Sunday, April 22, 2007
Thanks, everyone, for a great conference! And do come to Denver, even if you missed John Boogert's song and dance. (OK, so there was little singing, the dancing was later, and he wasn't involved, but you get the idea.) I got home this morning, and it's sunny and warm. But skiing's not far away, if that's what it'll take to get you here.
Thanks, too, to Khari Williams of the Sun-Sentinel, who passed this along late Saturday:
More unexpected sightings: first a manatee, now cricket.
No, not that cricket.Cricket the sport, as in former Australia national players Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz, part of a group staying over at the hotel before they cruise to the Caribbean to watch their team in the World Cup semifinals (and final?). I have the fan in the bright yellow and green hat to thank for the reconnaissance; after a little chat during our lunch break he pointed out who the players were, so I gladly went over and got some more signatures for my budding sports autograph collection.
The morals of the story? (a) Even in between sessions, it pays to pay attention, and (b) Never stop networking.
Now, I wonder if there's any space left on the cruise?
I'm really impressed with the response the online sessions are getting. I'm really impressed with how engaged everybody has been in the discussions. And I'm really impressed with how late everyone manages to stay up.
We had a pretty spectacular wrap-up to the conference today: Dancing With the Copy Editors. ... Well, some dancing with copy editors anyway. We'll leave it at that. I'm sure there will be great pictures, although whether you'll see them depends on how much the subjects will pay to suppress them.
But I digress.
It was a fantastic party on the terrace outside the Miami Herald, up against the bay with a fantastic view, and featuring a string trio that, every time I was around them, broke into a spirited rendition of ... well, something. One of the Brahms Hungarian Dances, I think, though recollections of the afternoon's salsa performance blocked out the details somehow.
Did I mention it was fantastic and I was impressed?
Anyway, I really will regret going home this morning. Then again, there are only three hundred and sixty-some days until the next conference. We'd better get planning.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Second, who said copy editors can't dance. (OK, I know; I saw the same thing you did.)
Third, it's not over until the ... lady sings ... and who knows, I might do that at tonight's party. See you there!
And remember, as Chris said, what happened at ACES Miami shouldn't stay in Miami. Take all of the training and the ideas and the will to improve back home to your copy desks. It was nice to have so many of you speak up today about how we all can deal with the changes in the industry, keep the role of the copy desk vital and be at the forefront of any changes.
Now, go west ACES members ... to Denver. But not before we have a little bit of fun tonight.
When it comes to this question, copy editing may be a little bit like baseball. You get drafted because you know the fundamentals. But you better be willing to learn lots of new things on your way up.
Doug Fisher, who authors the Common Sense Journalism blog when he's not teaching at the University of South Carolina or doing sessions for ACES, suggests editing students of today get familiar with SMS, read the e-media tidbits on Poynter.org and generally be open to new ways of delivering information to their audiences. Fisher, David Sullivan of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Diego Sorbara of the Rocky Mountain News talked Saturday morning about the changing industry. They all agreed that, on some level, we can't guess what's coming up, but we can make ourselves ready. Diego, who only recently went from the world of college to the work world, said people at the paper just expect him to understand the new media world because he's young. He and Doug agree that young copy editors have a wonderful opportunity to influence the industry of the future. It might take some beating your head against the wall, but as David said, you'll know when to stop beating your head when the wall moves.
It's hard to make too many generalities about what readers like, as this was far from a scientific or significant sample size, but it was interesting to hear what they had to say nonetheless.
- They like short, easily digestible pieces of information, a la the front page of The Wall Street Journal, bulleted lists, raised quotes, etc.
- They said their eyes often fall on pictures first, and those can give clues about what the story's about, even when the headline is more abstract.
- Design matters. Some said that how the paper looks affects if they'll pick it up.
- Sometimes we try too hard to be "hip" and conversational, and they don't always appreciate that.
- Information presented should be as clear and specific as possible, and clear labels spelling out what information is where on the page are appreciated.
We're readers, too, of course, but it was nice to hear opinions from people outside the newsroom and to see how they feel about what we spend tireless hours putting together. Sometimes we can be all too close to the final product -- I enjoyed hearing from people with a bit more distance.
The conference is such a great way to reconnect with old friends, meet new people and share ideas.
Before I left for Miami, my boss told me that I would need to "bring something back" to share with the rest of our group. I was so nervous about how to share all of the information and ideas that are presented here.
But the Taking it Back session with Zoe Friloux and John Boogert gave me some good ideas about how to share all of this great stuff not only with my colleagues on the copydesk, but also with the rest of the newsroom.
Oh, and if you haven't seen the video "Keen Eye for the Reporter Guy - and Gal" by the copydesk of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, maybe we can get Ron Smith to post it on YouTube.
