Q&A with Philip Jones, social media community leader for UNC-Chapel Hill

Philip Jones is social media community leader at UNC-Chapel Hill, his alma mater. He previously held a similar position at Elon University. Jones has worked as an anchor and reporter for North Carolina TV stations WFMY and WNCT. He started his career in print journalism. In this interview, conducted by email, Jones talks about his position at UNC and how the university uses social media. 

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

A. I’m part of a team of three folks who manage UNC’s main social media presence on platforms such as Twitter (@UNC), Facebook (/uncchapelhill), Instagram (@uncchapelhill) and Snapchat (unc-chapelhill). We each have different strengths and backgrounds, which ideally makes for fun, diverse and creative content for our users.

Every workday is a little different. We rotate which platforms we’re covering each day so that the content and experience don’t become stale for us or for the audience.

There’s a fair amount of time spent at my desk doing customer service (i.e. fielding questions we receive about UNC via social or participating in conversations about Carolina), there’s a bit of time spent looking for content about or related to UNC, there’s time spent with other members of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs going over what they’re working on and how we can amplify it through social media, and of course there’s time spent walking around campus or attending events looking for great photos, videos and posts.

We also do a lot of listening. We monitor conversations and news reports about Carolina, and we love jumping in and engaging with people who seek us out. We can’t respond to every tweet or post, but we do see and take note of all the ones directed our way.

Q. You held a similar job at Elon University. From a social media perspective, how is a big public university like UNC different from a smaller, private school like Elon?

A. The basics are the same: Our goal is to have fun and find ways to resonate with students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, prospective students, the local community and the public at large.

There are big differences, though, in the sizes of the followings, the scope of the issues facing each university and how much conversation there is about the institutions. If I screw up something now, more people are likely to notice!

But it’s important that Carolina takes ownership of telling its story and making sure people understand what’s remarkable about this place. It’s exciting to share in doing that through social media.

My hope at UNC is the same as what it was at Elon – to inform and entertain our users. If someone learns something, feels some nostalgia, cracks a smile or takes a little more pride in their institution because of what we’ve done that day on social media, I’m happy. It is a bit more personal for me now, though, as Carolina is a place I’ve loved since I was a child.

Q. On occasion, universities have to respond to bad news via social media. What is UNC’s approach on events such as the release of the Wainstein report or the fatal shooting of three students off campus?

A. On those occasions, we aim to use social media as a way to complement and amplify the university’s traditional messaging. However, I do believe social media has inspired institutions to organize and publish that messaging more quickly than in the past.

We know an hours-later press release isn’t sufficient these days. So when there’s significant news, our team immediately begins thinking of ways we can share information quickly and even differently – perhaps through photos, videos or graphics.

Social media also gives us an opportunity to humanize the university during exciting or challenging events. There’s a person behind each of our posts, tweets and pics – and we’re likely experiencing the same feelings and emotions our community is. When appropriate, social media allows us to convey that and make clear that what we’re doing isn’t branding, but is instead relating.

Q. Before getting into social media professionally, you worked in television and, before that, for newspapers and magazines. How were you able to make those transitions?

A. What a long, strange trip it’s been! At my core, I *love* words. That’s what has enabled and fueled me as I embarked on each new adventure.

I love telling stories, and I’ve been blessed to tell them in a bunch of different ways. The biggest transition was leaving TV and moving to social media full-time. But social media had become such a central part of my reporting process that it felt like a natural move.

I used social media to find sources and story ideas on a routine basis – it wasn’t just about attempting to showcase my work and churn out links to the masses. How I used my social media accounts became a “digital resume” I was able to use to help earn the job at Elon and show that I was capable of representing it well online.

Q. Many journalism students are interested in careers in social media. What advice do you have for them?

A. The biggest point I always make is to keep the “social” in social media. Whether you’re representing yourself or an organization, you have to interact. You have to be genuine. And you have to be an active part of the online community.

Know that you’re going to screw up, and don’t be afraid of a flop. Typos happen. Sometimes you don’t do a good job of reading the room. Every once in a while, your community won’t have any interest in that post you thought would go viral. Even the best-ever hitters in baseball only got it right about 40 percent of the time!

