Q&A with Abbie Bennett, reporter at Connecting Vets

AbbieBennett-Mug
Abbie Bennett is senior reporter at Connecting Vets, a news organization that covers “the veteran experience through stories of inspiration and perseverance.” A 2012 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Bennett previously worked at North Carolina newspapers, including The News & Observer in Raleigh and The Daily Reflector in Greenville. In this interview, conducted by email, Bennett discusses her work at Connecting Vets, where she covers the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Department and Congress.

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

A. Every day is different for me, and since I cover the Hill, it really depends on what’s happening at the Capitol and at the VA, usually.

My early mornings start about the same no matter the day — checking emails (hoping to be surprised by a FOIA request return), Slack and Twitter. Since we are a national publication covering veterans and the military, we cover multiple time zones, and things can break overnight.

By about 8 a.m., I’m headed to the Metro either on my way to the office or more likely the Hill, especially if Congress is in session or hearings are scheduled. Sometimes I will stop on my way for a breakfast meeting with a source.

Around 9 or 10 a.m., depending on the day, our newsroom has its daily budget meeting, letting our editor know what we’re working on and what is expected to turn that day, along with coordinating social with our social media manager and appearances on our radio shows and podcasts. If I’m at the Capitol, I join via Slack or phone.

I spend the early parts of my day tracking activities on the Hill, including hearings, press conferences, votes and other scheduled events and planning interviews. Many of my interviews are done in our recording studios so they can be used in our podcasts and on our radio shows, so those take some extra planning. I keep a detailed planner and calendar to track all those moving pieces, and we have a shared team calendar.

I spend the rest of my day going to hearings, working on stories, either dailies — shorter stories that publish the same day — or long-form pieces.

I also help edit my team’s work, so I edit and socialize their stories, especially on days I’m not on the Hill.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Connecting Vets?

A. When a story is ready, it goes through at least two phases of line editing.

The writer drops it in our “drafts” Slack channel with proposed social share text. Usually, another member of our team will read over the story, check all of the metadata and assets (such as photos and embed codes) and then post a Slack message letting an editor know it’s ready for a final read. After the second edit, the story is published to our site (or sent to a network of company sites) and is scheduled for social.

Headline writing is a collaborative effort sometimes, though I hope to make it more so. Every reporter is expected to put a headline on their story in our content management system, and editors can make changes. Our executive producer has final say. We also workshop headlines together either out loud in the newsroom or on Slack.

Q. You previously worked at daily newspapers. What differences and similarities have you seen between those jobs and the one you have now?

A. Connecting Vets is a national digital publication that was originally founded under CBS Radio. CBS Radio was later purchased and merged with Entercom, the second-largest radio company in the U.S. We still partner with CBS media, too.

So I’d say the biggest difference is that my work is much more multimedia than ever before. In addition to video and photo that is such a big part of the digital experience at newspapers, I’m also working on audio and am a regular on radio and podcasts produced by my company. At my newspaper jobs, I was sometimes called on to be a guest on radio shows like WUNC’s “The State of Things” or a call-in for national television for big stories, but it was never regular. I certainly wasn’t producing any audio content myself.

Other than that, much of the work is similar. I report and write for our website and network, and then I talk about my work on air. My work is no different in style, quality or standard than it was at my newspaper jobs — the internet is a big equalizer in that way.

I think that if this was the 1980s, I’d have difficulty imagining a switch from print to radio, but now everything is print, in a way. And yes, we still follow AP and our own house styles.

Working with a smaller, more specialized team also gives me the opportunity to work on my writing, which I never had much luck getting feedback on at my previous jobs, especially at newspapers where cuts meant a lot less one-on-one time with editors. Sometimes it felt like the emphasis was on filling the paper or the site with content and not necessarily helping writers find their unique style and voice, and I missed that. I always want to get better at what I do.

Q. What advice do you have for college students interested in reporting and editing at a specialized site like Connecting Vets?

