Q&A with Courtney Rukan, multiplatform editor at The Washington Post

Courtney Rukan is deputy multiplatform editing chief at The Washington Post, a job she has held since 2010. She previously worked as a copy editor in the sports and features departments at the Post. In this interview, conducted by email, Rukan discusses her job and her transition from print journalism to digital.

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

A. In my job, I help oversee a team of 50 copy editors. I typically arrive between 8 and 9:30 a.m. (depending on the day and/or circumstances)

Monday: I try to start the week off by dipping into our editing system and handling a few web files, to get the week started off right. My boss and I meet after the daily 9:30 morning meeting (the daily planning meeting for digital and print) to catch up on business. We talk about what’s happening that day, as well as short- and long-term projects we’re undertaking and any other things we need to deal with.

If I don’t have any emails that are of pressing concern, I make a pass around the room to get details about what was talked about at the morning meeting and what might be brewing for the Sunday paper. I also make sure to stop by to say hi to my copy editors who work in the morning, because it’s always a good thing to know how everyone is doing.

Then I make assignments for our weekly Real Estate, Sunday Arts and Sunday Business sections before turning my attention to overseeing the daily print product. On Mondays and Tuesdays, other copy editors in my department “run the day” because we want to make sure folks in our department get a chance to take on leadership roles. (I’ll detail the print duties on Wednesday, which is the day I run.) In between making sure everything is running smoothly, I will handle any other matters with respect to production, personnel, etc.

Tuesday: In the morning, I turn my attention to doing a weekly schedule, which takes about an hour. I walk the floor quickly to get a handle on what’s coming that day.

This is the regular day for our weekly enterprise meeting, at which we find out about the big projects we’re working on for that week or farther out. My boss and I try to marry the right copy editor to the right enterprise projects based on timeline, skill level, interest, etc. Then I connect the assignment editor, designer, copy editor and any other interested parties in an email to coordinate the project. After that, I oversee print production.

Wednesday: I make the final assignments for our weekend sections and coordinate with the Weekend section editor on our proofing strategy for the day. Then I try to squeeze in whatever administrative duties and additional meetings I can before the print cycle starts.

This is the day I run print instead of supervising it: Prep for the print product includes greeting each editor as they come in (if possible), parsing our booking process for what will run in print and what is online-only content, communicating with assignment editors and copy editors, checking our messaging system for changes, making assignments, slotting when necessary, determining which pages we will proof early (before deadline), assigning the remaining pages to proof and assigning and late-moving files. Once we’re in a good spot (typically between 6:30 and 8 p.m.), I head home where I monitor email until about 9:30 p.m.

Thursday: My boss and I slot Real Estate, Sunday Arts and start slotting Sunday Business. We coordinate with the section editors to ensure smooth closure. Then we have our weekly meeting with the managing editor in the afternoon. I make sure our weekend enterprise plans are moving in the right direction before turning my attention to print.

Friday: This is the day I’m my boss, who’s off Fri-Sat. So I attend the morning meeting, make my rounds, coordinate everything for the weekend while making initial plans for the following week. Then I slot most of Sunday Business, attend any necessary meetings, get print started for that night, attend the afternoon A1 meeting (at which A1 is debated and our digital stats are parsed), and finish off Sunday Business once the market stats come through. Once print is under control, I leave around 6:30 p.m.

Any number of things can interrupt the normal flow of my workday because curveballs pop up all the time, but that is what a typical week should look like.

Q. You started your career as a print journalist. How have you made the transition to digital?

My transition to digital was gradual from 2004 until 2010, at which point I worked in the sports department and we were a guinea pig for washingtonpost.com. During those six years, our digital education mainly consisted of learning the needs of the digital world. We evolved slowly, reverse publishing some content from web to print. Then after a couple of years, we started to write SEO web headlines. But since 2010, the transition has been much quicker.

From 2010 to 2013, we started writing our own web heds with digital summaries and learned how to pull photos for digital presentation in Methode, our CMS. Then we added editing in WordPress in 2013 as a complement for the bloggers and for special digital presentation.

