Riding Cuba’s new wave

cubanewwave
Journalism student Veasey Conway lines up a shot in Havana, Cuba. He and other students spent spring break in the country. (Photo by Peyton Chance)

This semester, students in a multimedia course at UNC-Chapel Hill traveled to Cuba. Their mission was to document changes there, with a focus on the country’s young people.

Back in Chapel Hill, students in Advanced Editing pitched in by working with the writers of five feature stories and suggesting headlines and subheads. It was a fun and fruitful collaboration between classes.

The result is Cuba’s New Wave, a multimedia website developed from scratch. It examines the country’s post-Castro evolution. The students do that in words, video, still images and interactive graphics.

I encourage you to take some time to explore the site and to follow Cuba’s New Wave on Instagram and Twitter. You will be impressed by where this wave takes you.

One-and-done digital news

This week, I visited the website of the Louisville Courier-Journal for the first time. I did so via links on Twitter to a couple of its stories about a passenger being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight.

The newspaper covered the story extensively because the flight was bound for Louisville and the roughed-up passenger lives in that area of Kentucky. A follow-up article that looked into the criminal past of that person drew heavy criticism: What did drug-related offenses from 13 years ago have to do with the incident on the plane? Here’s how the newspaper tweeted about that story:

united

The Courier-Journal’s executive editor defended the story as newsworthy to a local readership and as a part of the newspaper’s overall coverage of the airplane incident. He also said this:

We didn’t account for the fact that some people might just hit on that piece, and we didn’t put the necessary context for a national or international audience to understand. We’ve since done that.

Editors need to understand how readers get to news on their sites. Readers do that largely through social media and search engines. Those paths lead directly to individual articles, not home pages.

People like me are clicking on a link, reading the one story it leads to and moving on. It’s a different experience from picking up a print publication and seeing a set of related stories. If newspapers are to survive in the digital era, journalists must recognize that reality and edit accordingly.

Student guest post: The editor’s edge in breaking news

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Sara Salinas is a senior majoring in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. Originally from Maryland, Sara has previously worked with The Daily Tar Heel, Baltimore Business Journal and Indianapolis Star. She will move to Boston after graduation for an internship with The Boston Globe.

News is getting faster, but reporters really aren’t.

To no fault of training or dedication, reporters are struggling to keep up with the digital demands of a constantly breaking news cycle. You hear a tip, read a blurb, scroll past a vague tweet, maybe, and the starting gun fires.

Who can you call to confirm it? How quickly can you get a story up? How much context can you throw in? Which outlets have already beat you to it?

In an industry more concerned with speed than ever, editors can keep the breaking news from breaking their reporters or their reputations.

As a breaking news reporter at The Indianapolis Star, I spent most night shifts listening to police scanners and waiting for an emergency run worth reporting. The waiting could very quickly turn into scrambling if the right call came in — and that’s when our online producers shined.

The Star’s producers monitored local TV channels and news outlets for updates or confirmation, tweeted initial reports and photos, and published a basic outline of the story to be updated.

In top priority breaking news situations, producers pulled information from reporters’ tweets to update the outline as the story developed.

The added eyes and ears on a breaking news story relieved the need to scramble and made our coverage more streamlined, more accurate and more complete.

Producers used the official Star Twitter account and retweeted reporters on their personal accounts, so there was never any redundancy or confusion — just the opposite. There was clear delineation from the reporter on the scene to the larger outlet.

Though our online producers had a slight edge over the average editor in that their regular task was exclusively digital, any editor can adopt the same practices and strategies to alleviate the chaos of reporting breaking news:

  1. Designate one or two reporters to tweet developing information. If more than one reporter is updating, do your best to assign each one an angle or focus, so information isn’t repeated and time isn’t wasted.
  2. Retweet the most important information from the publication’s account. Pull a photo if the reporter has taken one. (Bonus: using the same photo repeatedly, as long as it’s representative of the full situation, can be a visual cue for continuing coverage — but don’t overdo it.)
  3. Update the online story with information from the reporter’s tweets. The work is already done, why wait to flesh out the breaking shell?
  4. Pull context from related stories and link in the breaking story. Context is the first casualty of breaking news, and including background will give the story legs and increase engagement.
  5. Keep watching your competition. If your local TV station runs with new information you don’t have yet, you know you’re behind on your reporting and, more importantly, you know what to confirm next.

