Q&A with Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications for the Carolina Hurricanes

canes-raleigh
The front page of The News & Observer from June 2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.

Mike Sundheim is vice president for communications and team services for the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job, social media and the team’s outlook for the 2016-17 season.

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

A. One of the best sports books out there is Ken Dryden’s “The Game,” and one of my favorite parts is when he describes the rhythm of the season. Essentially, days of the week are irrelevant, and our lives are dictated by whether it is a game day or a practice day and whether we are home or on the road.

On a home game day, I arrive at work around 7:45 a.m. and leave about an hour after the game ends. During that time, I am responsible for media access after a morning practice, two hours prior to the game and five minutes after the game, as well as rights-holder interviews throughout the game.

Beyond handling media access, there’s plenty to do at my desk, from writing news releases or letters for executives to fielding media calls, monitoring social media and working with all of the other departments in the company regarding communication needs. A few years back I also took on team services, which includes handling hotels and bus companies for team travel as well as meeting the everyday personal and scheduling needs of the players and coaching staff.

I split the travel with my co-worker, Kyle Hanlin, so my quietest days in-season are typically when he is with the team on the road and I am home. But even those days can fill up quickly, taking care of everything I didn’t have time to deal with when the team was around.

Q. What role does social media play in your work?

A. When people ask what the biggest change to my job has been since I started, social media is a clear number one. Look at it this way, when I came on full-time in 2000, Mark Zuckerberg was a 16-year-old high school student. There was no social media, and the news cycle was much more structured.

Because of social media, everything is immediate. That affects how and when we send news releases, the ways in which major news is delivered and, more than anything else, our ability to turn off our work brains. I can be sitting at home playing with my kids at 8 p.m. and start getting texts about something a player tweeted or an impending personnel move. This job has always had a bit of an always-on-call element to it, but social media has significantly intensified that.

Q. During your time with the Hurricanes, the team has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning in 2006. But Carolina has missed the playoffs the past several years. How do the ups and downs of sports affect what you do?

A. There is no doubt wins and losses affect those of us who work in sports, from general office morale to our company’s bottom line. When we won the Stanley Cup, we were playing in front of standing-room-only crowds, and I could hardly keep up with the flow of media requests for our players.

After seven consecutive non-playoff seasons, we have understandably smaller crowds and I spend more time pitching stories than fielding requests. Our major local newspaper didn’t travel a beat writer on the road last season.

When you’re winning, you can’t wait to get to the office, and when you’re losing, it is much more of a grind. The positive for us is that we feel like we are very close to turning a corner on the ice, and we are already seeing some positive business momentum based on that optimism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering careers in sports communication?

A. Your classes are important, and there are plenty of things I learned at UNC that help me every day in my job. But I would not be where I am had I just gone to class, graduated with straight A’s and started looking for a job.I spent two and a half years at The Daily Tar Heel, which helped me in many ways including the development of my writing and my understanding of deadline pressure.

I then spent my junior and senior years working for the Hurricanes as an intern and UNC’s sports information department as a student assistant. It was in those positions that I learned how to actually do my job and gained the connections and experience to land full-time work after school.

The last time we had an open position — a part-time, hourly job that only paid about $15,000 for the season — we had more than 300 applicants in a few days before we closed it off. I wrote about the experience on my blog for our website, and pretty much everything I said in there still stands. I eliminated 75 percent of the resumes instantly because they had no sports experience.

Also, a lot of people hear “sports PR” or “sports publicity” and picture all of the glamorous aspects of traveling with a team and working with media. But most entry-level sports communications positions are heavily based in writing, working with statistics and preparing game notes. If you don’t love writing or you can’t truly geek out on sports stats, this isn’t the right career path for you.

Q. Let’s look ahead. How do the Hurricanes look going into the 2016-17 season?

A. This is the most excited I’ve felt about the future of our team in a long time. Ron Francis has done a phenomenal job of staying patient and rebuilding the right way — collecting prospects and draft picks and building from the defense forward.

Our defense last season included four players who were 23 years old or younger, including Noah Hanifin, who was just 18. The ages of our top seven scorers were 23, 27, 23, 21, 23, 24 and 25. And we have 10 picks in this year’s draft – seven of which are in the first three rounds. That gives us a ton of flexibility to either continue to collect prospects, or wheel some of those picks for players who can immediately jump into our lineup.

