Quoted and tweeted out of context

One of the topics in my editing course is about the ethical use of quotes in news stories. Editors should ensure that reporters quote sources completely and accurately.

On occasion, a celebrity or politician will accuse a news organization of taking a quote out of context. Typically, this is an attempt to deflect criticism for an outrageous statement.

But sometimes, a news organization does use a person’s quote out of context, warping its meaning. Here is an example that I have used in class for several years.

A news story quoted Brad Pitt about his early days in Hollywood. Before getting into acting, he drove strippers to parties. One of the women recommended an acting coach who proved instrumental in Pitt’s rise to stardom.

The interviewer asked: “So a stripper changed the course of your career?” Pitt’s response facetiously: “Strippers changed my life.”

The resulting headline from The Huffington Post takes this quote out of context:

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It’s misleading and unethical. It’s clickbait. It’s a good example of what not to do.

My example is stale, however. I’ve been looking for a new one. And this week, Fox News provided me with a fresh example of a quote taken out of context.

Jake Tapper of CNN said this on the air as his cable network covered a terrorist attack in New York City: “The Arabic chant ‘allahu akbar’ — ‘God is great’ — sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances, and too often we hear of it being said in moments like this.”

Here’s how Fox News reported Tapper’s remark via Twitter:

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The tweet warps Tapper’s statement, implying that he approved of the violence in New York. Tapper responded on Twitter:

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Fox deleted the tweet, but a story about it stayed on its website. Fox host Sean Hannity repeated it on the air.

I feel bad for Tapper. No one likes to be misquoted or have their words distorted for any reason, including political attacks.

But I want to thank Fox News for this tweet. It’s a beautiful example of what not to do.

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Q&A with Travis Greenwood of Movie Heds

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This headline from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is among Travis Greenwood’s favorite examples of headlines from the movies.

Travis Greenwood is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. He recently started a Twitter account called Movie Heds, which collects newspaper headlines from movies. In this interview, conducted by email, Greenwood discusses the origins of Movie Heds and some his favorite cinematic headlines.

Q. What inspired you to start Movie Heds? What are you hoping to achieve?

A. The roots of Movie Heds can be traced back to a previous job with a pair of partnered e-commerce sites, one of which had an identity anchored around movies and pop culture. Among other responsibilities, I was charged with developing special content projects -— what some might call linkbait (not to be confused with its more defamed cousin, clickbait) — and this included shareable things like illustrations, tutorials, and “supercuts,” or videos edited around movie tropes.

(A playlist of said videos can be seen here; my favorites remain the two at the top, which are cobbled together from the best seen-on-screen T-shirts.)

While none of these really broke out in a major way, most racked up view counts in the five or six figures and surfaced at places like Digg, io9, VICE and Sports Illustrated. But for every video I made, there were probably at least three or four that never made it past the conceptual stage, and one of them was … wait for it … newspaper headlines.

For whatever reason, I kept returning again and again to the idea this year, but I was hesitant to act on the impulse because these projects can be time-consuming to research and edit and the genre has lost its luster — fewer sites cover them now. And because newspaper scenes can be kind of static, I wasn’t sure a 3- or 4-minute clip consisting entirely of them would be all that compelling.

But that’s when it hit me: a Twitter feed, publishing two to three times daily, would be a better format for this kind of content. (Plus, the debate around “fake news” gave it a topical and convenient peg, but that’s mostly just for yuks on my end.)

After a bit of research, I settled on the current handle, penned a pithy little bio and started posting, and well, here we are. It’s been fun to watch a community come together around the account! It’s a bit of insider baseball, so I’m not sure it’ll ever attract a mass following, but the early returns have been promising.

As for goals, this is largely a pet project, but it’s also one that, depending on the potential employer and role, I’ll include in my portfolio to showcase my editorial skill set (I currently freelance as a writer and editor for Cuteness.com on the trending animal beat, but I’m hoping to transition back to full-time work in 2018).

Q. What makes an effective headline in a movie?

A. Ah, good question … and I’m not sure I have the authority to say. While I’ve been writing and editing on the web for 10+ years now (with bylines at publishers like Spin, Yahoo, and BuzzFeed) and can turn the occasional gem, I don’t actually have experience working in print.

