Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: November 2008

For several years I’ve been with a major metropolitan newspaper, and for
most of those years I’ve been plotting my escape. That I am still here is a
shock not just to me, but pretty much everyone who knows me. The paper is
all wrong for me, but has helped me develop my skills, and will hopefully
launch me into my next journey (and soon). What’s been a challenge is how
the wrongness of the job/location have changed since I’ve been here. At
first it wasn’t so much the paper that was wrong — I was thrilled to have a
job, but I was homesick. It was an adjustment I’d expected, but harder
because I knew no one in the city. And when I’d moved before, in a similar
situation, I’d had a much easier time making friends. I thought about
quitting and moving home often, but I knew I needed to stick it out, and I’d
thrown myself into these types of situations enough to know I could.

As I was starting to become more familiar and as I met some people, my boss,
who had hired me sight unseen, quit for personal reasons. After that
departure, no one was hired, leaving the copy desk rudderless. There was no
one to take charge, defend us, keep us in check. It was miserable at work,
but by now at least I had a distraction from it because I had made a few
friends. So I just kept at it, thinking I could make it to at least the
one-year mark and then look for jobs. It’d been months since we’d had a
copy chief. Work had become infuriating — people called in sick all the
time, no one did anything they didn’t feel like, and it left some stuck
doing more than their share.

Eventually they did hire someone. I hadn’t ever thought having a boss could
be worse than not, but I was oh-so wrong. Among some minor problems, there
was the bigger issue of the new copy chief not being a leader nor a unifying
figure … after being hired, it was amazing how quickly people started
quitting. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who was there before the new hire, who
wasn’t attached to the area, left, except me. At some points, the copy desk
was so understaffed I was the entire rim for a night — A section and
local. It didn’t even feel like I was editing, just shoveling copy, making
sure it had some sort of headline and no spelling errors. I was sure I’d
leave, anyway. And I tried, I looked constantly, but I’d gone and stupidly
anchored myself here by getting involved with someone. So I’m still here,
waiting. The someone turned out being worth it, and will be finishing
school fairly soon, which is why I’ve stuck it out. After graduation, we
can move on.

So that’s what’s led me to deciding between leaving or staying in
journalism. I could wait for my significant other to get a job, and then go
there (we both very much want to leave here). Or I could get a job myself,
knowing my significant other would go where I go. But I’m just afraid to go
to another paper. I know I’m certainly not the first person to dislike a
job, a company, a boss. But I’m worried that it’s going to be like that
everywhere now — watching the slow, painful death of a once-proud product
deteriorate from the inside. But then I read parts of the blog, and I had
some hope, that maybe there were still newsrooms where people were happy,
that they still cared about improving the product every day, that it, that
they, were significant. And I’m not sure I’m ready to leave that behind.
On the other hand, I’m already tired. Tired of going where the job is,
rather than where I want to live. Tired of missing all the holidays with my
family. Tired of only seeing my significant other at weird hours. I’m just
not sure I can be happy like that for very long.

And as my newspaper has announced its first cuts in the past few weeks, that
weariness seems all the more troubling. So far one of the nice things about
this paper has been that we weren’t as in danger as others in the industry.
We hadn’t had layoffs. But that’s changing too, and scaring me away from
journalism again. This has all made me re-evaluate my future as a copy
editor. I love the work, and want to continue to do it. When I think about
people like Dr. Trayes, and my editing mentor in college, I can’t help but
be sad, and disappointed that I probably won’t be carrying on in the
capacity that they taught me. But I know that whatever type of copy editing
I do, their words (and words, and words on words) and lessons will always be
with me.



Renee Petrina, DNJF/Temple 2004, was an editing intern on the metro copy desk of The Washington Post. Today she edits at The Indianapolis Star in Indiana. She graduated from Penn State in December 2004 and started at The Florida Times-Union within a month. Her second week on the copy desk, Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl, so it was definitely baptism by fire. Renee spent about 18 months in Jacksonville before moving to The Indianapolis Star. At the Star, Renee focuses specifically on A and metro sections as well as some business editing. In addition to time on the rim, she frequently serves as wire editor, booking the A section, attending budget meetings and coordinating with the A1 editor, who’s in charge at night. Renee is a member of the news room diversity committee, which works to help staff understand implicit biases and stay focused on inclusive coverage. She continues involvement with the Society of Professional Journalists, which she joined in college. Renee has coordinated two training sessions for SPJ’s national convention.