So do your best on every effort but know that sometimes it just ain’t gonna work. And that’s OK. Social media is an inexact science. It didn’t even exist in its current form when I graduated from Carolina in 2006, so you’re going to have to work hard to stay ahead of the curve.

I also believe that if you’re going to be a great producer, you have to be a great consumer. That goes for journalism and social media. Read a lot. Consume a lot. Experiment. And have fun.

Follow Philip Jones on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

How I will spend my spring break

Spring break is next week at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although I won’t teach classes or have meetings to attend, I will stay busy. Here’s my “to do” list:

  • Grade a headline-writing assignment for the News Editing course.
  • Grade midterm exams for my Advanced Editing course.
  • Prepare materials and assignments for the week after spring break.
  • Work with a student in an online master’s program on her thesis project.
  • Finish judging a book competition.
  • Take a breather from a busy first half of the semester that included an accreditation visit. We passed!
  • #Partylikeaprofessor.

Student guest post: Month of turmoil unites UNC students

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Kathleen Harrington is a born-and-raised North Carolinian and die-hard Tar Heels fan. She hopes her adoration for dogs, countless hours spent in the School of Journalism dungeon and overall Pinterest prowess can somehow translate into the perfect career. There’s a job for that, right?

February has been a tumultuous month for the UNC-Chapel Hill community and its appearance in the news. It started Feb. 7, 2015, with former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith’s passing. Though his deteriorating memory was a clear sign that his health would not last forever, his death was still a shock to both the UNC and sports worlds.

Three days after his death, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot and killed by a neighbor in Summerwalk Circle – a neighborhood less than 5 miles from campus. Barakat, a UNC School of Dentistry student, had been married to his wife, Yusor, a N.C. State University graduate, for six weeks when they were killed. Razan, Yusor’s sister, was a sophomore at NCSU.

A little over one week after the shootings, UNC experienced a devastating 92-90 loss in overtime against Duke University in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 18. Unlike most, a loss to Duke is especially hard because of the national devotion to its rivalry with UNC.

Just three days later on Feb. 21, Coach Roy Williams chastised UNC fans for not being more enthusiastic during a resounding 89-60 win against Georgia Tech in the Smith Center. The Tar Heels had opened the game with a tribute to Smith and his famous Four Corners offense.

“We need some more support. My gosh. We’re trying to honor the greatest coach I’ve ever — maybe one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever known. And I can understand if you didn’t recognize it because it sort of went quickly. And it was nice to get a backdoor layup. But don’t sit over there and feel like we have to entertain you. This is a team thing,” Williams said to a reporter after the game. The reaction went viral in the UNC community because of the situations leading up to the game.

In short, we, as Tar Heels, are exhausted. February consisted of endless headlines covering the bad news in Chapel Hill.

Smith’s death filled newspapers across the nation because of his work in both basketball and civil rights, and his legacy will not soon be forgotten. The shooting victims brought thousands of students at both UNC and NCSU together in remembrance of their lives. National news speculated on the intent of the shooting – was it a hate crime or senseless violence? It feels as though everyone has had a say in how our town will be thought of nationally.

Instead of looking forward to seeing the university’s name recognized nationally, I am left with a sense of anguish knowing that it won’t be for a positive reason. Even the Duke loss and Georgia Tech snub hit students at the core because the bliss that is Chapel Hill was questioned.

In the coming days, I hope to see editors take a second glance at our small town. Chapel Hill has had losses this month. It has dealt with hardship. But, more importantly, it has risen above it and come together as a community.

Multiple moments of silence at both home and away games in honor of Smith have been a small comfort. NCSU’s massive support for the fallen students has been bolstered by the Facebook group “Our Three Winners,” which now has almost 184,000 likes. We have a chance to come back at Duke this Saturday for a spring break rematch in the Smith Center. Williams successfully stirred the crowd for the NCSU game that followed Georgia Tech and felt apologetic for not living up to expectations. For each of our struggles, we have responded with strength and a sense of community.

