Q&A with Karen Martwick, editor at Travel Portland

Karen Martwick is an editor at Travel Portland in Oregon. She’s also worked as a book editor and at Oregonlive.com. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Martwick talks about her job, working with freelancers and the role of non-newspaper editors in the American Copy Editors Society.

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

Part of what I love about my job is that there isn’t really a typical day. My work varies depending on the time of year and the needs of the organization.

We produce two magazines a year: one for the leisure travel market and one for meeting and event planners. The production cycle for the visitors guide, our flagship publication, runs from August-March; the meeting planners guide has a shorter cycle, September-November. During production on these two pieces, my tasks include story development, writer assignment and direction, consulting on art and design, line and copy editing, and, finally, reviewing layouts and proofs.

In addition to the magazines, I do a lot of other editing and writing on a daily basis. This includes writing and editing e-mails (both long-form editorial newsletters and one-off invitations and announcements); other electronic copy (Twitter and Facebook posts, promotional home page touts, other Web pages); and print pieces (event programs, advertisements, displays, etc.).

I also develop additional publications (brochures, one-sheets) as dictated by departmental needs and budgets. These projects vary widely, from writing, editing and producing a brochure for the European leisure travel market to working with a freelance writer to create a brochure for the domestic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) market.

My next print project is updating a public art brochure in partnership with the Portland area’s Regional Arts & Culture Council. I’m also in the midst of a full content overhaul of Travel Portland’s 200-page website.

Q. You often work with the writing of freelancers. What are some of the challenges of editing their work?

A. Working with freelancers poses a number of challenges. The first is obvious, but pervasive — a lot of professional writers just aren’t very good. I try to get references from editors who’ve seen the writers’ work before it went into print, but it still takes a certain amount of trial and error to find good freelancers.

The other challenges I face are getting freelancers to write in a voice that fits Travel Portland’s brand and identity, and making their writing relevant and accessible to the given audience. For instance, most of our writers are based in Portland, and I frequently must remind them that our readers don’t live here and won’t understand “insider” references to local landmarks or personalities. In terms of voice, most of our writers successfully produce copy that falls within our brand guidelines, but I sometimes need to offer guidance when copy sounds too promotional or stilted.

Q. You worked in news at OregonLive.com. What are some of the differences of editing there compared with your work now?

A. I became a producer at OregonLive.com right out of college and worked there for six years (1998-2004). My B.A. was in English, with a minor in professional writing. In other words, I wasn’t a journalist and didn’t exactly plan to work for a news organization. That said, I was really interested in the Internet and loved the idea of actually applying my degree and writing and editing on a daily basis.

Working at OregonLive.com, I honed my headline-writing skills through packaging stories and content for the home page and e-newsletters; did a lot of research, compiling online resources on Oregon nonprofits and elections; multitasked and worked on tight deadlines, producing three unique home pages per day; edited a wide variety of blogs; and even did some real, live reporting (high school dance and football championships). I also taught myself HTML and learned a lot about information architecture and user interface design.

In my current job, I still use a lot of those online editing skills, but I also get to work on longer-term print projects, which I really enjoy. Going from Web to print may seem like taking a step backward, but I’ve found my passion in working on magazines. I also love the variety of my work and love to help non-writers produce great copy. (A good bedside manner is indispensable.)

Q. You’re a member of the American Copy Editors Society. Where do you see the place of editors like yourself in an organization that got its start with a newspaper focus?

The 2009 ACES conference was my first experience with the organization, and I really didn’t know what to expect — I just knew that I craved interaction with other editors. I came away energized, filled with practical tips and new ideas, and feeling like I’d found my people. The editors I’ve met through ACES are all intelligent, inquisitive, engaged and hilarious — just like me, if I do say so myself!

While the day-to-day work of an editor on a magazine or at a nonprofit tourism organization (talk about niche), may be quite different from that of a newspaper copy editor, we all speak the same language. We are problem-solvers. We multitask like the dickens. We have opinions on the serial comma. We thrive on deadlines. And we are passionately committed to clear communication.