We like to say journalism is a public service — and I do believe that’s still true — but it’s also becoming increasingly market-driven. Traffic to online content is both what nearly killed the industry and what’s going to save it.

And speed in breaking news situations can be one of the biggest defining factors for which news outlet gets traffic over another.

Streamlining breaking news to be useful, accurate and complete demands more than a single reporter. The editor’s edge is a digital-driven curation of updates in a situation where getting the news is just as important as how fast you do it.

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 Ellen Meder, editorial adviser at N.C. State University

Technician, the student newspaper at N.C. State University, recently switched to a tabloid format and reduced its printing schedule to two days a week.
Technician, the student newspaper at N.C. State University, recently switched to a tabloid format and reduced its printing schedule to two days a week.

Ellen Meder is editorial adviser for student media at N.C. State University, a position she has held since 2014. An alumna of the University of South Carolina, she previously worked as a multimedia journalist at TV station WSPA and at The Morning News in Florence, South Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Meder discusses her role at N.C. State and changes at Technician, a campus newspaper.

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

A. The main goal of my job is to teach, train and advise the students who run N.C. State’s two student newspapers, Technician and Nubian Message. Basically, I use my professional experience and perspective to help them do what they do better.

It’s nice that a “typical” day doesn’t always look the same, but I’m usually juggling creating or leading training sessions on reporting or editing, holding critique sessions with newer writers, marking up the latest issues with constructive criticism and doling out advice for the papers’ senior staff on everything from management styles to good design.

Another role is helping writers and editors strategize on how to pursue difficult reporting — which is often one part coach, one part gumshoe and one part paralegal — but that has to be one of the best parts; seeing students’ curiosity get sparked and realize that they actually can track down the truth. Sometimes paperwork wrangling and departmental reports sneak in there, too, unfortunately.

Q. Technician will reduce its publication schedule in print to two days a week. What is the reason for this change, and what else is ahead for the newspaper?

A. We are definitely viewing the change as a shift of how and where content is produced, not as an overall reduction. It was a tough decision and one our professional staff and students didn’t take lightly.

We took the idea to this year’s editor-in-chief when we realized that a change in the print production schedule could bolster some of her goals, including pushing toward a more web-first mentality and really shaking things up with multimedia content and design, and our departmental goals, like increasing student pay for our leaders as to take down a barrier to diversity and stanch the flow of talented students who couldn’t afford not to have better paid, low skill jobs.

So those are the primary reasons for the decision being made now: It will lend more in the budget for payroll, and it will give the team time and space to focus more on their online output, instead of grinding so hard on each print edition that they’re too burnt out to think of producing anything until 5 p.m. the following day.

But it’s not something that had to happen right this second. Decreased advertising revenues would have eventually forced a reduction, though. We saw the writing on the wall with other universities and our own budget trends and decided that we’d rather make the move when our backs aren’t yet against the wall, when we can control it, and when we can advance other goals.

As far as what’s next, Rachel Smith, the editor-in-chief, has some great goals, and we’ll all be working toward making this transition smooth and ultimately more useful for readers. That means restructuring the newsroom work flow to get news online accurately and quickly (not the other way around) via the website, mobile, the app and social media.

Technician definitely wants to meet readers where they are, and that’s frequently on their phones. The students also want to produce more graphics for web and continue beefing up their video department.

The push to web means that the balance of content will likely shift in the print editions, since no one wants to put 24-hour old news on stands to sit for three days. It’s also transitioning to a modified tab format, so they’re trying new things with design and more engaging covers that don’t look the exact same each day. It’s definitely an exciting time!

Q. How did you get involved with student media, and what do you like most about the job?

A. I loved student media in college, and The Daily Gamecock newsroom was my second home. After I graduated, I worked as a reporter in TV and then at a newspaper in South Carolina for a few years before I started looking around for a new challenge.

