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.

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Stormy Daniels, copy editor

Stormy Daniels in 2015 (Creative Commons image)
Stephanie Clifford, who appears in and directs pornographic movies under the name Stormy Daniels, is making headlines over an alleged affair with Donald Trump many years ago. She’s in the news now because it has come to light that shortly before the 2016 election, she was paid $130,000 to stay quiet about the relationship.

Clifford is an active Twitter user with more than 500,000 followers. As one would expect, she uses social media to promote her line of work.

Lately, Clifford has used Twitter to take on trolls who are attacking her and defending the president. When doing so, Clifford often points out shortcomings in the wording of their tweets.

Here she is on spelling:

daniels-loser

daniels-spelling-lyingdaniels-spelling-skank

Here she is on punctuation:

daniels-punctuation

Here she is on word choice:

daniels-harlot

daniels-wordchoice

Apparently, this porn star (I prefer two words) is a lover of language. Perhaps Clifford will be able to find a career in words when a career in images is no longer an option for her.

Student guest post: Fucious TV promotes hip-hop news in North Carolina

FuciousTV

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. David Fee is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism with minors in studio art and creative writing. David enjoys making sculptures and playing the guitar. He likes to write about local music.

With the birth of social media, anybody and everybody can become a journalist. The platform Fucious TV, operated by DJ Tigo, is one of the most successful citizen-run news sources for hip-hop in North Carolina.

Fucious TV is primarily run through Instagram and YouTube. Tigo’s Instagram page has more than 17,000 followers and 4,500 posts — not bad considering Tigo started his platform promoting local artists less than a year ago.

Much of his original content on Instagram is linked to his YouTube channel, where he has interviewed more than 200 artists including rappers, R&B singers, hip-hop music producers and designers. Tigo records and conducts the interviews himself, often at his Raleigh home. For North Carolina artists outside Raleigh, Tigo records in the neighborhoods where the artists are from.

The interviews are relaxed, providing candid and honest responses from his subjects. Tigo, behind the camera, asks the artists about their inspirations as well as struggles they have had to overcome as an artist.

Tigo’s main goal is to promote the North Carolina rap scene. At the end of an interview, he always asks the artists what they think it will take to for the Carolinas to be “put on,” meaning recognized by the rap industry. Almost all of the artists say that the area-specific coverage of Fucious TV will catapult the talent from the state into stardom.

One of Fucious TV’s most popular interviews comes from Yung Boss Tevo, an up-and-coming rapper from Braggtown, a neighborhood in Durham. Tevo, 16, often raps about guns and drug-related violence happening in his neighborhood.

“Have you ever lost anybody to the streets?” asked Tigo in the interview.

“Yeah, I lost my [friend] King Dave,” Tevo said. “And then I lost my uncle in 2009. He got shot in the eye. I put him in most of my songs.”

While there are many underground artists ready to take the main stage, several North Carolina rappers have already gotten national attention: J. Cole from Fayetteville; Deniro Farrar, DaBaby and Well$ from Charlotte; G Yamazawa and Rapsody (with 9th Wonder’s production) from Durham. Of these North Carolina hip-hop stars, Tigo has interviewed the DaBaby.

Fucious TV content reaches audiences beyond the internet. In February, Tigo held the Fucious TV Showcase in Raleigh, featuring many of the artists he has interviewed, including Yung Boss Tevo. The event was a success, and he plans to hold more.

Aside from hip-hop related news and interviews, Tigo also posts local news on his Instagram page, usually related to topical social issues such as racial discrimination and gun violence.

While citizen journalism is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States with the advent of social media, other countries have employed alternative news sources for two decades. In South Korea, for example, the platform OhmyNews (launched in 2000) is operated by more than 30,000 citizen journalists. It is the most popular news source for South Korea.

But for Tigo, everything is about North Carolina. He encourages fans to post about their favorite local artists in order to promote the state’s talent and get it the national attention it deserves.

In the wake of Storify

wake-ocracoke

I was dismayed a couple of months ago when I heard that Storify was ending. I’d used the service — which allowed users to collect and arrange social media and park it all on one page — for assignments in my editing classes.

Thanks to a Twitter tip from editor Gerri Berendzen, I’ve found a successor to Storify. Wakelet lets you to do much of what Storify allowed you to do and more (such as uploading your own photos). Today, I’ll try it in class for the first time with an assignment on alternative story forms.

For more about Wakelet, follow them on Twitter and watch this video on YouTube.

UPDATE

Here are some examples of student work:

Finding beauty inside an ugly building

Steve Merelman, an editor at Bloomberg, tweeted a link to a Business Insider list of “the ugliest buildings in every state.”