The idea isn’t just to compete for a year or two and then suffer another playoff drought. It’s to build an organization that is a factor in the playoffs every single year. That’s exactly what Ron is doing.

Students interested in internships with the Carolina Hurricanes can contact Sundheim via this page.

Student guest post: Photoshop fails — celebrity edition

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Paola Perdomo is a senior majoring in graphic design and information science. She does marketing and design work for UNC Campus Recreation, where she loves to bridge the gap between fitness and awesome visuals.

Knowing how to use Photoshop has become an extremely desirable skill in our selfie and social media-driven society. As a designer, I see Photoshop as a platform where I can always learn new tricks. I can replicate and hide and blend and alter colors to my heart’s desire, with the key always being in subtlety.

It is at this point that some of the most popular celebrities are failing, throwing subtlety to the wayside and making their photo edits obvious. Not on purpose, I hope, but obvious, nonetheless.

I can imagine that posting photos becomes an art form for popular personas like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian. A photo on Instagram is more than a snapshot of an individual’s life. It influences millions of people that follow these accounts and potentially creates a profit for the poster. It makes sense that posting the “perfect” photo becomes the ideal, but doing so creates unrealistic standards for girls and boys of any age.

Both Beyoncé and Kardashian, who have 64.5 and 64.7 million Instagram followers, respectively, have been repeat offenders of the dreaded “Photoshop fail.” Beyoncé has been caught making her legs appear thinner on multiple occasions, and Kim Kardashian has thoroughly changed her body features: thinner arms, smaller waist, straighter nose and flawless skin. How can we tell, you ask? Every one of these photo fails have included similar telltale signs like unnatural curved spaces and unbelievable features.

Take a look at some examples below:

beyonceedit

kimedit

Why two seemingly fit and extremely successful women want to enhance (or reduce) their bodies only to release it to millions of people who will then scrutinize every inch of the image seems counterproductive. Photoshop, when used incorrectly or too much, is fairly easy to spot, which makes me believe that both Beyoncé and Kardashian edit their photos believing they will get away with it. Although no longer active, an Instagram account was created solely to expose celebrities editing their photos. When these two women have been called out on their botched edits, neither has commented.

I’ve focused on these two particular celebrities, but they are not, by far, the only ones. I would venture to predict that others will join them, including men. Just like women are plagued by images of desirable figures, men are saturated with masculinity and “ripped bods.” It seems that there is a fascination with taking things to the extreme in this increasingly exposed culture. Strong people need to become stronger, thin people need to be thinner, people who have lost weight need to lose more, and so on.

New photo-editing apps are consistently released to the public, touting their new and easy-to-use features. Filters within social media platforms are widely used and constantly updated. It all means one thing: altering and enhancing is more popular than ever and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. So the question remains: How can we use photo editing for good?

It’s important to be aware of this development, not only to set a better example of self-confidence and self-acceptance to the general public but also to reverse the trend’s popularity. Let’s not make Photoshop the enemy here.

How you can help editors write better headlines

The national conference of the American Copy Editors Society is only a few weeks away. This year’s gathering is in Portland, Oregon, from March 31 to April 2.

I am organizing and moderating a discussion on headline writing. For this session, we are inviting everyday people to give spontaneous feedback on a set of headlines and tweets. There will be no right or wrong answers. We’re just curious what real readers think of real headlines.

It’s a reprise of a session at the 2014 ACES conference in Las Vegas. Alex Cruden, a former editor at the Detroit Free Press and winner of the ACES Glamann Award, came up with the concept years ago. He hoped a dialog between editors and readers might result in better headlines.

If you know someone in Portland who would like to serve on this reader panel, please contact me. I am also taking requests for headlines to include in the session, which will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 1.

For more about the ACES conference and a full list of sessions and events, check out the official site. I’d love to see you there.

Q&A with Morag MacLachlan, communications director at Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC-Chapel Hill

Morag MacLachlan is communications director at the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at UNC-Chapel Hill. She previously worked at two Boston hospitals and as a reporter at a newspaper and TV station in New England. In this interview, conducted by email, MacLachlan discusses her job at UNC, the news media’s coverage of infectious diseases and her transition from news to public relations.

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

A. I am the communications director for UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases and its Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. We have clinicians and researchers in Chapel Hill as well as our sites in Malawi, China, Zambia, Nicaragua and the Galapagos tackling global health questions. For example, at our UNC Project-China site, staff are leveraging crowdsourcing to promote condom use, HIV testing and other important sexual health messages.