I am so thankful that ACES had the foresight to include non-newspaper editors in its fold. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and the productive and inspiring 2010 conference just underscored that fact for me.

Guest post: When you can’t find the right (bleeping) words

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the last of those posts. Landon Wallace is a junior majoring in journalism with a concentration in editing and graphic design. He is minoring in German and spent a semester in Berlin. His career goal is to be a tennis columnist for ESPN.com.

Writer’s note: Some links contain unedited profane language.

In an interview for a UNC-Chapel Hill reporting class last semester, I found a perfect source for a story on the not-so-interesting beat of nontraditional schools. A well-respected, influential man in Durham gave me an hour-long interview, complete with his true feelings about the N.C. General Assembly after it voted to cut some funding to charter schools. At one point he said, “I think the Senate is filled with a bunch of f—— idiots.”

I was living a young reporter’s dream. That quote carried that story, and I thought it might actually create a wave of controversy in the community. (The story was never actually published, and thus it didn’t even cause a ripple, but that’s not the point.) I still remember the excitement I had from getting a solid quote with profanity, because I thought that it took my story to another level.

However, as I have transitioned to classes that focus more on the editing side of journalism, I lost the excitement for expletives. The Associated Press Stylebook instructs to leave out profanity except from direct quotes, and even in those cases, there must be a compelling reason to use it. If profanity is used, every letter after the first should be hyphenated (as shown in the quote in the first paragraph of this post).

But with the advent of online media, many news organizations have not followed the style set forth by the AP. One example is when Vice President Joe Biden’s slip-up about health-care reform from last month. A Washington Post blog favored the “[expletive]” route, and The New York Times decided to use ellipses, but the NBC video attached to the NYT article uses correct AP style.

But the issue with profanity isn’t just about the continuity set forth by major news organizations — it is about whether to use the profanity at all. The United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper admitted in 2008 that cursing in its stories has significantly risen over the past decade. With this rise probably consistent with many online news organizations in the United States, editors now have even more difficult jobs; they must carefully weigh the newsworthiness of the quote with the integrity of the organization and the possible negative reaction from the audience.

Speaking with students and professors in the j-school here for the past week, the overall consensus here is that editors must put the audience before the shock value of profanity. One student said that although profane language might gain some attention online, it will probably offend many more in print, especially because the average age of the newspaper reader is growing older.

It’s a battle, the student said, because as young people, we want to make the world more progressive, but we can’t lose the patrons of news organizations in doing so.

Guest post: How to pack facts and flair into online headlines

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the latest of those posts. Maggie Tobias is a journalism senior about to graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill  and into the real world to pursue a career in health-related journalism. She loves writing about health, reading about health, bein’ healthy, running, watching Spanish movies, cooking healthy foods and singing rap songs at the top of her lungs. She is a member of the American Copy Editors Society, an avid reader of The New York Times, Women’s Health and many novels. Occasionally, she likes cooking unhealthy things, eating unhealthy things and watching “Glee.”

During the recent American Copy Editors Society national conference in Philadelphia, I attended a seminar called “Surviving the Switch to Online Editing.” This topic isn’t something new to me. Journalists get told every day that their writing isn’t direct enough or fast enough for the new world of Internet and iPads. The speaker, Paula Devlin of the Times-Picayune, gave us the rundown of different ways to increase traffic and readership for our news websites, but she also talked about the difference between headlines in print and online.

Print headlines have the luxury of being vague at times, as readers spend more time reading a newspaper than a website. But writers for online publications need to learn how to write headlines that get to the point and entice the reader, Devlin stressed in her presentation.

I argue that it’s possible to do all this and still keep a sense of humor in headlines. My generation is especially well-suited for this task. We’re already primed from years of texting to produce pithy, factual, funny content.

Devlin gave examples of rewritten print headlines.  Here’s my take on that.

