a hand in projects. I am still getting a feel for the coordination that is necessary to keep things moving but still involve everyone the way that they want to be involved.

Q. Other newspaper reporters and editors may be looking for a similar transition. What advice do you have for mid-career journalists who are considering that change?

A. Many of the skills that journalists have are in demand. We are deadline-oriented, adaptable, technologically savvy and knowledgeable about many topics. Plus, we have strong writing and editing skills.

I would say to make sure you focus on skills rather than projects. When I was a newspaper designer, I used a portfolio to apply for new jobs. When I wanted to work outside of journalism, I needed to sell myself more than my work. (But it obviously depends on the job.) I would also recommend taking development courses in areas that might apply to jobs you’d like, especially for technology. It shows commitment as well as adding to your skills.

But most importantly, I would say to find your passion. In the newsroom, we were all united for a common cause: putting together the best product we could. By midnight.

Make sure when you are looking at a new position, you will be working on a topic in which you have interest, because the in-the-trenches-together camaraderie won’t be there. You probably won’t have a daily deadline, and you probably won’t have people cursing you out, and you probably won’t be under threat of layoffs together. You’re going to need something else to make it worthwhile.

For some, the paycheck might be enough. Just make sure you know whether you are one of those people.

Q&A with Gary Moss, managing editor of the University Gazette

Gary Moss is managing editor of the University Gazette, a publication for the faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has been at the Gazette since 1999 and previously worked as a reporter at The Fayetteville Observer for many years. In this interview, conducted by email, Moss discusses his job and the role of the Gazette as a news source for the campus.

Q. Describe your job. What do you on a typical workday?

A. The Gazette publishes twice monthly, which sets the pattern and rhythm of what I do. The day after we send one publication to press, the Gazette staff (there are three of us) spends an hour or so going over story ideas to develop for the next issue. Based on that discussion, the Gazette editor, Patty Courtright, sends out a list of story assignments to complete for the next issue.

I try to set up interviews as early in this cycle as I can in order to have more time to think about how to approach each story. This is particularly valuable with feature/profile writing.

I also must cover various meetings and special events, including the selection of our new chancellor this spring. I did the initial reporting for the UNC homepage when Carol Folt was hired as chancellor, then wrote a follow-up story the next week for the Gazette.

From time to time, I write Spotlight features for the UNC homepage, but more often, feature stories I have written for the Gazette are slated for that spot. The most recent example was the “Man of 1,000 faces” feature on Ray Dooley.

This past summer, I attended video bootcamp at the journalism school and, with great difficulty, managed to put together a video on Oliver Smithies to accompany the feature story that appeared in the Gazette. The video has been viewed nearly 500 times on YouTube, and I am told, helped draw eyes to the feature in our online edition.

Q. You previously worked in newspapers. What was the transition to the Gazette like?

A. I worked as a newspaper reporter for 15 years, and there are dimensions of that work that I loved and will always miss. I saw it as a license to talk to anybody I wanted, not so much to get the story first, but to imagine the story that was possible in each situation I encountered and to craft it in a way that was the most compelling for readers.

Generally speaking, a reporter who has to be told what to do is not worth much. Enterprise (leaving the office and coming back with a story to fill the next day’s pages) was both demanded and rewarded.

University Relations, on the other hand, was a top-down organization that doesn’t like surprises. Stories were planned with “strategic purposes” in mind. It amazed me that you had to get permission from a host of people to do some stories, and that some stories had to be vetted by people in positions of power.

Grudgingly, I came to accept that these protocols, cumbersome as they are and unnecessary as they can sometimes seem, serve a valuable purpose. University Relations, of which the Gazette is a part, exists to further the mission of the university and clarify and advance the messages of its leaders. Getting that charge right before we publish rather than afterward makes sense and builds a level of trust that allows us to do our work.

On the other hand, a place like Carolina is filled with an infinite number of fascinating people, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to tell some of their stories. I actually have come to believe that good storytelling is the highest form of PR precisely because it doesn’t look and feel like PR. And I think that form of PR is something that the Gazette, under Patty Courtright’s leadership, has come to embrace.

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work there, for print and online?