We also have special systems and build-outs for databases, graphics, video, design, etc. This year we rolled out ARC, which allows us to publish copy to the web in a more streamlined way, which has continued our unofficial “new year, new tool” pace.

I think the transition from print to digital is more a mind-set more than anything: Typesetting and publishing content have never been easier, and yet new tools can throw people off-balance, so it’s important to remember all of the tools we’ve worked on in our careers and how much harder those tools were when it was print-only work.

ATEX required editors to hard-code headlines, captions and text; the new systems only require us to make sure everything is right within the code that is provided for us. We do have more steps to worry about now, but if you can keep things organized in your head you can succeed easily in the digital world.

That said, we provide a lot of training for anyone who needs it. Personally, I think we should embrace change and continue to do so. Evolution is necessary to succeed over a 30-plus-year career.

Q. The Post uses a “content testing tool” called Bandito to assess headlines and other elements on its site. How does that affect how human editors do their work?

Bandito allows for dissent and certainty, which is great for editors and journalism. If two or more people have different ideas about the direction a headline should go it, you can use Bandito to prove which one is the best.

We get a lot of guidance on how our voice should sound on web heds, and there is a lot of discussion about digital presentation in various channels in Slack. And sometimes the best headline might just be one that has more of a “print” sensibility.

Bandito allows us to take it right to the source, our audience, to see how we can best proceed. So I don’t think it affects how human editors do their work so much as it helps us by opening a world of possibilities that are proved or disproved in real time; Bandito gives us the chance to think both inside and outside the box.

Q. Editing at the Post sounds like a cool job. What advice do you have for students who are interested in that kind of work?

Working at The Post is great, and we try to create a collegial and supportive working environment. I’ve never had a desire to do anything else because of the feeling that we’re making a difference each day and my excitement when I’m in the newsroom.

Even on my worst day at work, I have more fun at work than a lot of my non-journo friends have on their best day at work. We work with so many intelligent and funny people, colleagues who care about the state of the world and the state of the people in the newsroom.

But working at a major daily newspaper isn’t for the faint of heart: The hours can be long and unpredictable, there is a lot of stress associated with the unpredictability of the news cycle, and working nights and weekends can be part of the job for many years. Case in point: I worked 15 years before getting a traditional Saturday-Sunday weekend, and although my shifts are mostly days now, there are still instances when I’m at the office until 9:30 or later (excluding big-event nights like an election). And for 10 of those 15 years, I had a midweek weekend and worked past midnight.

We have more opportunities for daytime work now, but anyone who wants to work at a newspaper needs to think about unusual hours and days off and whether they can sustain that life for a decade or more. But doctors, lawyers, nurses and so many more people have strange hours, too, so if you really love journalism you should do it.

Passion is what matters most: How passionate are you about the First Amendment and the press’s role in it? The answer to those questions will guide you.

Q&A with Bob Bryan, reporter for Business Insider

Bob Bryan at the Chairman's Room at the New York Stock Exchange.
Bob Bryan at the Chairman’s Room at the New York Stock Exchange.

Bob Bryan is markets reporter for Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his beat and headline writing and social media at BI.

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

A. As a markets reporter, my team usually gets an early jump on things. Four of us are in the office by 7 a.m., looking at overnight news in European and Asian markets or covering quarterly earnings that are announced before the opening of the market.

From there the day can really be anything. Since Business Insider has a relatively slim team, we have a lot of freedom to explore topics that interest us, For instance I could write about Obamacare, the Wells Fargo scandal and how inflation is impacting the Federal Reserve all in one day (and have before).

Posts usually come out of three places: breaking news (which can come from anywhere: Twitter, press releases, email tips); research from banks and economic analysts such as the International Monetary Fund or the Fed; and interviews done with market followers, economists, and major investors.

I’m usually on the go until 3 to 3:30 p.m. when I stop to start planning the Facebook Live broadcast I host every day at 430 p.m. That involves going through the headlines of the day selecting what I want to talk about, getting graphics and charts made up by our markets graphics guru, and planning chyrons with the video team. I typically write myself a rough outline, but ad lib most of the show.