I challenge editors to follow up on the downtrodden Heels. Reporting thus far has been thorough and accurate – as reporting should be. The difference is where we’ve gone since those newspapers  left their boxes. True to our name, the Tar Heels have fought through adversity and refused to let these challenges set us back.

The Heels are here to stay, regardless of February’s strife. How’s that for a headline?

Student guest post: Student newspaper covered murder-suicide wisely

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Chris Haney is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill specializing in reporting. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He enjoys sports, writing and traveling to anywhere he hasn’t been yet.

There may be many aspects of an editor-in-chief’s job that seem attractive, but making judgment calls on the fly during times of crisis is not enviable.

Every media outlet wants to be the first to break news to the public. This isn’t a new trend that has just surfaced in the era of news coverage driven by social media. No, this rush to be first has been a cornerstone of the media for decades, if not centuries in some form.

Yet what is the true value of being first if a story isn’t covered properly and mistakes are made by rushing to print? Much more can be lost than gained by rushing a story if there are inaccuracies of any kind.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, there was a murder-suicide on the University of South Carolina’s campus that was reported around 1 p.m. Rumors spread quickly of what happened and who was involved.

By late Thursday evening, there were still no confirmed reports of the individuals involved or the cause of the incident.The Daily Gamecock – USC’s campus newspaper – didn’t give in to rushing out information that wasn’t confirmed yet for their Friday edition. It may seem like an easy decision to avoid hearsay. But Editor-in-Chief Hannah Jeffrey made a bold and correct decision to only print confirmed details, even if that meant that readers would get their updates from other sources first throughout the weekend.

Jeffrey penned an editor’s letter in that Friday edition that spoke to her reasoning behind her decisions. She was candid and honest. She canceled every other story they had to focus on the incident, but wasn’t going to risk the journalistic integrity and accuracy of the newspaper just to get in on the name-dropping the next morning.

“The Daily Gamecock will not risk credibility in the hopes of being first because tragedy isn’t a time to be wrong,” Jeffrey ended her letter. “In fact, errors in reporting tragedy can result in confusion and devastation. And in the end, tragedy is hard enough on its own.”

There are sadly many media outlets today that could learn from this wait-and-see approach.

Well said and well done, Ms. Jeffrey.

Q&A with Michael Lananna, assistant editor at Baseball America

Michael Lananna is assistant editor at Baseball America magazine, with a focus on college baseball and the Major League Baseball draft. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job and his predictions for the 2015 season.

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

A. Baseball America is a five-day-a-week, 9-to-5 kind of job. It’s a biweekly publication, so some weeks I’m busy writing and editing stories and preparing pages for production. Other weeks, all of my energy goes toward reporting.

I’m one of two main college writers for the magazine and the website, so I need to constantly stay on the pulse of what’s happening in college baseball. With the season starting a couple of weeks ago, our college coverage is in full swing, meaning that we’re doing podcasts, previews, features, top 25 rankings and roundups every week.

Of course, being a baseball writer, I try to get out to ballparks as much as I can, traveling on the weekends to catch teams or players that intrigue me. Baseball America is unique in that it focuses on baseball from a player-development perspective. Most of our coverage is geared toward finding tomorrow’s future stars.

Q. How does story editing and headline writing work at Baseball America?

A. Every story that appears in our magazine goes through multiple rounds of editing. For every issue, we have a page budget, where different editors are assigned first and second reads of specific pages.

Our in-office editorial staff is a relatively small group, so everyone gets their hands dirty when it comes to editing. For the pages you’re assigned, you’re responsible for copy-fitting and writing headlines, subheads, captions and any other required maintenance. And when you’re done with the page, you print it out and hand it off to someone else in the office to proof.

We have our own style guide, so we edit for style as well as content and grammar. Headlines, for the most part, are written in a newspaper style — present tense with a subject and a verb. Our online headlines often differ at least somewhat from those in print for SEO purposes.

Q. You’re a 2014 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there are you using in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. Looking back at my four years in Chapel Hill, I’d say UNC’s J-school helped me build a very diverse skill set. Skills I learned in courses such as reporting, creative sports writing, feature writing and — of course — editing and advanced editing have all come into play to some degree.

