Editing locally, editing globally

Students in my Advanced Editing class at UNC-Chapel Hill often work on real-world assignments. Their work is both local and global:

  • As in years past, my students work with those in another course, Community Journalism, to produce the Carrboro Commons and Durham VOICE websites. In addition to preparing news for posting on WordPress, the students create PDF “printer friendly” designs for each story. We’ll update the sites five times during the spring semester.
  • Two master’s students, Andrea Patiño Contreras and Gabriela Arp, asked my class to edit feature stories and write headlines for their website about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. We did so by compiling six stories into a Google document. Half the students focused on fact checking and story structure; the other half edited for grammar, punctuation, spelling and AP style. The remarkable project, called Divided By The Sea, launched last week.

Each project gives students a chance to work with real copy and write headlines and captions that will be seen by readers in North Carolina and beyond. I feel fortunate to work with colleagues who encourage such collaboration — and who value what editors do.

Student guest post: Why editors need to push for more watchdog journalism

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Keith Larsen is a first-year master’s student in the business and media track at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is also a reporter at GreenBiz, where he reports on the intersection of sustainability and business. Previously, he interned at the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, where he investigated corporate fraud and misdeeds in the capital markets.

I have undoubtedly become a better journalist during my time as a graduate student at UNC. My knowledge of AP style has improved, I can write better leads and I have gained some semblance of how to tell stories visually.

Yet, while I have been inundated with the fundamentals of journalism and I have enhanced my writing skills, rarely has the question been asked: Why does it all matter? Why do any of us want to become journalists or editors given the obvious decaying economics of traditional newsrooms? Why would any of us take out student loans and subject ourselves to an intense job market only to be rewarded with mediocre pay?

Well, we do it anyway because it matters. We do it because we believe it’s important. And we do it because we want to be the first recorders of history and the tireless watchdogs who hold our institutions accountable.

It is important to remind ourselves why we chose to pursue a job in the news business, not only in journalism schools, but also in the newsroom. It is equally integral that editors continue to fight complacency and push for more watchdog journalism.

The importance of these conversations has become none more evident than with the national media coverage of the Flint water crisis, and the question of whether the national media acted appropriately as a watchdog.

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan attempted to answer this question in her blog, The Public Editor’s Journal, and concluded that “If The Times had kept the pressure on the Flint story, the resulting journalism might not have made the ‘trending‘ list — but it would have made a real difference to the people of Flint, who were in serious need of a powerful ally.”

Sullivan’s remarks highlight the daunting challenge that editors and journalists face today of providing watchdog journalism despite its marginal financial returns. Subsequently, there is no apparent answer to this challenge. Watchdog journalism can be expensive, it can be more time intensive, and, much to our chagrin, its clicks often pale in comparison to a BuzzFeed list about breakfast food.

However, I believe it is important for editors to continue to hold these conversations in newsrooms and to push back against the business side of news organizations, which might argue that this type of reporting is too costly, or inefficient, or doesn’t affect our core audience.

Undoubtedly, these are all fair points and especially poignant for a concerned shareholder of a media company, but we must never forget why we decided to be in this business in the first place. We must continually think of new ways to make this type of reporting economically viable as well as how it can enhance a media organization’s credibility and bottom line.

Editors must continue to push back against reporting stories simply for convenience and clicks, and push for stories that inform readers about serious issues in our societies through an objective lens.

We owe it not only to ourselves by upholding our most deeply held beliefs as journalists and editors, but we owe it to the children of Flint, who will forever be devastated by lead poisoning.

We owe it to these children not just to report intensively on a crisis, but to make sure that we will always put people ahead of profits because what matters more: a satisfied shareholder or a child’s life?

Student guest post: The Night of the … Journalist?

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the third of those posts. Whitney Harris is a senior editing and graphic design and German literature double major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She enjoys listening to Fleetwood Mac and reading the same Goethe novel repeatedly.

