Q&A with Marisa DiNovis, editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Marisa DiNovis is an editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. She is a 2015 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and a winner of a scholarship from the American Copy Editors Society. In this interview, conducted by email, DiNovis discusses her job, her path to book publishing and her reading recommendations.

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

A. Every day in publishing is different — it doesn’t have the same daily or weekly rhythm as a newsroom or magazine office environment. My job title is Editorial Assistant at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House. Most editorial assistants in book publishing report to either the publisher of an imprint or an editor or two, and work on a range of tasks from developmental editing a manuscript to writing jacket copy and from drafting profit and loss statements to submitting copyright notices.

I report to our publisher/editorial director, and I also provide editorial support to executive and mid-level editors. Our group consists of 12 wonderful editors (who have worked on books like “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “The Golden Compass”), and I interact with our design team, managing editor, copy editor and marketing and publicity teams on a daily basis.

At Knopf BFYR, we publish books for all ages, including board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels. One of the best parts of starting my career at Random House is that even entry-level editors are allowed to acquire. So in addition to backing up other editors on their books, I also interact with agents and authors as I look to build my own list at Knopf.

On a given day, I might be working on any number of projects. I always spend time reading. Sometimes it’s a manuscript on submission from a literary agent. Occasionally, it’s an interesting story I find in the slush pile (hard-copy submissions from unagented writers), and often it’s a sophomore manuscript from an existing Knopf author for which I’m supporting the editor.

I write a fair amount each day as well, which might take the form of a decline note, an editorial letter for an author whose manuscript we’ve bought or suggestions for a submission that isn’t quite ready but I’d be willing to evaluate again after revision.

As an assistant, I spend part of my work day on a few administrative tasks, like taking my boss’s messages, scheduling conference rooms and ordering in books from our warehouse — but unless you work as an administrative assistant, these tasks do not monopolize your time. You might also find me structure-tagging a manuscript with notes for design and production, attending a meeting to brainstorm potential illustrators for a picture book manuscript or aggregating Web copy for fall 2016 books to send to our copy editor.

And every so often my day might include an author visit with R.J. Palacio or Markus Zusak!

Q. You were a journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. How did that area of study help you move into your career, and what did you have to learn on your own?

A. That’s correct. I was an editing and graphic design student within the journalism major, and I also majored in English. The marriage of those two areas of study provided me with an excellent framework for my field.

In journalism, the departmental focus on practical skills and professional development was invaluable. It’s difficult to teach networking, but the journalism school helped me navigate where to begin.

On the editing and design track, and specifically in my editing classes, I learned how editing and design teams interact and work together—an insight that has been very helpful every day I’ve interned and worked in publishing. I also use my copy-editing skills on a daily basis. Whether I’m querying an author, doing a cold proofread with a manuscript or preparing a document for the production team, I’m thinking about the principles of copy editing.

The English major taught me how to speak eloquently about literature. Without that, I couldn’t perform successfully in my job. I usually read anywhere from five to a dozen manuscripts and books in a given week. I would argue that studying English is just about the best training there is for the reading marathon that is a publishing career.

On my own, I needed to learn what hiring managers in publishing look for in an entry-level applicant. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there — trade publications like Publishers Weekly and Poets & Writers magazine as well as the Young to Publishing Group, and, of course, industry professionals. Book publishing is relatively small, so it was important to learn who’s who. LinkedIn and Twitter helped with that, as most publisher websites don’t list personnel.

Given the size of the industry, I learned networking is vital to getting a job. In my first informational interview, I was told that editorial jobs receive more applications than jobs for any other department in publishing, thus making them the most competitive. It was essential to develop a sense of the different houses, their respective mission statements and their successful books, in order to align myself with the divisions that matched my goals.

But perhaps the most important thing that school didn’t teach me was my personal literary tastes. As an aspiring editor, one aspect hiring managers look for in a candidate is someone who knows what he or she likes — they want an assistant equipped to make informed observations and confident decisions when weighing the strengths and weaknesses of a submission.

Q. Book editing sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for students pursuing internships and jobs in this field?

