The front page still matters

Roseanne Barr made news this week when ABC canceled her show a day after she posted a racist tweet. Puerto Rico was also in the news because of a study that put the death toll from Hurricane Maria at more than 4,600 people — much higher than previously reported.

Which story is more important? A lot of the discussion I saw on social media argued that the Roseanne news was overplayed and Puerto Rico underplayed. Here’s an example from Twitter:

It’s interesting that the writer uses the print edition of The New York Times as a measure of its priorities. In 2018, he is judging its news judgment based on a printed page — not a website, podcast or Facebook posts.

Here in North Carolina, I noticed that The News & Observer, the newspaper I read every day, placed the Roseanne story on page 2A and the Puerto Rico story on 7A. Local stories about the state budget and gentrification in Durham made the front page. That makes sense, given the Raleigh newspaper’s focus on the state’s Triangle region.

Page number alone doesn’t provide a full picture of story emphasis. In this instance, the N&O ran about nine column inches on the Roseanne story but more than twice that on the Puerto Rico story as well as a photo.

Nowadays, many of us primarily read our news not by turning pages, but by scrolling on smartphones and laptops. We get news in a timeline format on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Algorithms influence what we see there.

Yet many readers still rely on the front page in print — with stories selected by editors — to reflect the important news of the past day and the day ahead. These readers see the front page as an indicator of a news organization’s values. What does this newspaper care about? What are its priorities? How is it serving the community?

These are questions that can be answered on a front page. Even in 2018.

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Q&A with freelance editor Karen Conlin

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Karen Conlin is a self-employed editor who works with fiction and nonfiction books. Her prior experience includes editing at gaming company TSR. Conlin is the 2018 winner of the Robinson Prize awarded by ACES: The Society for Editing. In this interview, conducted by email, Conlin discusses her work past and present, and her interest in register.

Q. Describe your work. What is your typical day?

A. Let me stress that mine is probably a very atypical day, because not only do I work from home, I’m also the chief caretaker of my granddaughter when her mother’s at work. So …

After the usual morning routine of making breakfast for whoever’s awake (usually just myself and my husband, but with a toddler one never knows!), I head up to my work space and dig into emails and administrative cleanup. When that’s done, I look at the projects on my plate and prioritize them.

Right now, for example, there’s this interview, an article on register for an upcoming issue of Tracking Changes (the ACES newsletter), and the tail end of a copyediting job on a novel set in the Old West in the late 1880s. That’s the order in which I’ll tackle those, and if I have time later, I’ll write a blog post for Grammargeddon! about forming plural possessives. Never hurts to review the basics!

In between those, I’ll be toddler wrangling. I might be able to finish everything I plan, but then again … toddler!

Q. Earlier in your career, you edited for TSR, the company that then owned Dungeons & Dragons and other games. What was it like editing material for role-playing games?

A. I always say that working there was my favorite job as an actual employee of a company. The designers/developers (which is what our writers were called) were so creative!

I didn’t even mind that my first two weeks were spent reading rule books. All of the rule books. ALL of them.

That was before AD&D 2nd Edition, so you might think it wasn’t so bad — but the D&D line was included in my workload, so I had to read all of the BECMI rules, too. (I think that series stopped at Master, at that point. My memory’s hazy, though.)

Editing RPG material is a strange blend of technical editing and fiction editing. So many rules!

And you have to ensure that they’re all followed, which was the hardest part because those creative designers always wanted to find ways around the rules to do what they wanted rather than what was allowed. I learned a lot about diplomacy (and I don’t mean the board game, but we played some of that, too).

Q. You’ve led sessions and workshops on register. What is register, and how does it affect how you edit?

A. Register is a concept from linguistics, normally applied to people’s speech. However, I think it’s just as applicable to writing.

The five main registers are frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate. The correlations are as follows:

  • Frozen is language that never changes, like memorized prayers (think Catholic mass or any number of Protestant recitations, like the various creeds).
  • Formal is most often found in medical, legal, or academic writing, although with the plain-language movement that’s changing slowly and there are fewer words the average reader or listener won’t understand.
  • Consultative is the register of meetings with professionals, like a parent-teacher conference or a visit to your doctor. There’s an assumption of mutual respect, and the language is less formal and more “everyday,” without dropping into slang and other marker of the next register, which is casual.
  • Casual is the one we use with our peers (coworkers, for example) and the one we hear most often around us in daily activities. Sentence structure is less rigid, and word choice can include slang terms and “verbal shorthand” like “Ready?” for “Are you ready to go?”
  • Intimate is used with loved ones, family, and closest friends, and can include in-jokes and terms no one else will understand because they’re “on the outside.”

