Archive for May, 2012

John E. McIntyre

I am honored that the Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre, whose blog is a must-read for copy editors, has responded (at my invitation) to my advice for copy editors.

I encourage you to read the full post, A future for copy editors. But I’ll note some highlights here:

  • John supports my call for efficiency in copy editing, telling “middle-initial fetishists” and AP-style cultists to “Stop wasting time on things that don’t matter much.” What does matter? John answers: “Let me remind you that it is possible for an article to be perfectly grammatical and conform to every last guideline in the AP Stylebook and still be dull, unclear, superficial, plagiarized, fabricated, or libelous.”
  • John also agrees with me that copy editors overuse pun headlines that are lost on those humorless search engines: “On the printed page, you have elements, such as secondary headlines, photos, display quotes, and the like, to give a clever headline context.”
  • John and I also agree on the importance of copy editors training themselves in new skills.
  • I won’t quote from John’s private advice to copy editors (he asked the rest of us to step outside for a moment, but I listened through the transom), except to say it was right on the mark.
  • On this, John and I fully agree: “if you are serious about the craft and about continuing to practice it, you will have to take more responsibility for your own career.”

That last point is good advice for every journalist. And it always was.


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Journalists have lots of tools for showcasing our work.

If you’re a college student or recent graduate looking for work or a veteran journalist out of work or looking for a better job, you need an online showcase where prospective bosses can find your best work quickly and study your work at length if they’re interested.

The job-hunter faces a dual challenge: You need to catch a prospective boss’s attention quickly and you want to hold the attention, getting him or her to keep perusing your work, wanting to read or view more. You want to provide a quick overview and you want to help the interested person browse your work at length.

We’re way past the days of deciding which half-dozen hard-copy clips to stuff into an envelope with your résumé. Unless an employer specifically asks for a hard-copy application, you should apply by email with a hyperlinked résumé. Even if the employer asks for hard-copy (and if you want to work for someone who needs hard copy), you need a URL (or a few) at the top, guiding your future boss to a place to study your work at length.

Trust me: As someone who’s received hundreds of résumés from wannabe employees, you shouldn’t send a résumé longer than one page to a prospective employer. If I can tell the story of my 40-year career in a page, you can keep yours to a page; a few years ago when I was job-hunting, I thought my long career justified multiple pages. But then I got my job and started getting résumés from people who wanted to work for me. I then resolved to keep it to a single page if I ever was job-hunting again. You have a few seconds to stand out from the others. Make your case in a single page, but use links to make that page a table of contents for the prospective boss who wants to know more.  At the top of the page, include a link — or a few links — to a place or places where they can learn about your career in depth and see your digital and social skills at work.

Even if, like me, you’re enjoying your job and feeling secure, with no interest in leaving, a strong digital profile is a good idea. Sadly, many journalists have lost their jobs with little warning. And even while you’re working, a strong online profile can help build credibility with sources and colleagues (who are Googling you, whether you know it or not).

Partly because I’m constantly checking out new tools and partly because people looking for jobs contact me frequently, I’ve dabbled with a variety of tools to showcase your résumé and your portfolio or help you tell your career story (founders invited me to try out a couple of new tools). In most cases, I have not fleshed these profiles out as fully as I would if I were looking for a job. I would need to upload more photos and clips from my pre-digital years if I wanted to use these tools to their fullest effect. (more…)

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In the tight job market journalists face today, Randi Shaffer illustrates one of the best reasons to master Twitter: It can help you land a job.

This story starts with an editor taking Twitter seriously. When I visited the Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant last summer, editor Rick Mills said the staff was much more active on Facebook than on Twitter because Twitter use was light in that rural area. I encouraged him to be active on Twitter anyway, because he would connect with a younger audience than his newspaper has and he would find more local people on Twitter than he expected.

Rick started taking Twitter seriously and quickly became addicted (I’m so proud). As he searched for local people to follow, he quickly came across Randi:


I found her by doing local advanced searches on Twitter – radius to Mt. Pleasant searches. It took a bit to get used to that, the idea of just finding Central Michigan University students and following them, but I started with the CM Life staff and journalism students, figured there was a valid connection there. Also knew that they were the crowd to be watching not only for something big in terms of breaking news, but just keeping up on their world and community. In our market, college students make up a big demographic of Twitter users.