A. I am so obviously biased, but every day working in books — especially books for young readers —is incredible. I can’t think of a single person I work with who wouldn’t tell you they are in their dream job.

My best piece of advice is this: intern, intern, intern. I say it three times for a reason. Try to do at least a few internships during college. Full disclosure: I can’t count on my hands the number of in-office and remote internships, freelance jobs and related on-campus publications I worked at in order to land my job.

At UNC, students are very lucky in that the Triangle area is a book publishing microcosm—you have Oxford University Press, UNC Press, Duke University Press, Algonquin Books, Light Messages Publishing, Technical Information Publishing Services, Lulu and others. Take advantage of the proximity during the school year. I know I did, and the connections I made there are a part of what helped me get my job.

I mentioned this earlier, but learn the industry. Publishing is almost entirely based in New York, which can present financial obstacles for summer internships. Remember that university career services often offer grants for students doing unpaid summer internships. Many of the larger houses pay a modest rate for summer interns, which is helpful, but these internships are highly competitive. Don’t forget about the smaller companies that can help you get your foot in the door—oftentimes it’s at the smaller houses or agencies (or even a book-related start-up company) where you get more hands-on experience.

Informational interviews are also key. Find the editors, publicists or marketing assistants who do jobs you one day hope to have. If it’s a high-level employee, try to find his or her assistant. Then reach out to that person. Ask for a short phone interview, question-and-answer by email or an in-person meeting if you’re visiting New York. One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to find people who had been in the industry for five years or less, and ask them how they got their job and what prepared them for it.

If you’re excited about books, show it. On social media, in person. It’s easy to be cynical about the economic climate in the publishing and news industries. It’s less easy to show that you’re invested and eager to learn regardless. When I interviewed for this job, my now-coworker told me he thought I was more passionate about children’s books than he is, and I really do believe that was taken into consideration when the hiring decision was made.

Strive to be overqualified — there’s really no such thing.

Q. Editing is fun. So is reading. What book(s) are you reading now, and what recommendations do you have?

A. I bet you thought this would be a short concluding answer! Well, I’m reading a number of books and manuscripts across a many different formats.

I’m just finishing up a submission that is a circus-freakshow retelling of “Hamlet.” I am also digging into a modern counterpart to “The Little Prince,” which I found in the slush pile. I’m also re-reading “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman for a large-scale project to brainstorm new cover designs for future editions.

For my book club, I’m reading an advanced reader’s copy of “Julia Vanishes,” the first installment of a debut fantasy trilogy by Catherine Egan. But the reading project I’m most excited about is a first draft manuscript by a bestselling Knopf author — unfortunately, I can’t say more about this as it isn’t released for public knowledge yet. And last, I always try to be reading one non-work-related book for fun, and right now that’s “Full Cicada Moon” by Marilyn Hilton, a middle grade novel in verse.

For sheer thrill and excitement, the book I can’t stop recommending this season, for readers of any age, is “Illuminae” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Think “The Hunger Games” meets “Star Wars,” told through a dossier of uncovered files with a healthy dose of a self-destructing artificial intelligence. I haven’t had as much fun reading a book as I did with this in years.

In a lot of ways, I’m as much interested in design as I am in literature, so I love reading picture books and graphic novels. Neil Gaiman recently published an illustrated version of his YA short story “The Sleeper and the Spindle” — it’s an enchanting read made even more interesting by format. “Honor Girl” by Maggie Thrash and “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson were my two favorite graphic novels of the year, an LGBTQ-inclusive YA memoir and a middle grade fantasy respectively.

And then there’s my self-proclaimed soapbox book, “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit, a debut that comes out at the end of January. This is a World War II novel with magical realism perfect for readers who loved “The Book Thief” — and the most captivating and merit-worthy piece of literature I’ve read in 2015.

A revised course on alternative story forms

In 2008, I worked with Poynter’s NewsU to create a free course on alternative story forms. Now, we’ve worked together again, this time on a new version of that course. Thanks to Vicki Krueger and Vanessa Goodrum at NewsU for making that possible.

