Helping journalism, helping you, helping us

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Digital journalism, Editing, Leadership, newspapers, social media, websites

I’m torn …. We are living in one of the scariest times in journalism.

From 2003 to 2012, 16,200 full-time jobs were lost in newsrooms, and 38,000 magazine jobs were lost (PEW Research). ASNE’s report also found one-third of copy editors lost their jobs. Total newspaper revenue is down 49% since 2003, PEW reports. We’re seeing more cases of fabrication by professionally trained journalists, and the plagiarism hits just keep coming.

On the other hand, I find the challenge invigorating. We needed a kick in the butt. Maybe not one this severe, but a bit of a shake up was in order. Some of us were a bit complacent. We served up whatever news we saw fit. We expected people to eat it and like it.

Now we’re fighting, scratching and clawing for every reader. Every source. Every story.  We’re in the fight of our lives.

And it’s that fight that brings out the best and worst in some of us.

I’m lucky. I get to work with people who deserve a gold medal who excel in this type of chaos.

To that end, this week, I’ll be in Nashville meeting with the leaders of 20 national journalism organizations at EIJ14 for what I hope will be the first of many journalism leadership summits.

These people aren’t going quietly into the night. Nor are they going to let their members.

Some of the questions we’ll be weighing at the summit are:

If we could reinvent the world of journalism organizations, what would it look like? How can we work together to better serve our members?

What can we do collectively to help our industry? Can we put more pressure on the White House for transparency? Should we lobby for net neutrality? Can we help save jobs? How can we help offer training?

And how can we, as journalism organizations, survive and thrive when revenue and member numbers are shrinking?

If you have any suggestions on how you think we can better serve our members, shoot me a note.

To help us see where we stand, my American Copy Editors Society colleague Fred Vultee, put together a quick survey for participating organizations. Most reported concern about revenue and interest in collaborating on conferences. (Fred and ACES will have more info on this later.)

I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know that there isn’t a better group of people than working on finding them.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

 

The participating organizations are:

American Copy Editors Society
American Society of Business Press Editors
American Society of News Editors
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
Associated Press Media Editors
Investigative Reporters and Editors
Journalism and Women Symposium
Native American Journalists Association
National Association of Black Journalists
National Association of Hispanic Journalists
Online News Association
Organization of News Ombudsmen
Public Radio News Directors Inc.
Poynter Institute
Radio Television Digital News Association
Religion Newswriters Association
Society of American Business Writers and Editors
Society for News Design
Society for Professional Journalists
UNITY

 

• A special thanks to the Society of Professional Journalists, which is hosting the conference, and the American Copy Editors Society, which is picking up the tab for lunch. And also to SPJ’s President David Cuillier, who casually mentioned over drinks in St. Louis that it would be interesting if all the j org leaders got together. And then seemed to not bat an eye when I asked if we could invade SPJ’s conference two years later. 

 

 

 

 

Management style: It’s about them, not you

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in Leadership

 “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

We should be constantly evolving throughout our careers. Your “style” as a recent college grad likely will be different from your style 30 years later.

Throughout your career, you’ll likely step into many different roles — that of underling, mentor, veteran, peer, collaborator, manager and leader. (Yes, manager and leader are two different things.)

There’s been a lot written about Jill Abramson and her recent firing from the New York Times. Regardless of what you believe was the root cause of her firing, it did bring issues about management style to the forefront.  There were a lot of adjectives tossed around in the wake of her firing, including condescending, difficult, aloof and abrasive.

What managers intend to be, what they are perceived to be and what they really rarely line up. And that’s where there’s trouble.

Too many newsroom managers are promoted from the rank-and-file with little or no management training. And then they are frustrated, as are their bosses, when they fail to get the results they want.

When asked what the problem is, many respond with something like, “I don’t know. My management style is pretty approachable.”

Let’s pause here. … Because this is important: 

Take a minute and answer this question: What is your management style?

Now think about this: How many times did your answers start with  “I” or “My”? Did anyone answer “It depends” and respond from the employee’s perspective? Ideally, that’s what you should be doing.

“Your” management style shouldn’t be about you; it should be about your employees.

How you approach the self-flagellating intern should be different from how you supervise the 20-year Pulitzer Prize winning veteran.

My style when I first started in journalism as a page designer was — to be honest — that of a prickly, defensive, overly sensitive creative “artist.” Later, as I got further away from design and deeper into copy editing, my style evolved into — to be honest — that of a prickly, perfectionist copy editor who lived in a black-and-white world of rules and deadlines.

