Why I am renewing my ACES membership

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Editors gathered in Portland, Oregon, in March 2016 for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. The 2017 conference will be in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I just renewed my membership to the American Copy Editors Society. Here’s why:

  • ACES is growing. It has about 1,800 members, and the 2016 national conference drew a record number of attendees.
  • ACES is evolving. It includes editors of all kinds, not just those in news organizations. All are welcome.
  • ACES is increasing the value of scholarships for students interested in careers in editing.
  • ACES is expanding training through regional workshops, including one with a focus on digital skills.

If you’re an editor, I encourage you to become an ACES member. It’s a great community of people who love words and language. Join us!

How to prepare for the Dow Jones editing test

dowjonesnewsfundIt’s Dow Jones season. That’s when students across the country apply for editing internships with the Dow Jones News Fund.

The application includes a one-hour test that assesses skills in story editing, headline writing, word choice and current events. Here are some tips on how to get ready for this closed-book test:

  • Review news for the past year, including deaths of noteworthy people. Sports may be included along with national and international news.
  • Know the terminology of journalism such as search engine optimization.
  • Study word pairs listed in the AP Stylebook: who/whom, affect/effect, flounder/founder, etc.
  • Memorize the state locations on a U.S. map. You’ll need to link current events to the states they took place in.
  • Watch math carefully. You can expect math errors in the stories you edit.
  • Practice headline writing for print and digital media. Know how to tweet.
  • Take tests from past years on editteach.org.

Good luck to all of the students taking the test this year.

Q&A with Tara Jeffries, reporter at Morning Consult

Tara Jeffries is a reporter at Morning Consult, a technology and media organization in Washington, D.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Jeffries discusses her work there, its process for editing and headline writing, and her use of social media. 

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

A. I’m a finance reporter at Morning Consult, a nonpartisan media company that focuses on the issues driving Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. I cover the intersection of Congress and the financial services industry, with a dash of tax policy, trade and occasional coverage of the presidential candidates’ economic proposals.

I write a mixture of longer, policy-oriented stories and shorter pieces about the news of the day. I’m also the co-author of Morning Consult’s daily Finance Brief, a newsletter that captures the top headlines of the financial services beat.

My routine differs based on whether I’m heading up the brief or my colleague on the finance beat is handling it. On a day that I’m writing it, I’ll gather stories throughout the day and file a draft toward the end of business hours. I file my final draft and go through the editing process with my editor in the morning.

My days also depend on whether Congress is in session. When it is, I’m on Capitol Hill basically every day. Many of my quotes come from committee hearings — I keep detailed tabs on committees pertinent to my beat, like the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee. I also stay in contact with press representatives on those committees to keep in touch about what’s going on and what’s coming up.

But a lot of news is made in hallway interviews — spontaneous interactions with lawmakers after hearings, at events and quite literally as they’re walking in the hallways. I got my first taste of hallway interviewing as a legislative reporting intern with WRAL’s state politics team. When Congress is out of session, I spend a lot of time interviewing and meeting with people in the financial industry, whether they’re lobbyists, advocacy group leaders or think tank policy experts.

In my position, I get to cover the nitty-gritty of policy details in my long-term stories, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. Morning Consult is kind of a policy wonk’s paradise. I also get to be out “in the field” reporting, which is something that many reporters don’t experience at other outlets.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Morning Consult?

A. Stories go through a comprehensive process involving multiple editors.

My stories are handled most of the time by our finance and tech editor (my immediate supervisor), our chief policy editor and/or our managing editor. I write my own headlines, but they are sometimes tweaked by editors, or we float headline suggestions back and forth. The editing at Morning Consult has made me a much more precise, detail-oriented reporter.

Since I am on the Hill most of the time, some of my editing is conducted remotely. Generally, my editors and I communicate via email or Gchat in real time after I file a story. They ask questions and make suggestions. Before publishing a story, they provide me with a “readback” of what it looks like post-editing. This gives me the opportunity to review the piece before it’s published, and bring up any concerns if I have them.

