Q&A with Mechelle Hankerson of the Virginia Mercury

MECHELLE_HANKERSON

Mechelle Hankerson is a reporter at the Virginia Mercury, a new news organization based in Richmond. She previously worked at newspapers in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Hankerson discusses her role at the Mercury and offers advice to journalism students.

Q. What is the Virginia Mercury? What are the goals of the site?

The Virginia Mercury is a nonprofit news startup covering Virginia state government.

A lot of the news organizations that used to cover the state have pulled back from that or stopped altogether. The Mercury is meant to fill that hole for readers, especially when the General Assembly isn’t in session and for topics that tend to pop up in state agencies but not the legislative floor.

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

A. I’m a reporter covering government and politics.

Right now, most of my time is dedicated to the congressional races. I usually start by 8:30 to write a blog post about any major, breaking political developments and then spend the rest of the day reporting on whatever longer story might be brewing.

Sometimes the day involves going to meetings of state boards and agencies — which is a lot like going to a City Council meeting.

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

A. We’re a small team — only four people — and we all have to be our own (and each other’s) copy editors and headline writers. It taps back into skills that haven’t been my primary focus in a while.

Q. You previously worked at The News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot. How is reporting for the Mercury different?

A. The reporting process here isn’t significantly different from working at The N&O and The Pilot. But the overall effort here is a lot different.

We’re a nonprofit startup, so there isn’t a century’s worth of tradition to dictate what we cover and how we cover it. We really get to define what The Virginia Mercury is and will be, so I feel some added pressure to always report the heck out of a story and publish something really good.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in working for a news organization like the Mercury?

A. I think the funding setup and startup nature of The Mercury is where a lot of current journalism students will end up at some point in their careers.

Traditional newspapers are changing, and those jobs are getting scarce. Journalism will never go away, but the way people consume it already has changed. So the way news organizations are run has to change.

That being said, the best advice is to stay focused on the reason you pursued journalism in the first place. It’s incredibly too easy to get caught up in who’s buying what, what’s being cut and how things used to be. It’s easy to get discouraged. You shouldn’t ignore the big changes, but try to remember your primary concern should be finding and telling good stories.

The news industry is going to change no matter what, and all you can do is the best work possible.

Follow Mechelle Hankerson on Twitter and read her stories on the Virginia Mercury website.

Advertisements

A 40-year-old intern in L.A.

LATbadge

Ten years ago this week, I was starting a seven-week stint at The Los Angeles Times.

At the time, I had been in academia and out of the newsroom for three years, and I was feeling out of touch with rapid changes in journalism. I sought to be a 40-year-old intern, with a digital focus, at a news organization.

The Los Angeles Times agreed to take me on for part of the summer. My official title was “contractor.” My work each day was as an editor, posting stories to the website and writing headlines, among other tasks.

Working on the Web desk of The Los Angeles Times refreshed my editing skills and allowed me to learn some new ones.  I also learned that you can get by in Southern California without a car, thanks to the Big Blue Bus. And hiking in Topanga Canyon and having a celebrity sighting (Larry David at a sushi restaurant) were part of the fun of living in L.A.

Thanks to everyone at The Los Angeles Times — especially Henry Fuhrmann, Eric Ulken and Daniel Gaines — for their guidance and camaraderie for that time in 2008. Thanks also to my friends Frank and Jody, who invited me to live in their guest room on the Westside.

Ten years later, I am doing my best to keep up with changes in journalism so I can teach my students well. Webinars, workshops and conferences are helpful, but I’m due for another newsroom experience. If you are looking for a 50(ish)-year-old intern in 2019, let me know.

Q&A with Alysha Love, editor at CNN Politics

CNN EXPANSION DC 2017

Alysha Love is a multi-platform editor at CNN Politics. She previously worked as a web editor at Politico. Love is also a member of the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing. In this interview, conducted by email, Love discusses her job at CNN and her involvement in ACES.

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

A. I’m multi-platform editor, which is a super-ambiguous title, I know. My job lives on the digital side of the CNN operation in Washington, D.C., so my team of digital producers and I spend our days:

    • optimizing the stories we publish — think SEO, photos, videos, related stories and other steps that help readers have the best-possible experience on mobile, desktop or tablet;
    • programming those stories across CNN’s digital platforms;
    • posting stories, videos and photos to our social media accounts.

If it touches the internet, we’re the newsroom’s go-to source for making it happen. The job takes strong editorial news judgment, creative problem-solving skills and the drive to keep up with the fast-paced world of political news.

I also work with our third-party partners and make sure that our team is staying on top of industry trends and changes. I work closely with the product development team as a voice for the editorial team as CNN creates new projects.