Over the years, my style has changed based upon the roles I’ve played at my job and the employees I’ve managed. Now, overseeing digital technology, training and innovation, my “style” incorporates some aspects of a taskmaster with metrics, a coach with training and tech, a door-opener for doers and a rewarder of success.

There’s no such thing as “my” management style. The approach I take is the one that is most likely to help me accomplish the goals of my company with the different personalities I work with.

Management is hard. There’s a lot to learn. Find training wherever you can: Take courses online, find a mentor outside your company, read books or blogs (my personal favorite experts to follow are Jill Geisler of the Poynter Institute, Steve Buttry of LSU, Harvard Business Review and Peter Drucker).

I don’t care how good your instincts are. You’ll never be a great leader unless you invest as much time in learning about management as you did in learning how to write great headlines or great ledes.

 • I’ll be teaching a webinar this Thursday, July 24, at Poynter’s NewsU  about the natural conflict between task-oriented bosses and creative employees. And how to manage creatives and open doors for them. This course is a part of the American Copy Editors Society certificate program with Poynter. For more information, see http://www.newsu.org/courses/manage-creative-employees

What I am losing sleep over: #5 We’re too boring to read

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing, Leadership, newspapers

Last week, I told you five things I’m not losing sleep over. This week, I’m writing about the five things that are keeping me up at night:

1) Math, numbers, digits

2) Privacy and fairness in crime, tragedy stories, reader comments

3) Plagiarism and fabrication

4) Pun headlines

And here’s No. 5:

Our content is just too darn boring for anyone to read. Or too homogeneous to pay for.

Good journalism costs money to produce. Good, local journalism costs even more money to produce.

I stay awake at night worrying that we’ve crossed that line … we’ve now cut our ranks to the point that we’re churning out too much boring copy that subscribers won’t find interesting enough to pay for and that, in turn, advertisers won’t pay to support.

And that we’ve merged so many operations and hubbed ourselves to the point that you can’t tell one town’s newspaper/website from the other.

Pew Research Center

We need skilled reporters who invest hours in their beats, in their sources and on research that doesn’t always translate into hard column inches of copy.

We need skilled editors to coach those reporters and polish their copy.

We need talented graphic artists and data visualization journalists to illustrate complex numbers and concepts in unique and compelling ways.

We need creative photographers and videographers to capture more emotion than words can often convey.

We need tenacious, selfless copy editors to pour over every single piece of content created to ensure it lives up to our standards — and those of our readers.

The list goes on: We need a business savvy, yet innovative, executive team; great delivery drivers; excellent sales staff; smart IT/web programmers; patient customer service reps; and outstanding human resources peeps.

None of these people can work for free.

It becomes a chicken-egg question for me. How can you sell people on the value of your product without investing in it? And how can you afford to invest in it if people aren’t paying for it?

As I said before, this week’s topics don’t come with easy answers. If they did, I wouldn’t be keeping Unisom in business.

 

What I am losing sleep over: #4 Pun headlines

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing

My first three posts of things I’m losing sleep over were fairly complicated and filled with gray issues:

1) Math, numbers, digits

2) Privacy and fairness in crime, tragedy stories, reader comments

3) Plagiarism and fabrication

Up next is something a bit more black and white that drives me completely nuts.

#4:  Pun headlines

I hate them. I despise them. I abhor them. Clear enough?

They amuse us, but rarely readers.

They don’t add clarity; they often just confuse readers.

They don’t add SEO value, and often hurt it.

And, in the most egregious cases, they have nothing to do with the story and cheapen it.

I lose sleep over how many headline writers persist in publishing self-indulgent pun headlines. And applauding themselves for doing it. Unless you work for The Onion, just stop.

Writers work hard on their stories. Sources trust us to tell their stories. Our readers count on us. They all deserve better.

 

What I am losing sleep over: #3 Plagiarism, fabrication

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing

So far, I’ve told you I’m losing sleep over math and privacy and fairness.

Neither of those are simple issues. And neither is the next one, but it’s easier for me to handle because it’s just so flat-out wrong.

No. 3: Plagiarism and fabrication I worry that while I’m looking up the right abbreviation for Montana, something far more insidious is getting past me: Plagiarism or fabrication.

An editor in the recent Jayson Blair documentary said every newspaper has had a case of plagiarism or fabrication; we’re fools if we think we’re immune. I agree.

Blair said, in the documentary, that once he figured out he could get away with it, there was nothing to stop him.

Jayson Blair

That screams to me how important it is that editors be on guard.

We have long been the ethical backbone of our publications. Our gatekeeper role is now more important than ever.