Meanwhile, I got caught up Friday, and like every year, I made new acquaintances. Like Willis McGee of the Miami Herald. He was one of the people I consulted in seeking information about a newspaper making the transition to online editing -- a hot topic around the ACES conference (we do have our online track this year, after all).
The Miami Herald is one paper where the copy editors all have a role in editing copy for its Web site, making sure to hit the right buttons to get the stories there once they're done editing them -- a process, Willis admits, that wasn't easy to remember to go through in the early days. I say "early days" as if it was years ago, but as we all know, it's all so new, so I hear many people say more or less that their newspapers are kind of winging it: Just get something on the Web fast, we'll worry about the editing later. Certainly my paper is operating its Web site that way.
Some newspapers are dedicating writers and editors to their Web sites, but I suspect many papers will go the way the Miami Herald is going: All copy editors will be involved. We'll edit the copy, wherever it goes. There's trepidation in that, there are new things to learn with that (tailoring headlines specifically for the Web, for instance), but there is excitement in that. Once we convince online and top editors that the Web copy needs editing, too (or as some of us were saying at the bar last night, once someone gets sued for a libelous post), we copy editors will have all kinds of fun stuff to edit.
Did I say ... bar? So much of the good discussion goes on there, don't you know. (I suppose it happens at breakfast, too, for those few morning types here.)
That's no surprise. But it's great to hear people draw away from the daily minutiae and put in their 2 cents' worth, or more (much more), about how we got to where we are, where we're headed, and why we should be headed somewhere else. And what the Internet means for the future of print. And how we can get people to read what we're putting in the paper. And how to get the stuff right that we're putting in the paper. And on and on.
These are thoughts that top-level managers need to hear. They need to understand that we're not just robots putting out the paper day to day; we're as concerned as they are about the future of journalism.
ACES will be exploring more ways to make our message heard; and ideally, we'll get some of these guys to our next conference to hear your thoughts in person.
Tonight we heard from some of our own at the banquet. Inspirational messages from Hank Glamann; this year's Aubespin scholarship winner, Matthew Dulin; J.A. Montalbano; and our Robinson Prize winner, Tim Lynch.
And how can I adequately say anything about Dave Barry? He spoke with tons of humor, of course, but he didn't avoid some of the touchy issues copy editors face in their newsrooms -- for instance, relations between the desk and reporters. You'll find reports elsewhere about that on the ACES site that do more justice to him than I can.
After he spoke, he could barely get out of the room, what with people wanting to talk, shake his hand, have their pictures taken with him, sign their books, have his name tattooed on their ... somehow I think I'd better get to bed and rest up for tomorrow.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Speaking of education, I learned a ton today. As a fairly recent graduate, I was excited to hear the exchange of ideas about journalism education at J School vs. Reality, and I was fascinated by the readership technology on display during Poynter's EyeTrack session.
Fun facts from EyeTrack07:
• Readers made it farther into stories of all lengths on the Web than in print.
• When tested for comprehension on the same set of facts presented three different ways (narrative, narrative/graphic hybrid and alternative story form), readers given the alternative story form scored highest.
• Readers like briefs, especially when they have a graphic element.
The star session this afternoon, though, was Editing Obituaries. Check out Jade Walker's Blog of Death when you get a chance.
First, in an industry that is heavily focused on the changing nature and economy of newspapers, it’s gratifying to see you can still fill a room with nearly 100 people interested in grammar and style rules.
No one smashes the myths of English usage like Bill Walsh. In addition to his advice not to get too caught up in the split infinitive and active voice and using words like host as verbs in headlines, I thought the most interesting thing he said is this: Copy editors often see their role as stopping the evolution of the language, but that shouldn’t be their job. We should be applying the rules that exist in the most understandable fashion for our readers.
Another interesting point Walsh made relates to his observation about the Internet’s influence on the language. He said that possibly because people see so much unedited copy these days, it’s easier for us to let errors we formerly would have stopped prosper in print.
So while we should not stand in the way of the natural evolution of language, we also need to make sure the language doesn’t deteriorate from sloppiness.
After thinking about language, I moved on to a discussion of how managers quantify their workflows and live through issues like staff reductions and the added duties online editions are putting on the copy desk.
If you are asked by your management to quantify the copy desk workload, you might want to get in touch with David Sullivan at the Philadelphia Inquirer, who recently learned more about the value of his ongoing spreadsheet concerning copy desk work. There are a lot of ways you can track things, like by columns filled, errors by the copy desk per shift, deadlines busted, etc. One theme, though, is that most desks don’t know right now how to quantify the online workload.
Kenn Altine of Hearst Newspapers made the good point that we need to learn how to live with the changes, not rail against them, because the reality of life is change is here. We need to find ways to sell copy editors on the professional value of adding online editing skills.