From an editing standpoint, familiarity with InCopy and InDesign, the ability to use a stylebook, headline and cutline writing and editing for grammar and content are all skills that I employ every day. Sometimes, Andy, it truly does feel like I’m sitting in your advanced editing class.

As far as writing and reporting, I find myself applying lessons I learned in Tim Crothers’ creative sports-writing class and John Robinson’s feature-writing course with nearly every piece I write. Both professors pushed me to be creative with my writing, and I often try to imagine how they’d critique my stories as I write them.

I’d also say that the lessons I learned in Ryan Thornburg’s social media for reporters course especially come in handy. I’m working on a feature story right now that I dug up using Twitter, and my number of followers has doubled in the past month using some of the skills Thornburg taught in that class. (Follow me at @mlananna!)

New skills? I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of podcasts. That’s entirely new for me, but I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself too much yet.

Also, while I worked as a beat writer for The Daily Tar Heel, various internships and in reporting classes, this job is my first exposure to covering a national beat. We’re trying to cover college baseball holistically — not just a specific team or a localized group of teams. So there’s been some adjustment and learning on my part in trying to figure how to best handle such a wide breadth of coverage. I think I’m getting it, though.

Q. Last year, you were an intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers. What was it like to cover the same team for an entire season?

A. Serving as an associate reporter for Dodgers.com was an unbelievable learning experience and certainly a pinch-me opportunity for a lifelong baseball fan. It was also quite the grind. I covered every home game from May through the postseason.

You might think, “Oh, you’re getting paid to go to baseball games. That’s an easy job.” It’s not easy.

Often times, I got to the ballpark before some of the players did (there were many elevator rides down with Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, A.J. Ellis — you name it). And every night, I left hours after the players had already filed out of the locker room.

Most games, I worked with Dodgers.com beat writer Ken Gurnick, and we split the workload. Other games, I was on my own, responsible for writing a pre-game notebook, in-game notes, injury updates, a running game story and a game story write-thru. On some especially busy nights, I wound up writing six or seven pieces. And if there was a day game the next day? Well, I just didn’t sleep.

I learned that the life of a baseball beat writer — in a sport with a 162-game regular season — can be a rigorous and demanding one. However, it’s not without its perks, especially if you love the game like I do.

I had incredible access. I went into the locker room before and after every game to talk with players (some were very approachable; others, not so much). I sat in the dugout with manager Don Mattingly before every game for his pre-game media session. I shared a press box with Vin Scully. I had the opportunity to cover Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter and write a story about it.

I was in the clubhouse immediately after the Dodgers clinched the National League West, and I got champagne sprayed all over me. Covering the playoffs was an absolute blast and something I’ll never forget.

Like any job, many days dragged. Sometimes the workload was overwhelming. But the highs were exhilarating. I’d recommend the internship for anyone serious about sports writing.

Q. College baseball’s season is already underway, and spring training for Major League Baseball starts soon. Care to make any predictions?

A. I like the Louisiana State baseball team quite a bit. I picked the Tigers to win the College World Series in our college preview issue, and I’m sticking to that prediction.

As for Major League Baseball, I have the Dodgers defeating the Mariners in six games for the World Series. Why the Dodgers? Because I’m not covering them anymore. Of course they’ll win it the year after I cover them. That’s just the way the world works.

Student guest post: Respect your subjects — and their pronouns

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Mary Alta Feddeman is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill with minors in women’s and gender studies and creative writing. She is from Chapel Hill, and she is interested in alternative education rooted in youth empowerment and sustainable food production, particularly in underserved communities. She likes writing essays and articles about queer politics, media representation, mental health and intersectional feminism. She also writes poetry and bikes a lot.

Recently, the mainstream entertainment media has become completely preoccupied with the gender identity of Bruce Jenner, the former Olympian and ex-spouse of Kris Kardashian, matriarch of the Kardashian clan. (Note: I will be using “they” as the pronoun referring to Jenner, but more on that later.)

