Q&A with Sam Oches of Food News Media

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Sam Oches is editorial director at Food News Media, a B2B communications company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Oches discusses how the company covers the restaurant industry and what he looks for in candidates for jobs and internships.

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

A. My job is very much spinning a lot of plates.

I oversee editorial direction and strategy for both QSR and FSR magazines, which are trade publications for the national restaurant industry. That includes overseeing the production of monthly print issues for both magazines along with our ever-expanding digital presence, managing our five-person editorial team and maintaining a pool of a couple of dozen freelance writers.

But increasingly the job is oriented toward innovation and new products, as well as being an ambassador for the publications. So I’ve rolled out a new podcast for QSR called “Fast Forward” (which I also edit, produce, etc.) and launched a networking-event series for restaurant owners called Fast Casual Meet Ups, of which we’re doing 10 this year and 12 next year. Then I’ll also moderate panels, give speeches and talk with consumer media whenever appropriate.

My typical day depends on the timing of the month and deadlines we have on the horizon. Usually I’ll have a week where I’m mostly assigning stories and working with writers, then a week where I’m copy editing first drafts, then a week where I’m proofing the books and maybe a week where I’m doing more content creation, including writing and podcast editing.

In and among all of that I’m conversing with restaurant owners, executives and experts; researching trends and new restaurant concepts; and developing a plan and RSVP list for our next event. Then, of course, every day includes lots and lots of emailing.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Food News Media’s magazines?

A. Every piece of print content usually has three or four sets of eyeballs on it before it gets published. Each editor here has sections they manage, and they give each story a first pass in editing. Then another editor will give it a second pass before it gets laid out by design.

After the design team has laid out the entire issue, two editors proof each book, and we also have a freelance proofer who gives it a careful read. Then we have a 24-hour window right before publishing when each editor gives the book one final pass. Suffice to say, we rarely have typos or mistakes.

As for headlines, print headlines are usually established in the first or second pass at editing. We ask that the writer suggest a couple of possible heds.

Our digital process, of course, is a little different. Due to time demands, stories get much less editing attention, and so we have to trust our digital writers to create content that is as clean and quality as possible. I’ll often give our premier digital content a read just after it’s been published, to try to catch any mistakes that might have made it through.

Digital headlines are always crafted with audience engagement in mind — and yes, that means we’ve had to explore the more acceptable components of clickbait when possible. Our digital team is very good at walking right up to the line of clickbait without crossing it. Also, all of our print content gets new headlines when published online, because again, we have to consider audience engagement.

Q. You are a graduate of the journalism program at Ohio University. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you picked up?

A. I graduated from OU a decade ago, but it might as well have been a generation ago based on how much journalism and storytelling have evolved since then. We were just kicking the tires of social media when I graduated!

I learned all of the basics in school, of course, and copy editing and storytelling techniques were particularly important. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be good at copy editing. The world is filled with sloppy writers!

But the biggest thing I took away from my time at OU was learning about business-to-business journalism. During my junior year, my adviser pointed me toward a class she taught on B2B; I assumed it would be all about economics reporting and numbers, but it was far from it. We learned how you could take a niche subject and break it down into the nuts and bolts, then explore those nuts and bolts using reporting and writing.

To that point, I was hellbent on being the next Lester Bangs, but the B2B class helped me understand that the path to journalistic success was much more varied and had much more opportunity than I’d thought. That class led to an internship at an architecture trade pub, and that internship helped me land the associate editor gig at QSR when I graduated in 2009 — a big deal since we were in the thick of a recession.

Q. What do you look for in applicants for jobs and internships? Any advice for students interested in B2B writing and editing?

A. Believe it or not, the most important differentiating factors among applicants are usually passion, drive and curiosity. Your resume may be short and your clips may not be super sexy. But if you come into an interview demonstrating that you’ve researched our publications and that you’re committed to continuous learning — and *cough* you ask some good questions *cough* — then I’ll probably want to find room for you on my team. We can probably teach you the rest of it.

My advice to anyone interested in the B2B field would be to go out and find some publications covering subjects you’re interested in or know a lot about — there is a trade for just about every single subject, even in the arts (Billboard and Variety, anybody?). Read those publications and get a feel for how they approach content. Develop some pitches and send them to the editors.

Even if they don’t assign you the story, it’s great to have a foot in the door. Most editors will even jump on the phone with you to describe their process and how to get included in their freelance pool.