But that’s where the community comes in. One of the feed’s followers, @LeCineNerd, is a professional copy editor, and she routinely shares technical critiques that touch on things such as style, formatting, layout and the like. While this was unexpected on my part, I totally welcome insights like this that afford a closer look at how professionals would approach the challenge of creating prop newspapers.

It’s interesting because a lot of the older examples — like this one from “Rocky III” — feature filler text and elements that are completely off-topic or unrelated and were probably splashed together by the art department in a pinch. My guess is that the filmmakers never expected the audience would look deeper, but in the age of streaming and Blu-ray, when every frame can be frozen and inspected, these things fall apart under closer scrutiny. Newer films seem to have course corrected for this but you still find some strange juxtapositions.

Q. What are your favorite movie headlines?

A. My favorite prop headlines skew funny and would include “Goofy Cleared Of Spy Charges” from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Disaster Seen As Catastrophe Looms” from “The Iron Giant” (a fantastic sight gag that works in context — the character reading it pulls the paper close as a futile defense in the face of a crashing wave, which is mirrored on his sunglasses — and is itself a callback to something similar in “Lady And The Tramp”), and a pair from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (“Drunken Billionaire Burns Down Home” and “Billionaire Absconds With Entire Russian Ballet“) that are funny little asides but help flesh out the world-building.

I’ll also always love the one from “Old School” because it provides denouement for Jeremy Piven’s character (an obnoxious college dean who gets his comeuppance) and it’s one of the first headlines-in-film that I really noticed.

Q. You’re focusing on print examples so far. Do you expect to include digital headlines or tweets in your collection as news organizations move in that direction?

A. This is actually something I’ve been wrestling with internally. I’m interested in curating a balance of headlines in all of their various forms (in part because directors use them in so many ways), and this includes print, photocopiesmicrofiche, digital and whatever other forms they might take.

Aside from one scrolling headline pulled from “The Matrix,” I haven’t included digital headlines in the programming yet, but that’s just because I’m working through a long list of movies with print heds. Look for more of these as the project matures!

Follow Movie Heds on Twitter and see examples of Greenwood’s other work at his website.

Q&A with Elaina Athans, reporter at ABC11-WTVD

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Elaina Athans is a reporter for ABC11-WTVD, a North Carolina TV station that covers Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville. A graduate of Hofstra University, Athans previously worked at stations in New York and Maryland. In this interview, conducted by email, Athans discusses her job, including how she uses social media in her work.

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

A. I’m a general assignment reporter, and all in all, my day is hectic!

I usually come in around 9:30 in the morning and pitch stories I’d like to cover that day or I think would play well on social media. After getting assigned around 10:00 or 10:30, I’m out the door.

I’ll make calls in the car driving to a story and research my piece. I could be live in the noon show, which means there’s a tight window to gather information. I will try to grab interviews as soon as the car is parked and then will flip the sound around for noon.

After the midday show, I have the next few hours to continue gathering, tweet and grab new elements for our evening shows. In between writing my stories for broadcast, I will write a separate web version and send that along to our web department to post online.

Once I’m done with my on-air duties, I’ll also send along a “Night Note” detailing all the information I’ve collected throughout the day and important contacts I’ve made. This is meant to help my colleagues who might be assigned to a follow-up story down the road.

Q. In addition to being on air, journalists at stations like yours also write for the web. What are the challenges of working across formats?

A. I think it can be overwhelming at times, and it’s hard to pace yourself. I have to prepare stories for broadcast and push information out on social media at the same time.

Balance is key. You can’t go hard in one area and wane in the other.

Q. You are active on Twitter, and you have a professionally oriented page on Facebook. What role does social media play in your reporting?

A. To start with, I turn to social media to find stories to pitch. It’s the only place I go for enterprise pieces, to be honest. Folks are always sounding off about what’s going on in their communities or cool things that are happening around town.

I also use it for news gathering. I will incorporate tweets or Facebook posts into my stories. If I’m covering a political story, for instance, the first thing I’ll do is check is Twitter to see if the Senate leader, House speaker, governor or other elected officials are commenting.