I took the bait and scrolled to what was deemed the most hideous building in North Carolina. The “winner” is an office building in Asheville.

My mind quickly turned to a building in downtown Raleigh, one that Merelman and I both worked in earlier in our careers. I responded on Twitter:

newsobserverbuilding

The News & Observer building, with its brutalist architecture, isn’t much to look at. Built in 1956, the structure is outdated inside and out.

Late last year, the newspaper’s parent company, McClatchy, announced that the property is being sold for $22 million. The building will be demolished, and a mixed-use development, including a hotel, will take its place.

Sometime this year, the N&O offices will move a few blocks away into a skyscraper on Fayetteville Street, with the newsroom at street level. Publisher Sara Glines said: “We are very excited to be moving into downtown Raleigh office space that supports flexibility, collaboration, and makes it easy to engage with the community.”

I agree. It’s time for a change. N&O journalists deserve to work in a contemporary space.

Yet as ugly as the N&O building is, I will always have lovely memories of the 10 years I worked there in various editing roles. As A.C. Snow wrote in a column recently, the people made it beautiful.

Q&A with Christina Cleveland, reporter for the Aiken Standard

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Christina Cleveland is a features reporter at the Aiken Standard in Aiken, South Carolina. She previously worked at The Journal in Seneca, South Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Cleveland discusses her job at the Standard, changes in editing there and her journalism education.

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

A. Surprisingly — or not — I’ve learned to expect much of the same each day working in news. My schedule is pretty flexible, though I do feel editors would probably prefer to see (most of) our faces by at least 10 a.m.

Generally, I try to get to work no later than 9:30 a.m. My ideal time to start working, however, is 8:30 a.m. I find my goal humorous most weeks, because I can often be at the desk until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at night. I don’t recommend that, but it’s probably an unhealthy reality for me lately, so when I do work later, I try to come into work later.

The first thing I do when I get to my desk is read and respond to email, as well as any phone messages I may have received. Then, I pick up a print edition of the newspaper and/or check the e-edition online.

I prefer to read the newspaper as a product, not just the website. I just feel more informed about our stories, reader questions and the product that way. The Aiken Standard is unusual because our press is still located in the newspaper office, so production is right here.

During the day, I will also periodically check my social media pages. Twitter is my favorite social media forum for news gathering, sourcing and sharing. It doesn’t always produce the highest web hits for us, but it is a very valuable tool.

When it comes to writing, I try to schedule interviews for stories a little further out. I may have around two telephone interviews a day on average. As a features writer, I mostly prefer in-person interviews, where I can see firsthand what and who I’m writing about and get a photo. But sometimes you just have to pick up the phone.

Of course when I was a news writer, there were sometimes when a story broke in the morning or middle of the day, and I just had to make phone calls/conduct interviews as soon things were happening.

At both my current and previous job as a news reporter, I have written more stories daily than a reporter at a larger circulation daily would, which can be expected. I could produce up to three stories a day, and was always shooting to work on at least two per day.

Reporting news, I have been more comfortable with most of my content being ready by 2 p.m. before our 4 p.m. deadline to give my editors a fair enough time to read and make suggestions.

I also spend a healthy amount of time story planning for the weekend ahead during the day, too, because working for a daily newspaper with a smaller staff requires everyone pitching in content, especially interesting, well fleshed-out stories for Sundays — a big day for not only subscriptions but also single-copy sales.

I try to update the news budget for the next day, the day before. Eventually, after all of this, I go home. I can’t say news ever stops, but I’ve been trying to unplug when I’m off lately, and it helps a lot. I also heavily depend on Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, so those are my lunch break weaknesses.

Q. You recently moved from a news beat to features. How has that transition been, and what do you like about your new assignment?

A. My new assignment has been interesting so far — for many reasons. It’s somewhat of a full circle moment.

I started my reporting career as a crime reporter at The Journal newspaper in my hometown of Seneca, South Carolina. When I started writing for the newspaper, I was stringing or freelancing as a lifestyle writer. Sometimes, for more experience, I would cover local council meetings and general assignments, but I always felt like I wanted to be a features writer.

I took feature writing with professor Paul Cuadros my senior year at UNC, and after every journalism course I had taken throughout my undergraduate career, I finally thought, “That’s what I should be doing.”

Before deciding to pursue a career in news, I had always thought I would study and pursue music professionally, as choir and music theory was a huge part of high school for me and I have been singing since I was very young. It wasn’t until I got into feature writing that I really learned how to be a more effective storyteller. It reminded me a lot of the skills it takes to perform and turn compositions into something palatable for an audience. That meant bringing the audience into the story, something feature writing is designed to do — engage.