A lot has changed since 2008:

  • Digital news organizations have increased their use of alt story forms such as lists, games and FAQs. Even The New York Times is getting in on the act.
  • People are using tablets such as the iPad to read online, and the old course’s Flash-based presentation didn’t work in that setting.
  • Some of the examples of alternative story forms in the course became stale in design and content.

The revised course has new examples and updated exercises. It has a “digital first” focus.

The course’s goal is the same — to select and create the story form that best matches the news and information you want to convey to your readers. As before, the course is free and self-directed. I hope that you find it useful.

Q&A with Tracy Duncan of Star Wars Stylebook

A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrive and warpdrive.
A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrives and warp drives.

Tracy Duncan is a blogger who runs the Star Wars Stylebook account on Twitter. In this interview, conducted by email, Duncan discusses the origins of @SWStylebook, common questions she receives and her outlook on the next movie in the series.

Q. Why a “Star Wars” stylebook?

A. I originally wrote a post for the blog I run, Club Jade, on common errors you see with certain “Star Wars” terms. This was December 2012, not long after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney and the new movies were announced, so Star Wars was again a big part of the mainstream discussion and I was running across pretty simple errors like “Jedis” and “Lucasfilms” everywhere from Twitter to Associated Press stories. That post did pretty well, but it didn’t really find an audience outside of the fandom.

The stylebook concept really took off with Twitter. In June 2014, I saw @APStylebook do an #APStyleChat about religion, started thinking about how that would apply to the term “the Force” and that old post, and that led to @SWStylebook.

I expected it to maybe get a hundred or so followers in fan media, but it took off with standard journalists as well. I owe a lot of that to @tvjedi, who brought it up among Chicago-area media when the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was announced there not long after I started publicizing the account.

Q. How do you determine what to include in the stylebook, and what are some of the common questions people have about “Star Wars” terminology and names?

A. I try and keep it to the most basic terms, things your average person would recognize or know about. There’s so much additional material with “Star Wars,” I could probably spend weeks tweeting about various types of tanks or spaceships, but most people are only going to know or care about things that are prominent in the movies, like AT-ATs or the Millennium Falcon.

I get asked about “tauntaun” and “stormtrooper” fairly regularly. Stormtrooper can be confusing because the prequel versions, the clone troopers, have a space between the words, but stormtrooper doesn’t.

I also get a lot of pronunciation questions about things that aren’t really named on-screen, which is understandable, but also not really something I’m comfortable advising on because it’s not something I’ve particularly paid attention to. But if there’s something official out there that I’m aware of, I will try to link it. Last week, someone asked me about how to say AT-AT, and almost the next day, they were talking about it on a Youtube series produced by Lucasfilm.

Q. How do you deal with the different versions of the movies as well as “Star Wars” books, comic books, etc.?

A. I’m old enough that I grew up on the VHS versions of the films, but I can’t really get that worked up about the changes. I’d appreciate being able to buy pristine versions of the THX versions on Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge issue for me.

I do have a deep dislike of the CGI Jabba scene in “A New Hope,” partly because the digital Jabba isn’t that great, but mostly because the dialogue in the scene is redundant. Everything we learned there had already been told in the Greedo scene. (I can take or leave the whole shooting first thing, honestly.)

I was a big Expanded Universe (never Extended!) fan, mostly of the novels that have since been declared non-canon because of the new trilogy. If I hadn’t spent years reading them, I doubt I’d have absorbed enough about the series to be able to do something like Star Wars Stylebook, but I also think they’d been in a deep spiral of declining quality for a long time.

Licensed fiction is always a risk, but there were a lot of wasted opportunities and particularly by 2012, the audience that was still reading them was only a small fraction of fans. I can’t blame Lucasfilm at all for their decision — anyone who’d been paying attention knew it was inevitable the moment they announced new movies.

As for the stylebook, we actually had a big discussion at one point over whether Anakin’s nickname should be spelled “Ani” or “Annie.” Early things like “The Phantom Menace” novelization have it as “Annie” — and that’s what I went with originally — but captions from “The Clone Wars” cartoon had it as “Ani.” That was fan preference as well, so if someone asks, “Ani” seems the safer bet.