“Perpetrate journalism often, on as many platforms, for as many people has you can. Don’t wait for permission — find your story and prosecute to the fullest.” — David Carr

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. By the time I hit 12 years old, every member of my family knew I wanted to be a journalist one day. I started writing my first book in eighth grade and, despite my best efforts, have yet to find a way to conclude any one of the number of stories I’ve started. But that doesn’t change anything. I still want to be a writer.

Welcome, North Carolina, is a small town near the center of the state. It’s 15 minutes outside of Winston-Salem, an hour and a half from Charlotte, and requires its inhabitants like sweet tea, love Jesus and attend Friday night football games on Palmer Field.

Most kids grew up going to Future Farmers of America meetings, attending church on Sundays and going mudding on the weekends. I was never one of those kids. I liked Charles Bukowski, writing for my school newspaper and sneaking bottles of Arbor Mist onto the baseball field to drink at night with my friends.

Welcome had not yet — and still has not — caught up with the rest of the world, but there was one privilege we were never denied: regular delivery of The New York Times. David Carr wrote for The Times, and he was my idol. I wanted to be a writer, after all.

My admiration for Carr has never faltered, despite his death in February 2015. He embodied everything I want out of a professional career. He was eloquent (albeit vulgar), sometimes abrasive, and witty — all qualities I appreciate.

“Page One: Inside The New York Times,” the documentary released in 2011, stars Carr. Viewers get to see him argue with major players at Vice, set his own deadlines with Media Editor Bruce Headlam and debate over writing a piece about Tribune Company’s bankruptcy (which was published, igniting a fire that contributed to the resignation of Chief Executive Randy Michaels, a win by most accounts).

Carr’s writings, including his memoir “The Night of the Gun,” were inspirational. He was revered, not only for her personality but also for his incredible talent. I often find myself wondering what it would take to become as successful as him, but I also have to ask: Has the media world changed so much in the past decade that this kind of journalism has gone extinct?

It’s an issue that “Page One” and its cast delves deeply into, questioning whether the shift from print to digital will completely rearrange the media landscape as we know, and have known, it for the past hundred years. Is Carr’s nitty-gritty, dirt-under-your-fingernails type of journalism a thing of the past? They certainly didn’t have the answer in 2011. And I still don’t know if we have it now. But there’s something I do know.

I want to be a writer. I want to develop stories that no one else wants to go near, and I want to do it with tact and dexterity. I want to craft pieces that put something good into the world, even if the topics I write about aren’t always great. I want to investigate. I want to write words that make a difference.

We spend a lot of time debating just how the digital shift has changed our landscape and, as someone who is about to graduate from one of the best journalism programs in the nation, I can’t express how scary that can be.

Most of my peers would rather get the news in 140 characters on their smartphones versus picking up the paper. There are strong arguments that traditional journalism has died, and we can either move with the digital shift or get swept away with our print predecessor. I don’t like those arguments.

I don’t believe traditional journalism has died. I don’t believe in Twitter and Facebook as new tests of journalistic merit, but I do believe they’re exciting tools that can be used to reinvigorate my profession. I refuse to compact my story into 140 characters (not to say that I won’t craft a tweet, but you better believe the link in it will lead you to something far greater), and I refuse to think, just because you read it on a computer screen versus in a newspaper, that a story is somehow lesser. The media world has changed. Media itself has not.

Print circulation may be down, you may have to pay for an online subscription of The New York Times and BuzzFeed may be more convenient, but I refuse to give up on something I believe in. If there is one thing I have learned from my admiration of David Carr, it’s that when you want something, you make it happen.

The media world has changed. We, as journalists, have not.

Q&A with New York Times reporter Julie Turkewitz

Julie Turkewitz is a reporter for The New York Times, covering the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. She previously worked as a staff writer at Housing Works and as an associate producer at Talking Eyes Media. She is a 2008 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Turkewitz discusses her work at The New York Times, including her coverage of the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

Q. Describe your job with The New York Times. What is your typical day like?

A. I’m a reporter for the national desk, based in Colorado and covering the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. This means I write features and cover breaking news, reporting on everything from amateur rodeo competitions to toxic mine spills and fierce battles over the use of public land. Unfortunately, I have also covered a number of mass shootings in recent months.

