10 years on Twitter

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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.

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Q&A with Amber Rupinta, ABC11 anchor

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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:

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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.

 

Jazzed about journalism

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Next 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 third 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.

Here is our schedule:

Monday, June 18
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 19
Topics: Exploring writing formats for digital media; basics of interviewing.
Exercise: Interview a workshop participant and post a vignette about them.

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

Thursday, June 21
Topic: Writing headlines and captions.
Exercise: Write headlines and captions.

Friday, June 22
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 an exciting week of music, words and images.

Q&A with Sergio Tovar, social media specialist at Duke University

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Sergio Tovar is social media specialist at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He previously worked as a sportswriter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. In this interview, conducted by email, Tovar discusses his job, the transition to higher education from news and life as a Tar Heels fan in Blue Devils country.

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

A. I’m in charge of social media for Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. That means I spend a large part of my day promoting our content, monitoring our different channels and covering school events. I also look at analytics to figure out long-term strategy to help us recruit prospective students and reach the overall community.

Aside from social media, I’m responsible for writing stories, press releases and other internal communication highlighting our students, faculty and research while also editing our student blogs. I also help with digital marketing and advertising as well as video and multimedia production.

I pretty much do a little bit of everything, and no two days are the same, which is something I really like.

Q. Before working at Duke, you were a reporter and online producer at The Charlotte Observer. What was that transition like?

A. I like to tell people that being a journalist today requires you to wear so many different hats that it makes changing jobs – and picking up new skills as you go – a little easier.

I already had experience with a lot of what I do now while working in the newsroom, so that made it a pretty easy transition. I had no experience in higher ed, so I did have to learn about how the school operates, how recruitment works as well as other aspects of the field.

Honestly, the biggest transition was learning to take my time to work on projects. Working for an online-first publication, you pretty much have an ongoing deadline and are constantly trying not to get beat by a competitor. That’s a hard mentality to break away from.

Q. You’re a 2009 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What have you learned on the job?

A. I became a much better writer as a student there, and no matter what my job is, I’ll continue to use that every single day.

Knowing how to condense a big idea and communicate it to a specific audience is very important to my job. If you ever have to translate a scientific paper into everyday English, you’ll know what I mean. Everything from knowing how to interview people to some of what I learned in media law is still applicable to what I do.

Dating back to my Daily Tar Heel days, I learned the importance of knowing how to multitask, especially when you’re working under deadline. I’m constantly working on a few projects on top of my day-to-day responsibilities, so I can’t even begin to describe how important having that skill is in the real world. Other than that, I’ve learned to be flexible, to always take time to learn from my co-workers and to never stop looking for new skills.

Q. So you work at Duke but went to UNC. What’s your life like on Carolina-Duke game days?

A. I’m a huge Carolina fan, so I try to be as obnoxious about it as possible. If you take one look at my desk, there’s no question about where I went to school, and on game day I’m more than likely wearing Carolina blue to reinforce the point.

I don’t really work directly with people who care all that much about the rivalry, so I don’t catch as much flak as you would imagine. We also have several other Tar Heels in the building, so I have some backup.

Aside from a little bit of friendly trash talk, the worst thing has been having a co-worker hand deliver a copy of The (Duke) Chronicle after losses. When UNC wins, I don’t return the favor. I just show up in Carolina blue again.

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.

Q&A with Gabe Whisnant, digital editor at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

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Gabe Whisnant is assistant managing editor, digital, at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com in South Carolina. He previously worked as a news editor at The Shelby Star and sports editor at The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Whisnant discusses his job in Spartanburg, news coverage of the Carolina Panthers training camp and the skills journalism students need to succeed.

Q. Describe your job at the Herald-Journal. What is your typical day?

A. I try to spend the first of the morning looking at our page views, visitors and other metrics over the last 24 to 48 hours via Parse.ly and Google Analytics. Whether our numbers are up or down, I check … Is the website fresh? Is there something that may be buried on the site that should be moved to a more prominent position? Are there stories or photo galleries on news partner sites that may be valuable or interesting to our readers? Are our social media pages fresh?

I keep an eye on the AP South Carolina wire to get the top state news on our site. The AP moves amazing photos, so I search and post regional and national galleries that may grab some attention. Being the first editor in the building, I also work closely with the morning crime/cops reporter on editing and posting breaking or overnight local news.

I try to spend the last half of the day looking at goals and objectives for the week and month ahead. We have in-house and corporate web/mobile traffic, video/audio and social goals we want to meet, so it pays to look at progress daily so we’re not playing catch-up.

I monitor our site and social media feeds on nights and weekends, but the goal is to have a plan in place where that is at a minimum. Our night/weekend editors do a great job and deserve a lot of credit for keeping the site fresh.

Q. You previously worked at newspapers in Shelby and Gastonia, among others. What was the transition to a fully digital job like?

A. Given the vast capabilities we have with web projects, video and audio – and the 24/7 power of social media and mobile – I am fortunate to be in a position to point my focus forward in web-first journalism. I do miss planning A1s and Sports fronts – there is something really special and sacred about that daily task – but digital news is the present and future, of course. I would like to think I was already working with a “digital first” mentality as a news and sports editor, but when you’re having to think about print and pages, that can be easier said than done.

During our 3 p.m. budget meetings – when the other editors are talking about print placement — I give a rundown of our page views for the day, thus far, and we discuss website placement and social media timing for articles and galleries.

Good place to note, the Herald-Journal works closely with Shelby, Gastonia and Hendersonville within a Western Carolinas cluster of the larger GateHouse Media Carolinas group. All of the above share and communicate regularly – from tagging each other’s sites on galleries to long-term projects like Travel in the Carolinas.

Q. Spartanburg is host to the Carolina Panthers training camp each summer. How does the Herald-Journal prepare and cover that event?

A. Last year was my first working, training camp experience, so I had a lot to learn and get up to speed quickly. Across departments, we start planning months in advance.

Our sports staff focuses on the X’s and O’s, roster cuts and press conferences at Wofford College. Before, during and after camp, the news side writes about the Spartanburg city/business/restaurant impact of hosting training camp as well as special fan and event features. Our photo staff stays busy shooting and creating galleries of all of the above.

Where I saw a small void in our camp coverage was a full saturation of social media, so I helped fill in that gap with Facebook live videos, Instagram posts and making sure everything we produced ran through our GoUpstate Twitter feed. With an event that draws over 100,000 people per year, we want to own Panthers camp from all local angles.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in digital news?

A. Be diverse in your skills (but you probably already know that). Yes, you still need to be solid in information gathering and writing, but be prepared to know or learn how to do all-things reporting – photography, video, audio, special projects. If/when you find a niche in which you are more proficient or enjoy, follow it, but also stay well-rounded.

Don’t be hesitant to be a leader within your newsroom, even if you are a newcomer. If you’re picking up on a trend or something new for the web or social your newsroom needs to incorporate, talk to your editors. They will appreciate it.

Keep following other reporters and editors on social media – in and out of your market and of publications of all sizes and forms. We are in an industry that has a great ability with forums to learn from each other. Never stop reading and learning.