Express yourself on First Amendment Day


Flyers at the Park Library promote events for First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The 10th annual First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 25. Here is what it’s all about:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events on campus this year include a discussion of public art and memorials and a reading of banned books. The keynote speaker is Siva Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia, who will speak on the role of Facebook in our democracy.

All sessions are free and open to all. I hope to see you there. You can also follow the fun on social media with the hashtag #uncfree.

Express yourself!


Scholarships for student editors


A 1970 edition of the AP Stylebook was among the items available at a silent auction at a past ACES conference. Proceeds from the auction go to scholarships.

Since 1999, the ACES Education Fund has offered scholarships to students interested in careers in editing. Now is the time to apply for the 2019 awards.

Six scholarships are available. One is named for Bill Walsh, an author and Washington Post copy editor who died in 2017. That $3,000 award will go to a student interested in editing news.

The other five scholarships are open to student editors in any field, including book publishing and social media. The awards range from $1,500 to $2,500.

In addition to the scholarship, the award provides financial assistance for winners to attend the national conference of ACES: the Society for Editing. The next conference will be in Providence, Rhode Island, in March 2019.

The deadline to apply for an ACES scholarship is Nov. 15. To learn more, check out the ACES Education Fund’s page on the ACES website. You can also donate to the scholarship fund there.

Good luck to all applicants!

Q&A with Caitlin Owens, reporter at Axios


Caitlin Owens is a reporter at Axios, a digital news organization based in Arlington, Virginia. She previously worked at Morning Consult and National Journal. In this interview, conducted by email, Owens discusses her work at Axios, the site’s approach to news and her journalism education.

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

A. I’m not sure I have a typical day. Right now my official job description is “health care plus” — meaning I cover health care politics and policy, usually from Capitol Hill, along with a few other policy areas when they’re making news. I’m responsible for writing bigger-picture stories that top the Axios Vitals newsletter a couple of times a week, as well as other stories for the website.

I spend a lot of time covering Congress, which I think is the coolest job in Washington! Congressional reporters get great access to lawmakers, most of whom answer questions from us all day long. It’s the most transparent branch of government, in my opinion. There’s no better place to ask decision makers anything you want with a high expectation of getting an answer.

Covering both health care and Congress has also given me the opportunity to appear on national and local television and radio shows – an added perk of the job.

Overall, I like to say that my job is really seasonal – some parts of the year are just much busier than others.

Q. Axios uses short posts that often include labels like “why it matters” and “the big picture.” How does that affect the way you write and report?

A. I think it helps shape my reporting. I only write stories that have a “Why it matters.”

Axios’ philosophy is that if we can’t answer “why it matters,” we’re wasting a reader’s time. These labels, which we call “Axioms,” are used to guide a reader through the news, which is written in our “Smart Brevity” format. The point is to give the reader the information they need while making it easy to digest.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at Axios?

A. Our headlines need to be short and interesting without delivering false promises to a reader about what the story says. Reporters write initial headlines for their stories, which we often crowdsource when we’re stuck, and editors will occasionally change them before publishing to the site.

As far as editing goes, my editor is in charge of both content and copy when I file stories. A couple of unique things about Axios are that our stories are very short and written in a distinct style, which adds another layer to editing. I’ve had the privilege of being with Axios since the beginning (I’m employee #14!) so helped develop the style, but it’s turned out to be fairly intuitive and not hard to teach new hires.

Q. You are a 2014 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use today, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. I could go on and on about this one! The media landscape is changing, and it’s going to continue to do so. But there are certain invaluable lessons the j-school teaches that are always going to be relevant.

Ethics, for example, is now more relevant than it ever has been; we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard in order to earn readers’ trust in this hyper-polarized time. Hard work and persistence are always going to be crucial. The ability to think through not just both sides, but all sides of an issue and then present those arguments in your own words or images or graphics is always going to be important.

The j-school teaches some very practical skills, like AP style and basic reporting, and it also gives students the opportunity to get relevant experience. A lot of the required classes are very hands-on, like reporting, video editing and “special project” classes. These classes gave me clips I showed or talked about to future employers, including the Los Angeles Times for an internship and Axios.

In terms of what I’ve picked up, I work for a company that is trying to present news in an entirely new way – which means I’ve also reworked a lot of the skills I was taught in j-school. I don’t write using the inverted pyramid, for example, and I often write using first person and bullet points.