Multi-tasking is key for my job: Throughout the day, I may be copy editing a story while helping the digital producers make judgment calls about video clips they’re cutting live from air while on a video call demoing a new tool we’d like to use. Communication happens over email, chat, conference calls and video chats — whatever it takes to stay connected with other team members or third-party partners who may be located in a different city or country.

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

A. At CNN Politics, which produces editorial content across digital platforms while working hand in hand with newsgathering and television colleagues, our reporters file their stories with their best headline idea. Their editors will refine or rework that headline with the reporters during the story edit.

Reporters and editors are responsible for writing headlines that work for mobile, social and search. Every story then gets a copy-edit from another editor in the newsroom, who’ll be coming at the story with fresh eyes. Any final revisions to the headlines come during that final copy-editing process.

Q. You are active in ACES: The Society for Editing. What drew you to the organization, and why do you find it valuable?

I joined ACES my senior year at the University of Missouri. I’ve always loved editing and had begun to realize it was a career track I might enjoy more than reporting.

In the small chapter of ACES at Mizzou, I found a cohort of people who also deeply loved language and cared about details. We organized to road trip down to the ACES conference in New Orleans over spring break that year (yes, I really spent senior spring break at an editing conference), and I found even more people with the same passion for words that I had. I was hooked on the people and the experience, and that fueled my run for the ACES executive board in 2016.

Not only are the people at ACES great, but the organization provides incredibly helpful training, resources and support for editors (and, frankly, anyone who works with words).

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists who are interested in careers like yours?

My role at CNN is a job that, in some ways, it feels like I fell into. It’s one that, at least when I was in college, there wasn’t a clear path to — or even much specific training for a job that would look like this.

You all are much better-positioned to take on digital roles as journalism continues to evolve. My best advice is to stick with the journalistic principles that are your foundation, build on what you know and be open to opportunities that could lead you to new, unthought-of paths.

Follow Alysha Love on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

UPDATE: In October 2018, Love moved to Boise, Idaho, to work as a multiplatform editor at the Idaho Statesman.

Covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Each spring, journalism students from UNC-Chapel Hill create a multimedia project that focuses on a place and topic. Last year, students covered trends among young people in Cuba.

This year, another group of students visited Puerto Rico to document the island’s struggles after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. The result is Aftermath, a website that includes video, photography, story text and infographics to tell this important story.

Congratulations to the students and to my colleagues Pat Davison, Tamara Rice, Christa Gala and Kate Sheppard. Thank you for inviting students in my Advanced Editing class to contribute to the success of this project.

Q&A with Gabe Whisnant, digital editor at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

gabewhisnant

Gabe Whisnant is assistant managing editor, digital, at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com in South Carolina. He previously worked as a news editor at The Shelby Star and sports editor at The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Whisnant discusses his job in Spartanburg, news coverage of the Carolina Panthers training camp and the skills journalism students need to succeed.

Q. Describe your job at the Herald-Journal. What is your typical day?

A. I try to spend the first of the morning looking at our page views, visitors and other metrics over the last 24 to 48 hours via Parse.ly and Google Analytics. Whether our numbers are up or down, I check … Is the website fresh? Is there something that may be buried on the site that should be moved to a more prominent position? Are there stories or photo galleries on news partner sites that may be valuable or interesting to our readers? Are our social media pages fresh?

I keep an eye on the AP South Carolina wire to get the top state news on our site. The AP moves amazing photos, so I search and post regional and national galleries that may grab some attention. Being the first editor in the building, I also work closely with the morning crime/cops reporter on editing and posting breaking or overnight local news.

I try to spend the last half of the day looking at goals and objectives for the week and month ahead. We have in-house and corporate web/mobile traffic, video/audio and social goals we want to meet, so it pays to look at progress daily so we’re not playing catch-up.

I monitor our site and social media feeds on nights and weekends, but the goal is to have a plan in place where that is at a minimum. Our night/weekend editors do a great job and deserve a lot of credit for keeping the site fresh.

Q. You previously worked at newspapers in Shelby and Gastonia, among others. What was the transition to a fully digital job like?

A. Given the vast capabilities we have with web projects, video and audio – and the 24/7 power of social media and mobile – I am fortunate to be in a position to point my focus forward in web-first journalism. I do miss planning A1s and Sports fronts – there is something really special and sacred about that daily task – but digital news is the present and future, of course. I would like to think I was already working with a “digital first” mentality as a news and sports editor, but when you’re having to think about print and pages, that can be easier said than done.

During our 3 p.m. budget meetings – when the other editors are talking about print placement — I give a rundown of our page views for the day, thus far, and we discuss website placement and social media timing for articles and galleries.