In the DJNF/Temple boot camp, we were in a cold room with the blinds closed, cramming our heads full of information and striving to check every last thing. During my internship on the metro copy desk of The Washington Post, it was the same focus. Just a few stories a night and practical mental exhaustion when I got home. I was being challenged, and I loved it.

Now that I’m a full-time copy desker, a few things have changed. I still work in frigid conditions (it seems wasteful to have space heaters under our desks AND the air turned on, but our pleading has not swayed the building manager) and I still can’t see out any windows. But I’m not editing nearly as intensely.

On occasion, I question the tradeoff. Could I do my job better, spending every second operating at 110%? What about making sure I’m fully relaxed every day when I walk in? It’s possible. But then I wouldn’t have a life.

At The Indianapolis Star, I’m lucky to be part of a team of talented nightside journalists who create a culture of success. Even with dwindling resources and gallows humor over pending Gannett layoffs, we continue to work for better headlines and engaging story selection in the service of readers. I’m proud of that.

But I’m proud, too, of my work outside the Star. I volunteer 200 hours a year at the world’s largest children’s museum. I learned to country line dance as a form of exercise. I have a strong group of friends from diverse backgrounds and career paths whom I can count on to sing karaoke, go out on the town or just play board games. I’m involved in my faith community, and I serve on a few boards. And I value my time at home, where I bake and hang out with my pets.

I could devote every drop of my being to copy editing, but I love the tradeoffs too much. And in a world where layoffs just keep happening, it’s better that I have those community involvements. Quite simply, it gives me something to do if I lose my job. And if I’m spared the cuts, I’ll keep volunteering and dancing and baking and generally going 100 mph, because it keeps me on the pulse of my community and makes me a better journalist.

(Obligatory what-I’ve-been-up-to-over-past-four-years graf: Trained with Trayes, moved to D.C. in house across from Bob Woodward, totaled my car on Night 2 of the internship, gained nickname “Crash” from said totaling, spent internship pay on new car, went back to college, wrote thesis, wore mortarboard to get Penn State degree and medal, moved to Jacksonville, Fla., worked copy desk during Super Bowl, did not get suntan, got really into SLR photojournalism, spent all my free time volunteering at a humane society, created outreach program from news room into schools, brought dessert to work every Saturday, learned to appreciate all the things my parents ever did for me, was recruited away to Indianapolis, drove for two days with my cat to much colder climate, started wire editing, became de facto wire editor for six months, unexpectedly met awesome friends in a honky tonk bar, got addicted to Facebook, learned a lot about dinosaurs, taught said dino knowledge to kids at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, became de facto computer expert of copy desk, adopted a second cat that showed up on doorstep, lost belongings in burglary, learned the generosity of others after said burglary, visited fellow Trayes ’04 survivor Emily Veach, sent my suitcase with her to Hong Kong, joined diversity committee at work, joined alumni board for alma mater’s student paper, avoided requests for blog entry because I didn’t have a photo, finally wrote this.)


Allison Morrow, DJNF/Temple 2007, writes about her “new” editing job at The Wall Street Journal in New York City and how much things have changed, are changing, since the global copy desk based in South Brunswick, New Jersey, was disbanded only a few months ago.

It’s been slightly more than a month since I began my “new” job at The Wall
Street Journal
– those quotation marks are there to gloss over the past year
in which I was hired as a copy editor, laid off, rehired and promoted, which
I blogged about earlier. The rollercoaster ride I anticipated in that
earlier post has proved a jolty, neck-breaking, stomach-churning one – and I
can’t seem to stop smiling at every loop. The starkly new editing structure
at the Journal, phased in this past September, follows a frightening
industry trend of doing more with less.

I often joke that I am unqualified for my job, and in some ways it’s no
joke. We have fewer editors now, and each of us is carrying a hefty load. In
addition to wire editing and copy editing, I’m being asked to slot, which
means clearing stories and headlines edited by people who were my mentors
when I was hired just over a year ago. On any given shift, I have to flip
back and forth between a news editor’s concern for broader structural issues
and a copy editor’s attention to detail. Web editor will be another title
tacked on to us soon. Eventually, the goal is that we will have a team of
universal editors capable of handling copy at every level of production.

It’s a lot to ask of us, but we’re still putting out a paper every day,
and while stressful, it can also be exhilarating. As the late-night editor
for the international desk, I’m the poor soul often found scrambling to get
early Asia news into our later editions. When South Korea decides to slash
its key interest rate in the morning, it adds some chaos to my 10:45
deadline, but I know that such news is important to our readers. So I
hustle: rip up page 12, edit our reporter’s story, write the headline and
add the news to the A1 “What’s News” list, send a readback to the reporter
and make any fixes for the final edition. It’s more work than I could have
anticipated I’d be doing, and at times I’m convinced my superiors will
realize what a mistake they made in giving me so much responsibility. But
I’m learning. Every night, every deadline.