A. You need to have a passion for your specialization. We report on many topics, but it all circles back to veterans and the military.

I grew up an Army brat, moving all over the country and outside it, and much of my life was shaped by that lifestyle and community. All of us on the team are connected to the service in some way — spouses, military kids, active service members and veterans — and it means something to all of us to be a part of a publication dedicated to providing timely, accurate coverage of issues that touch that community.

In my last reporting position, I was covering anything and everything. While that was almost never dull, I didn’t have a chance to build sources and work a beat as I had in past reporting jobs. When your entire enterprise is a specialty publication, you definitely have that opportunity.

Beyond enthusiasm for your subject, you have to be willing to be an authoritative voice on the subject. You have to be willing to learn every single day and build a breadth of knowledge that readers recognize and trust, or you won’t ever build an audience.

That’s especially true for editing. You can’t fact check a story full of military terms and culture if you don’t understand it. And you certainly can’t relate to an audience who understands it all if you yourself don’t.

Connecting Vets has only been around about two years, so we’re working to build that authority and find that voice. We’re growing by leaps and bounds every day, building an audience in the millions while shining light on issues of critical importance to the millions of veterans, family members and advocates in the U.S.

My advice would be to find your passions and stay open to opportunities to combine a love for journalism with those subjects or be willing to suggest them yourself. Speak up in budget meetings, don’t be afraid to make ambitious pitches and work to serve those stories that don’t get the voice you think they should.

Read Abbie Bennett’s stories on the Connecting Vets website, and follow her on Twitter.

Where jazz and journalism meet

jazzworkshop
The UNC Jazz Workshop includes nightly concerts at Hill Hall. The performances are free and open to the public.

This week, I am stepping out of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and spending my days at the music department.

I am one of several instructors in the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop. It’s the fourth time that I’ve participated in the one-week program.

So what is an editor doing at a jazz workshop? I’ll work with about a dozen students who want to learn about digital journalism as part of their workshop experience. Among other tasks, they will interview workshop participants and cover the evening performances, which are free and open to all.

Here is our schedule:

Monday, June 17
Topic: Introductions. What is news? What makes a good post?
Exercises: Create a WordPress site at web.unc.edu. Post your impressions of this evening’s performance.

Tuesday, June 18
Topics: Exploring writing formats for digital media; basics of interviewing.
Exercise: Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.

Wednesday, June 19
Topic: Writing headlines and captions.
Exercise: Write headlines and captions.

Thursday, June 20
Topic: Writing for social media and live-tweeting.
Exercise: Use Twitter (and more) to cover the evening performance.

Friday, June 21
Topic: Pulling it all together.
Exercise: Use Wakelet to recap our week.

Thanks to Stephen Anderson, the workshop’s director, for the opportunity to work with these students. I’m looking forward to a fun week of music, words and images.

Eating well with style

farmersmarket
The Durham Farmers’ Market is one of several farmers markets in the Triangle area of North Carolina.

Two recent tweets have had my mind working — and my stomach growling — about some food-related style choices.

  • First, Merriam-Webster tweeted a link to this post about “farmers market” versus “farmer’s market” versus “farmers’ market.” The one near my home calls itself the Durham Farmers’ Market, going with the plural possessive. That’s fine, but when writing about such places in general, I prefer “farmers market,” using the argument that the farmers gather there but do not own the space. The AP Stylebook makes the same recommendation.
  • Second, BuzzFeed tweeted that it was changing its style from “doughnut” to “donut.” For fun, I conducted a Twitter poll to see what my followers thought, and “donut” prevailed by a comfortable margin. I also prefer that spelling, which strikes me as more contemporary. The AP Stylebook sticks with “doughnut” in its latest edition.

I look forward to eating a donut soon at the farmers market. Yum!