Good place to note, the Herald-Journal works closely with Shelby, Gastonia and Hendersonville within a Western Carolinas cluster of the larger GateHouse Media Carolinas group. All of the above share and communicate regularly – from tagging each other’s sites on galleries to long-term projects like Travel in the Carolinas.

Q. Spartanburg is host to the Carolina Panthers training camp each summer. How does the Herald-Journal prepare and cover that event?

A. Last year was my first working, training camp experience, so I had a lot to learn and get up to speed quickly. Across departments, we start planning months in advance.

Our sports staff focuses on the X’s and O’s, roster cuts and press conferences at Wofford College. Before, during and after camp, the news side writes about the Spartanburg city/business/restaurant impact of hosting training camp as well as special fan and event features. Our photo staff stays busy shooting and creating galleries of all of the above.

Where I saw a small void in our camp coverage was a full saturation of social media, so I helped fill in that gap with Facebook live videos, Instagram posts and making sure everything we produced ran through our GoUpstate Twitter feed. With an event that draws over 100,000 people per year, we want to own Panthers camp from all local angles.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in digital news?

A. Be diverse in your skills (but you probably already know that). Yes, you still need to be solid in information gathering and writing, but be prepared to know or learn how to do all-things reporting – photography, video, audio, special projects. If/when you find a niche in which you are more proficient or enjoy, follow it, but also stay well-rounded.

Don’t be hesitant to be a leader within your newsroom, even if you are a newcomer. If you’re picking up on a trend or something new for the web or social your newsroom needs to incorporate, talk to your editors. They will appreciate it.

Keep following other reporters and editors on social media – in and out of your market and of publications of all sizes and forms. We are in an industry that has a great ability with forums to learn from each other. Never stop reading and learning.

Learning from the Durham VOICE

For nearly 10 years, the Durham VOICE has covered the northeast-central area of Durham, North Carolina.

The VOICE is a student-produced publication and a collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University. Teen journalists contribute material as well.

Students in my Advanced Editing class play a role in the VOICE too. On five occasions this semester, they will edit stories reported and written by students in the Community Journalism course taught by my colleague Jock Lauterer. In addition to editing posts, adding links and writing headlines in WordPress, my students also create printer-friendly PDFs of the stories using InDesign.

This week, we posted the second batch of stories. They show the array of people, places and issues in an area of Durham that is often overlooked by other news organizations.

I encourage you to check out the VOICE website and Facebook page. You can also follow on Twitter.

My students learn a lot from the VOICE. Perhaps you will too.

Q&A with Elaina Athans, reporter at ABC11-WTVD

athans

Elaina Athans is a reporter for ABC11-WTVD, a North Carolina TV station that covers Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville. A graduate of Hofstra University, Athans previously worked at stations in New York and Maryland. In this interview, conducted by email, Athans discusses her job, including how she uses social media in her work.

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

A. I’m a general assignment reporter, and all in all, my day is hectic!

I usually come in around 9:30 in the morning and pitch stories I’d like to cover that day or I think would play well on social media. After getting assigned around 10:00 or 10:30, I’m out the door.

I’ll make calls in the car driving to a story and research my piece. I could be live in the noon show, which means there’s a tight window to gather information. I will try to grab interviews as soon as the car is parked and then will flip the sound around for noon.

After the midday show, I have the next few hours to continue gathering, tweet and grab new elements for our evening shows. In between writing my stories for broadcast, I will write a separate web version and send that along to our web department to post online.

Once I’m done with my on-air duties, I’ll also send along a “Night Note” detailing all the information I’ve collected throughout the day and important contacts I’ve made. This is meant to help my colleagues who might be assigned to a follow-up story down the road.

Q. In addition to being on air, journalists at stations like yours also write for the web. What are the challenges of working across formats?

A. I think it can be overwhelming at times, and it’s hard to pace yourself. I have to prepare stories for broadcast and push information out on social media at the same time.

Balance is key. You can’t go hard in one area and wane in the other.

Q. You are active on Twitter, and you have a professionally oriented page on Facebook. What role does social media play in your reporting?

A. To start with, I turn to social media to find stories to pitch. It’s the only place I go for enterprise pieces, to be honest. Folks are always sounding off about what’s going on in their communities or cool things that are happening around town.

I also use it for news gathering. I will incorporate tweets or Facebook posts into my stories. If I’m covering a political story, for instance, the first thing I’ll do is check is Twitter to see if the Senate leader, House speaker, governor or other elected officials are commenting.

When I first started in this business, you had to go through a press rep to get comment on every issue. That is not the case any more.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in breaking into broadcast?

A. Watch the markets or cities you aspire to work. If your dream is to be in Los Angeles, watch how the reporters in that city are telling stories and then mold your style around that.

Follow Elaina Athans on Twitter and on Facebook, and read her stories on the WTVD website.