Much of my job involves getting up close and personal with rural America, and I travel about a third of the year. I have no physical office, so there is no typical day — in the past year I’ve covered an inauguration on the Navajo Nation, written about a group of middle school girls in California who wanted to join the Boy Scouts, and followed a group of cowboys on a bison roundup in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

Writing is done on the airplane, in a tent or in the back of a rental car. I get particular joy out of filing from anyplace with the words “saloon” written out front.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work on your stories?

A. The process of choosing and editing stories is collaborative — sometimes I suggest ideas, sometimes my fellow reporters suggest ideas, sometimes my editors suggest ideas. We keep in touch as a story develops. I turn in copy, and editors make adjustments.

Headline writing is mostly done by our skilled copy editors. But in a digital age where journalism is increasingly conversational, the desk has asked that reporters start to suggest “share lines” — meaning the phrasing that will be used to pitch a story on social media.

Q. You recently covered the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. What was that experience like? What challenges did it present to you as a reporter?

A. I spent most of January in a small town in rural Oregon, covering an armed group that had taken over a federal bird sanctuary, in protest of Washington’s control of public lands. I sometimes felt like I’d parachuted into a Coen brothers film, with armed protesters, FBI agents, a child gospel band, journalists, environmentalists and ranchers mixing in the same tiny motels and snow-lined cafes.

At the refuge, I watched children prepare snack platters for the occupiers. Sometimes I had to remind myself that the guns were real, and that the situation could turn violent in a matter of moments. (Sadly, it did, when a protest leader died after a car chase with authorities.)

Perhaps the hardest part was unpacking this story for the non-Western, non-rural reader. Out here, there is a lot of anxiety about the future of the rural West, and many blame federal rules for the decline of rural economies, whether or not this is a fair assessment.

This has produced a spectrum of political activity, including the rise of self-described “patriot” groups, who see themselves as guardians against government overreach, sort of Robin Hoods for the rural American. Some go as far as claiming that we are on the cusp of the next civil war, and the major question is how the Malheur standoff will affect these groups.

These are the greater themes lying beneath the takeover, but I sometimes struggle to explain them in my stories.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking careers similar to yours?

A. My journalism path was not “traditional,” if such a thing even exists.

After college, I moved to Argentina because I wanted to learn Spanish fluently and get outside of my comfort zone. I worked in Buenos Aires and then traveled around Latin America. Then I worked at a nonprofit in New York City, where I learned a lot about public health and HIV, and spent a lot of time in the poorest corners of the city. After that, I worked at a documentary company with some of the brightest storytellers I’ve met. I also began freelancing for the Times, reporting news stories, pitching features and eventually becoming involved with a major investigative series.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Do grunt work for smart people; you will learn so much from them. If you’re just starting out, find a story you care about and report the hell out of it. Then use it as your calling card. Show it to those smart people. If they think it’s terrible, do it again.

When you finally get an assignment, don’t go home until you’ve unturned every stone. Twice. Then turn around and pitch three new stories to that editor. If the editor hates them, do it again.

Talk to cab drivers. Read small and big newspapers, for story ideas and writing tips. Talk to restaurant workers and the dry cleaner and your neighbors and more cab drivers.

Learn to live on a budget. Get out of your bubble. Learn another language — trust me, you can do it.

But also remember that some of the best stories are the ones at your doorstep that no one bothered to investigate. And if you’re out on assignment, don’t go home because you’re tired or hot or cold or hungry or your phone died. Bring coffee and snacks, wear sunscreen and good shoes and carry two phone chargers.

Learn to file stories fast and on your phone. Make friends with other journalists; they will save you emotionally and physically. And if you happen to be covering an armed standoff in a snowy town four hours from any major city, remember to call your mother to tell her you’re OK.

Thanks to anyone who made it this far.

Follow Julie Turkewitz on Twitter and read her stories at The New York Times.

Ben Carson needed an editor

The rise of presidential candidate Ben Carson has led to increased scrutiny of his background. That’s a normal part of politics, though at times the news media fall short on asking relevant questions.