Example 1:

Print headline: “Not by bulbs alone”

Why it’s wrong: This is a headline from The Carrboro Citizen for a story on Lou Ann and David Brower, a Chapel Hill couple who created a lavish garden in the woods around their house. This headline is lovely for print, but in an online version, I doubt a reader would think twice about clicking on the story.  It lacks proper names and buzzwords, there’s no sense of place and it relies on a biblical reference that many young people might not understand.

Suggested online version: “Chapel Hill couple takes gardening into the woods”

Comments: It’s not a riot to read, but I was able to add a place, people and a sense of what they’re doing. Some people might catch the shout-out to Steven Sondheim at the end. At least he’s more current than the Gospel writers.

Example 2

Print headline: “Talking trash at the Shore: Plastic, butts, underwear”

Why it’s wrong: This quirky headline from a Philadelphia Daily News story on pollution at New Jersey beaches might be unique, but it’s also misleading. I had no idea what the story was really about until I read the actual text. For all I knew, they could have been discussing the way beaches are overrun with rednecks and trailer trash. In addition, which “butt” are they referring to? What “Shore” do they mean? All in all, I think this was an awkward headline.

Suggested online version: “Jersey Shore’s trash collection eclectic and … dangerous?”

Comments: My version adds a location for those of us who don’t automatically assume “Jersey” when we see “Shore.” I wasn’t able to put in details about the trash, but by using the word “trash” instead of “plastic, butts, underwear,” I was able to clear up confusion about what those words were meant to suggest. Another element that the headline didn’t capture was the environmental hazard of this beach trash. If space permitted, I think the ending of my headline would intrigue people but give a good idea of what the article was about.

Example 3:

Print headline: “Cheek to Cheek (And Tongue-in-Cheek)”

Why it’s wrong: A first glance at this headline from The New York Times would leave anyone but the most perceptive musical theater lover at a complete loss for what the subject of the story is. “Cheek to Cheek” is a reference to Irving Berlin’s jazzy standard of the same name. But the number of online readers who know the song, much less who Irving Berlin is, must be pretty small. The story is actually a review of the latest season of “Dancing with the Stars,” whose line-up includes Pamela Anderson and soap opera actor Aiden Turner.

Suggested online version: “Pamela Anderson and others give dancing a whirl on ‘Stars’ this season”

Comments: Sure, it’s not quite as dry and witty as the Times version, but I think my headline gets to the point quicker and tells you more about the story’s contents.  Most people who’d want to read a story about this TV show would be attracted by buzzwords like the show’s name or a celebrity’s name. Also, TV lovers have reportedly lower attention spans. Even though my headline is longer, it takes less time to figure out than the questionable Times quip.

Q&A with Amy Goldstein, editor at ESPN.com

Amy Goldstein has been an associate editor on the copy desk at ESPN.com since February 2008. Before moving to central Connecticut, she completed a master’s degree in journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in linguistics at CUNY Queens College. She has interned at the Detroit Free Press, McClatchy-Tribune News Service and News 12 Long Island. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Goldstein offers a glimpse of what it’s like to be an editor at the ESPN site.

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

A. I edit 12 to 15 stories, blogs and photo galleries each day and am the copy desk editor who backreads subject page tops that are sent via e-mail. I also often assign priorities to stories in our queue system based on what’s expected to be featured prominently on our front page or on section pages. When time allows, I slot stories and coordinate copy desk reads of entire index pages.

We have a copy desk and a news desk, and the copy desk is responsible for editing features, columns, power rankings and other staff-generated items, while the news desk mostly edits headline news stories and game recaps. Most copy deskers work during the day rather than at night because the stories we edit generally come to us during normal business hours. Stories’ lengths vary significantly, as do their subject matter — I might edit a feature about an NFL player, then a Q-and-A with the creator of a sports video game, then a live blog about a poker event.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?

A. You were expecting it to be working against the clock, weren’t you? Well, not quite. If a story needs to be published right away (for example, right after the Masters tournament) it is, and then we’ll backread it as soon as possible. If it doesn’t, we’ll be expected to turn the story around within a reasonable amount of time, but there’s usually no rush.