When I first started in this business, you had to go through a press rep to get comment on every issue. That is not the case any more.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in breaking into broadcast?

A. Watch the markets or cities you aspire to work. If your dream is to be in Los Angeles, watch how the reporters in that city are telling stories and then mold your style around that.

Follow Elaina Athans on Twitter and on Facebook, and read her stories on the WTVD website.

Q&A with Colin Campbell, editor of The Insider

Colin Campbell is editor of The Insider State Government News Service, a website and newsletter in Raleigh, North Carolina. He previously worked as a reporter at The News & Observer, covering state politics. In this interview, conducted by email, Campbell discusses his role as editor and The Insider’s operations.

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

A. When the legislature is in session, I’m usually juggling a bunch of committee meetings and floor votes, writing short items for the newsletter. Outside of session, most of the stories I write are enterprise stories following up on state government news that didn’t get much attention initially.

Our newsletter comes out at midnight, so I typically log in from home around 10 p.m. to give it a final proofread once our production crew has put everything together. On Fridays, we record our weekly podcast with the N&O political team, and I write a weekly column on politics that’s syndicated to papers across the state.

Q. How is The Insider different from The News & Observer and other media that cover state government?

A. The Insider publishes news items from a wide variety of sources to ensure our subscribers get a comprehensive view of the day’s state politics and government news, so we have partnerships with WRAL, The Associated Press and others to use their coverage, as well as the N&O’s stories. That means the Insider’s original reporting can and must go beyond the breaking news of the day that the N&O will be covering.

Our subscribers are lawmakers, lobbyists and business leaders, so we don’t have to focus on topics of interest to a general audience and can instead delve into wonky policy stuff that other outlets typically ignore. We can also be somewhat of a community newspaper for the Legislative Building, looking at minor things like new furniture purchases and building security that are of interest to people who work here often.

Because the Insider is owned by the N&O, the N&O periodically publishes our stories after they appear first in the newsletter.

Q. You and your staff members are frequent users of Twitter. What role does social media play in your coverage?

A. The North Carolina political world is heavily plugged into Twitter, so it’s an invaluable tool for reporting. I frequently find story ideas by browsing the #ncpol hashtag and the people I follow.

It’s also been a helpful way to connect with the political world and establish ourselves as experts, to drive traffic to the N&O’s website, and to promote the Insider newsletter to potential subscribers.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in covering state government in North Carolina and elsewhere?

A. Be prepared to start small by covering town or county government — that’s the best way to learn how state and local governments operate. Jobs covering state politics are hard to find these days, so experience at a community newspaper is often the best way to start (for UNC students, Jock Lauterer’s community journalism course is the best available for that career path).

It can also be helpful to specialize, as North Carolina and other states have a number of subject-specific start-up news organizations like N.C. Health News and EducationNC, so knowledge in those subjects can be helpful. Keep an active social media presence to make connections and catch the eye of fellow reporters and editors.

Follow Colin Campbell on Twitter and learn more about The Insider in this short video.

Q&A with Matt Brooks, food digital editor at The Washington Post

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Matt Brooks is food digital editor at The Washington Post. He previously worked at the Post as a sports reporter, blogger and editor. In this interview, conducted by email, Brooks discusses his role as a food editor, his transition from sports and some of his favorite things to eat.

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

A. As the digital editor for The Washington Post’s Food department, my role is a hybrid between an assignment editor, a web producer, a digital project manager, a social media strategist and a liaison between Food and the rest of the newsroom. Of course, digital strategies and responsibilities are constantly evolving here, so by the time this publishes, there’s a chance everything I’ve said will be moot.

What do I do all day? Eat.

Well, that’s part of my day. I always start my morning by checking web traffic reports from the day before and scheduling out a few early tweets on our @WaPoFood account before I head into the office. Once there, I open way too many Google Chrome tabs and check real-time traffic to see how our stories are performing in search and on various social media platforms.

I’ll scan buzzy food news websites and Twitter and pitch a few quick story ideas to our writers, then work on editing newsy posts or restaurant reviews. In this role, I’m often the ambassador to the editors who run our national homepage and the main Post social media accounts, so whenever we publish a story, I’m pitching editors on appropriate platforms to get promotion beyond our own Food channels.