I edit fiction, so I don’t see a lot of frozen or formal register. In my work, the narrative language is most often consultative or casual, depending on the narrator; dialogue, though, can be anywhere on the map.

Keeping a character’s register consistent is part of the job for me. If they start out speaking casually, why do they shift to consultative? Does that shift make sense within the story and between the characters involved?

Q. Congratulations on winning the Robinson Prize. What does this honor mean to you?

A. Honestly? I’m still amazed that my work was judged best of all the submissions/nominees.

I’ve read since then, though, that part of the reason I was awarded the Robinson was that my work exemplifies the direction in which editing is headed, and in which the membership of ACES has gone and continues to go: freelance/independent contract editing, whether that’s for fiction (which is what I do) or for a corporate client, a mainstream publishing house, an academic press, or what have you.

I always have said I have my clients to thank for my success. That’s never truer than now. Along with the samples of their edited work, their recommendations and testimonials showed the panel of judges what they value most in my work (hint: it’s not my grammatical prowess, although that’s very important), and I owe them my heartfelt thanks for this award.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering work as self-employed editors?

A. Don’t expect to support yourself on freelance editing right out of the gate. Have a solid source of income, and use your editing to supplement.

If you’re going into, say, medical or academic editing, talk to others who already do that work and ask them if they have suggestions on how to make a go of it. Most of the editors I know who do that kind of work have publishers for clients.

Fiction editing’s a whole ‘nother ball game, as they say. It’s rather like my current project — the Wild West. I’m lucky to have a good stable of repeat clients at the moment, but when their series come to a close … I’ll be looking for replacements. There’s no opportunity to sit back and relax, because you need to keep the work coming in.

And even so, this is my favorite job. Hands down. It ain’t always pretty, but it’s satisfying.

Follow Karen Conlin on Twitter and read posts on her blog.

A 40-year-old intern in L.A.

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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

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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.

Two N.C. journalists sign off

In my nearly 30 years in professional journalism, I have been fortunate to work with many talented colleagues in newsrooms and classrooms. Two of them retired last week:

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Dan Barkin at his sendoff from The News & Observer. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Hyman)

Dan Barkin stepped down as managing editor at The News & Observer. He previously served as business editor at the Raleigh newspaper, leading one of the country’s best business sections.

I worked closely with Dan in the early 2000s when he was deputy managing editor and I was Nation and World editor. He helped the N&O newsroom coordinate coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war and the 2004 presidential campaign. His advice and guidance were invaluable.

Dan plans to spend time with his grandchildren, go for long walks and enjoy the North Carolina coast.

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Jock Lauterer at his sendoff from the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Jock Lauterer stepped down as senior lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school. In his 17 years of teaching at his alma mater, he led the Carolina Community Media Project to boost local journalism. He’s written a textbook on that topic and led workshops at community newspapers throughout the state.

In 2008, Jock started the Durham VOICE, a student-produced website and monthly newspaper that covers a part of Durham that is often overlooked by other news organizations. Students in my Advanced Editing course contribute by editing and posting stories to the site. Our collaboration brought back that unique feeling of working in a newsroom.

Jock plans to return to the VOICE in spring 2019 as a part-time instructor. He’s also taken up the cello.

Best wishes to Dan and Jock on their retirements. Thank you for making me smarter and for bringing the news to readers across North Carolina.

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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.

Show off your headline skills at #ACES2018

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Hundreds of editors will gather this week at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago.

It’s ACES week. The national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing starts Wednesday, April 25, and ends on Saturday, April 28 in Chicago. I’ll be there.

The sold-out conference has an impressive schedule of sessions. I’m also looking forward to the silent auction, the spelling bee and keynote speech by linguist Lynne Murphy. If you can’t attend, you can follow the fun with the #ACES2018 hashtag on social media.

This year, I am organizing and taking part in a new session called “Sharpening Your Skills: A Headline Workshop.” My co-hosts are Vicki Krueger of BayCare Health System and Teresa Schmedding of Rotary International.

The session will be a “pop up” contest in headline writing. Here’s how it will work:

  • We will begin with a short discussion on what makes an effective headline for digital media. We’ll also talk about email subject lines and push notifications.
  • Next, we will give audience members three posts, including a news story and a press release. We’ll ask them to write a headline for each one. For the third post, we’ll add a subject line and push notification.
  • We’ll ask audience members to email their entries to us, and we will judge them during the session.
  • Writers of the best headlines, subject lines and notifications will win fabulous prizes.

I’m looking forward to a fun, informative conversation and competition. May the best headline writers win!