ESPN is a reporter-driven environment, and that’s what enables our best writers to develop a distinct voice that is recognized on a national level. Our writers have a lot of editors — a story might be edited by two or three people before it reaches the copy desk — and we’re charged with maintaining our writers’ voices while making sure they don’t cross the line on sensitive topics. With so many hands on deck, sometimes it’s hard to appease everyone. My biggest challenge is deciding which battles to pick and how best to compromise.


Q. You have worked for print and online media. What are the biggest differences between them? What about similarities?

A. My work online might be a little less creative than what I did for print media, but that’s really a function of the workflow here. I typically don’t write headlines or cutlines or select photos, but section editors (who do all those things) ask me for headline and blurb suggestions several times a day. We also have two layers of headlines for most of our stories — the index page display text, which aims to get the reader to click on a story (and often has tight head counts, just like in print media!), and the headline on top of the story, which is often a summary type of head because the reader already was engaged enough to click through to that point.

As I hinted at above, there generally aren’t deadlines at ESPN.com, so I find working online to be less stressful than working in print. I try to finish a story as fast as I can, but I almost always have plenty of time to make it as good as it should be. At the same time, there’s little downtime during our workday. We always have something to do because our writers and section editors produce so much content each day.

As for similarities, the reality is that both print and online media work to tell similar or identical stories. A story published online might be longer, but the general rules of keeping a reader engaged still apply.

Q. Many college students would love to have a job like yours. What career advice do you have for them?

A. Persistence was key for me in landing this job. A number of things had to fall perfectly into place for me to end up here, but if I hadn’t kept calling my boss during a seven-month period, I wouldn’t be at ESPN. In addition, knowing what you really want in a job helps you sell yourself, and internships help you refine what path you want your career to take.

In graduate school, I had several opportunities to learn Web programs, and I’m thankful for that because although ESPN.com’s publishing system is proprietary, I learned how to tell a story using interactive media. I share that knowledge with my colleagues whenever I think it might be useful. I suggest that college students take advantage of the opportunity to learn new programs — it’s fun and rewarding when you finish a project, even a quick photo gallery produced with Soundslides.

Q&A with Rachel Sterne of GroundReport

Rachel Sterne is founder and CEO of GroundReport.com, a citizen journalism site with an international perspective. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Sterne talks about how the site works, how it uses social media and how its content is edited.

Q. What is GroundReport, and who makes up your audience?

A. GroundReport is an global news platform that allows anyone to submit articles, videos and photos for publication. The best work is published online to an international audience and syndicated to Google News, Huffington Post and other outlets.

Our mission is to democratize the media, but we’ve found that adding vetting and reward systems helps to ensure that our news reporting has some of the highest standards in the participatory journalism space. Founded in 2006, today GroundReport has over 7,000 contributors around the world, and our exclusive reports have been cited by The New York Times and AFP.

Our audience is mostly American, English, Canadian and Indian places where there are large, English-speaking, technologically connected populations. Our contributors are mostly foreign journalists, freelance writers, journalism students, bloggers and nonprofits.

Q. How does your site use social media to promote its content?

GroundReport is a purely digital news offering, so from day one, social media has been integral to our success. As a couple examples, we use Twitter to recruit journalists and publish stories to the world, and Facebook Connect to create a social environment for responding to stories and engaging with authors. We also publish video via YouTube Direct and share all videos on that platform as well as on our site.

Beyond that, GroundReport itself is social media, a full-fledged news platform completely supported by digital contributors.

Q. How does editing and headline writing work at GroundReport?

GroundReport’s editing system is based on the reputation of the author. An author is classified in one of two ways: Verified or Unverified.

If the reporter is on our Verified list, her work is instantly published live upon submission. If the author is unverified, all submissions enter a hidden queue where our Editors and Super-Users can review and approve or delete all content. We reward great contributors by making them Editors and give them extra privileges that allow them to edit any content on the site as if it were a Wikipedia page. Most of our Editors, not surprisingly, are journalism students, eager for a way to apply their skill set and get real-world digital journalism experience.