I loved many classes I took at UNC, but one I often think about is my community journalism class I took with Jock Lauterer. I obviously do not work for a local news source, but something I love about my job is that Washington is very much like a little community. This is both very fun and also keeps me accountable; my reputation and sourcing depend on my ability to be both good and fair.

Follow Caitlin Owens on Twitter, and read her stories at Axios.

Literacy and graphicacy with Alberto Cairo


My friend and former colleague Alberto Cairo will return to UNC-Chapel Hill on Sept. 6 to deliver a lecture called “Visual Trumpery.”

Cairo’s visit is part of an international tour on “trumpery,” which Cairo defines as “worthless nonsense” that is intended to deceive. Despite the allusion to the president in the lecture’s title, Cairo’s presentation is nonpartisan, and it takes aim at such deception in maps, charts and graphs across the political spectrum.

Cairo, a former UNC-Chapel Hill professor of visual communication who now teaches at the University of Miami, hopes the tour will promote “graphicacy,” or visual literacy. In his presentation, he explores these questions:

  • Is the graphic based on reliable sources and data?
  • Does the graphic include enough information to be truthful?
  • Is the data correctly represented?
  • Did the journalist or designer take uncertainty into account?

I’m looking forward to this presentation and encourage you to attend in Chapel Hill or elsewhere on the tour. You can read more about Alberto Cairo and the tour at the Visual Trumpery website.

Here are the details on the UNC lecture, which is free and open to the public:

WHO: Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the University of Miami and author of “The Functional Art” and “The Truthful Art
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018
WHERE: Room 33, Carroll Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill

What I am teaching this semester


Carroll Hall is home to the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill begins this week. Here’s what I am teaching this term at the School of Media and Journalism:

  • Two sections of MEJO 157, News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media, with a dash of social media. Each section has 20 students; the class meets twice a week. Here is the syllabus for the course.
  • One section of MEJO 711, Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. This course covers an array of digital writing, including headlines, newsletters and tweets. It has 20 students, and it meets asynchronously. Here is the syllabus for the course.

Feel free to adapt, revise or ignore the materials here. You can also browse syllabuses from across the journalism school here.

In addition to teaching these courses, I will chair a thesis committee for a master’s student and serve on two other thesis committees. I’ll also be on various committees in the journalism school, including the curriculum committee and the tenure/promotion committee.

Best wishes to all on a successful semester!

Q&A with Mechelle Hankerson of the Virginia Mercury


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.

Q&A with Dow Jones News Fund intern Trevor Lenzmeier


Trevor Lenzmeier is a Dow Jones News Fund editing intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A 2018 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he wrote for The Daily Tar Heel, QSR magazine and Media Hub while in college. In this interview, conducted by email, Lenzmeier discusses his internship experience, his journalism education and what’s ahead.

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

A. I interned with one other Dow Jones intern on the universal desk at the Post-Gazette.

My typical day includes reviewing stories on the web that have already been published when I get in, editing print pages in the evening, plus page design and putting together briefs — little recaps of the four or five biggest stories from around the country and world for the next day’s paper.

I write headlines for the U-desk, but I have also worked on a reporter’s podcast and been allowed to write some concert reviews and foodie pieces, which has been awesome.

Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?

A. The hours are long, and everything happens in a flurry. You have to be able to go from 0 to 60 in an instant while handling a few different pots on the stove.

There are also daily challenges you have to roll with, like everyday technical errors and last-minute breaking stories, while keeping a cool head and communicating with a big team of journalists.

You get a daily, physical reward, though, in the form of a newspaper in the morning. Noticing corrections I’ve made in our copy is intensely gratifying.

Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?

A. Take the practice tests online, review the AP Stylebook, taking note of what trips you up, and read the news! Reading news stories from The Daily Tar Heel to The New York Times leads to better news judgment and more familiarity with unfamiliar style conventions.

Write for the DTH and take Professor Bechtel’s class (he didn’t ask me to say this). UNC had me very prepared for the Dow Jones editing bootcamp at Temple University. Get work experience early; the Daily Tar Heel is an excellent place to start.

Q. Congratulations on the internship. What’s next for you?

A. I’m thrilled to be staying in Pittsburgh. I’ve accepted an offer to be a two-year associate editor on the sports desk.

My internship wraps up at the end of August, and I’ll start my real-world gig in the middle of September. More of the same and a whole lot more editing to come.

I’m incredibly grateful to my j-school professors, the Daily Tar Heel and Dow Jones for the opportunity!