It’s just too easy to steal info off the web (and it is theft). As editors, we’re flying through content so fast that we don’t have a chance to catch what we used to. Or we’re worried about losing our jobs so we don’t want to make waves.

Adding to the danger is the fact that many of us are now in editing in hubs far from towns and reporters we know. That makes spotting a lie or stolen material all harder.

The things that keep me up more at night are the things I didn’t do, not the things I’ve done. The mistakes I let get by me or didn’t have the nerve to fight.

These two, more than any other issues, really make me angry. You might make a mistake with number.

You might make an error in judgment on identifying a crime victim. But most cases of plagiarism involve an intent to steal; all cases of fabrication involve an intent to deceive.

Plagiarism and fabrication are crimes against our credibility. We should all be losing sleep over that.

Footnote: ACES held a summit to fight plagiarism and fabrication. We published a free ebook with tips on how to prevent that you can download free here http://www.rjionline.org/newsbooks/aces 

http://www.rjionline.org/newsbooks/aces 

What I am losing sleep over: #2 Privacy, fairness

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing

So what am I tossing and turning about at night? This week, I’m covering five things that I’m losing sleep over.

Yesterday, I confessed math scares the crap out of me.

Here’s No. 2: Privacy, fairness and accuracy in crime, tragedy stories, reader comments

If a kid dies in a car crash and you see her picture on Facebook, can you grab it and republish it? Can you publish her friends’ comments of grief?

If a 17-year-old steals a candy bar, should that blurb exist on your website in perpetuity?

If you cover the opening of a restaurant, is it OK to let people post comments bashing the restaurant?

It’s issues like these that have me staring blankly at infomercials into the wee hours of the morning.

There are no easy answers … In fact, most of us can’t even agree on the questions.

To me, there are two levels to consider when debating these issues.

The first is a question of legality. What is it legal for you to do? Questions of copyright tend to be pretty clear, especially in use of photos. “Borrowing” from social media is a lot more gray.

The second — and  harder question — is whether or not it’s fair. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right. That answer seems to be constantly shifting.  And it’s tough to sort through my own bias and quiet my conscience.

I don’t feel so bad for the guy who calls me crying that he can’t get a job because of a three-year-old story online about his embezzlement conviction. I do feel bad for the new college grad who’s got a DUI from high school haunting him. But I can’t start hiding stories for people I think are nice.

And I can’t decide it’s OK to take a photo off Facebook of a kid who’s accused of murder but not one who died in a car crash. I can’t un-identify a crash victim who says she fake called in sick and ID’ing her will get her fired.

How do I know if the person who says the new restaurant is terrible is a legit patron or someone from a competing place across the street?

I know I’m asking a lot of questions and providing very few answers.

That’s why this keeps me up at night. The conflict between my journalism need to tell and my personal ethics weighs on me.

But what is black and white is making darn sure the information is correct. Even before you start debating snagging that picture off social media, you need to make sure you’ve got the right person.

Having a name, hometown and general age match up isn’t enough. And we as editors need to challenge content that just has no verification beyond what someone Googled. We also need to make sure we’re not just repeating someone else’s poorly sourced material.

Use your skeptical editing skills: How do we know what we think know is true? Once you know it’s accurate, then you can start stressing over the fairness.

And this is why I’m not worried about spelling out state names in stories …

What I am losing sleep over: #1 Numbers

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing, Uncategorized

After last week’s series on things I’m losing sleep over, I thought it’s only fair to tell you what is keeping me up at night.

Unfortunately, it’s far harder to narrow this list down to just five so I’m launching a 200-part blog series today. Just kidding. I’ll keep it to five :)

No. 1: Numbers, numerals … any digits

 

Math in copy makes me nervous. And it’s not because I’m afraid of it. I lose sleep over it because it’s so easy to mess up. And the numbers matter a lot to readers.

I have nightmares over rates and ratios. I stare at the ceiling and count percentage v. percentage points. I get night sweats over stories that say taxes are increasing but rates are going down. And don’t even get me started on surveys, statistics and margins of error …

We don’t guard enough against our own ignorance and insecurities when it comes to numbers. As a result, we often just repeat what’s handed us. And sometimes those numbers are confusing to readers; other times they are just flat-out wrong.

Instead of shying away, we need to dig deeper when we see them.

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark referred to a lack of numeracy as the “dark hole of journalism competence”  in an article today on the pyramid of journalism competence. We agree that this doesn’t need to be the case.

Sources are going to spin numbers to their advantage. We need to understand what they are telling us and interpret them for readers by putting them in context.