Randi picks up the story:

Rick had started following me at some point right before I left Mt. Pleasant to spend my fall semester interning at the Flint Journal. He first made contact when I tweeted to ask my followers where I should consider applying for summer internships at. He direct messaged me to tell me about a potential opportunity in Oakland.

Randi decided to take a full-time internship in Flint that fall. While she was there, Rick was watching her work on Twitter:

It was obvious that she was engaged with both her college friends and colleagues but also with the Flint community she was covering for Booth on her internship.

So, besides her tweeting with friends, she would report stories she was going to work on, report tidbits from interviews she had done and ask for lead ideas, even. I remember one in particular where she’d gone with 30 kids to a farm and asked how to start a story with so much fun and so many kids…

Back to Randi:

Near the end of my internship in Flint, I had signed myself up for a pretty heavy course load for the spring 2012 semester and wasn’t sure I’d have the time to dedicate to CM Life, so I posted again on Twitter. I asked if anyone knew of freelance work in the mid-Michigan area for the spring semester and he direct-messaged me to let me know the Sun could use a freelance reporter. He let me know that it wouldn’t be anything big, and I said that was fine. I was just looking for a little bit of extra money and a way to keep up with journalism while I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree. I gave him my email address and he sent some stories along.

More from Rick:

She freelanced for us since probably mid-January. I don’t have an official count, but has probably written a dozen stories, at least, maybe more.

During that time she was professional, met deadlines, provided photo information, communicated with other key staff… basically proved herself proficient in many areas that we don’t find out recruits lack in until it’s too late.

Randi continues:

I gladly took every freelance assignment I was available for and did my best with each. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, an editor here told me that the first group of freelance assignments I turned in, six in total, were what made him want to hire me as soon as I graduated. This was back in February.

It just happened to work perfectly that a staff reporter resigned to take a new job right before my college graduation, and I applied for the opening after a few staff members (one was a former professor of mine) encouraged me to. I interviewed and got the job two days before my graduation.

How did I get a job offer because of Twitter? By managing my Twitter account correctly. … I keep my Twitter open and unprotected, and identify myself in my bio. (Also helped identify me from the other Randi Shaffer on Twitter — who was a little younger and a lot more vulgar.) No swearing, and I always try to remain as politically unbiased as possible. It proves tricky at times. The phrase, “Opinions are my own, RT’s not endorsements” is not an excuse to post anything on Twitter without repercussions.

It’s OK to tweet things that reflect your personal interests and what you’re involved in. I think employers like seeing that you’re an interesting, well-rounded individual. In addition to my professional stuff — including story links, industry news, my personal accomplishments (updates about graduation, grad school admittance, etc.) and CNN/ Morning Sun/ New York Times/ etc. re-tweets, my Twitter feed often consists of hockey news (I’m a bit obsessed with the Detroit Red Wings and have a habit of live-tweeting any game I go to), bits about what I’m doing and where I’m at, quirky thoughts, etc. All things that not only interest employers, but also remind readers that you are, in fact, a real person, and not just a name on a page.

Also, always proofread, spell check and use correct grammar/ style in tweets. One mistake in 140 characters stands out a lot, and it can make you look foolish if it happens to be big news and gets retweeted a few times.

In terms of Facebook, Rick and I are friends, but I update Twitter more frequently than Facebook. I’ve found that Twitter is a little busier, and people like reading multiple updates a day, whereas people on Facebook just get annoyed with constant updating and either defriend you or unsubscribe.

A side note- I also like that I can use Twitter to clarify my gender with a picture. The name Randi gets confusing at times.

2015 update, from Randi on Twitter (of course):

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New Orleans Times-Picayune: We publish home hell and high waterI couldn’t comment right away on this week’s announcement that the New Orleans Times-Picayune is cutting print frequency back from daily to three days a week.