Headline writing is first submitted by users, and most are published as is. If the story is of mainstream relevance, we look to optimize the title for search using tools like Google Trends and Twitter Trends to research how people are searching for the stories.

Q. With much of the U.S. media increasingly turning to local news, what do you see as the future of international reporting?

A. I feel strongly that the two are deeply intertwined. When you investigate deeply enough, every story is local.

We feel that by presenting international news from the local perspective, we bring more engagement and emotional connection. Just as there is local U.S. news, there is local news for everywhere else in the world, and unfortunately, we almost never get to discover those unique local perspectives on foreign events.

Until now, many American news outlets have only presented foreign news stories researched and reported by an American. We think that there is a huge opportunity to support both national and foreign journalists in doing local reposting. And in this way, GroundReport supports both local and international coverage in one go.

Follow Rachel Sterne on Twitter and read her stories on the GroundReport site.

UPDATE: In January 2011, Sterne accepted the position of chief digital officer of New York City.

Guest post: Barrage of information hinders quality

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of these posts. Nathaniel Haines is a senior journalism major from St. Louis, Mo. He is in the news editing sequence and is a member of The Daily Tar Heel editorial board.

Quality, thoughtful journalism is being swallowed whole by the demand for quantity and constant updates.

It started with the 24-hour cable news networks. Now, we’ve descended to new depths with micro-blogging. We journalists are now reveling in out-of-context 140-character snippets of information that we can push to audiences from our phones.

On Jan. 25, 2010, Ken Auletta wrote an article for The New Yorker called “Non-Stop News.” The article examined how 24-hour news cycle — scratch that; the hour-long news cycle — is affecting the White House press corps.

Auletta paints a bleak picture of harassed reporters who are responsible for pushing out content 5 minutes ago. Auletta follows an NBC White House correspondent, Chuck Todd. In the course of one day, Todd writes three to five blog posts and eight to 10 Tweets; he also appears on multiple TV shows.

But there’s a question that looms behind Auletta’s description of the non-stop news cycle: Where are the editors?

It’s a startling issue of the non-stop news cycle. In order to cut the time between when a reporter writes a story and when a reader reads it, editors have been removed — or at least, they come in at a later points. Their job as gatekeeper between the reporter and the reader is being redefined.

But should it?

Should reporters be pushing news to their readers constantly? Is BlackBerry reporting actual reporting? Is there anyone in the process who digests the information and asks himself, “Should we publish this?”

Presumably, reporters are supposed to police their own news and information. But objective questions can’t be answered by someone immersed in a situation. A reporter doesn’t have perspective on the information he works hard to push out everyday.

At one point in his piece, Auletta quotes Anita Dunn: “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”

That’s a problem. It might seem like the rush is just part of entering an era in which information is instant. But the rush should really be seen as a new role for editors. Perhaps, instead of being gatekeepers for readers, editors should start acting as gatekeepers for reporters. It might be time for editors to tell the public that good news takes time and effort and that minute-to-minute updates are more like gossip than journalism.

Toyota on the front page

My friend and former colleague, John Robinson, visited my editing class yesterday afternoon. He’s the editor of the News & Record in Greensboro.

The topic of his talk was the front page — specifically, what is a front-page story for a newspaper in Greensboro in 2010? It’s a topic that Robinson discusses on occasion on his blog and on Twitter.

Robinson asked the students in the class to go to a news Web site of their choice and tell him what the top story was at the moment. CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and several other sites had the story about a congressional hearing into the Toyota recall as the big news. The outliers were the Huffington Post (an Afghanistan story) and WRAL and The News & Observer sites, which both were leading with news about turmoil on the Wake County school board.

Robinson told the students that the chances of the Toyota story appearing on the News & Record’s front page as virtually nil. The story was out there on TV and online all day — what could the Greensboro paper do with it that readers didn’t already know?

The News & Record considers itself a local newspaper. And indeed, its front page this morning is all about Greensboro. Toyota is mentioned in a promo at the bottom of the page, with a story on A6.

Was that the right call?