Q&A with Amber Rupinta, ABC11 anchor

amber-rupinta

Amber Rupinta outside the ABC11 newsroom in downtown Raleigh.

Amber Rupinta is a reporter and anchor at ABC11 Eyewitness News. She has worked at ABC affiliate WTVD — which covers a section of North Carolina that includes Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville — since 2004. In this interview, conducted by email, Rupinta discusses her work at the station, the change from the morning broadcast to afternoons, and her experience in graduate programs in digital communication and meteorology.

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

A. A typical day in the ABC11 newsroom begins with a story shoot for me. We have a daily morning meeting with news managers and reporters that begins at 9 a.m. to pitch and assign stories to reporters.

I work on a little bit of a different reporting schedule due to my news anchoring duties at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. I set up my weekly story schedule on Fridays so I know where I need to be and when in order to get back in the studio in time to prepare for the evening news.

On a side note, working in the field means preparing for the elements as well, so every morning before leaving the house I have to pack a bag with a studio wardrobe while wearing appropriate clothing for the weather.

Depending on my story, I either meet my photojournalist at the studio and we leave together in a station vehicle, or I meet him on site to gather the story. If I make it back in time, I change clothing, mic up and jump on set at the end of the noon newscast to tease what we are working on for the news at 4 p.m.

As far as stories go, it runs the gamut for me. I can cover everything from human interest stories to celebrities or politicians in town to storms headed our way or a press conference with city officials about a big news story of the day.

The exciting thing about this job for me is that no day is typical and we can make a difference by bringing awareness to issues our community is facing. I switch gears quickly and often, and I learn new things all the time. The element of taking information and quickly breaking it down into an easy to understand story or format for viewers keeps it fresh, but I have to admit, sometimes the deadlines can be very stressful.

Working under the pressure of a deadline is constant, and it does take time to get used to working at that pace daily. There are also days when we have to interrupt programming for breaking news, so sometimes I am told to put on my mics and get on the set as quickly as possible.

We also have a lot of emceeing events in the community so I can spend a morning helping with a non-profit at a fundraising breakfast or an evening at a gala. Days are busy when your station covers 23 counties and more than 3 million potential viewers!

Q. In 2017, you moved from the morning to the afternoon broadcast. Why did you make that change, and how does time of day affect your work?

A. There were a few reasons I made the change to the afternoon broadcast. One of the biggest was it was a promotion and the opportunity doesn’t always come up for afternoon anchor jobs. And, in all honesty, as much as I loved the pace of a morning show and the camaraderie of a team that works at zero dark thirty, after answering a painful 2:30 a.m. alarm clock five days a week for nearly a decade, the timing was right to make a change and sleep(!) like a “normal” person again.

Moving to afternoons, I have found the pace of my day is drastically different. On a morning newscast, you hit the ground running, and most of your shift is spent on air. I would constantly monitor Twitter feeds or CrowdTangle for updates on breaking news.

Stories often are breaking and developing in the overnight hours, and that makes for a very fast-paced environment to deliver the news. The morning broadcast is on air from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., and we have to do a lot of updates to social media and weather and traffic.

Many morning viewers are watching in shorter time frames but need all the headlines and any issues affecting them before heading out the door. After the morning news, I would head out to gather a story and could be live in the noon news. The morning team works in a fast-paced environment, and it is very exciting.

The afternoon broadcast is also exciting, but the pace is a little less hectic compared with the morning news as we can monitor and watch a story develop throughout the day. As a reporter, getting ready for the afternoon broadcast brings the opportunity to take your time gathering interviews and crafting a story. It allows for more time to do research and investigate, and there are more resources in the newsroom during the day shift, which can help tremendously when you are in the field. It is also much easier to call people for interviews or information during “normal” hours, so that can make your job much easier.

Q. In the past few years, you earned a certificate in digital communication from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a certificate in meteorology at Mississippi State. What did you learn from those programs that you use in your job at ABC11?

A. I enrolled in the certificate program in digital communication at UNC-Chapel Hill because I felt I needed to sharpen my digital skills after working for more than a decade in the day-to-day broadcast news side of the business. I truly felt I was going to get left behind as the shift to digital became more apparent from an industry standpoint.