In part I waited because I was finishing timely posts on copy editing and student media and doing some other work, but I could have set things aside to weigh in on the New Orleans news. I waited mostly because I wanted to reflect on this a while.

Some observations after thinking this through for a couple days:

  1. The New Orleans Times-Picayune will always hold a special spot among journalism heroes because of its staff’s performance in covering Hurricane Katrina.
  2. I have a personal fondness for the Times-Picayune journalists, recalling their support for my staff in Cedar Rapids when we experienced and covered our flood of 2008.
  3. I always ache when a newsroom staff is cut, and this is a severe cut, following earlier severe cuts.
  4. Advance Publications deserves praise for continuing its commitment to the New Orleans community during and after Katrina.
  5. Most newspapers’ future probably is not daily. When a newspaper cuts its frequency, I hope it is not just cutting back, but making the right steps to build a digital future. (more…)

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I have recommended digital-first approaches recently to faculty and student media leaders at my alma mater, Texas Christian University, and the University of Oregon.

I am delighted that Emerald Media in Oregon has announced that it will be digital-first next year, stopping Monday-Friday daily newspaper publication in favor of a timely digital news approach and two weekly print magazines. The University of Georgia’s Red and Black shifted to digital first with its move to weekly print production last fall (I played no role there).

TCU will continue publishing the Daily Skiff (I am a former Skiff editor, spring semesters of 1975 and ’76) four days a week, but will produce all content first and primarily for digital platforms. “We are moving from some of the news being produced and distributed first on a digital platform to all of the news being produced digitally with the intent of distributing it first in real-time via a digital platform,” Schieffer School of Journalism Director John Lumpkin told me in an email.

Even where the changes involve cutting the frequency of print production, we should not regard these moves as cutbacks but as moving forward. “This step is critical to expanding news coverage for our audience, in addition to preparing students for the changes in our profession,” John said.

The Schieffer School set the stage for this move by launching a news website, tcu360, that operated largely independently of the Skiff and TCU News Now, the student TV operation. “We made the philosophical decision to go ‘digital first’ in the spring of 2011 by creating tcu360,” John said.

This is the direction student media need to go. Journalism students must prepare to work and compete in the digital news marketplace and journalism schools and student media must do a better job of preparing them. (more…)

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I have a fondness for copy editing and copy editors.

I learned more in my copy editing class than in any other course I took at Texas Christian University back in the 1970s (hat tip to my instructor, Jim Batts). I learned as much in my two years on the Des Moines Register’s copy desk, also in the ’70s, as I’ve learned any two years ever in my career. And I worked with an extraordinarily talented group there.

I got to be a pretty good copy editor and self-editor (I’m the only editor of this blog, though I often read a post to Mimi and occasionally she will read a post before publication). But still, copy editors saved me from embarrassment many a time in my reporting days (at the Omaha World-Herald, Sue Truax once asked gently about a drought story if I meant to say the city was encouraging water conservation rather than consumption. As embarrassing as that was, it was so much better than seeing it in print).

Copy editing is the quality control function of a newsroom, and quality matters. But the economics and workflow of the news business have changed, and copy editing must change, too.

Digital First newsrooms in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area have changed their copy-editing operations, as Steve Myers reported in some detail for Poynter. We’re trying two different approaches, each with fewer copy editors and fewer reads before a story is published online or in print. The Denver Post no longer has a copy desk; copy editing is handled by assigning editors (with some former copy editors moved to the assigning desks). The Bay Area News Group still has a copy-editing operation for all its newsrooms at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., but some stories will get only one read there, rather than two, after being read by assigning editors. (more…)

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Response to my post about aggregation merits a follow-up post on three points: verification, a comment I made about the Associated Press and the timing of blog posts.


Someone asked about where verification fit into aggregation, or suggested that it should be added as a step or a way that we add value when we aggregate.

I don’t think an aggregator needs to verify every point from a source you aggregate from. For instance, in yesterday’s post, which aggregated several links, I did not verify that Media General sold 63 newspapers to Warren Buffett. I had seen the number in several other pieces I had read and I used it in my aggregation of Dan Conover’s blog post about the purchase without verifying the number from the Media General announcement or the Media General website. I also didn’t check Dan’s math on the average cost for each of the newspapers, though it looked right using round numbers in my head.

