Q&A with Liz Bell, reporter at EdNC

Liz Bell is a reporter at EdNC, covering K-12 education and policy across North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Bell discusses her work, her beat and her experience at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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

A. There truly is no typical day for me. Depending on the time of year, I could be at the state legislature and in education committees, regularly covering policy on class size or school choice or educator preparation.

Even when the legislature is in session, EdNC’s senior reporter Alex Granados and I switch off what we are covering. We could both be at the legislature covering separate topics, or one of us could be visiting a school somewhere three hours away while the other holds down the fort in Raleigh.

When the legislature isn’t in session, my day revolves around what story and what kind of story I’m working on. I recently finished a video project on racial equity in N.C. schools, so my days included a lot of traveling to Charlotte and eastern Edgecombe County, interviewing and filming subjects in courtrooms and classrooms, at churches and conferences, on sidewalks and in their workplaces.

Before in this most recent project, my days revolved around a written feature of a high-poverty school in Winston-Salem struggling with its academic performance but making large strides in students’ learning growth. I would travel to the school on some days, work from home at times and write and work in our office in downtown Raleigh at others.

EdNC is flexible as far as the specifics of where and when we work, which has helped me figure out what keeps me personally motivated and the most effective at my job.

Q. What do you like about reporting and writing about education?

A. When I was in journalism school and writing for The Daily Tar Heel, I wasn’t set on writing about education — or any other beat. I had dabbled in political reporting but mainly wrote about social issues affecting UNC students and communities as a University Desk/investigative team reporter.

When a job covering education opened up, I was interested to see what focusing on a more narrow issue would be like. In some ways, zooming in on one issue helps me feel like I know the broader context to whatever story I’m working on. Everything is connected, and I usually know what sources to reach out to and what gaps in my background knowledge I need to fill.

In another sense, however, writing about education really means writing about kids and their families. Children’s development and education don’t just happen inside the school building and are affected by economics, family structures, housing, health care, the justice system, etc. An education story often ends up being about a mix of these and tons of other factors.

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

A. I did not anticipate how much headline writing and self-editing I would be doing after journalism school. I was used to there being multiple layers of editing for content, copy editing, and headline writing with tons of different people (and opinions) at the DTH.

We have a managing editor, Laura Lee, who plans and manages content for the long term and also does daily story editing, along with a million other things. She does an amazing job but is only one person.

I always try to read through my stories multiple times, fact-check everything, read them out loud and make sure they’re the best they can be content and organization-wise before I send them over for Laura to edit. I write my own headlines as well, which are sometimes changed and sometimes are not.

Q. You are a 2016 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use now, and what new skills have you acquired?

A. As I mentioned, I do a lot of self-editing. All of the basic and important writing and editing skills I learned in journalism school are put to use every day.

I’m also constantly trying to improve upon the foundations of reporting (asking tough questions, getting sources to open up, managing uncomfortable conversations) I learned both in the journalism school and at the DTH. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without the love for storytelling (both journalistically and creatively) that I developed during college with help from professors and peers.

Since graduation, I have filmed and edited video throughout the months-long production of a short film series. Though I knew the basics of Premiere Pro from an audio/video class in journalism school, I have learned most of what I can do now through lots of Googling and learning as I go. I take photographs for all of my stories and never took a photojournalism course in school. I also feel I’ve grown in areas like public speaking, event planning, social media management and radio/TV appearances.

Read Liz Bell’s stories on the EdNC website and follow her on Twitter.

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Student guest post: Three ways news editing is like tap dancing

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Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Janna Childers is a senior studying reporting and global studies with a creative writing minor. She is also an events and exhibitions intern with UNC Global.

My dance teacher didn’t really like tap. And neither did I.

But from the time I was 5 years old until I graduated from high school, she kept giving us tap lessons every week. She told us it was good for our brains, that it would improve our agility and our athleticism. She made us take tap lessons even if we didn’t want to be professional tap dancers.

As a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill who still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she graduates, I find my dance teacher’s philosophy applicable to my current situation. While I may not want to be a professional journalist or news editor, that doesn’t mean that the skills I’ve learned at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism are not valuable.

In fact, I would argue the opposite. The skills I have learned are extremely beneficial, are good for my brain and will make me a better communicator and professional in whatever profession I choose to pursue.

Here are three similarities I find between news editing and tap dancing.

1. It’s all in the details.

Tap shoes have two metal plates on the soles of the shoe: one at the ball of the foot and one at the heel. In order to make sounds, tap dancers do small movements to tap either the ball of the foot of the heel of the foot on the ground. The movements are intricate and fast. And whether you are trying to stay in unison with a whole group of tappers or keep up the rhythm during your solo, it takes meticulous attention to every tiny detail for the taps to sound good.