Follow Sam Oches on Twitter and learn more about Food News Media at its website.

Q&A with Abbie Bennett, reporter at Connecting Vets

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Abbie Bennett is senior reporter at Connecting Vets, a news organization that covers “the veteran experience through stories of inspiration and perseverance.” A 2012 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Bennett previously worked at North Carolina newspapers, including The News & Observer in Raleigh and The Daily Reflector in Greenville. In this interview, conducted by email, Bennett discusses her work at Connecting Vets, where she covers the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Department and Congress.

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

A. Every day is different for me, and since I cover the Hill, it really depends on what’s happening at the Capitol and at the VA, usually.

My early mornings start about the same no matter the day — checking emails (hoping to be surprised by a FOIA request return), Slack and Twitter. Since we are a national publication covering veterans and the military, we cover multiple time zones, and things can break overnight.

By about 8 a.m., I’m headed to the Metro either on my way to the office or more likely the Hill, especially if Congress is in session or hearings are scheduled. Sometimes I will stop on my way for a breakfast meeting with a source.

Around 9 or 10 a.m., depending on the day, our newsroom has its daily budget meeting, letting our editor know what we’re working on and what is expected to turn that day, along with coordinating social with our social media manager and appearances on our radio shows and podcasts. If I’m at the Capitol, I join via Slack or phone.

I spend the early parts of my day tracking activities on the Hill, including hearings, press conferences, votes and other scheduled events and planning interviews. Many of my interviews are done in our recording studios so they can be used in our podcasts and on our radio shows, so those take some extra planning. I keep a detailed planner and calendar to track all those moving pieces, and we have a shared team calendar.

I spend the rest of my day going to hearings, working on stories, either dailies — shorter stories that publish the same day — or long-form pieces.

I also help edit my team’s work, so I edit and socialize their stories, especially on days I’m not on the Hill.

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

A. When a story is ready, it goes through at least two phases of line editing.

The writer drops it in our “drafts” Slack channel with proposed social share text. Usually, another member of our team will read over the story, check all of the metadata and assets (such as photos and embed codes) and then post a Slack message letting an editor know it’s ready for a final read. After the second edit, the story is published to our site (or sent to a network of company sites) and is scheduled for social.

Headline writing is a collaborative effort sometimes, though I hope to make it more so. Every reporter is expected to put a headline on their story in our content management system, and editors can make changes. Our executive producer has final say. We also workshop headlines together either out loud in the newsroom or on Slack.

Q. You previously worked at daily newspapers. What differences and similarities have you seen between those jobs and the one you have now?

A. Connecting Vets is a national digital publication that was originally founded under CBS Radio. CBS Radio was later purchased and merged with Entercom, the second-largest radio company in the U.S. We still partner with CBS media, too.

So I’d say the biggest difference is that my work is much more multimedia than ever before. In addition to video and photo that is such a big part of the digital experience at newspapers, I’m also working on audio and am a regular on radio and podcasts produced by my company. At my newspaper jobs, I was sometimes called on to be a guest on radio shows like WUNC’s “The State of Things” or a call-in for national television for big stories, but it was never regular. I certainly wasn’t producing any audio content myself.

Other than that, much of the work is similar. I report and write for our website and network, and then I talk about my work on air. My work is no different in style, quality or standard than it was at my newspaper jobs — the internet is a big equalizer in that way.

I think that if this was the 1980s, I’d have difficulty imagining a switch from print to radio, but now everything is print, in a way. And yes, we still follow AP and our own house styles.

Working with a smaller, more specialized team also gives me the opportunity to work on my writing, which I never had much luck getting feedback on at my previous jobs, especially at newspapers where cuts meant a lot less one-on-one time with editors. Sometimes it felt like the emphasis was on filling the paper or the site with content and not necessarily helping writers find their unique style and voice, and I missed that. I always want to get better at what I do.

Q. What advice do you have for college students interested in reporting and editing at a specialized site like Connecting Vets?

A. You need to have a passion for your specialization. We report on many topics, but it all circles back to veterans and the military.

I grew up an Army brat, moving all over the country and outside it, and much of my life was shaped by that lifestyle and community. All of us on the team are connected to the service in some way — spouses, military kids, active service members and veterans — and it means something to all of us to be a part of a publication dedicated to providing timely, accurate coverage of issues that touch that community.