Q. You recently live-tweeted the congressional testimony of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. What role does social media play in your job?

A. I’m fairly active on Twitter, and it’s a great way to connect with sources and/or other reporters on my beat. I have developed a following of congressional staffers, some lawmakers and policy advocates. I sometimes live-tweet events, particularly highly watched proceedings like the Wells Fargo CEO’s testimony or events featuring high-profile players like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s economic advisers, whom I covered last week.

Twitter offers the chance to get a little more conversational and interactive with my coverage. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about policy reporters is that wonky has to mean “stodgy” or boring — regulatory policy, banking policy and, yes, even tax policy can be fun to talk, write and tweet about. My Twitter activity also shows industry and policy sources that I am engaged and informed on my beat.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use in your work, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. In my UNC journalism studies, I learned the importance of a fully fleshed-out story that spells out all the players involved in an incident or topic.

In my particular field, I apply those lessons by making sure to show all the context around a given policy battle or legislative issue. For example, in my coverage of Wells Fargo’s consumer fraud scandal, I’ve detailed not only the immediate news — more than 2 million unauthorized accounts; CEO John Stumpf surrendering $41 million in pay — but how that news ripples out to many of the players in the financial services world, how it affects ongoing regulatory battles and how advocates on different sides of banking issues are using it to gain political capital.

Precision in writing is another aspect of my journalism education that I use in my position — something I learned in both your News Editing and Advanced Editing courses. When covering a numbers-heavy and policy-focused beat, I’m careful to be not only accurate, but precise in my details. An example: When I say that Wells Fargo’s CEO had $41 million in compensation “clawed back,” I need to specify what kind of compensation (in this case, unvested stock options).

Read Jeffries’ stories for Morning Consult and follow her on Twitter.

Celebrating free expression on First Amendment Day

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First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 27. 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.

For journalists, that means we can gather news, write an article or blog post, edit it and put a headline on it without fear of going to prison.

There are limits — we can’t commit libel, for example, without legal consequences. And we can face criticism for what we say and write. Even so, journalists (a word that I define broadly) enjoy freedoms in this country that their counterparts in others do not.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events on campus this year include a reading of banned books and a discussion of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” There’s even a trivia contest.

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.

ACES scholarships help students launch careers in editing

The American Copy Editors Society offers several scholarships to students interested in careers in editing.

The top award, the Aubespin scholarship, is worth $2,500. Four other scholarships are worth $1,500 each, an increase of $500 over previous years.

Marisa DiNovis won an ACES scholarship in 2015 while majoring in journalism and English literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. Here’s what DiNovis said about the scholarship and her education and the start of her career in book editing.

HOW THE SCHOLARSHIP HELPED

“As a copy editor at multiple student publications during my time at UNC-Chapel Hill, I was tremendously honored to be recognized by the American Copy Editors Society as a collegiate scholarship winner.

“I now edit books for children and teens at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Although I did not go on to work in traditional journalism, the skills that allowed me to earn an ACES scholarship are an integral part of my everyday work life.

“For example, representation of diverse experiences is an initiative at my publisher, as well as in the children’s publishing industry as a whole, to create more books in which children of any marginalized or underrepresented background can see themselves. But I often have to ask myself how I, as a Caucasian woman of middle-class upbringing, can authentically edit stories by authors and about children of backgrounds different from my own.”

HER APPROACH TO EDITING

“I look to the principles I was taught as a student and copy editor: I approach every story with an eye toward accuracy, truth and fairness.

“I trust my sources — the author I’m working with is usually writing from lived experience or has researched thoroughly. I always consider the breadth of human experiences and how that plays a role in the uniqueness of storytelling. And I do everything I can to enter the story objectively and with compassion and empathy.”

HOW TO APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP

ACES scholarships are open to juniors, seniors or graduate students who are interested in editing as part of their careers. You can see how to apply at the ACES site.