Similarly, in news editing, details are extremely important. It’s the editor’s job to help shape the story so that the what the writer wants to communicate clearly shows through. Both the big picture of the story structure and the little commas have to be scrutinized and accounted for.

2. It’s exercise.

Tap dancing is quick and intricate. It gets your heart rate up, and it requires agility and balance. Not only that, but memorizing the long patterns of small movements improves your memory and is good for your brain.

I look at news editing the same way. Looking carefully at a mound of words in front of you and deciphering which hyphen has to go is a hard mental task, one that I don’t practice often as a student. Being able to pick apart a sentence, a paragraph, even a whole story and put it back together again with clarity, accuracy and of course, AP style, is a skill that works my brain in a way that sitting in lectures and writing essays does not. Add in deadline pressure with a 1,000-word story in front of you, and I’m pretty sure your heart rate would significantly increase as well.

3. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

I haven’t taken a tap lesson in four years, but I still find myself doing shuffles under the table after I’ve had my morning coffee. I flap when I’m waiting in line. I even remember a step from our tap dance from my senior year: flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, flap heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank back heel heel, spank heel toe heel stomp. I do that one when I’m wearing my black boots that make a wonderful noise on the kitchen floor. Somehow or another, tap dancing has stuck with me all of these years.

News editing works in a similar way. I can’t go to a restaurant now without searching for a style inconsistency. When I watch commercials, I always comment on whether I thought their copy was clear and effective. And I get a lot of joy when I find a spelling error in a New York Times online article. A lot of joy.

Overall, I’ve loved getting to learn about news editing and putting those skills to practice. It’s something I enjoy and know is making me not only a better editor, but also a better writer and a better communicator. And although I may not want to be a professional tap dancer or a professional news editor, I do believe news editing skills will serve me well in my future whatever I choose to do.

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.

Washington Post story on Roy Moore is real news

Last week, The Washington Post published a blockbuster story on Roy Moore, a Republican running to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate. In the story, four women say that Moore pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers.

The story’s focus is Leigh Corfman. She told the Post that in 1979, Moore approached her at a courthouse when her mother was there for a custody hearing. At the time, Corfman was 14, and Moore was 32. She alleges that Moore, an assistant district attorney at the time, took her to his house, disrobed and touched her.

After the Post’s story broke, Moore called it “the very definition of fake news.” He said the Post had committed “intentional defamation.”

Let’s take a look at each of Moore’s accusations.

“Fake news” is propaganda. It’s false information that is designed to mislead, confuse and demoralize. The Post story is real news. It’s reported, edited and written to provide readers with the background and character of a person seeking an important office.

“Intentional defamation” indicates that Moore is considering legal action against the Post. To win a libel case, a public figure like Moore must show, among other things, that a news organization acted with “actual malice.” That means that he must show that the Post knowingly published false information or exercised reckless disregard for the truth.

A thorough reading of the Post story shows that it was meticulously reported, with two journalists interviewing more than 30 sources over a three-week period. For example, the Post looked into whether the accusers were supporters of Moore’s opponents in the Senate race:moore-politics

The Post also looked into whether the custody hearing that Corfman described had taken place that day. It did:moore-courthouseThis attention to detail shows that the Post’s reporters and editors did their homework. I will be surprised if Moore files a libel suit against the newspaper and even more surprised if he prevails.

 

Q&A with Kevin Schaefer, columnist and editor at SMA News Today

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Kevin Schaefer is a writer and community editor at SMA News Today, a website about the genetic disease spinal muscular atrophy. He lives in Cary, North Carolina, and is a graduate of N.C. State University. In this interview, conducted by email, Schaefer discusses his work at SMA News Today and offers advice on how others with SMA can explore careers in writing.

Q. Describe your job at SMA News Today. What is your typical workweek like?

A. I started working for SMA News Today a few months ago writing a weekly column. Recently I started full-time as a community editor. In addition to writing my column, I also write and edit content for our news section.

Our news page is divided into two main sections. There’s the research side, which covers all of the latest research news within the SMA community and information about clinical trials, and those articles are written by people with scientific backgrounds who have direct access to the literature. The other component is our social clips section, which I’m now helping oversee. This is where we post articles about managing life with SMA and also do profiles on SMA individuals.

Some of the articles I just wrote for this section include: “5 Tips for Going To School When You Have SMA” and “5 Tips for Supporting a Friend or Family Member with SMA.” My executive editor and my publisher really wanted a patient specialist like me to provide feedback on this content and take a more active role in producing content from here on.