The certificate program was exactly what I needed to get a handle on new online tools and resources for investigative journalism and simply to uncover information a reporter needs. It also helped me sharpen my digital writing skills. There is a huge difference in how you write for a news broadcast, which is more conversational, to how you must write for digital. I hate to admit it, but, I was very rusty writing for digital or print-style format and the program really helped boost my confidence.

I was able to bring a lot of the information I learned back to the newsroom, and I am happy to say our entire newsroom now uses Grammarly, a program I learned about through the certificate program. Several co-workers also have inquired about and enrolled in the program as digital changes so rapidly. It is a great way to keep up with the tools and is completely doable while working.

As far as the certificate in meteorology through Mississippi State University, this was a program I began nearly a decade ago. I put it on the back burner when I took a job with ABC11. After covering numerous hurricanes and other natural disasters and living through massive property damage from huge storms, I realized I wanted to finish my degree for a better understanding of weather events that affect so many people.

I enjoyed learning about meteorology so much that I went on to earn a B.S. in geoscience. Not only did the program enhance my knowledge of understanding the atmosphere, but it also makes me a better journalist.

All of the programs I enrolled in help me cover weather events, which are always top news stories. They also help me report on multiple platforms, especially digital, which is the future of journalism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering a career in broadcast journalism?

A. The best advice I can give to students is to learn and understand the business.

Many students (I was also guilty) are so laser-focused on the journalism but never learn about how the company or business makes money. Understanding how ratings translate to revenue and how clicks are monetized through different digital platforms is crucial to understanding changes in operations, job expectations and job opportunities!

The TV industry — as well as newspaper and radio — are quickly changing due to digital content. The immediate, widespread impact of social media has changed how we approach stories, sped up our deadlines and made us rethink who is in our audience.  We can now shoot and edit in the palms of our hands, and go live anywhere with backpack units.

And now, more than ever, with all of that in mind, it is more important to be RIGHT, before being FIRST. Social media spreads like wildfire — and it’s next to impossible to put out that fire once it spreads. Get the facts, get a second source to verify the facts, cover the story truthfully with no bias, and go.

It’s an exciting career. You never know where you’ll end up. Just tell the story — don’t become the story.

Follow Amber Rupinta on Twitter and learn more about her on the ABC11 website.

Advertisements

Guest post: News organizations that use AI need updated ethics policies

Chris Rogers is an editor and writer with a background in academic and technical publishing. He is also the author of a novel called “Starlight on Silver.” Rogers holds a master’s degree in technology and communication from UNC-Chapel Hill. This post is based on his master’s thesis, which explored the use of artificial intelligence by news organizations.

Journalism is changing. This simple truth is routinely downplayed, but the news industry has experienced massive shifts in the past decade. Newspaper circulation is down on the local level and unstable nationally, and the internet, the consumer’s preferred mode of news consumption, has changed everything.

The variety of options for digital media consumption has increased demand for news content, and the prevalence of big data has made it nearly impossible for writers to keep up with the flow of news. Instead, news outlets have turned to artificial intelligence, or AIs, for help. AIs are an appealing solution because of their abilities regarding not only data collection but also turning those data into patterns and even going so far as to write the articles themselves. At many major news outlets, this practice is now commonplace.

Putting the technology to work was initially simple. As artificial intelligence became adept at handling numbers, numerical stories seemed like a natural fit.

Using programs such as Wordsmith, an algorithm developed by Automated Insights in North Carolina, companies tasked artificial intelligence with writing straightforward accounts of sports stories, business news, fantasy sports league outcomes and so on. The Washington Post has tasked a machine with writing over 800 articles. The Los Angeles Times uses a bot reporter to craft stories about earthquakes.

But new technology can bring new problems. Journalism is fraught with legal and ethical challenges.

In a world already plagued with accusations of “fake news” and concerns about credibility, the timing of the introduction of robot reporters is critical. Libel, plagiarism and other pitfalls are critical components of the job. While a machine might get the words right, the industry needs to be prepared to deal with the potential minefield of consequences an otherwise naïve robot may stumble into.

The responsibility then falls to the news organization employing the help of the machines to ensure ethical standards are being followed. Ethics guidelines must be updated to cover these technological changes, but the vast majority of them haven’t been.