A. Patty Courtright edits all copy, although Courtney Mitchell, our associate editor, and I are called upon on production day to proofread. I write headlines for most of my stories, but Patty has the discretion to change them.

Q. We’re seeing more people go online for news and information. How is the Gazette addressing that? Will we continue to see a print edition in the years to come?

A. Courtney, who joined our staff nearly two years ago, designs and posts our online edition and has done great work in using social media (Facebook and Twitter) to draw attention to some of our content.

But if you think in terms of “market penetration” the Gazette has a unique franchise precisely because a copy of the Gazette arrives in the mailbox of all faculty and staff on this campus, filled with stories that could be written about any one of them. In that sense, it is the only publication that invites people from one department to take a peek inside another and learn something about it. It is the only publication that has the capacity to connect people to information they do not know they would be interested in until they actually start reading it.

At the same time, the cost of publishing and mailing these 12,000 or so “hard copies” is relatively small.

One thing I would like to see come to an end is the artificial fragmentation of our target audiences. Not internal or external. Not student or alumnus. Not faculty or staff. But interesting stories directed toward all of them in ways that generate and build connection.

The UNC homepage attempts to do that, but its window (the Spotlight) is too narrow to capture the rich tapestry of this place.

I’d like to see a publication to emerge (perhaps a digital magazine to be produced quarterly that could include great videos and pictures) that serves a “community” of people who feel connected to Carolina in some way.

Students should have access to stories about what alumni have done with their lives in order to help imagine what might be possible with their own.

Everyone who works here should be interested in the lives of the students and invested in some way in their hopes and dreams.

The great writing that Endeavors had done over the years about our research enterprise deserves to reach a wider audience.

Mixing all these different points of view together, I would argue, would inform and enlighten and entertain readers in ways that “specialized” publications cannot.

In such a world, the Gazette might disappear altogether.

Raleigh newspaper goes retro

birthdaypageThe News & Observer turns 119 today. To mark the occasion, the Raleigh newspaper published its front page in a retro style, and editor John Drescher wrote this column about its founder, Josephus Daniels.

The throwback design is a fun idea for a front page. A bit of old-timey language (“to-day”) is a nice touch.

It helps that the birthday comes on a Monday in August, a typically slow time for news. It’s a good opportunity to surprise your readers with something unusual.

The house ad at the bottom of page, however, feels incongruous in color and content. On a similar note, I knew about the retro page via Twitter before I fetched the actual newspaper off my driveway this morning:

Regardless, I wish the N&O a happy birthday. As a former editor there, I am proud to be a part of its history, and I look forward to reading it in print and online in the years to come.

UPDATE: The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has posted that first issue of the N&O from 1894.

Image courtesy of the Newseum.

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.

News on the radio

My friend Buck Rooster (no, not his real name) does a radio show each week on WCOM, a community-run station in Carrboro, N.C. The show is called Random Acts of Music, and each week, Buck explores songs tied around a theme.

This week, I will join him as  guest DJ, and the theme will be news. We’ll play songs about journalism, and we will also chat a bit about that topic and, more specifically, the newspaper industry. Print media have, as noted here, changed a lot since Rupert Holmes placed a classified ad in “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”

The show airs Thursday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. If you live in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, turn your dial to 103.5 FM. If you live outside the area, you can listen via the station’s website. I hope that you’ll tune in, and yes, we will be taking requests.

UPDATE: I regret to inform you that my gig as a guest DJ on WCOM has been postponed. We’ll try again on Thursday, June 27 Thursday, July 11.

FURTHER UPDATE: The show went very well tonight — good music and good conversation. Thanks to Buck Rooster and WCOM for your hospitality. Here’s a sampling of songs we played:

“Sunday Papers” (Joe Jackson)

“Mr. Reporter” (The Kinks)

“Fred Jones Part 2″ (Ben Folds)

“Want Ads” (Honey Cone)

“Six O’Clock News” (Kathleen Edwards)

“Yesterday’s Papers” (Rolling Stones)

“News of the World” (The Jam)

“Newspapers” (Stan Ridgway)

“Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley)

“On the Cover of the Rolling Stone” (Dr. Hook)