Mary Knowles Tindall, DJNF/Temple 2008, interned this past summer at The Wall Street Journal. On October 30, she began work as a copy editor at the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the stories of DJNF/Temple alums on this blog,
particularly those of my classmates who went through boot camp in 2008.

Others have already talked about the job hunt and its challenges, and I have
another variation on the tale. I was hired two weeks ago as a copy editor at
the Orlando Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Orlando, Florida.

Getting here has been a roller-coaster ride. After the completion of my Wall
Street Journal internship
, I applied for and was offered a copy-editing job
at Dow Jones Newswires in Jersey City, N.J. I was thrilled at the
opportunity. At 21 years old and right out of college, I had been offered a
job at one of the world’s elite news services. That elation soon turned to
serious soul-searching, though, and I ultimately decided to return to
Orlando. I got married in May, immediately before starting DJNF/Temple, and my
husband and I decided to stay in Orlando, where he has a good job and both
our families are, for at least a few more years.

That decision was an emotional one for me. I was torn between a job offer
that seemed to fulfill my long-held dreams of doing prestigious journalism
in an exciting city, and on the other hand, what seemed to be best for me in
my personal life. I kept remembering what Dr. Trayes told us about how to
make career decisions: Consider the quality of life that you’ll be taking on
in a new job. The salary and the job title are only part of the equation. I
knew that living in the Greater New York area would be fun for a while, but
at heart I am a southern girl. The climate, the crowds and the expensive
lifestyle simply weren’t for me, and I would miss my family. And there are
many cities in the U.S. that need good journalists, including Orlando.

So, with that in mind, I set out on the job hunt. I went to job fairs, sent
out my resume, and searched online databases. I was discouraged at what
seemed to be the complete dearth of jobs in journalism in my city. One thing
that kept me going was the encouragement and prayers of friends and family.
There were many days when I cried because I felt as though my degree was
worth nothing in a job market already flooded with laid-off professionals
more qualified than I was. In this dark time, I was blessed to become Read More »


Patrick Smith is the assistant online editor/night city editor at the Lincoln Journal Star in Lincoln, Neb. After attending the DJNF/Temple editing residency in 2004, he spent three months as an intern at The New York Times News Service. He took a job as a copy editor at the Des Moines Register after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December 2004. In 2006 he took a copy editing job at The Stelter Co. in Urbandale, Iowa. He returned to Nebraska in January 2008.

When I was in school, my professors were always harping on students to get as wide a base of experience as possible. We’d need it, and it’d make us more valuable as we hunted for jobs, they reasoned. Shooting and editing video and photos, copy editing, designing, reporting — it was all important.

How right they were.

As the assistant online editor/night city editor (what a mouthful) at the Lincoln Journal Star, I do a little bit of everything every day. My focus is often on the Web, but my skills and experience as a copy editor are constantly in demand. When news breaks, we don’t have time to funnel a story from the city desk to the copy desk and then to our Web site. That’s where our online team comes in, and it’s often me whipping copy into shape under the strictest of deadlines: as soon as possible. At the same time, I’m thinking of how to present materials on our site and what related stories/media would complement them.

In the course of a normal day I’m dealing with reporters, editing copy (news, sports, features — it’s all fair game), communicating with the copy desk, preparing in-paper refers to Web content and even answering phones. I also edit podcasts and am trained (as a last line of defense) to shoot and edit video. But in nearly everything I do, I find myself falling back on my valuable copy editing experience. While a story in the newspaper goes through many levels of editing, a late-night update on a fire often gets two sets of eyes — the reporter’s and mine. There is no margin for error.

I’ve had three jobs in the four years since graduation, and some people might assume I become restless easily. I prefer to think that each job was a stepping stone to where I am now, and I know I gained something valuable at each stop. It was at Temple with Dr. Trayes and top-notch boot camp mates that I was pushed to raise my game (and sleep with an AP Stylebook), and I bought in to the idea that every detail, no matter how small, matters. Temple prepared me for my internship in New York, and the snowball kept rolling and growing. Working with immensely talented, like-minded journalists pushed me to be better, prepared me for the real world and opened my eyes to what’s out there for someone who’s willing to work hard enough.