We have a few weekly meetings where we analyze stories that generated significant traffic and try to figure out why others with potential didn’t perform as well. In Food, we have a weekly brainstorming meeting to generate more ambitious story ideas.

And about that eating: We have a food lab where our recipes editor and other members of the team are constantly testing recipes and cooking up all kinds of fun stuff. Tuesdays are food lab photo shoot days, which means there’s always a ton of tasty food for the offing. I never pack a lunch on Tuesday.

Q. You previously worked in sports at the Post. What are the similarities and differences between covering sports and covering food?

A. The food is the biggest difference. There are always snacks in Sports, but in Food, it’s gourmet, restaurant-quality, composed dishes. Not a bad perk.

The pace is very different. I spent nearly 10 years either frantically filing (as a reporter) or frantically editing (as an editor) live-event stories with hard nightly deadlines for the web and our three print editions.

Sports also has its own full copy desk, so the workflow is rapid — because it needs to be. On either end of that workflow, there’s a substantial adrenaline rush associated with those deadlines, no matter how seasoned you are.

In Food, we’re always working ahead, since the Food section is a weekly in print, and we’re not as tied to events. That generally affords more time to consider when and how to publish a story, who our intended audience is, and how our designers and photo editors can work with us to make our bigger pieces resonate.

Our content is wide-ranging, from recipe-driven columns to long features and enterprise stories to newsy blog posts about the craziest new fast-food trend. There’s a calendar rhythm to covering and editing sports. In Food, things can be very different week to week.

The jargon and style are also quite different. I went from three-pointers, RBIs and 5-under par rounds to pâté, cronuts and frosé.

Q. You are a 2007 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills you learned there do you use today, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. I could ramble on about everything I learned inside Carroll Hall (the building formerly known as the School of Journalism and Mass Communication), but here are two things that really stuck with me:

  • Never stop asking questions, because the next one you ask will be the one that makes your story. When you’re reporting a story, always seek out one more source. Get one more person to confirm the account your original source provided, ask smart follow-up questions and make sure you’re providing an opportunity for the other side to be heard. When you’re working on a story that’s competitive, being first is important, but if you’re able to provide more depth and context while also considering the all-important question of “Why should people care about this?” your story will resonate with a wider audience. As an editor, always ask your reporter that extra question to make sure the facts are air-tight and that he or she has covered all the bases before you publish.
  • Be nimble and capable of adapting on the fly. A key component of my reporting class with Paul O’Connor involved him lobbing scenarios at us to see how we’d react on the spot. (“So you’re the new metro reporter in Red Wing, Minn. You have no friends, until you start dating the mayor’s daughter. Life is good. Then you find out the mayor is embezzling money with the help of the mob. What do you do?”) I never made it to Red Wing, but that type of thinking has come in handy more times than I can count. You never know what’s going to happen on a reporting assignment, and as an editor, you have to be prepared to deal with people missing deadline, technology crashing and all manner of disasters. On one of my first deadline football game coverage assignments for The Post, my CCI-issued laptop battery crapped out, and I didn’t have the right key to get into our satellite bureau in the Northern Virginia suburbs. So I ended up filing two game stories for two different zoned editions of the paper while sprawled out on the floor of a gas station. You just never know.

As for key skills I’ve learned since graduating … building relationships across a newsroom is paramount. No matter the size of the publication, people up and down the chain need to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently and share ideas to execute high-quality journalism. Reporters and editors shape the written content, but our collaboration with designers, graphics editors and developers is what takes a great story and turns it into a memorable visual experience on your desktop, cellphone, Instagram, Snapchat and so many other platforms.

Understanding and valuing your audience is another skill we’re constantly trying to hone. When we come up with a story idea, we consider whether we’re targeting search or social audiences (or both), and that helps us choose an appropriate headline. Should it be SEO-driven or fun and conversational?

Engaging with those audiences is also critical. David Fahrenthold’s incredible series of stories about Donald Trump’s charitable giving (or lack thereof) was fueled by Twitter crowd-sourcing, and his followers helped him uncover information that ultimately resulted in a Pulitzer Prize.