The show usually wraps at 4:50 p.m., and afterwards, I check some emails and maybe finish a post I was working on. Typically, I leave the office anywhere from 5:15 to 6:00, though I may do some work at home if news breaks afterward.

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

A. Social media is incredibly important for my job, Twitter being the most prominent.

Not only is Twitter a source of ideas, but for financial journalists, there is a robust conversation between finance media and those in the markets world. There is a great group of economists and traders that use Twitter and are active in conversing with others. Heck, even current Fed president Neel Kashkari takes question on Twitter from time to time.

Obviously, Facebook is also important not just as a source of traffic, but it’s also where I do my daily videos.

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

A. Everything starts with the writer. At BI, the reporters write their own headline, tweet, pick their picture, write the captions. Even the short browser title you see from search engines is done by the writer.

Stories are then sent via Slack to an editor, unpublished, to be looked over. It may go by a second editor occasionally depending on the subject matter. For longer features, the copy desk will look over the text before it goes live. If it is a normal, shorter post, the copy desk looks over the story after it goes live. We strive for speed, so the copy desk is incredibly quick at making edits to a story once it goes live.

Headlines are usually collaborative as well. If we try a headline that doesn’t get a lot of reader attention, we may change it or try a different construction to connect better with readers. This is usually discussed with the editor who read the story via Slack or, more likely, verbally. A lot of changes are discussed verbally since the office is open with shared tables and most of editorial is in one big space.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What advice do you have for the class of 2017?

A. Say yes. When you’re starting out, always be the first to jump on something when it’s offered. If there is a story idea thrown out, say yes even if you’re not sure about it. It’s a great way to learn, prove your capable, and add value to whatever newsroom (or any other job) you’re in.

For instance, I said yes to a story about UnitedHealthcare’s quarterly earnings in which it turned out they were leaving a majority of their Obamacare markets. Now six months later, I’m the primary Obamacare and health insurance reporter, which draws a lot of reader interest. If I had said “I don’t know too much about that,” then I would’ve missed one of the best opportunities of my career so far.

Read Bob Bryan’s posts on Business Insider and follow him on Twitter.

Q&A with Emily Storrow, assistant editor at The Local Palate

Emily Storrow is assistant editor at The Local Palate, a culinary magazine in Charleston, South Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Storrow discusses her role there and her transition from newspapers to magazines.

Q. Describe your job at The Local Palate. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’m the assistant editor of The Local Palate, a magazine that covers the food culture of the South. I’m in charge of several departments in each issue. They include coverage of new restaurant openings, Southern food products and books, and seasonal cocktails. My favorite department is called “Eatymology,” in which I write about the history of a particular Southern dish (recent topics have included pickled watermelon rinds and country ham).

As for my workday – it depends! We publish 10 issues annually (one issue per month, with June/July and December/January being double issues), so my workday changes based on where we are in the life of an issue. Often it’s a combination of brainstorming content for future issues, communicating with chefs and bartenders about recipes we’re featuring, researching and requesting samples of products or review copies of upcoming book releases, meeting with other departments (often art or web) about upcoming magazine content, and of course, writing and editing copy.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at The Local Palate?

A. When a writer (either one of TLP’s three editors or a freelance writer) is done with a piece, we print a copy and circulate it within the editorial department. We edit it for style and grammar and often give input on headlines, word choice, etc.

Then, the editor who’s in charge of that department will review the edits and make them in the document. At that point, it’s emailed to our copy editor, who edits the document in Word with track changes on. It comes back to the editor, who reviews those changes and places the document in “final text,” which means it’s ready for the art team.

As we approach the closing of an issue, we spend between about a week editing proofs. In addition to ensuring the copy is clean, we’re finalizing things like captions and headlines, which often change based on a page’s design. (This is especially true for features; it’s difficult to settle on a headline before knowing what the final page design is.)

Q. You previously worked at the Wilkes Journal-Patriot in North Carolina. What was the transition from a newspaper to a magazine like?

A. It was a transition! I was one of four general assignment reporters in the newsroom at the J-P. We published three days a week so I was typically writing articles on an issue-by-issue basis, maybe working on a piece a week or so ahead in certain cases.