I grew up in Raleigh, and when I found the listing for this position, I was super excited and, during the interview, very nervous because I wanted it so badly. I had contemplated going to graduate school for higher education administration when I was scared I’d never get a job in news, but this position meshed my love of journalism and helping college students grow into awesome, productive adults as so many staffers at USC had done for me.

The best part of the job is hands down the students. Watching them learn and grow is exciting and they are hilarious, smart, ambitious and excited. There isn’t the same pall of a declining industry in a student newsroom, nor the jaded curmudgeonliness that was starting to tint my outlook at a small-town paper.

Plus, they are downright challenging. Each student and each group is different, so I have to adapt my teaching and communication styles to best serve them and help them do what they do better. Sometimes that goes great! Sometimes it’s more frustrating, and I have to keep adapting. But when they get it, when they publish a damn good paper, uncover something important or cover a difficult topic with sensitivity, grace and attention to detail, there is nothing better.

Q. What advice do you have for college students considering working for campus publications?

A. Jump right in! Go talk to the students who are already working for the publications and ask why they love it, what makes it worthwhile and even what makes it hard. They’ll be honest with you, and if you stick around for a staff meeting or a production night you’ll find a tight-knit, and hopefully welcoming, group that works hard and has fun. Regardless of the outlet, you will learn skills that you can use in any industry you go into after college, and will gain valuable experience and probably some hilarious stories.

Plus, you’ll find some lifelong friends. I met some of my best, most trusted friends in student media, and we still go on vacation together once a year! I just got back from Nashville with them last week.

Once you’re involved, it’s all about continuing to ask questions and use the resources at your disposal to grow. Pick the brains of older students, your advisers, students at other outlets, alumni and just about anyone on campus who you have questions for! Being in student media is like having an all-access pass to your community.

Last piece of advice: Learn more than one hard skill. If you’re interested in reporting, spend some nights on the copy desk and learn the design software your team uses. If you love shooting photos, go ahead and work with the video team, too. Like it or not, if you want to go into journalism, you are going to need to be a jack of all multimedia trades, in addition to having a solid foundation of journalistic ethics, tenacity and know-how.

Q&A with Pressley Baird, editor of College Town

UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the campuses covered by College Town, a new website affiliated with The News & Observer in Raleigh.
UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the campuses covered by College Town, a website affiliated with The News & Observer in Raleigh. (Creative Commons image)

Pressley Baird is editor of College Town, a new website covering universities in the Triangle region of North Carolina. She also teaches journalism courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, her alma mater. Her previous experience includes work as a reporter at the StarNews in Wilmington. In this interview, conducted by email, Baird discusses the objectives of College Town, how it will complement student media in the area and how students can get involved.

Q. What is College Town?

A. The practiced answer: College Town is a new site that covers the Triangle’s universities (specifically N.C. State, UNC, Duke and N.C. Central). The site gives readers the news that’s most interesting and useful to them, tailored to their school.

The real answer: We don’t totally know yet! It’s a brand-new website from The News & Observer whose primary goal is to inform college students. I’d like to incorporate lots of information delivery methods, like a daily email newsletter with the site’s best pieces and Snapchat stories from students at each campus.

Q. Describe your role there. What is a typical day like?

A. I’m the editor of College Town, and — again — I’m still figuring out exactly what my role is!

Right now, a typical workday has a lot of different aspects to it. I write some stories and promote those on social media, tinker with the website design, reach out to professors and students at the different schools, and chat with people in the newsroom about what the site should, could and can include.

That last part — those conversations with different people in the newsroom —has so far proven to be the most important part of my job. Despite the fact that I work in a traditional newsroom, College Town is a nontraditional project, so I need to think beyond the usual newspaper structure.

I have conversations with the metro editor and photo editor about working with interns; then I’ll chat with the social media manager about promoting the site. I’ll talk to the folks down in creative services in the advertising department about creating ads for the site, and I’ll sit down with the guy who runs ArtsNow, a similar site at the paper.

Those conversations are so valuable because they highlight something that’s not in any job description: people skills! Good journalists must be able to come up with stories, shoot photos and video or tighten grammar and write headlines … but doing all of that well requires the ability to work with people. You can’t put that on a resume, and you won’t be formally taught how to do it in college, but it’s something I find I need every day.