Student guest post: the evolution of copy editing in a college newspaper’s newsroom

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 16th of those posts. Charlotte Spence is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is studying media and journalism, with a concentration in editing and graphic design, and political science while minoring in Hispanic studies. She has worked at The Daily Tar Heel throughout her time in college.

Before coming to college, I had little to no interest in journalism, and I never imagined I would pursue any role in publishing news.

In a desperate search to up my involvement on campus, I joined the copy desk at The Daily Tar Heel during my first semester. This helped me discover a career path I was passionate about and meet incredible friends along the way. To this day, the fundamentals have stayed the same — except the evolution of the function of the copy desk.

I was very nervous for my first shift at the DTH. I had no experience in editing, and I did not know anyone who worked there at the time. I will never forget how red my face became after asking my editor, “What’s a CQ?” and hearing several chuckles throughout the newsroom. Thankfully, she patiently guided me through all of my queries and uninformed edits. She played a substantial role in my interest in journalism, definitely more than she will ever realize.

I will also never forget how archaic the whole production felt to me. We used iMac computers that had greatly passed their prime and Adobe InCopy software that had not been updated since those computers were purchased. Because we only had access to a few desktops, every copy desk member would alternate using them for each individual story. It was crowded, bothersome and inefficient.

While our office was very well-furnished and spacious, the structure of our newsroom did not do the copy desk any favors. We sat at computers alongside the management team, while the rest of the writers and editors worked together in the room next door. This fostered little collaboration between the copy desk and the writers, and made me feel even more intimidated to ask them questions.

After returning from a semester abroad in Spain, I found that the copy desk had completely transformed. We stopped using InCopy and began using a content management system called CEO. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, CEO combines the user interface of InCopy with the comment functionality of Google Docs. This made a huge difference as it gave copy desk members the freedom of mobility — to ask questions, to approach writers and to read their comments.

On top of this change, I discovered that the paper was relocating to an office on Franklin Street. This office had no dividing walls separating the different desks, which gave me the opportunity to meet people from different specializations in the newsroom and ask them for feedback. It was also much closer to my house, which was a nice bonus.

Surprisingly, neither of these changes was the most dramatic to occur that semester. I realized that the copy desk and the online desk had morphed into one. This meant that copy desk members were also tasked with writing the DTH’s social media posts. We were challenged with writing a one-to-two sentence post that summarized the story well and also enticed people to keep reading.

The position of the copy editor in a newsroom is a challenging one in that we wear a multitude of hats. We edit stories for Associated Press style, clarity and grammar. We write headlines and abstracts. And now, we write tweets and Facebook posts. In my four short years working at the DTH, I have seen that copy editors must own all of these hats — and wear them well.

While our work sometimes may go unnoticed, copy editors are the foundation of the newsroom. Throughout my time in college, I have learned how copy editors can serve a more dominant role in the production of news and how we can do so efficiently.

While the position of the copy editor is constantly evolving, it will never lose its purpose. Behind every good writer is a great editor.

10 years on Twitter

silentsam-tweet
This tweet from News & Observer reporter Jane Stancill is how I learned that demonstrators at UNC-Chapel Hill had toppled the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.

Ten years ago today, I joined Twitter, albeit somewhat reluctantly. It’s been a part of my daily life since.

As an editor and journalism educator, I exchange information about our field and post listings for jobs and internships. The community of editors on Twitter is particularly strong and supportive.

As a follower of current events, I get much of my news from Twitter. It’s how I heard that Silent Sam had been toppled, for example. I also look to Twitter for reaction and analysis of live events such as basketball games, stormy weather, government meetings and political debates. The memes are fun too.

Yes, Twitter has significant problems with harassment and disinformation, among other issues. It has made some updates that I dislike, including the change from 140 characters for a tweet to 280. But I plan on staying for years to come, still following.

Q&A with Amber Rupinta, ABC11 anchor

amber-rupinta
Amber Rupinta outside the ABC11 newsroom in downtown Raleigh.