I think, in the long run, it will be much easier to jump onboard now then to try and hold back the train. So all aboard.
And then there's the glass water pitcher from the hotel. Oh, it may look like an ordiary (albeit stylish) pitcher, but there's a story.
Merrill Perlman loves these pitchers; they're at the water stations in all the meeting rooms, and she wants one. So, I called our event rep and asked if by any chance they'd be willing to give us one -- or maybe we could buy one -- to donate to our auction. After a long pause, she said she'd have to ask her director. A few minutes later, my hotel buddy John, who's in charge of setting up all the meeting rooms and everything, shows up with a brand-new, right out of the box pitcher.
So, said pitcher is now up for bid at the silent auction. Merrill, if you see this before you go in, just a heads-up: there are already three bids for it...
1. Asking good questions
2. Listening well
3. Always being precise
4. Insisting on accuracy
5. Articulating what's wrong
6. Adding what's missing
7. Summarizing in a very few words
8. Acting quickly and decisively
9. Working as a member of a team of equals
10. Always having 10 items on a top 10 list
One good point that was made: It's important to have a support system. In this case, it was in reference to having people to emulate and off of whom to bounce ideas. And they don't have to work at a newspaper.
- Copy editors are so passionate about this work and about maintaining the integrity of it as we try to figure out our role in the future of journalism. That makes me hopeful.
- I have seen several students here who are interested in making this a career. They are asking questions, they are joining the conversation and they are serious about this. That makes me hopeful.
I had that realization again this morning when I was sitting in Charles Delafuente's useful "Copy Editors: A Front Line Against Libel" session. He asked how many copy desks bring in the paper’s libel lawyer once a year just to discuss the law as it relates to editing. Of course ...
I had a similar "duh" moment yesterday and, with luck, I'll have a few more before Saturday night.
The instant I walked through the doors, doubt was washed away by the wave of energy in the room. There were well over a hundred copy editors laughing and talking animatedly. It was indeed moving, and I thought right away that a national organization for copy editors--something that would give us a voice--was a great idea. And so it is!
There was a manatee bobbing around in the harbor right near the hotel! Apparently it's a male, and he hangs out around there often. It was a very cool sight, especially for this California kid.
(Photos TK ... they're on my cellphone)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
I’m also thinking about things like staff training and keeping it local and how to separate the duties of editing and page design when you have a hybrid desk.
I got a lot of good ideas at the small staffs track today. I always think it’s great when the audience gives the presenter something to think about.
These weren’t the sessions that attracted gobs of people (just not as popular as diagramming sentences, Chris!) but the people who did attend shared a lot of information. We were talking about the problem of fitting time for cross training in the schedule when you barely have enough people to get the paper out. That’s not necessarily a problem on desks that only do editing, but it was interesting stuff to those of us who attended. And as desks add online duties, those kinds of problems only multiply.
Jim Thomsen and Brian Throckmorton offered some good tips on making your paper a better value for readers by keeping it local. I think Brian’s idea that copy editors can make wire stories much more pertinent to their readers by always being aware of the local angle is a good one. In these days when there’s news everywhere on the Web, you need to tell your readers about themselves to keep them coming to your print or Web product. As newsrooms shrink, copy editors have much more responsibility for making sure that all of their stories are more pertinent. Jim does that every day by taking on the additional tasks of using search engines to keep abreast of the “local” news that’s happening outside of his paper’s coverage area. If a former mayor of his Washington state town dies in Kentucky, Jim knows about it.
Tomorrow, I’ll see how some of that thinking about local focus dovetails with issues concerning editing in an online world.
Now, back to that sentence diagramming thing. The answer to the question of can you fill a room with people willing to talk about sentence diagramming seems to be a resounding “yes” when it comes to the ACES conference. I popped out of the small staffs track for a few minutes to see how that session was going and I hardly saw an empty seat. I got a preview of the session at the Midwest chapter workshop last October, but I’d still be interested in hearing what I missed. I’ve got a new title for the session: Sentencing diagramming — it’s sexy!
The online track sessions today have been SRO. Jay Wang of espn.com and Jim Kavanagh of cnn.com talked about their transition experiences at Leaving Print for Online. The upshot: It's all journalism, and good print copy editors are more than qualified to switch to online. You already have the skills you need, and ESPN and CNN are hiring ...
Love this year's bag!
ACES scholarship winner David Ok at Bubba Gump.
There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp ... shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad ... Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. welcomed an ACES group for dinner Wednesday with a personalized menu. Sweet!
- solid news judgment
- snappy headline skills
- passion for accuracy
- ability to work quickly and efficiently
No fancy HTML coding skills required. (Though, honestly, it probably wouldn't hurt.) It helps to be able to write different kinds of heds for the same story; for example, ones that read differently for the front page of a Web site vs. an inside page.