At the magazine, we work on issues that won’t hit the newsstands for months. We’re always planning content (especially features) and actively work on an issue one to two months before it comes out. For example, it’s late October, and we’re getting ready to send the December/January issue to the printer.

Another major adjustment has been getting used to the role the art department plays in the magazine’s production. In a magazine, photography and design go hand-in-hand with editorial content.

Our departments are in constant communication. When we brainstorm editorial content, we ask for the art department’s input early on so we know if the concept will work from a visual standpoint. That’s something I never had to worry about at the newspaper!

Plus, I had to start using Chicago style. (I’m still an AP loyalist at heart, though.)

Q. Working as an editor at a magazine with a focus on food sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students aiming for a similar career path? 

A. I’d advise them to immerse themselves in whatever food scene/culture they’re interested in (for me, Southern). The food and beverage industry is a small world, and writing is a great way to establish connections. Food festivals are also great opportunities for meeting chefs and media folks.

A couple of the articles I wrote for a college feature-writing class were on people who have also appeared in Local Palate. One was the owner and namesake of Chapel Hill’s the Crunkelton, Gary Crunkleton. And he ultimately put me in touch with The Local Palate while I was job searching. Like I said, small world!

Q&A with Tara Jeffries, reporter at Morning Consult

Tara Jeffries is a reporter at Morning Consult, a technology and media organization in Washington, D.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Jeffries discusses her work there, its process for editing and headline writing, and her use of social media. 

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

A. I’m a finance reporter at Morning Consult, a nonpartisan media company that focuses on the issues driving Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. I cover the intersection of Congress and the financial services industry, with a dash of tax policy, trade and occasional coverage of the presidential candidates’ economic proposals.

I write a mixture of longer, policy-oriented stories and shorter pieces about the news of the day. I’m also the co-author of Morning Consult’s daily Finance Brief, a newsletter that captures the top headlines of the financial services beat.

My routine differs based on whether I’m heading up the brief or my colleague on the finance beat is handling it. On a day that I’m writing it, I’ll gather stories throughout the day and file a draft toward the end of business hours. I file my final draft and go through the editing process with my editor in the morning.

My days also depend on whether Congress is in session. When it is, I’m on Capitol Hill basically every day. Many of my quotes come from committee hearings — I keep detailed tabs on committees pertinent to my beat, like the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee. I also stay in contact with press representatives on those committees to keep in touch about what’s going on and what’s coming up.

But a lot of news is made in hallway interviews — spontaneous interactions with lawmakers after hearings, at events and quite literally as they’re walking in the hallways. I got my first taste of hallway interviewing as a legislative reporting intern with WRAL’s state politics team. When Congress is out of session, I spend a lot of time interviewing and meeting with people in the financial industry, whether they’re lobbyists, advocacy group leaders or think tank policy experts.

In my position, I get to cover the nitty-gritty of policy details in my long-term stories, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. Morning Consult is kind of a policy wonk’s paradise. I also get to be out “in the field” reporting, which is something that many reporters don’t experience at other outlets.

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

A. Stories go through a comprehensive process involving multiple editors.

My stories are handled most of the time by our finance and tech editor (my immediate supervisor), our chief policy editor and/or our managing editor. I write my own headlines, but they are sometimes tweaked by editors, or we float headline suggestions back and forth. The editing at Morning Consult has made me a much more precise, detail-oriented reporter.

Since I am on the Hill most of the time, some of my editing is conducted remotely. Generally, my editors and I communicate via email or Gchat in real time after I file a story. They ask questions and make suggestions. Before publishing a story, they provide me with a “readback” of what it looks like post-editing. This gives me the opportunity to review the piece before it’s published, and bring up any concerns if I have them.

Q. You recently live-tweeted the congressional testimony of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. What role does social media play in your job?

A. I’m fairly active on Twitter, and it’s a great way to connect with sources and/or other reporters on my beat. I have developed a following of congressional staffers, some lawmakers and policy advocates. I sometimes live-tweet events, particularly highly watched proceedings like the Wells Fargo CEO’s testimony or events featuring high-profile players like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s economic advisers, whom I covered last week.