In the past week, news organizations have done stories on Carson’s claims of overcoming a violent childhood and being offered a full scholarship at West Point. Carson wrote about those experiences in his book “Gifted Hands.”

The Wall Street Journal looked into another segment from the book. Carson wrote about an unusual request from a Yale professor to retake an exam. Here’s how the Journal described it:

carson-wsjThis is where an editor could have helped Carson when he was writing “Gifted Hands.” If I had been working with his manuscript, here are two questions I would have asked him about this incident:

  • “Wow! What a remarkable story. And it was captured on film. Can we ask the Yale Daily News if we can include that photo in the book?”
  • “I’m not following the logic of the professor’s experiment. How does it demonstrate the honesty of the students? Maybe those who left were simply annoyed about having to retake the test. Can you revise this to make that clear?”

Perhaps if an editor had asked such questions then, Carson wouldn’t be facing them now.

Q&A with Marisa DiNovis, editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Marisa DiNovis is an editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. She is a 2015 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and a winner of a scholarship from the American Copy Editors Society. In this interview, conducted by email, DiNovis discusses her job, her path to book publishing and her reading recommendations.

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

A. Every day in publishing is different — it doesn’t have the same daily or weekly rhythm as a newsroom or magazine office environment. My job title is Editorial Assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House. Most editorial assistants in book publishing report to either the publisher of an imprint or an editor or two, and work on a range of tasks from developmental editing a manuscript to writing jacket copy and from drafting profit and loss statements to submitting copyright notices.

I report to our publisher/editorial director, and I also provide editorial support to executive and mid-level editors. Our group consists of 12 wonderful editors (who have worked on books like “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “The Golden Compass”), and I interact with our design team, managing editor, copy editor and marketing and publicity teams on a daily basis.

At Knopf BFYR, we publish books for all ages, including board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels. One of the best parts of starting my career at Random House is that even entry-level editors are allowed to acquire. So in addition to backing up other editors on their books, I also interact with agents and authors as I look to build my own list at Knopf.

On a given day, I might be working on any number of projects. I always spend time reading. Sometimes it’s a manuscript on submission from a literary agent. Occasionally, it’s an interesting story I find in the slush pile (hard-copy submissions from unagented writers), and often it’s a sophomore manuscript from an existing Knopf author for which I’m supporting the editor.

I write a fair amount each day as well, which might take the form of a decline note, an editorial letter for an author whose manuscript we’ve bought or suggestions for a submission that isn’t quite ready but I’d be willing to evaluate again after revision.

As an assistant, I spend part of my work day on a few administrative tasks, like taking my boss’s messages, scheduling conference rooms and ordering in books from our warehouse — but unless you work as an administrative assistant, these tasks do not monopolize your time. You might also find me structure-tagging a manuscript with notes for design and production, attending a meeting to brainstorm potential illustrators for a picture book manuscript or aggregating Web copy for fall 2016 books to send to our copy editor.

And every so often my day might include an author visit with R.J. Palacio or Markus Zusak!

Q. You were a journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. How did that area of study help you move into your career, and what did you have to learn on your own?

A. That’s correct. I was an editing and graphic design student within the journalism major, and I also majored in English. The marriage of those two areas of study provided me with an excellent framework for my field.

In journalism, the departmental focus on practical skills and professional development was invaluable. It’s difficult to teach networking, but the journalism school helped me navigate where to begin.

On the editing and design track, and specifically in my editing classes, I learned how editing and design teams interact and work together—an insight that has been very helpful every day I’ve interned and worked in publishing. I also use my copy-editing skills on a daily basis. Whether I’m querying an author, doing a cold proofread with a manuscript or preparing a document for the production team, I’m thinking about the principles of copy editing.

The English major taught me how to speak eloquently about literature. Without that, I couldn’t perform successfully in my job. I usually read anywhere from five to a dozen manuscripts and books in a given week. I would argue that studying English is just about the best training there is for the reading marathon that is a publishing career.

On my own, I needed to learn what hiring managers in publishing look for in an entry-level applicant. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there — trade publications like Publishers Weekly and Poets & Writers magazine as well as the Young to Publishing Group, and, of course, industry professionals. Book publishing is relatively small, so it was important to learn who’s who. LinkedIn and Twitter helped with that, as most publisher websites don’t list personnel.

