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Monthly Archives: December 2008

debate_mccarthy2

Samuel Rubenfeld, DJNF/Temple 2008, interviews Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) as part of his coverage of the final 2008 presidential debate, which was held on his campus at Hofstra University, this past October.

After returning to Hofstra University (for anyone that doesn’t know where it
is, it’s in Hempstead, Long Island) for my senior year, I applied for and
received a semester-long internship in Washington, DC, through the State
University of New York Washington Semester
Program. It’s a program offered
to political science students in the SUNY system; Hofstra is a partner.

The internship will hopefully be at a news organization down there, where
I’ll be working four days a week and taking class on Fridays. It begins Jan.
12 and ends April 24. (I do not know where I’ll be interning, nor do I know
where I’m living, but please add this line as a TK for when I find out.)

However, despite my impending temporary employment, things overall have not been going well.

The past year, especially the last few months, have been a terrible time for
newspapers. Ad revenue, the lifeblood of a paper’s funding, fell 18 percent
for the third quarter, compared with the third quarter of last year. Gannett
is laying off 2,000 workers. Newsday (where I interned in the summer of 2007 with Temple Residency alumni Allison Morrow and Andrew Knapp) just laid off another 100. The New York Times reported that the Miami Herald is up for sale and can’t find a buyer. Tribune retained law firm Sidley Austin to help it fight off bankruptcy.

And this torrent of news was just in the past week.

The worst off among journalists, I believe, have been copy editors: With the
rapidly accelerating move towards Web-first reporting, media companies have found the stubborn veterans with the well-worn AP Style Guide as expendable. Who needs to fact-check something when a reader can comment on the story to tell the reporter what needs to be fixed? As Sam Zell, a real estate magnate who bought Tribune last year, said in an interview with Portfolio magazine that the newspaper business model is “unequivocably…a failure.”

If a story “is going in the newspaper, then it goes to the copywriter, the
section editor, the page editor, I mean, it goes to everybody,” he said.
“And you wonder why the newspapers can’t financially compete.”

Some, like Jeff Jarvis, the former columnist who now teaches at CUNY’s
Journalism school, argues that newspapers sowed their own demise by not
taking to the Web, and that editors are no longer necessary; they should be
replaced or become “community organizers” who serve as teachers that Read More »

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vet parade

Kate Schwing was a DJNF/Temple editing intern at The New York Times News Service in 2005. She was laid off from her first job as a copy editor at The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, then rehired two months later — and asked to wear a whole bunch of new hats.

Being back in my old chair has given me a slightly new perspective and new
responsibilities. I returned just in time to help my newsroom switch from an
ancient version of Hermes to the newest version of DTI, a flashy,
Adobe-based interface. The change had some of the — how to say this
politely? — technologically less-literate on the desk quaking. Much
grumbling was done under breaths as we sat through classes for hours in
which DTI representatives taught us how to spell-check stories.

Inside page design was quickly added to our duties. I found myself needing
to understand art placement, graphics, boxes, headline weights and rules —
things I hadn’t had to think about since college. I welcomed the new
challenge, trying to help my co-workers along, happy mostly to still have a
job. I came to realize what was actually making me happy was expanding my
skills as a journalist in whatever ways I can, not just collecting a
paycheck for doing so. (The paycheck helps, don’t get me wrong.)

A 20-year-plus veteran of the desk announced her retirement in September,
leaving our main wire editor position open, a job I’d been interested to try
since I got to The Gazette. I started taking over that job on weekends,
pulling national and world stories for the A section. I’ve helped plan and
compile in-depth pages on a number of subjects, including a pre-election
digest of races to watch, swing states and more. I post stories to the Web
site.

Certainly you only get this kind of variety at a smaller paper; even more so
as the desk shrinks within. I find it interesting and exciting to engage in
journalism on so many levels. Do I feel like less of an actual copy editor?
Not really. Only when the workload reaches towering levels do I feel like
I’m shoveling, not editing critically. It happens more and more these days,
but it’s a challenge I’m interested in seeing through. The skills we gain on
the desk are useful in all kinds of new avenues.

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Lew Serviss (DJNF/Temple 1976) gave up the news rooms of New York for
the classrooms and mountain peaks of Arizona. Serviss, pictured after
one of his favorite climbs — Camelback Mountain in Phoenix — is an
adjunct instructor in journalism at the University of Arizona in
Tucson. He also writes and edits when inspiration, or a good gig,
comes along.

I’d been a writer and editor for 30 years, so how hard could teaching possibly be? Ha!

I’m closing out my first semester (don’t tell my students that they’re my test rats) as an adjunct instructor teaching editing. Have I ever learned a lot.