It’s fascinating for me to learn how people in Chapel Hill are making a worldwide difference, and it is always humbling to learn that a disease we do not normally worry about in the U.S. can pose a deadly threat abroad. Malaria is not a disease that most Americans think about, but it is a major problem in many parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.

There really is no typical day. I try to begin with my list of things I want to accomplish – posting to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, writing an article for our website, editing a video for our YouTube channel, etc… – but something always pops up.

For example, the day Charlie Sheen went on NBC’s “Today” show and disclosed that he was living with HIV, I had to drop the plans for the day and begin fielding media requests to speak with our infectious diseases clinicians who primarily treat people living with HIV.

It’s never a dull moment and no two days are alike, and that is far more exciting to me than doing the same tasks day in and day out. It does mean long hours sometimes, but I think getting the word out about the important public and global health advances UNC is making is rewarding.

Q. On occasion, infectious diseases such as Ebola or SARS are big news. How can the news media better cover that topic?

A. We have a different speaker each Friday morning during the academic year come present about an infectious diseases topic. And this fall, we had a lawyer from the University of Louisville talk about how public health professionals really failed, in his opinion, when it came to keeping the public informed during the Ebola outbreak last year.

During the comments period, many of our ID clinicians and researchers who had responded immediately to West Africa and had even helped create Ebola response guides for the CDC voiced their frustration with how hard they are treated during an emerging infection. The public and the media want answers immediately, and these doctors and nurses are working around the clock to try and prevent mass casualties while simultaneously trying to figure out the rules of the infection in order to discover prevention, treatment, and ultimately, cure techniques.

In this age of 24-hour news cycles and endless Twitter updates, the pressure on these front line workers to have answers right away is tremendous, but also unrealistic. No response is interpreted as a failure. Yet sometimes there is no response because the infection is in its infancy and they do not want to speculate on the source of a disease.

I know the news media are also under pressure to rush to be first and hold the largest share of their respective market. But at some point, especially when the news story deals with public health, accuracy should be the goal, not just reporting speculation for the sake of reporting something.

Q. You previously worked at a TV station and for a newspaper in New England. What was it like to make the transition from news to public relations?

A. Honestly, if you had told me when I started out as a reporter that I would eventually be working in PR, I would not have believed you!

I hated getting cold calls from PR professionals as a reporter. I was of the school of thought that as a journalist, I would immerse myself in the community I was reporting on and find news stories that way. I didn’t need a PR professional trying to pitch to me.

But journalism is a very tough field to make a living in, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be now. I was working as a full time television reporter in 2003, but also needing to work three nights a week teaching aerobics classes and two nights a week teaching business communications at the local community college just to make $19,000 a year.

This was just as having an online component to complement your news broadcast or newspaper was beginning to take off. There was no social media. There was no citizen with an iPhone on the scene who submitted footage to you and received the title of iReporter in return.

Newsroom budgets are shrinking, and fewer reporters are charged with more and more beats. Gone are the days where you could specialize in health reporting or feature writing. You really have to be able to cover multiple beats at a moments notice for poor pay. You have to be in journalism because you love it, not because you are going to have normal work hours and a big paycheck.

I was able to do it for about four years full time, and then I won an award for health reporting from the New England Press Association. The awards ceremony was on the last day of NEPA’s journalism conference. I sat in on one workshop where a features editor from the Portsmouth Press Herald in New Hampshire was talking about how he made the switch from that job to the communications department of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

In that moment, I realized I could continue to use my storytelling skills by working in the communications departments of hospitals. What appealed to me about this form of PR is that even though I am talking about the same client every day – the hospital – you can do that in a variety of ways. You can feature a grateful patient or a new piece of technology or a staff member who became a healthcare professional because they lost a loved one to a specific disease. You can find these tremendously touching stories to tell.

To me, healthcare communications seems less like I’m selling you a story and more like I am telling you a story that I hope convinces you to get your care here, or enroll in a research study here, or train here, or make a donation. I eventually got hired at BIDMC.

Then four years later I left to work at their competition – Brigham & Women’s Hospital. And two and a half years after that, I was recruited by the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC. It’s been an unexpected professional path, but I wouldn’t change it. I love my job.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students interested in jobs like yours?

Write, write and write some more! Being a good storyteller is the foundation for a successful career.