I’ve also learned how to be flexible and willing to get outside my comfort zone. I always wanted to be a sports columnist, so I covered and edited sports for The Daily Tar Heel and applied to dozens of sports jobs after college. When I didn’t land any, I worked as a temp in classified advertising at The Post for a few months, then wrote about sports for a hyperlocal website at (the then-separate) washingtonpost.com, then served as the editor of a several blogs, then worked as an SEO specialist and national sports aggregation blogger. I applied for a job as the high school sports editor on a whim, was stunned when I got it and spent the next five years working crazy hours and learning how to run my own department.

If you’d told me six years ago that I’d be an editor in the Food department, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, and I love it.

Q. What is your ideal meal?

A. In this job, I’ve had the opportunity to eat some incredible meals and try several creative, funky dishes. I recently reviewed a gnocchi dish with kimchi ragu; zucchini bread topped with a foie gras spread and bee pollen; and a burger slathered with pimento cheese and topped with a fried green tomato.

But as yawn-inducing as this might sound, I will never turn down a good pulled pork sandwich — Eastern North Carolina style, of course — and the couple of times a year I’m able to get back down to Chapel Hill, my first stop is always at Allen & Son or Bullocks.

We just published our annual D.C.-area barbecue rankings, and while there are some very solid Texas-style shrines to smoked meat here, it’s nearly impossible to find a top-notch chopped pork sandwich. (Perhaps addressing that void will be my post-journalism calling.) So give me a proper pulled pork sandwich with a peppery vinegar sauce, crunchy coleslaw, hush puppies and fried okra, and I’ll be content.

I’m also a sucker for perfectly seared sea scallops and Peking style duck.

Follow Matt Brooks on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Q&A with Mallorie Sullivan, social media manager at The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Mallorie Sullivan is social media manager at The Cincinnati Enquirer. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job and offers advice to journalism students interested in careers in social media.

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

A. It really depends on the day! I was recently promoted to social media manager from being a digital news and social producer, where I would edit, publish and “pin” our stories on the website and stick them on social. While I’m still doing that on the weekend for The Enquirer/Cincinnati.com and our 10 Gannett Ohio sister sites, my role now is focused largely on social media and community engagement.

I generally begin my day by seeing what people are talking about on Facebook and Twitter, so I can get a feel of what posts I should either write or make a video for that day, or be looking out for on USA TODAY (The Enquirer is part of the USA TODAY Network) or on the wires.

Once I identify what’s trending and schedule it out on Facebook, I generally check out Chartbeat, one of our analytics tools, to identify what’s trending locally on social to see if there’s anything we missed from the day before that we can bring out on Facebook or if there’s anything that is doing well on Facebook that can be brought out on other social platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, for an extra boost. This routine often goes in cycles throughout the day, with daily local content added into the mix on top of trending topics.

In terms of community engagement, I am largely responsible for answering messages from readers – think subscription problems, story tips – on The Enquirer’s branded social accounts and making sure they’re happy and taken care of. When I’m not taking care of the branded accounts, I’m tending to our Facebook community groups, of which we have several for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. That largely consists of accepting or denying member requests, keeping or deleting reported posts within those groups, and keeping the peace among members.

Q. There’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, among others. What’s your favorite platform on social media?

A. Because I’m a journalist, my favorite social media both for personal and for work use is Twitter. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.

Twitter is where I consume most news. While I subscribe to and receive news alerts for The Enquirer, USA TODAY, The Washington Post and The New York Times, I admittedly go to Twitter first and scroll through my timeline because it’s easier for me to get a gist of what’s trending so I know immediately what I need to have on deck for our social media that day. I also find following a variety of publications and journalists is a good way not only to get a mix of news but to maintain a semblance of objectivity in a space where you can so easily be seen as biased based on what you’re retweeting, what you’re liking and who you’re following.

Twitter is my favorite to use at work because our audience there is younger, so we’re able to be a little cheekier than we would be on Facebook, where our audience skews a little older. I also use it to test different social chatter with a story to see the reactions I receive — if something doesn’t do that well, then I’ll try it again with another nugget of information in the story. If something does well, I’ll consider expanding upon it and using it for Facebook. It’s a nice little laboratory for all of my creative ideas.