In my last reporting position, I was covering anything and everything. While that was almost never dull, I didn’t have a chance to build sources and work a beat as I had in past reporting jobs. When your entire enterprise is a specialty publication, you definitely have that opportunity.

Beyond enthusiasm for your subject, you have to be willing to be an authoritative voice on the subject. You have to be willing to learn every single day and build a breadth of knowledge that readers recognize and trust, or you won’t ever build an audience.

That’s especially true for editing. You can’t fact check a story full of military terms and culture if you don’t understand it. And you certainly can’t relate to an audience who understands it all if you yourself don’t.

Connecting Vets has only been around about two years, so we’re working to build that authority and find that voice. We’re growing by leaps and bounds every day, building an audience in the millions while shining light on issues of critical importance to the millions of veterans, family members and advocates in the U.S.

My advice would be to find your passions and stay open to opportunities to combine a love for journalism with those subjects or be willing to suggest them yourself. Speak up in budget meetings, don’t be afraid to make ambitious pitches and work to serve those stories that don’t get the voice you think they should.

Read Abbie Bennett’s stories on the Connecting Vets website, and follow her on Twitter.

Student guest post: Short attention spans may not equal short stories

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 20th of those posts. Victoria Young is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Concord, North Carolina. She studying media and journalism, with a concentration in editing and graphic design. Her honors minor is in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry. She has worked on the copy desk at The Daily Tar Heel, at TIPS Technical Publishing last year and at the North Carolina Department of Transportation in the communications office last summer.

“The reader’s attention span is getting shorter.” This is a statement I have heard consistently in classes and in internships.

Everyone talks about the magic number: 15 seconds. Data shows that a reader or viewer will spend 15 seconds of his or her time before moving on from videos, ads or news articles. When this data first came out, it was a shock to the journalism system.

News articles were meant to be read and hopefully enjoyed. During the days of the muckrakers, articles were written in at least a thousand words. Ida Tarbell’s run in McClure’s Magazine on the Standard Oil Company ran as a series of several articles.

This tradition of having longer articles is continued through newspapers like The New York Times whose word count per story ranges from 400 to 1,200 words. But some companies are straying from long-form journalism due to the small amount of time a reader is willing to spend on an online article. Axios, an online and email Listserv news company, was founded on this issue.

“Stories are too long. Or too boring.” These sentences open the second paragraph on Axios’ About page.

Jim VandeHei, the founder and CEO of Axios, visited a business journalism class I was in this semester. A student asked him what his top pet peeve was. He answered immediately: long stories.

Axios tries to keep its articles at maximum of 300 to 400 words. VandeHei stated that, in some cases, that was still too many. He had a point. If readers spend 15 seconds on a story, they will, hopefully, get enough information from a tighter word count. Squeezing out filler or clunky sensory words can get the reader to the meat of a story faster.

But this argument assumes two things. First, it assumes that the 300 to 400 words in an article containing all and enough information on the story. Second, it assumes that most, if not every, story can exist with little to no sensory or tangential detail.

To address the first assumption, not every story is pristine. But this can be solved by good reporting and copy editing. Readers who want to consume compact stories are counting on every pertinent detail making it into the word count and for those words to make sense. If a reporter has researched related incidents, gathered all current information and contacted sources, then he or she should have enough material to form a concise brief on the issue. Also, since a short story needs to simply present the main takeaways, a journalist would then know which details do or do not need to make it in.

As for copy editors, their job is crucial in this instance. A shorter length does not mean fewer errors, and if readers cannot understand it, cutting the length is useless. The goal of short stories is faster communication with the reader. Clunky, confusing or improperly worded sentences will inhibit that communication.

As for the second assumption, not every story should be short. There are some nuances to a story, outside of cold facts, that add detail. It is nearly impossible to have multiple sources in a story with a 300-word story. For some stories, the credibility of the article relies on having multiple sources.

There are also some details that journalists are able to put into stories that present more information. For instance, if a journalist is covering a murder trial in which the defendant is found not guilty, it may behoove a reader to know that during witness testimony from the victims’ family, the defendant was laughing. These are small details, but they set a scene that gives more insight.

This is not to say that short-length stories are bad. They aren’t, and in many instances, they are needed, but I would put a few words of caution in. This type of writing requires good editing and careful decisions about when to use it.

Every story is different and needs to be communicated in its own way. Simply allowing data on website traffic to shape story writing may hinder the news process, if it is not monitored.

Q&A with Liz Bell, reporter at EdNC

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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.

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.