Having the Dow Jones internship on my resume opened doors, but the experience I gained from it helped me excel at the Des Moines Register, then at the Stelter Co. Now, working on so many different assignments every day for Web and print is the most fun I’ve ever had in a news room. One minute I might be posting a news item to our site, or moderating comments, or creating a photo gallery. The next I could be sending a text message about how Nebraska beat Kansas in Lincoln yet again, a streak now 40 years old (Sorry, KU grads. Couldn’t resist). It can be hectic, but the variety is what I love about my job. With fewer rigid rules for our Web product, there’s also plenty of room for creativity in problem solving. The dull moments are few and far between, the time flies and barely four years out of school I feel like a respected, valuable cog in our newsroom operation.

Even though I’m no longer a copy editor in title, I know the value of those skills. I use them every day, and I see the need for people with them as news rooms and the industry evolve.


Ashley Thomas, DJNF/Temple 2008, last summer was an editing intern at The Associated Press in New York City. Now she works there full time. Following is her account of Election Night in the AP news room.

Last week, I had the privilege of working Election Night at AP
headquarters. I was in charge of keeping running lists of elected
governors and propositions as they were approved or defeated.

It just kept me busy enough that I was involved in the election
madness but able to follow the progression of the presidential race.
It was evident early on that the night was going to be fairly
anticlimactic. We knew that Obama had won Pennsylvania, previously
considered a battleground state, before 9 o’clock. Ohio came not long
after. By that point, I overheard managers saying that if Obama won
Florida, it was over. A little before 11, a NewsNow popped up
declaring Obama the winner of Florida. At 11 o’clock on the dot, we
posted the first flash bulletin that I had ever seen (I guess we save
them for important events such as this) that said, “Obama wins

Regardless of political preference, that moment was surreal. I felt my
stomach drop at the weight of the news and what this meant for our
country, its future and the world. Television screens around the
news room flashed images of crowds in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles,
Kenya celebrating a new America. The news room quieted as we all
digested the history that had been made that night.

And then that minute passed, and we all got back to work.

One of my favorite moments of the night happened as Obama was taking
the stage in Chicago to address the crowd after his win. Just as he
stepped up to the mic, the lights in the AP news room brightened
ominously. An audible gasp went up from managers and editors who had
been brought in from various bureaus around the country to work the
election. As we all looked around, trying to figure out what this all
meant, one of the old-timers piped up with, “Nah, the lights always do
that at midnight.” And sure enough, it was.


Rachel Rosenthal, DJNF/Temple 2008, last summer was an editing intern at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. She recently began work full time as an editor at Dow Jones Newswires. After about a month on the job she says she is slowly adjusting to juggling three computer screens and headlining hundreds of press releases. “The difference between working at a financial newswire and a local daily is,” according to Rachel, “quite literally, night and day. Still, for any copy editor, there’s always a place for precision, quick learning and a thirst for tackling what you don’t know.”

My Jersey City-bound PATH train slid beneath Ground Zero just after 9 a.m.
on Sept. 11, 2008. I was en route to my first-round interview at Dow Jones

I tried to focus on the unhinged pages of Barron’s resting on my lap, as if
I could cram a finance course into the four-minute ride. Prices up. Prices
down. Seven years ago, 2 planes, nearly 3,000 victims those were the only
numbers in my head.

When I left the apartment that morning, my little problems had seemed so
big. Did I iron my skirt enough? Where, exactly, is the entrance to the
PATH? Will I be able to afford weeks, perhaps months, of unemployment if I
don’t get this job? Yet as I walked down the tiled corridor to the
Newswires’ office, my ticker of worries ran blank. That morning, the bald
reminder of my smallness in the face of fate restored some lost

It’s tough for someone like me to take a step back. I’m obsessed with
minutiae; I’m a copy editor after all. But in this job search, this
humbling time, I had to start thinking big. It’s too easy to become
paralyzed in a death spiral of what-could-bes. I decided not to crowd my
thoughts with mushrooming anxieties, or talking points I had memorized from
CNBC. Instead, I talked to myself: I’m fortunate for the opportunities I’ve
had thus far. My safety, my education, my health, my family, my friends.
This won’t be the last rough patch in life. The lessons I learn will fuel
my success. I’m going to give this tryout my all.

I crunched out a three-hour test and navigated two hours of interviews.
After a second, equally vigorous round, I was offered the job. I can’t say
that my state of mind was the only factor that led to my success. I can say
that the step back helped me focus and perform.