And, while it was already a favorite of mine for personal use, Instagram has become something of a creative outlet for me since the debut of Stories. The Enquirer’s Instagram is run entirely by our photo staff, who has helped build quite a following there showcasing their work.

Now that we have Stories, me and my boss, Katie Vogel, and a few others are testing out how best to use that space to supplement coverage for both breaking news and general interest stories. For example, the other day we broke a story about an umpire filing a racial discrimination suit against Major League Baseball. I put together a few slides on Canva with the basics while it was pulling good numbers on social, and if people wanted to read it, they were able to swipe up on the last slide to read the whole story. The next day, I put together a Story on how to best take photos of fireworks without a fancy camera, and if readers wanted to know specifics, they could swipe up.

Q. On occasion, Cincinnati makes national news. Examples include the death of Harambe the gorilla in 2016 and the president’s visit earlier this year. How does being in the spotlight affect how the Enquirer covers a story?

A. It’s actually really interesting how often Cincinnati finds itself in the middle of news! Despite our size, it sometimes feels like any national news story can be tied back to us any given week on any given beat.

This happened most recently with the release and subsequent death of Otto Warmbier, the college student who spent 17 months imprisoned North Korea who also happened to be from a small suburb of Cincinnati. It also occurred on a different scale during the congressional baseball practice shooting, when Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Cincinnati administered first aid to Rep. Steve Scalise. It also happened in sports, when FC Cincinnati, our USL soccer team, beat the Chicago Fire from MLS on national television. And of course it happened with Harambe, with the trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing and with presidential visits.

Because this happens quite often, we’re pretty well-adjusted to working under the spotlight and, while we may enlist more people to work different angles of a story, we don’t stray too far from how we typically approach a news story. We have the ability to amplify our work through the USA TODAY Network, and do what we can to tell the story from start to finish. We’re small but very mighty!

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in careers in social media?

A. Diversify your skill set and stay curious! There are so many things I never learned in college because I was either too intimidated by them (shooting and editing video and photos) or they just didn’t exist in my college classes (how to read analytics, for example).

In order to work with social media, you’re going to want to know how to make quick social video (it’s actually really fun!), you’re going to want to know how to take decent photos, you’re going to want to know how to code — even basic HTML/CSS skills are fine — and, even though you’re trying to get away from it by going into journalism, you’re going to want to know basic math and statistics. It helps out a lot when trying to analyze month-over-month and year-over-year analytics to determine audience growth.

Writing up trending social stories may also be part of your job, so don’t let yourself get rusty with your AP style, headline writing or writing in general.

Another thing I recommend, simple as it may sound: Allow yourself to unplug. For a few hours, for a day, for a week. A lot of us already spend so much time on our smartphones, that when we work in journalism — and with social media, especially — it makes it so hard to unplug because we don’t want to miss a thing that happens on the internet.

Go on a run, spend time with your significant other sans smartphone, take up baking. Just don’t allow yourself to be the person who’s always “on,” because an unhealthy relationship with your work can put a strain on the relationship you have with your friends, with your significant other and with yourself.

The last thing I can’t stress enough to journalism students, regardless of whether you want to go into social media: Take as many internships as you can. I took three in the span of a year, and I learned so much more than I ever did in the classroom just by being out in the field, asking a bunch of questions and doing more than what was expected of me.

Doing so allows you to build upon the skills you’ve already learned; to make mistakes and learn how to bounce back from them; to absorb some of the shell shock that comes with the long, unpredictable hours and the weekends in the middle of the week, and to rub elbows with the best in the business so you have recommendations when applying for jobs down the road.

Follow Mallorie Sullivan on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Q&A with Suzanne Tobias, reporter at The Wichita Eagle

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Suzanne Tobias is a reporter and columnist at The Wichita Eagle. Her primary beat is covering the Wichita public schools. In this interview, Tobias discusses her job and the newspaper’s recent move, and she offers advice to aspiring journalists.