There’s also conflicting information about whether “dark side” should be capitalized or not, and if it’s Toshi Station or Tosche Station, but in those cases I also go with the more recent stuff — or I might ask someone at Lucasfilm, if it’s not on the StarWars.com Databank or something else I can check myself. They’ve been pretty consistent since the prequel days, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Q. ”Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” opens in December. We’ve seen the trailers. Any predictions on how good the movie will be?

A. My gut — and everything I’ve been reading — tells me it’ll be good, or at least super fun. I definitely think it has a good chance at pleasing a lot of fans. Here’s hoping!

Q&A with Megan Paolone, deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed

Megan Paolone is deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job and BuzzFeed’s approach to story editing, headline writing and stylebooks. 

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

A. As BuzzFeed’s deputy copy chief, I monitor BuzzFeed.com for spelling, grammar and style errors. My day-to-day consists of editing of basically any type of post that goes up on BuzzFeed (news stories, features, fun posts and lists, service pieces, etc.); fielding grammar and style questions from writers and editors; and helping to run the copydesk Twitter account we started a little less than a year ago, @StyleGuide.

My workday 99.9% of the time starts with checking my email as soon as I wake up, just to make sure there hasn’t been anything that’s come in overnight that needs our immediate attention. Our global copydesk is now seven people (three in New York, including me and our copy chief, Emmy Favilla; two in our London office; and two in Los Angeles), and adding the U.K. team that signs on around 5 a.m. ET along with those L.A. editors who are on later has put us close to a 24-hour copydesk — and alleviated a lot of the stress we used to have when there were just two or three of us.

Once I’m at the office, I’m alternating between checking email and Gchat (to answer questions, check on any drafts that editors have sent in for a read, etc.), editing in our CMS, keeping an eye on Twitter and Slack (to answer questions, pick up posts for backreads, and bounce questions/style stuff off the rest of the copy team), and monitoring the site and our live stats for trending posts that need edits. There’s a lot of “Does this sentence read strangely to you?” conversation happening among the copydesk throughout the day as we’re all working on different edits, as well as our ongoing fights about whether we should hyphenate or close up certain words.

We aim to be really accessible to everyone. Weekly we send out via email copy roundups (addressing common issues from the previous week and additions to the style guide) and copy Q&As (answering questions we’ve been asked over the last week).

We recently added a “guest editor corner” to our roundups where we let writers and editors talk about their biggest word pet peeves, and that’s been a really fun way to get the staff involved in what we do, which can probably seem tedious if they’re not interacting with us regularly. Typically once a month we hold copy classes and refreshers for the staff in the offices where we’re based (and sometimes virtually), as well as copy quizzes to test people’s skills and to see if they’re paying attention to the style guide.

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

A. At BuzzFeed, we put a lot of trust in the individual writers. Everyone has an editor whom they report to, and, especially in longer reported stories and features, who will give feedback throughout the writing process. We actually have a built-in commenting function in our CMS, but a lot of back-and-forth is also done via email, Slack, etc.

Especially for shorter one-off news stories, writers are responsible for their own headlines and deks, though there’s generally input and suggestions from their editors, and sometimes from us on the copydesk if we’re taking a look at a story before it’s published. Because so much of our traffic is social, and not search-based, we typically don’t worry about squeezing a lot of buzzwords into headlines for SEO purposes. This gives us a little more creative breathing room in headlines sometimes, because we can write a really short, two- or three-word hed, and then throw more important information in the dek. Especially for stories coming from BuzzFeed News, more descriptive headlines have also become less important for us as more and more people share “screenshorts” (not a typo!) of text on Twitter, which often contain a few sentences with the meat of a story.

We also do a lot of headline optimization and testing of different headline – thumbnail combinations, to see what shares best, what’s getting the most clicks, etc. It’s often just a really simple tweak (e.g., TK Struggles Only Copy Editors Understand vs. TK Things You Understand Only If You’re A Copy Editor). Our social and data teams have done a great job creating really easy-to-use optimization tools that work across editorial, whether you’re in the News, Buzz or Life divisions. “Optimized” heds that have been tested with these tools are always more successful, and that success can sometimes translate into tens of thousands of more views.