Given the size of the industry, I learned networking is vital to getting a job. In my first informational interview, I was told that editorial jobs receive more applications than jobs for any other department in publishing, thus making them the most competitive. It was essential to develop a sense of the different houses, their respective mission statements and their successful books, in order to align myself with the divisions that matched my goals.

But perhaps the most important thing that school didn’t teach me was my personal literary tastes. As an aspiring editor, one aspect hiring managers look for in a candidate is someone who knows what he or she likes — they want an assistant equipped to make informed observations and confident decisions when weighing the strengths and weaknesses of a submission.

Q. Book editing sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for students pursuing internships and jobs in this field?

A. I am so obviously biased, but every day working in books — especially books for young readers —is incredible. I can’t think of a single person I work with who wouldn’t tell you they are in their dream job.

My best piece of advice is this: intern, intern, intern. I say it three times for a reason. Try to do at least a few internships during college. Full disclosure: I can’t count on my hands the number of in-office and remote internships, freelance jobs and related on-campus publications I worked at in order to land my job.

At UNC, students are very lucky in that the Triangle area is a book publishing microcosm—you have Oxford University Press, UNC Press, Duke University Press, Algonquin Books, Light Messages Publishing, Technical Information Publishing Services, Lulu and others. Take advantage of the proximity during the school year. I know I did, and the connections I made there are a part of what helped me get my job.

I mentioned this earlier, but learn the industry. Publishing is almost entirely based in New York, which can present financial obstacles for summer internships. Remember that university career services often offer grants for students doing unpaid summer internships. Many of the larger houses pay a modest rate for summer interns, which is helpful, but these internships are highly competitive. Don’t forget about the smaller companies that can help you get your foot in the door—oftentimes it’s at the smaller houses or agencies (or even a book-related start-up company) where you get more hands-on experience.

Informational interviews are also key. Find the editors, publicists or marketing assistants who do jobs you one day hope to have. If it’s a high-level employee, try to find his or her assistant. Then reach out to that person. Ask for a short phone interview, question-and-answer by email or an in-person meeting if you’re visiting New York. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to find people who had been in the industry for five years or less, and ask them how they got their job and what prepared them for it.

If you’re excited about books, show it. On social media, in person. It’s easy to be cynical about the economic climate in the publishing and news industries. It’s less easy to show that you’re invested and eager to learn regardless. When I interviewed for this job, my now-coworker told me he thought I was more passionate about children’s books than he is, and I really do believe that was taken into consideration when the hiring decision was made.

Strive to be overqualified — there’s really no such thing.

Q. Editing is fun. So is reading. What book(s) are you reading now, and what recommendations do you have?

A. I bet you thought this would be a short concluding answer! Well, I’m reading a number of books and manuscripts across a many different formats.

I’m just finishing up a submission that is a circus-freakshow retelling of “Hamlet.” I am also digging into a modern counterpart to “The Little Prince,” which I found in the slush pile. I’m also re-reading “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman for a large-scale project to brainstorm new cover designs for future editions.

For my book club, I’m reading an advanced reader’s copy of “Julia Vanishes,” the first installment of a debut fantasy trilogy by Catherine Egan. But the reading project I’m most excited about is a first draft manuscript by a bestselling Knopf author — unfortunately, I can’t say more about this as it isn’t released for public knowledge yet. And last, I always try to be reading one non-work-related book for fun, and right now that’s “Full Cicada Moon” by Marilyn Hilton, a middle grade novel in verse.

For sheer thrill and excitement, the book I can’t stop recommending this season, for readers of any age, is “Illuminae” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Think “The Hunger Games” meets “Star Wars,” told through a dossier of uncovered files with a healthy dose of a self-destructing artificial intelligence. I haven’t had as much fun reading a book as I did with this in years.