In addition, we need to understand what numbers they aren’t sharing with us — and go get them.

We often see statements like this in copy:

Reporters are twice as likely to make a math error than copy editors.

If you questioned me, you might discover that I did a content analysis of one story. I found one reporter made one math error and the copy editor made none. Would it be helpful to know that the reporter put 200 numbers in the story and the copy editor none?

This is an overly simplistic example, but you get my point: The numbers mean nothing without context. And, in order to give them context, we need to understand and question them.

Hence, math gives me night terrors.

This is an area we can’t afford to flub up. Our readers are counting on us.

 

Five things I’m not losing sleep over recap

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing

To recap from my quick blog series, here are the five things I’m not losing sleep over:

1) More than v. over

2) Question headlines

3) Repetition

4) Abbreviating state names

5) Starting sentences or paragraphs with conjunctions

I didn’t write the blog series in an effort to change anyone’s mind on these “rules.” My goal was to challenge you to think about what you’re spending your precious time on.

In a perfect world, we’d have tons of time to sweat every single piece of punctuation and every word choice. But we live in a reality, and there are too many things demanding our attention. Something has to give.

I’m not encouraging you to sell your copy editing soul and give up on quality. But I do want you to challenge the value of some rules. Do they matter to readers?  Or do they matter because they were written in stone stylebook tablets during ancient times?

There are a lot of things I wanted to put on the list, including the singular “they.” And I’m pretty close to jumping on the whom/who interchangeable bandwagon (I confess that’s mostly because I have to think about it each time). I also dream of a world with just one effect/affect spelling.

The Oatmeal cartoon on whom. v who

But I’m interested in hearing from you. What rules are you willing to let go?

Up next week: Five things I AM losing sleep over

 

 

 

 

Five rules I’m not losing sleep over: #5 Starting with conjunctions

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing

All week, I’ve been writing about things I’m not losing sleep over. The rules I’ve burned millions of calories stressing over that aren’t important rules. And, in some cases, that aren’t even rules.

Here’s my list so far:

1) “More than” v. “over”

2) Question headlines

3) Repeating words in a story

4) Spelling out state names in body copy

 And (drum roll, please) here’s No. 5:  

Starting a sentence or paragraph with a conjuction   But, purists say, a conjunction is designed to join parts of a sentence.

And, some say, starting paragraphs and sentences with conjunctions is a crutch for bad writing or a cheap way to convey drama in your writing.

But, overall, what is it hurting? Is it hurting comprehension? If it is, then don’t do it. If it isn’t, snuggle down under the covers and sleep without counting ands and buts.

I’ve seen editors arbitrarily spiking any conjunction they find sticking out at the beginning of a graph or sentence.

This violates one of our key tenets as editors: First, do no harm. The second is, if you can’t make it better, keep you hands off. Or it should be. There are times it make sense. And there are times it doesn’t.

Just think before committing conjunction genocide on your copy.

And if you are going to hack them all out, make sure you’re putting something better in their place.

Five rules I’m not losing sleep over: #4 State names

Written by Teresa Schmedding on . Posted in copy editing, Editing

If you’re still reading me, then I’m assuming you are not outside my office picketing in outrage over my lack of concern over

1) “More than” v. “over”

2) Question headlines

3) Repeating words in a story

Glad you’re still with me …

Here is No. 4 on my list of things I’m not losing sleep over:

Associated Press spelling out state names in body copy

statenames

Darn that AP. Why can’t they just leave these old style rules alone?

That’s because language is a living, breathing thing. It needs to change.

Can you imagine if all websites were written in Early Modern English? Me thinks thou anguish is misdirected. I humbly endeavor to support the accursed Associated Press.

That newfangled World Wide Web has made every piece of content international. People in Nigeria don’t know that Mass. is Massachusetts.

Does the change impede comprehension? No. Could it possibly improve comprehension? Yes. So why not? Other than we humans, in general, don’t like change.

I’ve heard some argue that writers need state abbreviations to fit in other words.

Really? Nine letters is all that stands between you and a Pulitzer?

Good thing AP keeps changing other rules so you can gain those precious characters elsewhere. If you use “over” instead of “more than,” you’ve gained back five characters. :)

Does anyone remember when we sweated over Worldwide Web v. World Wide Web? I doubt readers do either. And now, you can just use web, so you’ve gained back at least 10 characters.

Don’t even come near with me, arguing that you learned all those abbreviations so you should be able to use them. When’s the last time you put a quadratic equation in a story?

I prithee fluff your pillow as thou slips into dreamless slumber?

 

©Teresa Schmedding 2013