Twitter offers the chance to get a little more conversational and interactive with my coverage. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about policy reporters is that wonky has to mean “stodgy” or boring — regulatory policy, banking policy and, yes, even tax policy can be fun to talk, write and tweet about. My Twitter activity also shows industry and policy sources that I am engaged and informed on my beat.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use in your work, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. In my UNC journalism studies, I learned the importance of a fully fleshed-out story that spells out all the players involved in an incident or topic.

In my particular field, I apply those lessons by making sure to show all the context around a given policy battle or legislative issue. For example, in my coverage of Wells Fargo’s consumer fraud scandal, I’ve detailed not only the immediate news — more than 2 million unauthorized accounts; CEO John Stumpf surrendering $41 million in pay — but how that news ripples out to many of the players in the financial services world, how it affects ongoing regulatory battles and how advocates on different sides of banking issues are using it to gain political capital.

Precision in writing is another aspect of my journalism education that I use in my position — something I learned in both your News Editing and Advanced Editing courses. When covering a numbers-heavy and policy-focused beat, I’m careful to be not only accurate, but precise in my details. An example: When I say that Wells Fargo’s CEO had $41 million in compensation “clawed back,” I need to specify what kind of compensation (in this case, unvested stock options).

Read Jeffries’ stories for Morning Consult and follow her on Twitter.

Q&A with Danny Nett, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Danny Nett is a senior in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and online managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund internship at Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Nett discusses that experience.

Q. Describe your internship. What was your typical workday like?

A. I went to Penn State for my DJNF training, and I was placed at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. My typical day was coming to the office around 3:30 p.m. and leaving around 11:30.

The first few hours consisted of editing advance copy (stories for upcoming papers) in our CMS. A lot of that stuff was from the wire, so it was mostly doing some polishing up and double checking the big facts.

Around 6:30, we’d switch over to daily content. I edited for the business, national and metro sections, mostly. On an individual story, I’d check facts, grammar, AP/local style and clarity in our CMS — then once a designer placed the story on the page, I’d open it back up in InCopy and write the headlines, read-ins and cutlines. When the story got checked back in, I’d write the web headline. If it was from the wire, I’d go ahead and send it; if it was written from someone in the newsroom, it’d go on for a second read from another editor.

As the summer went on and my co-workers started trusting me more, I took on more responsibilities. I got assigned more A1 stories to edit (usually two from A1 and B1), and I’d occasionally proof pages before sending to the printer.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. I think I struggled a lot initially with headlines. I’d copy-edited before at The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor, but the majority of my work is online where the biggest concern is just SEO.

Getting a clear headline on complicated stories is hard in print — especially when you have six words to describe a funding conflict between legislators and a university, or a big crime story. There’s also an element of parachute journalism in the nature of the DJNF program, and not knowing what names locals would or wouldn’t recognize was tough sometimes.

In the same vein and at risk of being super cornball-y, I’d say the most rewarding thing was the progress I was able to watch myself make from the start to finish of the summer. My co-workers were great about offering constructive feedback, and they did it in a really polite way even on my crappiest of headlines.

At one point toward the end of my internship, my boss told me something along the lines of, “Now I read over some of your stuff and think, ‘Whoa, that’s a good hed.’ ” And I think that was one of the best moments of the whole summer.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. Honestly, I would just say to go for it; you don’t really have anything to lose from trying, and you have a ton to gain.

My editing skills and news judgment have sharpened a ton, and I met so many awesome people. My DJNF intern class has a Facebook group, and a few of us are getting together and going out in D.C. next semester when the Virginian-Pilot intern gets back from studying abroad. Which is wild to think about — especially when you realize we were all really only together for less than a week.

As far as more specific advice: I went through with the editing test more or less on a whim, and while I was confident in my editing skills, I sort of thought the rest of the exam kicked my ass (am I allowed to say that?).

So definitely be smart about studying beforehand. Don’t just drill yourself on AP style; think about what else news organizations are going to want you to be familiar with that summer. I know the year before me was big on savvy for the web, and my year was heavy on politics and the presidential election, for obvious reasons. The exam is definitely partly about grammar, but I think in a lot of ways it’s designed to make sure you have a good head on your shoulders.

Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I’m working as online managing editor at the DTH for my senior year, and I’m really excited. I’ll be doing management reads (final edit before an article goes to copy) on stories and writing web headlines every day, so my experience this summer is definitely being put to good use.

I’m also trying to make the most of my non-rusty editing skills while I still have them. So, like, coming for you, Usage and Grammar Test.

Q&A with N&O reporter Mandy Locke on the Deadly Force series

Mandy Locke is an investigative reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her recent series, Deadly Force, examines violent incidents surrounding the sheriff’s office in Harnett County, including the death of an inmate who was shot with a Taser. In this interview, conducted by email, Locke discusses how the multimedia series came together and how the N&O published it in print and online.

Q. How did the Deadly Force series come about? What were some of the obstacles you faced in your reporting?

A. I wish I could claim some sort of brilliance, but the initial tip to this story came because of a relationship. I had a long-ago source, an eccentric lawyer whom I met as a cub reporter in 2004. He would now and again leave me ranting, raving voicemails late at night over the years.

He left one of those in December. John Livingston, he said, shouldn’t have died. A deputy who was at the wrong house with no permission to enter had killed Livingston.

Naturally, this sounded important. But it was one of about eight important stories on my list in the new year when I met with my investigative teammates and our editor. How or why I bit this off first may have been simply random; it may have been fate.

Within hours of my visit to Harnett County, to the place where John Livingston died, I was convinced this was something. I didn’t know how big and wide and tough this “something” would be to report, but my gut said, “Whoa, stop. Listen. Think.”

Obstacles? So many. Where to start? Simple sentences:

  • Officials here rarely dealt with reporters.
  • I had few established sources.
  • I was an “outsider.”
  • My subjects had become distrustful; they were beleaguered.

Q. The series was available each day in the print newspaper or all at once on the website. It also has a video trailer and a podcast. Why did the N&O decide to present this story this way?

A. In the last several years, The N&O and our parent company, McClatchy, have learned much about storytelling and how best to harness our platforms. Our digital audience had different engagement patterns than our print audience. Our audience increasingly engages better through video and infographics.

We launched the first part of the series online on a Friday, when our online audience is high; same story ran in print Sunday, when our print audience is high. It takes a mind shift.

I learned this year that there is no shortcut to reporting. You must dig and push and press. However, there are so many ways to tell a story.

Though I love to write, I had to check that sensibility at the door. What is the best way to tell this story? Video? Podcast? How do I help people relate and respond to this work? We do not have the luxury of expecting people to digest our work in traditional formats because they must.

Q. How did editing, fact checking and headline writing work for the series?

A. We are rigid at the N&O. For good cause.

For each and every word and fact, I must present the document or the audio interview or transcript to my editor, Steve Riley. It takes about a day for me to prepare one story for this test. It takes another day to go through it with Steve.

We do not employ fact checkers, and even if we did, there is no shortcut to shoring up a significant story for public scrutiny.

Headline writing is by committee. A team evaluates and challenges, and eventually, we settle on something that works.

Q. Investigative reporting is expensive and time-consuming. What do you see as its future as newspapers continue to face reductions in budgets and staffing?

A. This is the most pressing question in journalism in my estimation.

I give credit to John Drescher and other top leaders of the N&O for preserving and expanding our investigative efforts in the age of falling revenues and layoffs.

As a breed, investigative journalists are expensive. Our work is risky, time-consuming and often does not endear us to those who keep this business afloat through advertising revenues.

Investigative journalism exists because people like John Drescher refuse to relinquish it, despite the expense. It exists because readers tell us over and over that his is what they want and expect from our news organization. We do this because it is our duty.

Read the Deadly Force series and follow Mandy Locke on Twitter.

Q&A with Brooke Pryor, sports reporter at North State Journal

Brooke Pryor is a sportswriter at North State Journal, a new newspaper covering the state of North Carolina. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Pryor previously worked at The Herald-Sun in Durham. In this interview, conducted by email, Pryor discusses her job, describes how editing and headline writing work at the NSJ, and offers advice to college students looking to go into sports journalism.