I thought the tough part was getting the gig in the first place in this fractured economy, with seasoned journalists being pitched over the side daily as if they were the detritus scooped up in fishing nets. The first challenge came in building the dreaded syllabus. There was the 200-page university policy guide to digest first, and a dozen crucial caveats that needed to be worded just so, to ensure the students knew what to expect and what was expected of them (mainly the latter). That accomplished, the real question was: What would I do with 45 hours of class time?

Thinking back to effective teaching regimens I’ve encountered, my first thought, of course, was of the Dow Jones crash course of 1976. Dr. Ed Trayes took a group of raw recruits (well, I was raw) and turned them into ready-for-primetime editors. Lots of drills, lots of editing, lots of repetitions, not unlike a team running through the playbook over and over until muscle memory takes over.

Now it’s time to bring on the students. My course is a prerequisite for journalism majors. They are almost all juniors, but it’s not clear that they pay much attention to the news. Fundamentals of grammar and usage seem about as familiar as the major cities of Turkmenistan.

W.W.E.T.D. (What would Ed Trayes do?) I gave them maps. The empty U.S. map (fill in the states). Western Europe. South America. The Middle East. We followed the textbook: verbs, tenses, moods, punctuation. I stressed the things that I knew, from 30 years of observation, that professional writers quite often get wrong. We mined the rich veins of the AP Stylebook (abbreviations, capitalization et al).

The class took on a certain form that the students seemed to find familiar and comfortable: A quiz, a lecture, a drill. Gradually there emerged … a learning curve! They began to change “pled” to “pleaded,” to edit out “allegedly” and to change errors they weren’t sure about into different wording that eliminated the problem. They would sneer at clichés.

And then, they began to nail the news questions on the quizzes. Before class one day, I overheard two students in animated conversation. “Are they putting the automakers in the bailout?” one asked. Quiet to a fault through the early part of the semester, they began to emerge. “Can we review the quizzes in class?” a student asked. A reasonable request. We added a discussion of the way, or ways, the questions could be correctly answered. The news questions became a starting point for an examination of the big, big, big issues of the day and a realization of the momentous time we were in – a historic presidential election, a calamitous economy.

I began to see that along with transferring the nuts and bolts of taming language and sniffing out factual blunders, the class was instilling a thirst for understanding how the world fit together from day to day, year to year. Isn’t that the best lesson in journalism?

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Fiona Luis, DJNF/Temple 1985, is the assistant managing editor for features at The Boston Globe, where she has worked for almost 22 years.

The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund editing program instilled in me an
important — I would argue almost crucial–work ethic.

It’s been 23-and-a-half years since I arrived in Philadelphia for the
training blitz; while my memories of that time are a little fuzzy, the
underlying message is not: respect the process. At Temple, our diverse
group — there was a pre-law student, a teacher-in-the-making, a future
broadcaster, reporters, editors — was taught everything, from the basics
of editing deadline copy to headline counts to photo sizing to comp-room
etiquette (yes, I’m truly dating myself). While some of these practices are
irrevocably extinct now, the lessons are not. When you respect the process,
you respect the people who populate it.

At the Globe, where I’ve worked for almost 22 years, I’ve done my
best to live by that rule, whether I was editing foreign-correspondents’
copy and regional breaking news on the night desk or Sunday magazine
features or Food section material or a Living series examining the impact
of the clergy sex abuse scandal on parishes and parishioners. It’s a bit
cliched, but as such adages go, true as well. We are all connected, and if
we only manage up, the foundation weakens. So, as I’ve moved from the night
desk to Assistant Managing Editor for Features during my tenure at the
paper, I’ve tried to strive for excellence in many ways: working hard,
learning from everyone around you, always aspiring to do better, being a
good colleague and a supportive boss.

I think it’s important (this is the advice portion of the program) to
steer clear of imperiousness: if you are entering journalism now, you
should make like a sponge, and absorb. The fundamentals of print. The
somewhat different rules of broadcast. The scope of the digital revolution.
The speed of change has seemed accelerated when it comes to journalism’s
evolution, and it’s more crucial than ever to be nimble these days.

At the Globe, as at so many other fine newspapers around the country,
we have had to adapt and evolve and reinvent in times of shrinking
circulation and ad revenues. Our goal is to become an integrated news
operation, one that not just survives but thrives in the new media
landscape. Even as we zip into this future, I find myself going back to the
basics: Respect the process and the people. It applies to many scenarios,
and it helps you reset your heading for 21st-century journalism. It helps
you stay relevant. And it will help you become part of the solution in this
industry that we all love.