As Janet Mock explained on her MSNBC show “So Popular,” the mainstream media’s coverage of Jenner’s transition—eventually confirmed by their family members—has been horrendous. Here’s a brief but representative list of Jenner-related headlines from some mainstream news outlets:

  • “Bruce Jenner To Reveal New Name As A Woman — See What He’s Been Considering” (Inquistr)
  • “Bruce Jenner confirms he’s taking hormones to look more like a woman” (The Washington Times)
  • “Transitioning from male to female: Bruce Jenner, ‘He is finally happy.'”(People)
  • “The Transition of Bruce Jenner: A Shock to Some, Visible to All” (The New York Times)

All of these are problematic, as are the stories they headline, for several reasons. First of all, the voyeuristic lens through which these publications are scrutinizing not just the life of Jenner, but the deeply personal aspects of so many lives, is insulting and needs to significantly calm down. Second, the boiling down of someone’s gender identity to hormone use, body parts and surgery is reductive, and not at all the narrative that does justice to the complex and whole lives of trans people.

But what I’m concerned with in this particular piece is the misgendering of Jenner, by way of their pronouns. These articles all use the pronoun “he,” as do the articles of every other publication that I came across in my extensive Googling. Mock explained on her show: “Pronouns may not seem like a big deal, but to trans people, they are yet another minefield to navigate in our gender binary-obsessed culture.”

Jenner’s transition has now been confirmed by their family members, but Jenner has not yet spoken to the media directly about their transition, their pronouns, or whether they wish to be called by a different name — despite what many of these publications would lead readers to believe. It’s rumored that Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer about their transition will be broadcast in the coming weeks, but until then, we do not have Jenner to rely on for answers.

So, what’s the respectful — and correct — thing to do as editors? Become more flexible with our adhesion to style guides in this particular category and use “they” pronouns until Jenner has personally made a statement on the matter. Referring to Jenner with “he” pronouns is not only blatantly rude to the subject of these articles. It is also, now, fundamentally incorrect.

Janet Mock and I agree on this subject, and it’s surprising to me that more publications did not consult with members of trans or queer communities before writing these pieces, in addition to consulting their stylebooks.

Mock summed up her response beautifully, saying, “What I don’t understand about the Jenner story is this: The media is making every effort to proclaim that Jenner is living as a woman. However, the media refuses to call Jenner ‘she’ or even ‘they.’ If we’re going to report on Jenner’s identity as a woman, we should be vigilant in ensuring we use gender-inclusive language, starting with ‘they’ until Jenner — the only source that actually matters — tells us otherwise.”

The N&O, Dana Cope and politics

On Sunday, The News & Observer published a front-page story about questionable spending by Dana Cope, head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. On Tuesday, Cope resigned.

It’s a stunning and quick fall for Cope, who had led the labor organization for 15 years. His style was sometimes combative, especially after Republicans took control of the governor’s office and legislative branch in North Carolina in recent years.

As a former News & Observer journalist, I am sometimes asked: Why is the newspaper tough on Republicans and easy on Democrats? My answer: The newspaper is tough on anyone who may be engaging in wrongdoing and attempts to hide that. The more someone hides, the more the paper will dig to find answers. Party affiliation is irrelevant.

Here are, for example, three prominent Democrats in North Carolina who have faced the the Raleigh newspaper’s scrutiny over the years:

  • Meg Scott Phipps, commissioner of agriculture. Pleaded guilty to numerous charges related to awarding of a contract for the North Carolina State Fair and improper use of campaign funds.
  • Jim Black, speaker of the N.C. House. Pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and admitted taking money from chiropractors while the General Assembly considered a bill that would affect them.
  • Mike Easley, governor. Pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law related to free air travel he received while in office. His attorney criticized the N&O’s coverage of several other questionable actions by Easley but never refuted it.

In each instance, the N&O’s investigative reporting played an important role in shining a light on corruption. It so happened that each of these people was a Democrat. I know that N&O editors could cite other examples, just as they could for Republican malfeasance.

The reporting on Dana Cope is the latest example of a newspaper doing its work as a watchdog. Even with a diminished staff, the N&O is holding powerful people and organizations accountable. I hope it continues to do so for many years to come.