I do think aggregation requires some assessment of the trustworthiness of the sources you’re aggregating from. If you trust the sources, attribute to them and link to them, I think that should suffice. Taking the time to independently verify every fact from sources you attribute to would limit how much you can aggregate. Just as aggregation has value, I believe trust has value and the work of other journalists and news sources has value. If you’ve attributed to a trustworthy source, I think you can aggregate without independent verification. (more…)

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A quick roundup of pieces I don’t have time to break down in detail:

Journalism and education

Ken Doctor

In The newsonomics of  News U, Ken Doctor suggests that news organizations can expand their community news and information role and play a formal role in education in the community:

As the tablet makes mincemeat of the historic differences among newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, we see another bright line ready to dim: that seeming line between what a news organization and what a college each do.

I’m not going to try to summarize Ken’s piece, but I encourage you to read it. I will respond to one of Ken’s suggestions for the news business: (more…)

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I have added three updates, marked in bold, since posting this originally.

Aggregation has become a dirty word in much of journalism today.

Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times, last year wrote: “There’s often a thin line between aggregation and theft.”

Patrick Pexton, Washington Post ombudsman, in an April 20 column called plagiarism “a perpetual danger in aggregated stories.”

Actually, aggregation has a long, proud and ethical history in journalism. If you’re an old-school journalist, don’t think Huffington Post or Drudge when you think about aggregation; think AP. The Associated Press is primarily largely an aggregation service*, except that it its members pay huge fees for the privilege of being aggregated (and for receiving content aggregated from other members).

The New York Times and Washington Post also have long histories of aggregation. In my years at various Midwestern newspapers, we reported big local and regional stories that attracted the attention of the Times, Post and other national news organizations. Facts we had reported first invariably turned up in the Times and Post stories without attribution or with vague attribution such as “local media reports.” I don’t say that critically. When I was a reporter and editor at various Midwestern newspapers, we did the same thing with facts we aggregated from smaller newspapers as we did regional versions of their local stories.

My point isn’t to criticize these traditional newspapers, just to note that aggregation isn’t a new practice just because it’s a fairly new journalism term. It’s one of many areas where journalism practices and standards are evolving, and I believe standards are actually improving in most cases.

After the Washington Post case, Elana Zak asked me and others if journalists needed to develop guidelines for aggregation.

I’m happy to contribute to that conversation with some thoughts about aggregation. I’ll start with discussing what I mean by aggregation (and its cousin or sibling, curation):


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I’m just doing some aggregation here, pointing to excellent how-tos by Buffy Andrews and Ivan Lajara and a great engagement story by Nancy March:

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I’ve written recently about my own use of Pinterest and about how journalists and newsrooms can use Pinterest.

Now I want to share links to helpful things that others have written about Pinterest. I don’t pretend that it’s complete, just my bibliography of how I’ve learned about Pinterest.

Journalists discussing how to use Pinterest:

How to use Pinterest to enhance your articles by Ivan Lajara

Yes, even The Salt Lake Tribune is on Pinterest by Kim McDaniel

Readers Create a Pinterest Spring Garden/How we did it by Deborah Petersen

York Daily Record expanding its digital footprint via Pinterest, Facebook, blogs and more by Buffy Andrews (more…)

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Harriet Arnold, 1940s

As I considered writing something about Mom or Mimi for Mother’s Day, I initially dismissed the idea as not right for my blog.

I generally blog about digital journalism and innovation in the media, and though I occasionally veer into personal topics, I usually try to relate them to journalism in some way. As I considered the moms in my life, I noticed quickly how much my career owes to both of them. So here are five reasons (I could have picked more, but five is a good number):

  1. Mom always had newspapers around the house and she always read them. She always talked about the news and often about the journalists reporting the news.
  2. Mom encouraged me to read and write and set me up with a great first teacher (Mrs. E.R. Shaw) when I was too ill to start school as a young boy when we lived in England. (more…)

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