That said, my day-to-day work kind of varies depending on what tasks I have to do. At the beginning of the week, I chat with my editors and our social media team to brainstorm ideas and decide which articles we’re going to run on our social media pages. Then if I’m not reviewing other posts, I’m usually writing.

So far I’ve been writing a couple social clips articles per week, and then I write my column on Thursdays. I also record weekly audio flash briefings of previously published content. These are basically mini-podcasts that anyone with an Echo device from Amazon Alexa can access. I just read an excerpt from one of my articles from that week and do an audio recording.

My next project is to produce a monthly podcast in which I’ll interview various people with SMA. I just scheduled my first interview, and I am working to get that first episode live on our site by the end of the month. So it’s a very multimedia job that requires me to use all of my journalism and communication skills.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at SMA News Today?

A. SMA News Today is one of multiple websites that are owned by a parent company called BioNews. Each of these websites provides daily digital coverage of a specific neuromuscular condition.

BioNews has a vast network of employees from all around the world. I live in North Carolina and work from home, my main editors live in Texas, another lives in Canada, etc. As such, all of our communication is done digitally. We use an app called Slack, which despite the name is basically a professional version of GroupMe. We use it constantly to share ideas, ask each other questions and conduct conference calls.

So when I post one of my columns, I save it as a draft so my editors can look it over and make the necessary changes. I’ll post a placeholder headline which they usually like, but if they come up with something better, then they’ll change it.

Most of the editing so far has been of previously published content. One of my first tasks when I started this new role was to go through all of the old articles in the social clips section and provide feedback. Here I did change a few headlines and make some other suggestions for specific articles, and I just had a conference call last week with my team in which I shared my thoughts on this section as it is and also pitched ideas for future content. It went great, and I’m excited for the ideas we came up with together. All that said, every post is a collaborative effort, and we go through an extensive editorial process just like any other professional publication.

Q. What is your assessment of how news organizations cover SMA in general? How could they improve?

A. You know, there was a tragic story last year about a teenage girl who had a severe case of SMA and who made the decision to get rid of all life support. She died a few weeks later, and every media outlet was all over this story like a pack of wolves. Every one of them competed to produce the most heart-wrenching account of a story that was so grounded in ethical controversy. The message they all sent, however, was that SMA is nothing more than a terrifying disease, and that everyone with it is better off dead.

Yeah SMA is terrifying and difficult, but so many of us who live with it are living great lives and not letting it stop us. We also now have the FDA-approved treatment Spinraza, as well as an abundance of support within the SMA community. I was pretty enraged by the sheer laziness of these journalists who all took the same watered-down approach to this story, and I wrote about it in my school newspaper while I was still in college.

It’s getting better, but a lot of times the mainstream media either portrays people with disabilities as helpless objects of pity or as angels who are only here to inspire the rest of the world. We’re just people who have different challenges and obstacles than someone who is able-bodied.

In terms of good media examples, I’ve enjoyed reading The New York Times section on disability. This is a weekly series of essays by disabled authors, and I know of at least one SMA writer who has contributed to it. The last one I read was by a woman who wrote about online dating when you’re in a wheelchair, which I found really insightful. I also love watching the ABC sitcom “Speechless” with my parents, which does a great job juxtaposing humor with its more sentimental aspects.

In terms of what makes SMA News Today and BioNews stand out is that we’re the only publication producing daily coverage of SMA. The organization Cure SMA, which I’m also involved with, does post news stories, but their primary focus is raising money for research. SMA News Today posts both news articles and a wide range of columns. Including me we have four columnists right now, and we each bring something different to the table.

It’s pretty surreal working for this site. I always figured that if something like SMA News Today existed, I’d have to be the one to start it. Thankfully, that’s not the case! I love the job I have, but I could never handle the pressure or skill level of a CEO or publisher. Mike and Chris (my executive editor and publisher) have done a fantastic job building the company from the ground up, and I’m happy to be a part of it now.

Q. What advice do you have for other people with SMA who are considering careers in writing?

I encourage anyone who has SMA and who has an interest in writing to pursue it. The great thing about it is that you can do it from anywhere, and despite what people tell you, it can lead to a paying job eventually. You just have to stick with it and figure out what kind of writing you’re good at.

For me, I was a theater kid growing up, and my high school drama teachers noticed I had a knack for writing when I scripted monologues for my peers to perform. I tried my hand at writing longer plays and prose fiction, but it was always too amateur. Still, my parents and all my teachers were supportive, and I remember my creative writing teacher at the time observing how I’d always have a graphic novel on me every time she saw me. It’s fitting that I’ve now written several comic book scripts and am trying to break into the industry.