A lot of what we do is reading posts after they’ve already been published (i.e., backreads) and we prioritize breaking news and posts on the BuzzFeed.com homepage, as well as stories that are going viral and trending in our live site analytics. Because our team is pretty small compared with the rest of BuzzFeed’s edit staff, we prioritize whatever’s going to get the most eyes on it.

We do, however, always do at least two reads before publishing on longer, reported news and features pieces — usually anything that’s more than 1,000 words. Our edits on these longer pieces are sometimes done in Google Docs, but more often than not, we’re editing directly in our CMS, and sending along comments, concerns and questions to the editors/writers once we’ve finished our edit.

Q. BuzzFeed has its own style guide. How is it different from the Associated Press Stylebook, and how do you decide when to add or edit entries?

A. We like to say that the BuzzFeed Style Guide is a style guide for the internet. A lot of our style is based on AP and we still follow a lot of the AP guidelines, but our guide is really internet-specific and deals with words and style and issues that AP and even Merriam-Webster (which is our house dictionary) don’t delve into. It’s our attempt to standardize a lot of the slang and weird web terms that live in places like Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Reddit.

Beyond styling internet-y words like “Vine-ing” (as a verb, though “post a Vine” is preferred) and “hacktivist,” we also have pretty extensive language guidelines. Our LGBT section, for example, is really wide-ranging and inclusive. We borrowed a lot from GLAAD’s media guidelines (which we credit), but so much of it comes from conversations we’ve had and continue to have with BuzzFeed editors, as well as occasional input from readers. We’ve also just added a section on commonly misspelled names of celebrities and well-known public figures, and that’s been really helpful for our sanity, especially regarding weird contrived celebrity nicknames like J. Law and Kimye.

As for adding new entries, we do it when it’s necessary — usually if there’s a place where we differ from both AP and Merriam-Webster and is worth noting because it’s a term we use regularly. As I mentioned earlier, we’re all constantly chatting about how we’re using different terms, and if there’s a word we’re seeing a lot that hasn’t been in the guide and isn’t standardized anywhere else, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll add it. We recently added “thinkpiece,” and decided to close up “afterparty” (we’d had it hyphenated previously, and were seeing the one-word use was a lot more common).

Q. Editing for BuzzFeed sounds like a good gig. What advice do you have for journalism students seeking similar jobs or internships?


A. So my job actually started as an internship right after I graduated j-school from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. I think the single most important piece of advice I can give is to get as much diverse experience as possible, both writing AND editing via internships, college student-run publications and even freelancing.

I started as a copy editor and writer at my college paper in undergrad and got of a lot of diverse experience doing news and entertainment reporting and writing, as well as a crash course in AP style. Once I got to Syracuse, I blogged and edited for a few of the student-run magazines and websites (writing a few features and a lot of entertainment-type blogs and reviews), as well as interned as a breaking news reporter for the regional newspaper there, the Syracuse Post-Standard and Syracuse.com.

Copy editors specifically have to be incredibly detail-oriented, and must know their AP Style and grammar stuff inside and out, and I’m a firm believer in continuing to do your own writing and reading to practice these skills. Reading a lot of good writing is really important because it helps you start to recognize what works and what doesn’t, and teaches you how to think critically about what you’re reading — which is among the most important skills to have in any type of editing that you’re doing. One of my favorite things about my job at BuzzFeed is that I get to read and edit so much different content (both in style and subject), so I try to keep my personal reading habits just as diverse to keep up with what other sites like BuzzFeed are doing.

And, finally, everyone’s favorite: networking. It’s how I got my internship that’s turned into a job I really love and feel continually challenged by. Reach out to the writers and editors whose work you love, via Twitter, via email, etc. But have a reason (i.e., you loved a piece that they recently published), and don’t ask for a job, or for them to look at your résumé immediately. Personalize your emails and cover letters — people can recognize a form letter a mile away. Show you’ve done your research and you’re familiar with their work or the place where they work, and be specific; there’s nothing more frustrating than someone writing, “Tell me about BuzzFeed.”