Q. Describe your job at the Eagle. What is your typical day like?

A. I cover education for The Wichita Eagle and Kansas.com, with a primary focus on the Wichita school district, which is the largest and one of the most diverse in our region. School finance has been a huge story in Kansas for the past decade or more, as the Wichita district and others have sued the state over education funding.

I enjoy the variety of stories on the education beat. On any given day, I could write about teacher contract negotiations, concealed-carry guns on campus, discipline in schools, refugee students or a new strategy for teaching math. When the Kansas Legislature is in session, I collaborate with our Statehouse reporters to cover education policy news; during the slower summer months, when teachers and students are out of school, I try to work on big-picture investigative or data-driven stories.

My typical day starts about 7:30 a.m. or earlier – partly because I’m an early riser and need to get my own kids to school, and partly because it meshes well with school schedules and allows me to better reach sources. I generally post at least one story to our website before noon, updating it throughout the day if need be, while also juggling weekend stories and at least one longer-term project. I check in with my editor at least briefly each day, either in person or via email.

Every other Monday I cover the Wichita school board, which meets in the evening, so I start a little later those days. I try to head home by 5 or 5:30 p.m., but I usually take my laptop with me in case news breaks and I have to cover that from home.

Q. The Eagle recently moved. What is it like to leave a newsroom behind and move into a new one?

Moving to a new building this past spring was exciting, exhausting and a little emotional. The Eagle had been at its previous location since 1961.

As our primary focus evolved from print to digital, we moved our printing operation to a sister paper in Kansas City and downsized significantly. That meant the old place had lots of unused, unneeded space. We moved just a few blocks up the street, but the new office has way more modern amenities and energy. It’s brighter, with balconies off the newsroom that overlook Wichita’s Old Town Square. Television screens throughout the newsroom broadcast breaking news or website analytics.

The move was a great excuse for a lot of us to ditch old junk and start fresh. The old building is being demolished to make room for a new business. While I thought I’d be sad – we posted a huge “-30-” on the out-facing windows when we left – I think the new place means progress for our company and the community.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use social media as part of your work?

A. I began using Twitter in 2008, before most of my editors and colleagues really knew about it or realized what a great tool it could be. I have a loyal cadre of followers – mostly teachers and parents – who thank me for live-tweeting Wichita school board meetings so they can keep track of discussions and debates.

I regularly use Twitter and other social media to find or track down sources, to flesh out tips, to gather input and to share links to my stories. A few years ago, a random tip from one of my Twitter followers – that a Kansas student’s disparaging tweet about Gov. Sam Brownback angered the governor’s staff and landed her in the principal’s office – resulted in The Eagle’s No. 1 story of the year for online page views ().

Q. You have worked at the Eagle since graduating from N.C. State University in 1990. That’s unusual in a highly transient profession. What has kept you in Wichita?

A. It’s funny, because when I moved to Wichita from North Carolina, I swore to friends and family that I would be here for a couple of years and then try to get a job at one of the papers back home. Part of the reason I stayed is that I met my husband (an Eagle photographer) here, and we bought a house and started a family.

But more than that, this newspaper offered so many opportunities to try new things, cover various beats and keep things fresh. Over the years I have covered general-assignment news, city government, military and education. I tried my hand at editing, supervising a seven-member education team. (I learned that I much prefer reporting and writing.) I was part of The Eagle’s first foray into online journalism. I flew with the Blue Angels. And I started a weekly column on parenting and family life, which I still write.

I’ve been here 27 years, and I still love what I do because my job and our industry keeps changing. And have you seen a Kansas sunset? Seriously, they rock.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?

A. First, don’t let the haters get you down. Journalism is a necessary and noble profession, and one that’s just as important now as it ever was.

It’s also a pretty awesome way to make a living – being nosy, getting the scoop, writing it down, telling all your friends and neighbors. No matter what your passion might be – politics, science, sports, movies, books, business, food – there’s some kind of job in journalism that will let you explore it. Also, journalists are some of the smartest, funniest people you’ll ever meet, and working around them every day is good for the soul.

Oh, and READ. That’s my primary advice for aspiring journalists: Read, read, read, read. Readers make the best writers.

Read Suzanne Tobias’s stories at Kansas.com and follow her on Twitter.