I wrote my broadcast packages when I was a TV reporter, editing the soundbites and voiceover tracks together. Then as a newspaper reporter, I wrote for a print audience. Making the switch to healthcare communications also boils down to being able to tell a compelling story.

But unlike journalism where the reporter tells both sides of a story and is doing the public an informational service, PR is trying to influence the public’s behavior. So my storytelling now really has to have a call to action – getting people with a certain disease to want to be in our clinical trials, getting future infectious diseases professionals to want to train at UNC and getting the public to come to our ID Clinic for their care.

I would say students interested in a career in PR need to do an internship or two to figure out if what they are learning in the classroom is really a life they can lead once they graduate. I interned with the director of public relations at my alma mater when I was a student, and I found I didn’t like academic PR. I really enjoyed health reporting as a journalist and found that I also like healthcare PR/communications.

So it is important for students to find that niche that excites them and would make them want to come to work each day. I think Dr. Charlie Tuggle’s Media Hub class at UNC is also a great way to expose students to careers in journalism because they are creating content as you would in a newsroom, but the students also have access to professionals in the field for guidance. An internship in addition to this class would be ideal.

Finally, you need to have a thick skin and be able to roll with the punches. You will pitch stories to reporters and never receive a call back. Or a reporter will reach out to you with a last-minute request, and then some other major news event will happen and your hours of coordinating the reporter and doctor’s schedules will go out the window.

Al Jazeera America approached us in November to comment on the outrageous price hike of a drug called Daraprim. I scrambled to get the UNC TV studio booked and the doctor ready to run over to make the interview with the team in L.A. that would be cutting the package and then the San Bernardino office shooting took place. Al Jazeera bumped the story with us and we had to start over again a few days later with the logistics.

But that’s the world of news, and you can’t get frustrated. You will also be the spokesperson during bad news sometimes, and you have to be strategic about when to advise people to comment and when to tell them to refuse to respond. That’s a tough call, but it gets easier with practice.

Again, I think doing an internship can expose students to this. It’s an exciting field and one I think will remain in demand.

Student guest post: Twitter, the non-social media

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a recent talk at High Point University.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a talk at High Point University.

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the first of those posts. Sarah Kaylan Butler is a senior majoring in journalism. She is from Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a digital journalist dedicated to cultivating community. A portion of her community journalism pursuit includes serving as the editor-at-large for the Durham VOICE and the Carrboro Commons.

It’s 2016, and we have access to so many social media platforms that it’s absurd. Do we know what each one is for and how to use their many functions?

I mean, Facebook was created to keep college students connected as they spanned across the nation. Instagram shares photos and videos (partially thanks to Vine), although once a post is made, it’s not easily sharable. Snapchat shares temporary photos and videos with individuals or a geographical location.  We’re getting more platforms by the day, like Periscope and WhatsApp.

There’s one platform that I don’t agree is social by nature. Twitter.

It doesn’t serve as a “social” medium. I realize that when you Google “Twitter” a the description says it’s a “social networking service.” My proposition is merely to scratch the term “social” and refer to it as a networking medium or news source.

High Point University recently hosted a conversation between Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU’s president, and Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter.

During their open chat, Stone talked about what Twitter was like in the beginning and how it has grown. He acknowledged that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the same.

“These are completely different services. They’re always lumped together, but they’re totally different,” Stone said.

If I tweet to a friend, “Hey, I’m about to break up with my boyfriend, but I can’t think of what to say. Can you come over?” I might annoy my followers or even gain a few enemies.

Of course, our parents taught us manners, and those lessons apply online.

So maybe it’s not such a good idea to hold ongoing casual conversation on Twitter, but what is it good for? Networking.

Networking isn’t always within your career field. As journalists, we can use it to build strong local communities.

Stone said, “Twitter isn’t about keeping up with your friends. It’s about … first to the world. It’s about finding out what’s happening right now. It’s about — if you have something to say, saying it right now.”

Tweeting, as a medium to share news, has become one of Twitter’s staples since its conception in 2006. It freely allows businesses, journalists, travelers and anyone else to network with other like-minded individuals or entities.

In fact, Stone said that he was surprised when celebrities began using Twitter because they already have a voice. 

Dr. Qubein even asked Stone, “Does it depress you that the people with the largest following are Katy Perry and Mr. Bieber?” Stone responded by saying, “You know, It’s funny. I thought celebrities would never use Twitter because they’re celebrities. The whole point of a celebrity is that you have limited access to them. You can watch them in movies, but that’s it.”