Most importantly, it seemed was this message: Newspapers need to stop seeing the Web as a threat. It's a tool we can use for more content and a bigger audience than we've even imagined -- if we can get away from the way we're used to doing and thinking about things.
It's always too bad when A/V glitches happen. Speakers put so much work into their presentations, it's a bummer when something like a missing adapter trips them up.
Or so Nicole Stockdale said during the session she and Doug Fisher did, Blogging for Editors. The phrase referred to several things, such as being willing to let others use your work as long as you retain the rights to it.
One of the things that struck me most during the session was something Doug said. An attendee said something about newspapers using their Web sites to drive traffic to their print products. Doug said it should be more about driving traffic to advertisers.
"We've got to get used to the idea that mass advertising is going away faster than the ice caps," he said.
That's something for all of us to think about.
She told tales out of school of her days on the national and metro desks on the New York Times (and smaller papers) and pulled similar tales out of ACES members in her audience, all to illustrate her points that getting and giving feedback are instrumental to any good and growing copy desk. She's witty and charming and fun. And plenty smart.
She had a great anecdote -- not original to her, she said -- about how the placement of "only" can change the meaning of a sentence. Take "I hit him in the eye yesterday." Now add only and watch the nuance go!
Only I hit him in the eye yesterday
I only hit him in the eye yesterday.
I hit only him in the eye yesterday.
I hit him only in the eye yesterday.
I hit him in only the eye yesterday.
Etc. A fun exercise.
Her two worksheets (one you can fill out as you go along, one that serves as an answer key that you get on the way out) were great for taking the lessons back to the newsroom. As Chris said in the opening: What happens in Miami should not stay in Miami.
Speaking of: The bar across the street, Mike's, is open till 3. Dangerous.
I sat in on the Editing with Cultural Sensitivity session this morning. Jacqueline Charles and Myriam Marquez of The Miami Herald did an excellent job framing the key issues we face when making decisions about race and ethnicity in our newspapers. Miami is a melting-pot of cultures and it's not easy making everybody happy.
There was a brief discussion about the Herald's A-1 lead headline, "Shooter: I died like Christ" on a followup story about the Virginia Tech massacre. The paper answered numerous complaint calls about the head.
The Miami conference is off to a great start -- as always, fabulous planning and execution! Wednesday was all about catching up with old friends, making new ones and trying out the hammocks on the pool deck. (Go for the one in the middle -- unless you're excited about falling through.)
This morning, Jay Wang of espn.com and I checked out the Intro to Online Editing session with Leslie-Jean Thornton of Arizona State University. After a brief history of Internet language and the evolution of participatory journalism (from 9/11 to the London bombings to Hurricane Katrina and, this week, the Virginia Tech shootings), Thornton explained how copy editors fit into Web 2.0.
So who is going to edit all this stuff? With an overwhelming amount of information, Thornton said one way copy editors can be instrumental is to insist on the right to see their company's material before it goes online. As articles and photos come in from separate feeds, you're going to end up with some gaffes without putting a pair of eyes on the combination at some point. Citing The Washington Post's 51-second World Wide Whoops, Thornton explained how quickly bad information spreads as it is picked up by RSS aggregators and immediately archived. Unlike print corrections, news organizations will have a hard time hitting the same audience with updated information.
Another hot topic was how this affects copy editing duties. In the near future, Thornton said, copy editors will be expected to know how to
- copy and paste text and art into templates
- correct material directly in code
- edit audio
- edit video
- make live updates and corrections
- search constantly changing media
- enter multimedia software to edit and
- understand search engine optimization (SEO).
Yikes! The good news is that lots of people in the session were already experimenting with many of these ideas, and there was a good exchange of strategies. At some newspapers, copy editors are even doing podcasts and videocasts, often the result of their own enthusiasm for multimedia, rather than as an initiative from above.
Speaking of above, it's time to find my old boss for lunch!
The merchandise table is well-stocked; be sure and stop by and buy a pin, a pen and a beach towel to take home as a souvenir of Miami!
As we sat at the registration desk this morning, Bill Connolly and I talked about how in some ways, early on the first morning is the most exciting part of the conference. Everyone's talkative and excited to see old friends and meet new ones. We put faces with names. And even those of us who had to get up extra early in the wrong time zone manage to be somewhat personable.
The opening general session went well, I thought. The headline contest winners were a hit, the scholarship winners were the great prospects we've come to expect, and very few people had questions to ask. We still need to work on that last one.
The conference begins in the morning -- later in the morning, that is. And many of us got together for dinner tonight at Bubba Gump's, which was fun. It's always nice to meet people and see familiar faces before things officially get under way. In my case, it helps ease the nerves a little and reassures that yes, people really did come for the conference, and everything is going to be great.
Now, if only I could sleep...