In a lot of ways, I’m as much interested in design as I am in literature, so I love reading picture books and graphic novels. Neil Gaiman recently published an illustrated version of his YA short story “The Sleeper and the Spindle” — it’s an enchanting read made even more interesting by format. “Honor Girl” by Maggie Thrash and “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson were my two favorite graphic novels of the year, an LGBTQ-inclusive YA memoir and a middle grade fantasy respectively.

And then there’s my self-proclaimed soapbox book, “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit, a debut that comes out at the end of January. This is a World War II novel with magical realism perfect for readers who loved “The Book Thief” — and the most captivating and merit-worthy piece of literature I’ve read in 2015.

Q&A with Megan Paolone, deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed

Megan Paolone is deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job and BuzzFeed’s approach to story editing, headline writing and stylebooks. 

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

A. As BuzzFeed’s deputy copy chief, I monitor BuzzFeed.com for spelling, grammar and style errors. My day-to-day consists of editing of basically any type of post that goes up on BuzzFeed (news stories, features, fun posts and lists, service pieces, etc.); fielding grammar and style questions from writers and editors; and helping to run the copydesk Twitter account we started a little less than a year ago, @StyleGuide.

My workday 99.9% of the time starts with checking my email as soon as I wake up, just to make sure there hasn’t been anything that’s come in overnight that needs our immediate attention. Our global copydesk is now seven people (three in New York, including me and our copy chief, Emmy Favilla; two in our London office; and two in Los Angeles), and adding the U.K. team that signs on around 5 a.m. ET along with those L.A. editors who are on later has put us close to a 24-hour copydesk — and alleviated a lot of the stress we used to have when there were just two or three of us.

Once I’m at the office, I’m alternating between checking email and Gchat (to answer questions, check on any drafts that editors have sent in for a read, etc.), editing in our CMS, keeping an eye on Twitter and Slack (to answer questions, pick up posts for backreads, and bounce questions/style stuff off the rest of the copy team), and monitoring the site and our live stats for trending posts that need edits. There’s a lot of “Does this sentence read strangely to you?” conversation happening among the copydesk throughout the day as we’re all working on different edits, as well as our ongoing fights about whether we should hyphenate or close up certain words.

We aim to be really accessible to everyone. Weekly we send out via email copy roundups (addressing common issues from the previous week and additions to the style guide) and copy Q&As (answering questions we’ve been asked over the last week).

We recently added a “guest editor corner” to our roundups where we let writers and editors talk about their biggest word pet peeves, and that’s been a really fun way to get the staff involved in what we do, which can probably seem tedious if they’re not interacting with us regularly. Typically once a month we hold copy classes and refreshers for the staff in the offices where we’re based (and sometimes virtually), as well as copy quizzes to test people’s skills and to see if they’re paying attention to the style guide.

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

A. At BuzzFeed, we put a lot of trust in the individual writers. Everyone has an editor whom they report to, and, especially in longer reported stories and features, who will give feedback throughout the writing process. We actually have a built-in commenting function in our CMS, but a lot of back-and-forth is also done via email, Slack, etc.

Especially for shorter one-off news stories, writers are responsible for their own headlines and deks, though there’s generally input and suggestions from their editors, and sometimes from us on the copydesk if we’re taking a look at a story before it’s published. Because so much of our traffic is social, and not search-based, we typically don’t worry about squeezing a lot of buzzwords into headlines for SEO purposes. This gives us a little more creative breathing room in headlines sometimes, because we can write a really short, two- or three-word hed, and then throw more important information in the dek. Especially for stories coming from BuzzFeed News, more descriptive headlines have also become less important for us as more and more people share “screenshorts” (not a typo!) of text on Twitter, which often contain a few sentences with the meat of a story.

We also do a lot of headline optimization and testing of different headline – thumbnail combinations, to see what shares best, what’s getting the most clicks, etc. It’s often just a really simple tweak (e.g., TK Struggles Only Copy Editors Understand vs. TK Things You Understand Only If You’re A Copy Editor). Our social and data teams have done a great job creating really easy-to-use optimization tools that work across editorial, whether you’re in the News, Buzz or Life divisions. “Optimized” heds that have been tested with these tools are always more successful, and that success can sometimes translate into tens of thousands of more views.