Don’t stress! Job searching seems really daunting, but as long as you stay organized and do your research, you’ll be OK. Good luck!

Q&A with Andrew Dunn of the Charlotte Agenda

Andrew Dunn is editor-in-chief of the Charlotte Agenda, a digital news organization in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dunn previously worked as a reporter at The Charlotte Observer, covering business and education. In this interview, conducted by email, Dunn discusses his job at the Agenda as well as the rivalry between Charlotte and Raleigh.

Q. What is the Charlotte Agenda?

A. We are a start-up news organization that has become a must-read among Charlotte’s young professional community. We focus obsessively on the things that impact our readers’ lives, with the goal of making Charlotte a smarter, more human city.

Q. Describe your job as editor-in-chief. What is your typical day like?

A. No day is the same. I’m responsible for all of the content on our site, so I spend a lot of time evaluating story ideas, reading drafts, discussing pieces with our reporters, deciding our daily lineup and copy editing.

I also try to take a 10,000-foot view of what the most important issues are in Charlotte and how best we can explain them to our readers. I report one or two stories every day, and I’m working on getting a mix of quick-hit daily stories and long-term enterprise.

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

A. Headlines are one of the most important things we do. As an online publication, they’re sometimes the one time we’re able to convince somebody to read. We aim for a more conversational style. Most of the time, the writer of the story will suggest a headline. Sometimes I will tweak it to better fit our style.

Story editing at the Agenda works in two basic parts. I’ll usually do a first read when the story is submitted, where I’ll look at the story thematically, analyze it for any major holes and evaluate its potential. This will determine what level of revisions need to be made and story placement. As we get closer to publication, I’ll do a line-by-line edit for word choice, style and grammar.

Q. You previously worked as a reporter at The Charlotte Observer. What is it like to make that transition?

A. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been a lot of fun. I have nothing but love and respect for the Observer and all the people who work there. But I’ve really enjoyed being on the ground floor of something that’s building and growing every day. It’s really forced myself to think about the best way to tell a story.

Very little of what we do would fit the model of a standard newspaper story, which has certainly been an adjustment. We put a premium on experimentation. Sometimes we try something new, and it flops. We move on. But more often, we try something new and it resonates with our readers, and it’s so rewarding.

Q. On a lighter note: Raleigh and Charlotte have a rivalry of sorts. Care to comment?

A. Oof. That’s a tough one. I grew up in the Triangle (Apex, the Peak of Good Living!) and always kind of made fun of Car-lot. But over the past four years, I’ve come to love Charlotte and its aspirational ethos and really never want to leave. We bought a house here a year ago, so I guess we’re pretty serious about it.

I’ve honestly thought a whole book could be written about the Raleigh vs. Charlotte relationship and rivalry. The stereotype is that business runs Charlotte, and government runs Raleigh. Charlotte is buttoned-up culturally, and Raleigh has more of a techie-startup undercurrent. But there’s a creative class in both cities that’s growing rapidly, and it’s such a good thing for North Carolina.

From headline to hashtag

In recent years, politics in Raleigh, North Carolina, have been pretty polite. Elections for City Council and mayor have rarely seen negative campaigning.

That changed this week when this full-page advertisement with a provocative headline appeared in two community newspapers owned by The News & Observer.

drunktown

The impetus for the ad is a debate regarding outdoor drinking at some bars. Earlier this year, the City Council narrowly passed an ordinance to address concerns about noise and crowded, dirty sidewalks. Bar owners said the ordinance has failed to address the problems while cutting into their business.

What struck me about the ad is how quickly it became the topic of conversation on social media. The hashtag #DrunkTown began trending almost immediately. There’s already a T-shirt.

The hubbub prompted local media organizations, including The News & Observer itself, to write stories about the ad. Other stories included a look at Raleigh’s “besotted past.” The ad even inspired an Onion-style bit of satire.

The “DrunkTown” campaign has since expanded to radio and direct mail. But it started in print.

It’s interesting that even today, with revenue for newspaper advertising in steady decline, an ad in print would become the talk of the town. The newspaper is sometimes still a conversation starter. I imagine that publishers will make a toast to that.