Nearly every prominent news organization has written an ethics manual of some kind, both for journalists to abide by and for readers to understand what to expect. This is to ensure that only factual information is being disseminated and that human subjects are treated with care and thoroughness.

The problem is that few news organizations address changing technology in their ethics guides, and none of them addresses the prevalence of AI reporters. While this may seem to be a simple omission, the fact is that bot reporters may collect information on human subjects that may be false or misleading, and then may craft an article completely unchecked.

Any false article will reflect poorly upon the organization and may result in legal consequences and financial penalties. In other words, mistakes like these are costly and to be avoided at all costs.

Newsrooms must be prepared for the reality that machines, though efficient, aren’t perfect. Machines are created by humans, and they are prone to programming errors that may result in significant problems.

If a news organization is posting an AI story, it is responsible for it. Current ethics policies are terribly lacking and out of date in this regard, leaving journalists with no clear standard on the expectations of an AI colleague. Additionally, ethics policies are often not made publicly available, creating an avoidable problem of transparency. As long as newsrooms insist they are delivering the truth, there must be no confusion about who or what is writing an article.

The solution is simple and necessary. There must be a uniform, industry-wide set of ethics standards regarding artificial intelligence and their use in the newsroom. These standards can exist in the form of an ethics guide that should be made publicly available on a news organization’s website.

This guide will hold AI reporters to the same ethical standards as their human counterparts and guarantee that any and all stories crafted by an AI are entirely factual. It would also be prudent for the new standards to outline a way forward for addressing legal concerns while also explaining to the public that the newsroom has the right to trust AI reporters.

Newsrooms are right to employ the use of any and all technology, but they must get out in front of potential issues before they become problems. New ethics standards would go a long way in revising the trust between reporter and reader.

Student guest post: Is print really dead?

newsprint
Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the second of those posts. Diane Adame is a senior journalism student with a reporting concentration at UNC-Chapel Hill. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue investigative or foreign reporting.

If I want to catch up on today’s news, I don’t look for the nearest newspaper stand or check my mailbox. Rather, I check my email for The Daily Tar Heel’s morning newsletter or go to The New York Times website.

As of June 2018, about 93 percent of adults read their news online. Newsletters, apps, podcasts and aggregation platforms like Apple News allow outlets to reach audiences like never before.

Conversely, my grandfather still checks his front porch every morning for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Despite newspapers’ crucial role in the American news landscape, the number of subscribers has decreased since the early 2000s. Furthermore, the increase in website traffic has caused the daily U.S. print newspaper circulation to decline by 11 percent in 2014.

Such declines have caused various industries and organizations to ask: Is print dead?

The general consensus? Think again.

In terms of when and how audiences consume content, they want convenience and greater flexibility.

Print offers a unique experience that includes pertinent and personalized content to generate the reaction that most marketers want. Business Journals contributing writer Tom Sikora says this benefits print for three reasons:

  1. Print establishes an emotional connection. Customized print materials captivate audiences and can feel more personal. Distinct features of a magazine cover or travel guide can help engage consumers and increase promotional efforts.
  2. Print triggers a response. Individualized formats and statements using data-driven insights can increase consumer response. Print has become a one-to-one customization that forms significant and cost effective and efficient campaigns.
  3. Print informs. For decades, print has been the primary form of information. It is reliable and can be kept for reference again and again.

Despite digital media’s effectiveness and expansion, the value of print will continue to reinforce its relevancy.

Some publishers claim that older populations are generally print readers while younger audiences are drifting away from print. However, Iris Chyi, associate professor at the University of Texas and a news researcher, proves otherwise.

Her findings indicate that of news readers between the ages 18 and 24, 19.9 percent read a print newspaper that week. Over 7 percent read news digitally.

But Politico’s media critic, Jack Shafer, said Chyi’s numbers “do not exist in a vacuum.”

In other words, print is alive and stabilized in multiple areas outside of journalism.

Since 2013, print book sales have increased while various genres of electronic books have declined. According to surveys, university students also prefer print textbooks to electronic ones.