A lot of what we do is reading posts after they’ve already been published (i.e., backreads) and we prioritize breaking news and posts on the BuzzFeed.com homepage, as well as stories that are going viral and trending in our live site analytics. Because our team is pretty small compared with the rest of BuzzFeed’s edit staff, we prioritize whatever’s going to get the most eyes on it.

We do, however, always do at least two reads before publishing on longer, reported news and features pieces — usually anything that’s more than 1,000 words. Our edits on these longer pieces are sometimes done in Google Docs, but more often than not, we’re editing directly in our CMS, and sending along comments, concerns and questions to the editors/writers once we’ve finished our edit.

Q. BuzzFeed has its own style guide. How is it different from the Associated Press Stylebook, and how do you decide when to add or edit entries?

A. We like to say that the BuzzFeed Style Guide is a style guide for the internet. A lot of our style is based on AP and we still follow a lot of the AP guidelines, but our guide is really internet-specific and deals with words and style and issues that AP and even Merriam-Webster (which is our house dictionary) don’t delve into. It’s our attempt to standardize a lot of the slang and weird web terms that live in places like Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Reddit.

Beyond styling internet-y words like “Vine-ing” (as a verb, though “post a Vine” is preferred) and “hacktivist,” we also have pretty extensive language guidelines. Our LGBT section, for example, is really wide-ranging and inclusive. We borrowed a lot from GLAAD’s media guidelines (which we credit), but so much of it comes from conversations we’ve had and continue to have with BuzzFeed editors, as well as occasional input from readers. We’ve also just added a section on commonly misspelled names of celebrities and well-known public figures, and that’s been really helpful for our sanity, especially regarding weird contrived celebrity nicknames like J. Law and Kimye.

As for adding new entries, we do it when it’s necessary — usually if there’s a place where we differ from both AP and Merriam-Webster and is worth noting because it’s a term we use regularly. As I mentioned earlier, we’re all constantly chatting about how we’re using different terms, and if there’s a word we’re seeing a lot that hasn’t been in the guide and isn’t standardized anywhere else, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll add it. We recently added “thinkpiece,” and decided to close up “afterparty” (we’d had it hyphenated previously, and were seeing the one-word use was a lot more common).

Q. Editing for BuzzFeed sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking similar jobs or internships?


A. So my job actually started as an internship right after I graduated j-school from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. I think the single most important piece of advice I can give is to get as much diverse experience as possible, both writing AND editing via internships, college student-run publications and even freelancing.

I started as a copy editor and writer at my college paper in undergrad and got of a lot of diverse experience doing news and entertainment reporting and writing, as well as a crash course in AP style. Once I got to Syracuse, I blogged and edited for a few of the student-run magazines and websites (writing a few features and a lot of entertainment-type blogs and reviews), as well as interned as a breaking news reporter for the regional newspaper there, the Syracuse Post-Standard and Syracuse.com.

Copy editors specifically have to be incredibly detail-oriented, and must know their AP Style and grammar stuff inside and out, and I’m a firm believer in continuing to do your own writing and reading to practice these skills. Reading a lot of good writing is really important because it helps you start to recognize what works and what doesn’t, and teaches you how to think critically about what you’re reading — which is among the most important skills to have in any type of editing that you’re doing. One of my favorite things about my job at BuzzFeed is that I get to read and edit so much different content (both in style and subject), so I try to keep my personal reading habits just as diverse to keep up with what other sites like BuzzFeed are doing.

And, finally, everyone’s favorite: networking. It’s how I got my internship that’s turned into a job I really love and feel continually challenged by. Reach out to the writers and editors whose work you love, via Twitter, via email, etc. But have a reason (i.e., you loved a piece that they recently published), and don’t ask for a job, or for them to look at your résumé immediately. Personalize your emails and cover letters — people can recognize a form letter a mile away. Show you’ve done your research and you’re familiar with their work or the place where they work, and be specific; there’s nothing more frustrating than someone writing, “Tell me about BuzzFeed.”

Don’t stress! Job searching seems really daunting, but as long as you stay organized and do your research, you’ll be OK. Good luck!