Now celebrities use Twitter to build and interact with fans, but it has many other uses.

During a snowstorm, users can be alerted of school closings. While walking around downtown, users can be alerted to great sales happening at their favorite local stores. While protesting users can be alerted to what’s happening at similar marches around the world.

Stone talked about his experience at a South By Southwest Interactive conference, when he was standing at the back of a room and noticed that Twitter was on every phone. He said that at one point, only 10 minutes into a session, “everyone just got up and left. It was like someone had announced something over the PA system.”

Later, he found out people were tweeting about something across the hall that they were more interested in and like birds, they flocked to it or followed it.

In everyday conversation, people use phrases like “Do you follow me?” to ask if someone understands. They ask their co-workers during their lunch break, “Hey, are you following this story?” That’s why Stone said he decided to allow users to “follow” each other, instead of become “friends.”

“All along I’ve always thought of Twitter — it’s not a social network. It’s not where you go to connect with your friends from high school. Twitter is, yes, it’s social media broadly because it’s media and it’s people, but Twitter fundamentally is the place where you go to hear news first.”

As people who consume many different kinds of social media, let’s be aware of the tools we have at our disposal and use them appropriately.

Q&A with Kristie Gonzales, promotion and digital brand manager at WABC-TV

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Kristie Gonzales, left, and other members of the WABC-TV staff.

Kristie Gonzales is promotion and digital brand manager at WABC-TV in New York City. She previously worked at stations in California and North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Gonzales talks about her job, the relationship between news and promotions, and her advice for journalism students.

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

A. The first thing I do when I wake up is turn on “Eyewitness News This Morning” and “Good Morning America.” Before I arrive to work, I’ve posted on social media for abc7ny, and I have a good idea of what stories are trending that day.

Once I get to work, I attend our 9 a.m. news meeting to learn how we’re going to cover those stories. From there, I pow-wow with our promotion and digital producers to see how we can attract the most viewers to our various platforms. We are putting a lot of emphasis on expanding our social media video right now, on top of our regular on-air duties.

The rest of my time is spent working on image campaigns, various shoots and outside media spends. I take frequent social media breaks to listen to what our viewers are saying because they are the heartbeat of our operation.

It’s wonderful; I never get the chance to watch the clock in this job and no day is ever alike because you always have the possibility of breaking news.

Q. What is the relationship between news and promotions at TV stations like yours?

A. News and promotion are incredibly close and work hand-in-hand at WABC-TV. Our department attends news meetings and is expected to contribute story ideas and evaluate stories based on promotional appeal. I always tell our new interns that news tells the story, and we sell the story.

We try to be as educated as possible on what our viewers want from us, so there’s always a healthy discourse with our newsroom colleagues about how we craft our special reports. Plus, one of the more interesting aspects of promoting in social media is that it has virtually killed the tease. It’s forced us to be more like news because we are focusing on delivering solid content versus slick-sounding promises in our on-air pushes.

Q. Before going to New York in 2014, you worked at TV stations in Fresno, California, and Durham, North Carolina. How did those experiences in smaller markets help you in your current job?

A. I cannot overstate the importance of gaining experience if differently sized markets. Not only is it better to make your mistakes in front of half a million people instead of 20 million, but you will also learn different lessons in each market.

In Fresno, I learned you can do so much with so little. That prepared me to be a better steward of the larger budgets I encountered in top markets. If you can do your best with a crew of one or a crew of 30, you’re more prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

I’ve done almost every kind of production job in TV, and that’s made me a much better director and manager. You also don’t buy excuses because you know there are different ways of getting TV done.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists?

A. I hope you don’t mind a list! These are the little nuggets I’ve been collecting and sharing over the years:

  • Just scrub your social media clean. Plain and simple. You would think everyone knows this by now.
  • Learn every possible media creation tool you can. I get hundreds of intern applications so I only look at candidates who can edit, write, shoot and have experience in social media.
  • Take any foot in the door that you can get. You never know where it will lead! Walk through that open door.
  • Don’t be afraid to move or take that first low-paying job. You’re smart – you‘ll figure out how to make it work!
  • Come prepared. Do your homework before you ever walk in the door. That includes knowing the day’s news, the competition and who the talent and executives are.
  • If you are looking for advice or a mentor, come with specific asks.
  • Aspire to leadership. Our business needs more diversity behind the cameras in management.
  • Follow me on social media and feel free to ask me anything, or shoot me an email!