Amber Rupinta is a reporter and anchor at ABC11 Eyewitness News. She has worked at ABC affiliate WTVD — which covers a section of North Carolina that includes Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville — since 2004. In this interview, conducted by email, Rupinta discusses her work at the station, the change from the morning broadcast to afternoons, and her experience in graduate programs in digital communication and meteorology.

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

A. A typical day in the ABC11 newsroom begins with a story shoot for me. We have a daily morning meeting with news managers and reporters that begins at 9 a.m. to pitch and assign stories to reporters.

I work on a little bit of a different reporting schedule due to my news anchoring duties at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. I set up my weekly story schedule on Fridays so I know where I need to be and when in order to get back in the studio in time to prepare for the evening news.

On a side note, working in the field means preparing for the elements as well, so every morning before leaving the house I have to pack a bag with a studio wardrobe while wearing appropriate clothing for the weather.

Depending on my story, I either meet my photojournalist at the studio and we leave together in a station vehicle, or I meet him on site to gather the story. If I make it back in time, I change clothing, mic up and jump on set at the end of the noon newscast to tease what we are working on for the news at 4 p.m.

As far as stories go, it runs the gamut for me. I can cover everything from human interest stories to celebrities or politicians in town to storms headed our way or a press conference with city officials about a big news story of the day.

The exciting thing about this job for me is that no day is typical and we can make a difference by bringing awareness to issues our community is facing. I switch gears quickly and often, and I learn new things all the time. The element of taking information and quickly breaking it down into an easy to understand story or format for viewers keeps it fresh, but I have to admit, sometimes the deadlines can be very stressful.

Working under the pressure of a deadline is constant, and it does take time to get used to working at that pace daily. There are also days when we have to interrupt programming for breaking news, so sometimes I am told to put on my mics and get on the set as quickly as possible.

We also have a lot of emceeing events in the community so I can spend a morning helping with a non-profit at a fundraising breakfast or an evening at a gala. Days are busy when your station covers 23 counties and more than 3 million potential viewers!

Q. In 2017, you moved from the morning to the afternoon broadcast. Why did you make that change, and how does time of day affect your work?

A. There were a few reasons I made the change to the afternoon broadcast. One of the biggest was it was a promotion and the opportunity doesn’t always come up for afternoon anchor jobs. And, in all honesty, as much as I loved the pace of a morning show and the camaraderie of a team that works at zero dark thirty, after answering a painful 2:30 a.m. alarm clock five days a week for nearly a decade, the timing was right to make a change and sleep(!) like a “normal” person again.

Moving to afternoons, I have found the pace of my day is drastically different. On a morning newscast, you hit the ground running, and most of your shift is spent on air. I would constantly monitor Twitter feeds or CrowdTangle for updates on breaking news.

Stories often are breaking and developing in the overnight hours, and that makes for a very fast-paced environment to deliver the news. The morning broadcast is on air from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., and we have to do a lot of updates to social media and weather and traffic.

Many morning viewers are watching in shorter time frames but need all the headlines and any issues affecting them before heading out the door. After the morning news, I would head out to gather a story and could be live in the noon news. The morning team works in a fast-paced environment, and it is very exciting.

The afternoon broadcast is also exciting, but the pace is a little less hectic compared with the morning news as we can monitor and watch a story develop throughout the day. As a reporter, getting ready for the afternoon broadcast brings the opportunity to take your time gathering interviews and crafting a story. It allows for more time to do research and investigate, and there are more resources in the newsroom during the day shift, which can help tremendously when you are in the field. It is also much easier to call people for interviews or information during “normal” hours, so that can make your job much easier.

Q. In the past few years, you earned a certificate in digital communication from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a certificate in meteorology at Mississippi State. What did you learn from those programs that you use in your job at ABC11?