Likewise, I got to explore more human interest pieces, as well as arts and entertainment, which is what I love.

Unfortunately for me, when you’re at a small staff, writing about those topics aren’t often the priority. The Journal needed a crime reporter around the time I started, so there I was. But I found a way to squeeze in at least two feature stories a week because I loved it.

When I began in Aiken two years ago, I was floating around doing enterprise pieces, assignments and digital content. I was eventually assigned the local government beat and began covering a lot of the Aiken County legislative delegation in the S.C. Statehouse.

This was different, and to be honest, a little out of my comfort zone. I don’t consider myself to be very much of a politico and, less than an hour from our state capital, Aiken is an extremely political area. I believe I’m well-informed, but I’m very much a creative and free-spirited person. I had the idea that government and politics were way too rigid for me. I had to look at it from another lens, which mostly meant figuring out how government decisions truly affect residents’ day-to-day lives. Actually engaging with people really stuck with me.

When the features job opened up in Aiken after the longtime arts writer’s departure, I thought about it and then asked to be considered. These days are longer for different reasons, sometimes requiring monthly planning versus weekly planning. There are dozens of arts organizations, dozens of productions, restaurants and interesting people. I’m a “one-man band,” so I’m trying not to overwhelm myself but also tell the best stories possible.

We’ll see how this shakes out. I’m mostly happy to be among the arts crowd and feel like myself again.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at the Aiken Standard?

A. This has changed since I started in late 2015. When I began, the newspaper had an executive editor, a roughly four or five-member copy desk, plus an editor for each section — News, Living and Sports — along with a digital editor. We also have traditionally had a night/weekend editor.

At that time, after my story was done, my digital editor most likely conducted the first edit, because web publishing often happens first. Then, my news editor completed the second edit, and the executive editor could often also give stories a solid read.

The night editor read content in the evening before sending it off to copy editors who would be responsible for mostly checking grammar, style and writing headlines on the page. At both jobs I’ve worked at, reporters have been asked to write their own headlines, but it doesn’t mean that always goes into print.

The copy editors were also essentially the paginators and designed the pages.
The year after I started, the company decided to move design to a hub at the Post and Courier offices (our parent company) in Charleston. That move meant no copy desk in Aiken, but Charleston designers and our editors had to collaborate to put together the paper. Our stories had to be done earlier, so pages could be sent to Charleston and then back here for proofing, then sent back to Charleston, and back here for printing.

After around a year, our new publisher decided to bring pagination back to Aiken. Now, we have a desk of three designers, whose roles don’t delve as much into copy editing from my understanding, but they are placing stories and designing in our newsroom.

The executive editor role has become a managing editor. We no longer have an editor for Living (it’s just me), and we have two editors who rotate weekends and nights. We are also still — as much as I’m aware — hiring a digital editor to fill a vital role when it comes to producing web content, managing social media and the website, as well as assisting the news editor.

Q. You were a student in journalism at the University of South Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned in those programs, and what new ones have you picked up so far in your career?

A. One thing I can say is as much as a bemoaned in college about “not knowing what I wanted to with my life,” I have been very blessed to attend both of these universities and their respective journalism schools.

At USC, my news writing professor was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. He worked for The State newspaper in Columbia, and I can genuinely say, without that course, I would not have understood one thing about news writing or reporting. Not one.

I also feel like I learned quite a bit in my graphic design course there, and it wasn’t until I moved to Aiken that I was reminded that my professor was from Aiken! The first advertisement I ever designed was about the city. (So ironic). That course taught me basic design and visual/photography skills.

At UNC, I think I got a stricter sense of why avoiding mistakes and errors were critical. I remember the first time I turned in a news writing assignment and instead of getting 2 points off for a style or spelling error, losing 20. It kind of shocked me, but it is probably why I read over everything I publish with a fine-tooth comb. Granted, I have still made my share of mistakes — some I wouldn’t dare repeat — but I’m mostly comfortable with the content that I produce.

I also learned quite a bit in my reporting course at UNC. I think that is when I questioned if I was actually going to make it in print, because I didn’t know if I was quite enjoying it. The deadline pressure was very valuable, however, because I am on deadline every day at work.

I do wish I would have taken more advantage of internships, but I will say, once I knew I was going to continue pursuing print, I freelanced where and when I could. That was very helpful, because hands-on experience is necessary.

I think, really, that is what my early career has been about: getting experience and valuing the experience. I’ve learned so many tools like good storytelling, being a more critical thinker, making relationships, and failing. Yes, failing. Failing until I know more, do and write better and try not to fail again.

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:

pitt-strippers

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:

foxnews-tapper

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

tapper-response

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.