UPDATE: In June 2016, Gonzales was named president and general manager of KVUE in Austin, Texas.

Q&A with Tracy Duncan of Star Wars Stylebook

A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrive and warpdrive.
A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrives and warp drives.

Tracy Duncan is a blogger who runs the Star Wars Stylebook account on Twitter. In this interview, conducted by email, Duncan discusses the origins of @SWStylebook, common questions she receives and her outlook on the next movie in the series.

Q. Why a “Star Wars” stylebook?

A. I originally wrote a post for the blog I run, Club Jade, on common errors you see with certain “Star Wars” terms. This was December 2012, not long after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney and the new movies were announced, so Star Wars was again a big part of the mainstream discussion and I was running across pretty simple errors like “Jedis” and “Lucasfilms” everywhere from Twitter to Associated Press stories. That post did pretty well, but it didn’t really find an audience outside of the fandom.

The stylebook concept really took off with Twitter. In June 2014, I saw @APStylebook do an #APStyleChat about religion, started thinking about how that would apply to the term “the Force” and that old post, and that led to @SWStylebook.

I expected it to maybe get a hundred or so followers in fan media, but it took off with standard journalists as well. I owe a lot of that to @tvjedi, who brought it up among Chicago-area media when the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was announced there not long after I started publicizing the account.

Q. How do you determine what to include in the stylebook, and what are some of the common questions people have about “Star Wars” terminology and names?

A. I try and keep it to the most basic terms, things your average person would recognize or know about. There’s so much additional material with “Star Wars,” I could probably spend weeks tweeting about various types of tanks or spaceships, but most people are only going to know or care about things that are prominent in the movies, like AT-ATs or the Millennium Falcon.

I get asked about “tauntaun” and “stormtrooper” fairly regularly. Stormtrooper can be confusing because the prequel versions, the clone troopers, have a space between the words, but stormtrooper doesn’t.

I also get a lot of pronunciation questions about things that aren’t really named on-screen, which is understandable, but also not really something I’m comfortable advising on because it’s not something I’ve particularly paid attention to. But if there’s something official out there that I’m aware of, I will try to link it. Last week, someone asked me about how to say AT-AT, and almost the next day, they were talking about it on a Youtube series produced by Lucasfilm.

Q. How do you deal with the different versions of the movies as well as “Star Wars” books, comic books, etc.?

A. I’m old enough that I grew up on the VHS versions of the films, but I can’t really get that worked up about the changes. I’d appreciate being able to buy pristine versions of the THX versions on Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge issue for me.

I do have a deep dislike of the CGI Jabba scene in “A New Hope,” partly because the digital Jabba isn’t that great, but mostly because the dialogue in the scene is redundant. Everything we learned there had already been told in the Greedo scene. (I can take or leave the whole shooting first thing, honestly.)

I was a big Expanded Universe (never Extended!) fan, mostly of the novels that have since been declared non-canon because of the new trilogy. If I hadn’t spent years reading them, I doubt I’d have absorbed enough about the series to be able to do something like Star Wars Stylebook, but I also think they’d been in a deep spiral of declining quality for a long time.

Licensed fiction is always a risk, but there were a lot of wasted opportunities and particularly by 2012, the audience that was still reading them was only a small fraction of fans. I can’t blame Lucasfilm at all for their decision — anyone who’d been paying attention knew it was inevitable the moment they announced new movies.

As for the stylebook, we actually had a big discussion at one point over whether Anakin’s nickname should be spelled “Ani” or “Annie.” Early things like “The Phantom Menace” novelization have it as “Annie” — and that’s what I went with originally — but captions from “The Clone Wars” cartoon had it as “Ani.” That was fan preference as well, so if someone asks, “Ani” seems the safer bet.

There’s also conflicting information about whether “dark side” should be capitalized or not, and if it’s Toshi Station or Tosche Station, but in those cases I also go with the more recent stuff — or I might ask someone at Lucasfilm, if it’s not on the StarWars.com Databank or something else I can check myself. They’ve been pretty consistent since the prequel days, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Q. ”Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” opens in December. We’ve seen the trailers. Any predictions on how good the movie will be?

A. My gut — and everything I’ve been reading — tells me it’ll be good, or at least super fun. I definitely think it has a good chance at pleasing a lot of fans. Here’s hoping!