As publishers raise the price of electronic books to promote the sale of print, the cost of print newspapers is increasing. Though the number of print readers has noticeably declined, many newspapers still earn most of their revenue from print.

But revenue is not the only concern that accompanies digital media. Many, including Chyi, have shown concern for society and its reading experience.

Multiple recent studies indicate that online reading is less immersive and entertaining than print reading. Online readers are also more likely to skim through multiple pages and websites. Print reading can be less distracting and thus increase comprehension.

Though I enjoy the convenience of digital news platforms, I may begin picking up my grandfather’s habit of reading print editions. Maybe the elders really are wiser.

A perfect score for this story package

lat-gymheadline-caption

This story package that ran on the front page of the Los Angeles Times last week is an all-around winner. Here’s why it succeeds:

  • The main headline matches the tone and content of the story. It uses a subtle and original play on words.
  • The deck headline builds on the main headline, providing the who, where and why of the story.
  • The caption identifies the photo’s subject and tells us something what we can’t see in the image.
  • The story is thoroughly reported and wonderfully written by Blake Richardson. It’s an uplifting profile that adds variety to the front page.

Overall, I give this story package a 10 out of 10. Well done!

Student guest post: Learning from breaking news

aldridge.png

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the first of those posts. Bailey Aldridge is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science. She is the managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel, and she hopes to start a career in reporting after graduation. 

I’ve been managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel for about five months and, so far, this school year has been characterized by breaking news event after breaking news event.

Silent Sam was toppled, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp retired, UNC-system President Margaret Spellings resigned, there was another water crisis, two hurricanes came through, the plaques in Kenan Memorial Stadium were changed, football coach Larry Fedora was fired and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt stepped down.

It’s been an eventful few months.

I wasn’t prepared for all of this breaking news coming into the year, and I wasn’t prepared to handle it in my editor role. After the events that have transpired this year at UNC, I’ve learned a lot about how to handle the editor-reporter relationship and what my role as an editor should be when it comes to breaking news.

It can be difficult to navigate my role as an editor in instances of breaking news. I’ve had to learn when to delegate and when to do things myself, how to be supportive of the writer and how to have difficult conversation with my colleagues.

One of the things I’ve struggled with the most is delegating when breaking news happens. I have the instinct to hear about it and start writing a story myself. However, this isn’t the most effective way to handle the situation as an editor.

Throughout the year, I’ve found that our newsroom operates on breaking news best when those of us in a management role allow other editors or reporters to write breaking news. I’ve found it’s more efficient to use my position to oversee the coverage of a breaking story and to polish it after it’s written. It can be hard to let go of responsibilities as an editor sometimes but, in the end, it helps things flow more smoothly.

It’s important as an editor to support whoever is writing a breaking story. I’ve found this can mean a lot of different things. It can be giving an advice on a lede, what to include, what sources to get up with and how to structure the story. It can also mean helping call sources or going to a scene to find out more details.

I’ve learned that more goes into editing than just fixing spelling, grammar and style. I’ve found that one of my most important jobs as an editor is supporting and helping writers on their stories, breaking or otherwise. Part of what goes into being supportive is having tough conversations when they are necessary.

We’ve had a lot of big news this school year. A lot of that news has been breaking, and a lot of that news has been heavy and has required hard conversation and tough decisions. Those decisions are even more difficult when they have to be made quickly.

Dealing with these has taught me to be direct when talking to other editors but also to listen to them and collaborate when making decisions.

Overall, I’m glad this year has been so eventful because it’s taught be a lot about how to be an effective, helpful editor and, more generally, how to function in a newsroom.

Follow Bailey Aldridge on Twitter, and read her stories on The Daily Tar Heel website.

What I am teaching this semester

carrollhall

Carroll Hall is the the home of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The spring semester of 2019 begins this week at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what I am teaching:

  • MEJO 157, News Editing. This course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. The class meets twice a week and has 19 students. Here is the syllabus.
  • MEJO 557, Advanced Editing. This course builds on MEJO 157 by incorporating specialty areas such as features, opinion writing and sports. Students also collaborate with other courses on projects such as The Durham VOICE. The class meets twice a week and has 20 students. Here is the syllabus.

You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school at the Park Library website. Best wishes to all on a successful semester!