Time and again I had been advised to treat the job search like a full-time
job. I agree … to a point. Don’t forget to set aside time to tend your mind
and spirit. Anxieties readily gobble up the foreground of your thoughts,
and starve your productivity. Expunge them, as best you can, to make room
for the big picture. Just as an athlete trains for competition, train
mentally for the job hunt. The interview is game day; you won’t be able to
perform if you let yourself go, psychologically or otherwise.

Expired from my first day of work, I tilted my head back between my
shoulders as the PATH train wrapped back around the raw hole of the World
Trade Center
stop. Folded in my hands rested a copy of The Wall Street
, open to the opinion page. When the train’s sputtering pace cued me
to pack up, I caught sight of the Newswires’ managing editor, Neal
Lipschutz, on the masthead. Just that morning, I had sat, starstruck,
across from him at the editors’ meeting (a first-day-only perk).

No, my little worries didn’t get me very far. Yet the little decisions I
had made to take a certain class, to study hard for a certain test, to catch
a certain subway … these all landed me somewhere really big.

It’s been nearly 10 years since Tennessee Prof. Dorothy Bowles asked me and a colleague at The Washington Post to contribute a chapter to her text, “Creative Editing.” The chapter headline was, “How to Be a Hit as an Intern” (no, that wasn’t our head!), and we were asked to give some guidance to editing interns on how to have a successful internship and get a job offer. As I re-read that essay the other day, I thought, “Wow, how times have changed in just eight short years.” If I were to write the 2008 version, it would have to include much more than, “Listen to everything Ed Trayes tells you at Boot Camp.” In fact, today’s Washington Post intern must know not only how to write a clever headline (thanks, Dr. Trayes!), but also know how to do it in various formats, on several platforms, and be prepared to do it under exceedingly difficult time constraints, as media operations downsize their staffs. Today’s Post intern must of course know the difference between “that” and “which,” yet also know the difference between Final Cut Pro video files and iMovie video files (coming soon to my job description of assignment editor: “will edit and cull video”). The cliché’ is true: The more skills you have, the better equipped you’ll be to navigate the turbulent waters of today’s journalism. All of this, of course, may prompt you to ask: Is it still worth it, the journalism/copy-editing thing? To which I say: Absolutely!

I’ve been at The Washington Post now for almost 11 years. I went from copy editor on the Metro desk in 1997, to assignment editor and member of the Washington Post editorial board in 2008. There is not a week that goes by in which I do not feel like I am extremely lucky to do what I do. And there is not a day that goes by in which I do not harness much of what I learned that summer from Dr. Trayes, my hero of heroes. Now that I am on the “other side” of the news-opinion wall, I am expected to not only exercise expert news judgment and editing skill, but I am also expected to represent the company at formal functions, give my opinion on the important topics of the day, and ask tough questions of those who are brave enough to meet with our board. How did I end up here? Like many of you, I was in journalism school on my way to a career in reporting when a beloved professor handed me the dreaded DJNF editing test. A few months later I was in Philly and bracing for my first meeting with Dr. Trayes. I was simultaneously enthralled by and terrified of him. It turned out to be the best education I got in journalism, hands down. That summer I was at The Hartford Courant writing 10 different versions of the same headline for various zoned editions of the newspaper. The next summer I was at The Post, editing stories about the decrepit D.C. public schools and rewriting dispatches from foreign correspondents covering the death of Princess Diana in Paris.

Over the years I have taken my copy-editing career on paths that some journalists only dream of: I have worked on the Metro, National, Foreign and Editorial Page copy desks during some major stories (the best time to be at a newspaper!), such as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandals and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster; I was put in charge of our editorial pages on Sept. 11, 2001, when several of us couldn’t make it to the office in downtown Washington because of the fires at the Pentagon; I have served on Post committees as a consultant on style and usage; I’ve earned numerous fellowships and awards that have exposed me to places and subjects I had only dreamed of; and I’ve even had the chance to meet several of the national and world leaders who were featured on the current events portion of my 1995 DJNF editing test! I am at my desk every workday by 7 a.m., reading the major papers and blogs of the day. I am paid to digest the best sources of news, to interview prominent thinkers, and to formulate opinion content for some of the most educated people in the country. No matter what happens to journalism the industry, journalism the craft will always be in sharp demand; those who practice it with excellence will be the survivors. And journalistic excellence was always the backbone of the Temple residency. Every day that I go to work, my hunger for knowledge is never sated, and that is something else I credit Dr. Trayes with: He taught us to never make assumptions, never stop learning, and always seek out every version of the facts. Yet even though I am always a student of the world, I know this much: I owe my career to my time at Temple, and I am so grateful to Dow Jones and to Dr. Trayes for the privilege.