A. I enrolled in the certificate program in digital communication at UNC-Chapel Hill because I felt I needed to sharpen my digital skills after working for more than a decade in the day-to-day broadcast news side of the business. I truly felt I was going to get left behind as the shift to digital became more apparent from an industry standpoint.

The certificate program was exactly what I needed to get a handle on new online tools and resources for investigative journalism and simply to uncover information a reporter needs. It also helped me sharpen my digital writing skills. There is a huge difference in how you write for a news broadcast, which is more conversational, to how you must write for digital. I hate to admit it, but, I was very rusty writing for digital or print-style format and the program really helped boost my confidence.

I was able to bring a lot of the information I learned back to the newsroom, and I am happy to say our entire newsroom now uses Grammarly, a program I learned about through the certificate program. Several co-workers also have inquired about and enrolled in the program as digital changes so rapidly. It is a great way to keep up with the tools and is completely doable while working.

As far as the certificate in meteorology through Mississippi State University, this was a program I began nearly a decade ago. I put it on the back burner when I took a job with ABC11. After covering numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters and living through massive property damage from huge storms, I realized I wanted to finish my degree for a better understanding of weather events that affect so many people.

I enjoyed learning about meteorology so much that I went on to earn a B.S. in geoscience. Not only did the program enhance my knowledge of understanding the atmosphere, but it also makes me a better journalist.

All of the programs I enrolled in help me cover weather events, which are always top news stories. They also help me report on multiple platforms, especially digital, which is the future of journalism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering a career in broadcast journalism?

A. The best advice I can give to students is to learn and understand the business.

Many students (I was also guilty) are so laser-focused on the journalism but never learn about how the company or business makes money. Understanding how ratings translate to revenue and how clicks are monetized through different digital platforms is crucial to understanding changes in operations, job expectations and job opportunities!

The TV industry — as well as newspaper and radio — are quickly changing due to digital content. The immediate, widespread impact of social media has changed how we approach stories, sped up our deadlines and made us rethink who is in our audience.  We can now shoot and edit in the palms of our hands, and go live anywhere with backpack units.

And now, more than ever, with all of that in mind, it is more important to be RIGHT, before being FIRST. Social media spreads like wildfire — and it’s next to impossible to put out that fire once it spreads. Get the facts, get a second source to verify the facts, cover the story truthfully with no bias, and go.

It’s an exciting career. You never know where you’ll end up. Just tell the story — don’t become the story.

Follow Amber Rupinta on Twitter and learn more about her on the ABC11 website.

Tweets tell AP to name the winner: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The results of an election in New York this week caught many people by surprise.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old newcomer, beat Rep. Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, in a congressional district that includes parts of Queens and the Bronx. Here’s how The Associated Press reported this news on Twitter:

tweet-nyprimary

Many Twitter users wondered why the wire service didn’t identify Ocasio-Cortez as the winner in the tweet, with many imploring the AP to “say her name.” Here’s a sampling of other responses:

  • When do you think she will be worthy enough for her name to be published?
  • How about: “Incumbent congressman defeated by 28-year-old progressive Latina activist, Boston University graduate, and entrepreneur Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”?
  • She has a name, y’all.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, the next member of the US House of Representatives: Young Challenger.

I understand the pushback, but I do not think the AP intended to slight Ocasio-Cortez by leaving out her name in this tweet.

Editors were probably using the news judgment that I did when I worked at newspapers: Names of people familiar to readers appeared in print headlines; lesser-known people were described by job title, geographic area or affiliation to a company, university, etc.

In this instance, Crowley is a high-ranking Democrat in the House. Ocasio-Cortez is running for office for the first time. He’s more prominent, so his name is in the big type.

That’s an old way of thinking, however. Print headlines typically have room for four to six words. Tweets have a generous limit of 280 characters, so editors at the AP had plenty of space to identify both candidates by their full names there.

Subsequent tweets by the AP include Ocasio-Cortez’s name, as they should. She won, and her name is now recognized across the political landscape.