Q. How will College Town compete with or complement student media on local campuses?

A. I see College Town as a complement to student media — in fact, I hope to highlight the best work of student media! College Town will be more of a news-you-can-use, information and events portal.

Our site might have an interview with a financial aid counselor and tips on how to find five scholarships you didn’t know existed. We would not try to write a deep dive on UNC’s academic scandal like The Daily Tar Heel did this year.

Q. How can college students get involved?

A. Email me, please! You can reach me at pbaird@newsobserver.com.

I’d love to talk to any students interested in writing, photographing or running social media for the site. You’ll get the benefits of an N&O internship without having to come into the N&O newsroom — and you’ll learn (alongside me) about the intersection of traditional and nontraditional media worlds.

Follow College Town and Pressley Baird on Twitter.

Q&A with Laura Fiorilli-Crews, web content specialist at RTI International

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Laura Fiorilli-Crews is a web content specialist at RTI International in North Carolina. She previously worked as a homepage editor at TBO.com in Tampa, Florida. In this interview, conducted by email, Fiorilli-Crews discuss her job at RTI, its new website and her transition from the newsroom.

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

A. I work on RTI’s beautiful Research Triangle Park campus, about a 25-minute drive from my home in Raleigh (though the trip back can be much longer). A typical day for me involves working on project stories, expert profiles and other content for our recently launched website. Leading up to the launch, we also spent a lot of time learning about the institute and planning our content strategy.

The overall pace is pretty relaxed compared with what I was used to in a 24/7 multimedia newsroom. I leave at more or less the same time every day, and I have the ability to telecommute as needed.

Q. RTI recently launched a new website. What are some of the major changes, and how did they come about?

A. The redesigned RTI website is much more streamlined than what we had before. Our goal was to make it easier for potential clients and partners (such as government agencies, foundations, and universities) to understand what RTI does and reach experts who can help solve their problems.

We overhauled the site architecture and changed the emphasis of the writing, replacing dozens of pages of descriptive but dry text with stories about the impact of our various projects around the world. We also worked with outside designers and developers to make the site modern and mobile-responsive.

We have also added a section aimed at members of the media. Our Emerging Issues pages will help inform journalists that RTI is a leader in research on some important, quickly developing topics. Right now, that includes Zika virus, marijuana, electronic cigarettes, drones, and noncommunicable diseases (i.e. cancer, diabetes, etc.) in low- and middle-income countries

Q. You previously worked for news organizations such as TBO.com. What skills from that part of your career do you use at RTI, and what new skills have you had to learn?

A. The slower pace described above is the biggest difference, and it ripples through many aspects of my work. TBO (which is sadly dormant right now after the purchase and closure of its partner, the Tampa Tribune) was, during my seven years there, one of the nation’s pioneering converged newsrooms. You simply don’t get that atmosphere of constant change and urgency in many other places. I’ve often called it “the emergency room of news.”

In my office at RTI, you might say we are running a wellness clinic. There is much more time for strategic decision-making — which is something I felt was sorely needed at my old job.

The writing process is different as well. People are more inclined to deliberate over every word. That’s true within our office and also when dealing with the distinguished academics who conduct the scientific work that RTI is known for.

Diplomacy is an important skill here. I think most journalists assume that a PR role, at least in the absence of a true crisis, is pretty cushy — that everyone you work with will appreciate that you are on their side. In reality, even though we are working to support the public image of the entire institute, everyone doesn’t share the same opinions on what that looks like.

RTI is so diverse that we must customize our web content to each constituency, while being fair to all. Plus, our requests are far from the most pressing thing these researchers deal with each day. Working in marketing communications doesn’t make you immune from the problem of unreturned phone calls.

Q. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking to work at places like RTI?

A. My top piece of advice is the same as ever. Get some life experience. Pursue what you like to do both professionally and personally. Learn a little about a lot of different subjects.

Working at RTI is probably comparable to working for a university. RTI appreciates curiosity and interest in diverse fields in health, science and social science. The words “improving the human condition” figure prominently in our mission statement. This is a great place to work if you like feeling that you are contributing to a larger cause.