Q. Describe your job at North State Journal. What is your typical workweek like?

A. The best/worst thing about working for a newspaper, and a startup newspaper no less, is that there’s no pattern to my workweek. Most of the time I love variety in my job, but it can also be a little draining to be on call all the time.

My schedule at least starts the same every week when I send in a story budget to my editor Monday morning. He’ll usually shoot back an email green-lighting the good stuff and tells me to scrap anything else.

Then I get to work reporting on all the different stories. As I write this, I’m sitting in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park procrastinating on a story about Rays top prospect Blake Snell. I just finished talking to him, so I want to transcribe the interview and then start writing or at least formulate a lede and an angle.

Right now, the NSJ is a weekly paper, and our hard deadline to submit the pages to the printer is Friday at 6 p.m. Recently, I’ve been flooding the copy editors with stories Friday morning, but I can pretty much file throughout the week up until about noon on Friday.

During the weekends, at least in the spring, I’m usually at baseball games or other events, gathering more material for feature stories. With the weekly print schedule, I have to focus on the long game and spend most of my time working on long-term evergreen stories and personality profiles.

Q. How does editing and headline writing work at the NSJ?

A. Great question — and one that I didn’t know until I went to the office last week. Like pretty much any newspaper, the process to produce a (mostly) error-free paper is a long one.

When I finish a story, I send it to my sports editor, who copy-fits it for print and edits for content, length, accuracy, etc. Then, it gets placed on a page, and when the rest of the stories for the page are placed and copy-fit by our wonderful designer Cece Pascual (UNC and Daily Tar Heel alum, woo!), they are printed out and passed out among the staff gathered in the office.

We circulate the pages for three reads before the section editor goes back to Cece and shows her all of the necessary changes. Then the page is printed out one more time and goes through three more reads before the final edits are made and the page is sent to the printer.

Headline writing is a group effort and usually involves a bunch of people yelling ideas at a computer screen. It’s just as chaotic and riveting as it sounds.

Q. You previously worked at the Herald-Sun. What has it been like to move from an established publication like that to a startup?

A. A lot of my day-to-day work stuff has been the same, but I do get a lot of questions about what the NSJ is or who’s paying for it. Spoiler, in case you thought I would have an answer to the latter: I have no idea. There’s a bunch of rumors floating around, but I don’t pay attention to them because I’m grateful for the opportunity and I love working in such a creative environment.

Because we’re not established, we run into some administrative or copy flow issues that are second-nature at established papers. So we’re in the phase of figuring out the details that make newspapers work, like how to submit photo requests, who should what and when, etc.

One thing I’m interested to see is how much access I’ll get to different events when the college football season starts up. When I was working for an established newspaper, I got plenty of access and interviews and was never denied a credential. But that could change now that I’m working for a brand new paper. Luckily, since I’ve been around UNC/Triangle sports since my freshman year at UNC, I’ve made a lot of connections, and I hope that those will keep me in the loop around here.

Q. Many journalism students have an interest in sports. What advice do you have for those seeking a career in sports journalism?

A. I think the biggest and most helpful thing I’ve learned as a writer is to not be afraid to try something new.

If you’ve only ever watched and written about football and basketball, try covering women’s lacrosse or field hockey. Sports journalism is more than just covering the revenue stuff, and you’ll find that there are plenty, if not more, interesting storylines in the less mainstream stuff. You might not understand what’s going on, but challenge yourself to find a story in an unfamiliar environment. It’ll make you a stronger reporter and adding a variety of sports to your background will come in handy when you’re looking for jobs.

You’ll probably have to cover a lot of random stuff in your career and the more experience you have going into unfamiliar territory, the better. Talk to everyone you can at those events and look for the human angle. People love reading about other people, so even if you don’t understand all the logistics of the game or event you’ve just covered, you can find an interesting story just by asking questions and tapping into human emotion.

Follow Brooke Pryor on Twitter and read some of her stories on her website.

UPDATE: In August 2016, Pryor announced that she had accepted a job covering college football for The Oklahoman.