The deadline is Nov. 15. Winners will be honored at the ACES national conference in March 2017. Good luck to all applicants!

Studying style

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Some of the stylebooks in the collection at the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In addition to my usual courses this semester, I am working with a student on an independent study about stylebooks.

Alison Krug, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, has two objectives in mind:

  • analyzing how stylebooks come together
  • looking at how to better communicate style guidelines to journalists

By the end of the semester, Alison will revise the stylebooks for The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor. Along the way, she will interview editors at other news organizations about their stylebooks. She will also use the collection of stylebooks at the Park Library to learn about their history and evolution.

I’m looking forward to working with Alison on this project. You can follow her progress throughout the semester on her blog dedicated to the project.

Stay stylish!

Q&A with Danny Nett, Dow Jones News Fund editing intern

Danny Nett is a senior in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and online managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He recently completed a Dow Jones News Fund internship at Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Nett discusses that experience.

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

A. I went to Penn State for my DJNF training, and I was placed at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. My typical day was coming to the office around 3:30 p.m. and leaving around 11:30.

The first few hours consisted of editing advance copy (stories for upcoming papers) in our CMS. A lot of that stuff was from the wire, so it was mostly doing some polishing up and double checking the big facts.

Around 6:30, we’d switch over to daily content. I edited for the business, national and metro sections, mostly. On an individual story, I’d check facts, grammar, AP/local style and clarity in our CMS — then once a designer placed the story on the page, I’d open it back up in InCopy and write the headlines, read-ins and cutlines. When the story got checked back in, I’d write the web headline. If it was from the wire, I’d go ahead and send it; if it was written from someone in the newsroom, it’d go on for a second read from another editor.

As the summer went on and my co-workers started trusting me more, I took on more responsibilities. I got assigned more A1 stories to edit (usually two from A1 and B1), and I’d occasionally proof pages before sending to the printer.

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

A. I think I struggled a lot initially with headlines. I’d copy-edited before at The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor, but the majority of my work is online where the biggest concern is just SEO.

Getting a clear headline on complicated stories is hard in print — especially when you have six words to describe a funding conflict between legislators and a university, or a big crime story. There’s also an element of parachute journalism in the nature of the DJNF program, and not knowing what names locals would or wouldn’t recognize was tough sometimes.

In the same vein and at risk of being super cornball-y, I’d say the most rewarding thing was the progress I was able to watch myself make from the start to finish of the summer. My co-workers were great about offering constructive feedback, and they did it in a really polite way even on my crappiest of headlines.

At one point toward the end of my internship, my boss told me something along the lines of, “Now I read over some of your stuff and think, ‘Whoa, that’s a good hed.’ ” And I think that was one of the best moments of the whole summer.

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

A. Honestly, I would just say to go for it; you don’t really have anything to lose from trying, and you have a ton to gain.

My editing skills and news judgment have sharpened a ton, and I met so many awesome people. My DJNF intern class has a Facebook group, and a few of us are getting together and going out in D.C. next semester when the Virginian-Pilot intern gets back from studying abroad. Which is wild to think about — especially when you realize we were all really only together for less than a week.

As far as more specific advice: I went through with the editing test more or less on a whim, and while I was confident in my editing skills, I sort of thought the rest of the exam kicked my ass (am I allowed to say that?).

So definitely be smart about studying beforehand. Don’t just drill yourself on AP style; think about what else news organizations are going to want you to be familiar with that summer. I know the year before me was big on savvy for the web, and my year was heavy on politics and the presidential election, for obvious reasons. The exam is definitely partly about grammar, but I think in a lot of ways it’s designed to make sure you have a good head on your shoulders.

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

A. I’m working as online managing editor at the DTH for my senior year, and I’m really excited. I’ll be doing management reads (final edit before an article goes to copy) on stories and writing web headlines every day, so my experience this summer is definitely being put to good use.

I’m also trying to make the most of my non-rusty editing skills while I still have them. So, like, coming for you, Usage and Grammar Test.