Then in college I majored in English hoping to become a screenwriter, and I kind of stumbled into journalism on a whim. Although my parents were both journalism majors in college and have years of experience working for newspapers, I went into N.C. State’s student newspaper office without an ounce of knowledge about reporting. I’m pretty sure I even spelled a source’s name incorrectly in my first article. I came in just wanting to write movie reviews, and I ended up staying there throughout my college career and even being the features co-editor my junior year.

I definitely wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for my time at the Technician, and it was there that I wrote my first columns about my disability. Though I mainly wrote for the Arts & Entertainment section, my articles about how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media were some of my most well-received. The same thing happened when I tackled the subject in my fiction-writing classes. I realized how much I had to say about life with SMA and that I could convey my perspective through a blend of humor and serious essays. That’s basically the foundation of my column “Embracing My Inner Alien.”

So that’s how I got to this point, but there’s no secret formula. If you’re an SMA individual who wants to write, then start writing now and read every book you can. You don’t have to become an English major, but I do strongly recommend some form of higher education.

All it boils down to is your willingness to put forth the effort and getting your work out there. Start your own blog. Write a book or a screenplay. We need our voices heard and our stories told, and in this day and age it’s easier than ever before to build an audience. You can start your own blog for free or submit articles to different publications and acquire freelance work that way.

Heck, I’ve even done stand-up comedy a couple of times, and I’m now working on several comic book projects with some artist friends of mine. There aren’t many limits you have in terms of what you can do as a writer, and the term “writer’s block” is nothing more than a BS excuse to be lazy.

I’m far from a perfect example of an ultra-disciplined writer, but if I go a day without writing at least a page of something or an article, I feel guilty. If I’m ever feeling complacent with my writing output, I look at heroes of mine like Neil Gaiman and Scott Snyder and get back to work.

Follow Kevin Schaefer on Twitter and read his posts at SMA News Today.

Submitting facts to a candid world

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“Writing the Declaration of Independence,” a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

As one of the best breakup letters of world history, the Declaration of Independence is a wonderful document.

Its author is Thomas Jefferson, with editing help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The Continental Congress also changed some wording before approving the declaration.

The list of complaints against King George III is especially interesting in its detail. That section is introduced this way: “Let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

On this holiday, I encourage you to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence or listen to a reading by NPR journalists. In either form, please appreciate the declaration’s language, structure and message, and have a safe and happy Fourth of July.

Q&A with Kelsey Weekman, writer at AOL

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Kelsey Weekman is a trending content writer at AOL. She has also written for Mashable, Reductress and Mediashift. In this interview, Weekman discusses how AOL approaches reporting, editing and headline writing.

Q. Describe your job. What does a “trending content writer” do on a typical day?

A. I spend the day looking for stories that I think will go viral, from animal videos to the latest odd political moment. I write anywhere from 5 to 10 in a day, but since January, it’s always been closer to 10. (Inauguration was in January, so, you can put the pieces together there.)

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at AOL?

A. Writers write their own headlines, and there are three kinds:

  1. A main title, which shows up on the article page when you open it. We try to give lots of information and use SEO keywords.
  2. A social headline, which automatically shows up when shared on Facebook and Twitter. We try to craft a clever-yet-not-misleading tease here. It’s Clickbait Lite.
  3. A short title, which shows up on the app. We go for a similar tease but can only use 52 characters.

As for story editing, it’s not particularly thorough. I pass my stories on to a coworker on my level or above, and they proofread the article, then send it back. I make my own changes and publish my own work.

Q. You also edit an email newsletter called Keeping Up With The Content, and you’ve researched newsletters as part of an independent study. What do you like about the newsletter format?

A. I experimented with quite a few newsletter formats myself, but I found the one that works best for me, a content curator who pulls from a ton of different websites, is really just making a list of headlines divided by topic. I format it with fun colors and a trendy font to make it feel more like a zine than an email marketing tactic.

Q. You are a 2016 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there to do you use in your job at AOL, and what new ones have picked up?

A. What I learned in the most basic news writing class has never left me. It drilled how to write a proper news article into my brain. My specialization was in public relations, which I realized about halfway through is not what I want to do, but having to be creative with words in any format was an invaluable exercise.

Most importantly, I learned to be scrappy. I learned that you have to be your own best advocate because the journalism world is wildly competitive. If you want to do something, do it, don’t wait for someone to create a way for you to accomplish it.

UPDATE: In August 2017, Weekman accepted a position writing for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter.

Follow Kelsey Weekman on Twitter, read her stories and subscribe to her newsletter.