Q&A with LaToya Evans, VP of communications at Bank of America

LaToya Evans is vice president of communications at Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina. She previously worked at Wal-Mart as a senior manager for corporate communications. Evans started her communications career while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, writing for magazines such as People, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job at BOA and her transition from journalism to public relations.

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

A. I am a vice president of communications at Bank of America’s corporate office in Charlotte. I do both reactive and proactive media for the company, specifically covering the Northeast region and also some smaller markets throughout the U.S.

My typical day starts fairly early, and one of the first things I do is check my email, calendar and social media as that can dictate what my morning will look like. I spend a lot of my day pitching media, counseling executives and local banking employees about media initiatives or issues, discussing strategy and giving direction to the PR agency that I work with on a daily basis. I also spend a good amount of time writing and chatting with reporters about potential story angles.

I’ll work on something in New York in one hour and something else in California the next. It could be an issue at a local bank in one of the geographies that I cover or it could be the company donating a mortgage-free home to a veteran. Sometimes, I’ll go to media events in the evenings or other events that the bank sponsors, whether they be conventions or formal events. It’s a sincere range of things that never gets boring or old.

Q. You previously worked in public relations for Wal-Mart. How is it different working in the financial sector? Are there similarities?

A. I’ve worked in a variety of industries as it pertains to PR – business to business technology, consumer technology, retail and now banking. In my opinion, the skill set in PR doesn’t change much because it comes down to having the ability to ask the right questions to understand a reporter’s true motive and story, build relationships, manage difficult situations, work one on one with senior and c-suite executives, establish trust and be strategic enough to not necessarily get the most coverage, but the most meaningful coverage that pushes ahead a company’s reputation.

So there are many similarities, but I would say as an organization, I covered six different areas of business at Wal-Mart. So if there are any differences, it’s only because the subject matter has changed.

But Wal-Mart was a great experience that taught me a lot about crisis and reactive media because of the nature of the business and also that it is a company that people frequently wanted to attack. That makes for the best training ground for PR professionals – the more difficult the climate is, the more you really learn in the long run.

Q. You started your career writing for magazines such as People and Glamour. What was it like to make the transition from print journalism to public relations?

A. It wasn’t as tough as it probably could have been, looking back on it. I came out of undergrad during the financial crisis. I was very fortunate to receive offers from magazines, PR agencies and also client-side corporate communications.

I chose to go to IBM for corporate communications, and within a few months, I was also doing media. I think the company took the chance on me because the original role I took was very writing-intensive, which I had the background for. But having the media knowledge and the contacts helped me early on when I didn’t necessarily know PR yet, but knew what stories worked where.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever love PR as much as I loved seeing my name on bylines in places like Cosmopolitan as a writer. Seeing my name in print gave me chills.

But when I got into PR, there were television interviews and spokesperson duties, which also gave me chills. My career is one of the most rewarding things in my life, and I am genuinely in love with my profession.

Q. What advice do you have for college students considering a career in public relations? What are your keys to success?

A. I’d have quite a few pieces of advice. Strengthening your writing skills will help you across the profession in general, and internships are a must.

When assessing internships, consider paid and unpaid opportunities, because it’s the value of the experience that counts and not the money. If finances are an issue, there are plenty of grants and fellowships that will help you pay for living expenses while doing unpaid internships.

Start defining what your personal brand is right now, and don’t let your in-school status stop you from achieving your goals. I started my freelancing writing business when I was 19 and still a student at UNC. Had I listened to naysayers, I might have passed up a lot of good experience.

Also, it’s great to understand social media, too, but I always caution students to learn traditional PR practices as well, mostly because someone can easily find themselves pigeon-holed into jobs that are only about social media. It’s certainly not a bad thing, but because social media PR roles are so new, a path to advancement in those areas hasn’t necessarily been built yet in a lot of corporations, making it harder to get to do other things or get the first promotion.

Lastly, it’s important to build and nurture your relationships. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of friends at Bank of America, and it’s made working there that much more fun. Across the public relations industry, it’s important to remember that everyone knows everyone. So the industry becomes very small, very quickly.

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