Miller Charmaine

Charmaine's adventures in news writing and editing

Final Essay

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Likes: I loved working across platforms. I loved accidently sitting at the super desk on my first day, being alerted by a radio student on a top story and cranking out a WUFT clip that same shift. I really enjoy sitting in on the story idea meetings with TV students. I watch as they interact and laugh, wondering what their four years in the college have been like. And of course, Web editors do interact with them too. We may not see eye to eye regarding what is newsworthy (“anecdotes do not a trend make” played like a broken record in my head all semester) or which sources are the best to get at, but it is fun to discuss news. It reminds me that being a part of presenting the news is being part of something big.

I liked the people I worked with. Many of them had refreshing personalities and were easy-going. I guess it helped that my job was one of the top tiers for the Web team. I never felt like I had to boss people around.

Dislikes: On that note, the way I interpreted the roles was a bit ambiguous. Until a few weeks in, when Grier mentioned it in class, I didn’t really consider my position as Web editor over the other Web positions, which helped keep me grounded and, I hope, humble. As I got more comfortable in the newsroom and talked with other Web editors, I assumed more of a leader-type role. Because I am such an introvert, this didn’t look like anything drastic. I suggested story ideas to people. I edited their work and would let them know if I cut anything out. They started coming to me with story ideas and AP Style questions. I believe now I have struck a good balance, but I think I would have been more productive knowing earlier that I had at least a little influence over the stories and ideas coming in.

Another problem I ran into was the shortage of communication and quick turnover of editors. This can be expected, of course, in this trial semester. But I am still a little bummed an MMC2100 student’s story did not get published because of a lack of communication between me the Web editor after me. We agreed to hold the story until we got a more timely aspect to it. We might have had that in time if we didn’t wait around to request information from UPD. That was my fault.

What it felt like to be a newsroom editor:

As you already know, I really grew into my role of Web editor. I liked that we were the ones that responded to Reporting and MMC2100 student submissions. We were the ones to decide if these stories were timely, newsworthy, and a good fit for our audience. I even liked to read through some of the replies to students from my fellow Web editors. Usually, the replies from the Web editors were explaining why we couldn’t publish their story. I was proud of such a kind and professional-sounding group. I think we remember that time, not too long ago, when we ourselves were Reporting students.

And when a story did have potential, I loved adopting it. These stories often missed a crucial piece of information, or the lede was buried significantly, or a fact needed to be verified. I took it upon myself to work with the writer in getting these, to give the story a chance. I fought for the publishing of these stories. And usually, the writers were excited to help. Those were the best moments of the gig— feeling like those editors who fight for their writers.

What I still need to master: I’d like for my heart rate not to go up when I open up a lengthy legislative or crime piece. I have gotten better at not being so overwhelmed by the task of editing these pieces, but I need more confidence. I want to understand the laws being discussed. I want to make sure the most relevant wording can be used without convicting a person, or getting us in legal trouble. Practice is really what I think will get me to these goals, because I’ve already experienced some increased confidence with these stories as the weeks have gone by. I’ve noticed that with these stories, fact-checking is not as easy as quickly reading off the first page that comes up in a Google search. I try to carefully look at three or four sources on what a law or term means before deciding what to do.

I also noticed that with all stories, I cannot simply go line by line. In a way, yes, I am going line by line to fact-check and look for grammar/AP Style/spelling errors. But at the same time, I need to get better at keeping the meaning of the story in mind while checking. I’ve noticed that both in the INF and the Alligator, I can get lazy or rushed and systematically go through each line while forgetting the lines before it. Before I know it, I’m at the end of the story, and I don’t know what the story is about. Editing, I’ve discovered, is not only about the mechanics. I also need to keep the meaning in mind. Is this story newsworthy? If so, what is the most newsworthy thing about it? Just asking this question can lead to uncovering buried ledes. And if I don’t understand the story after reading it through, most likely there are readers who won’t understand as well. I can call the writer at that point, to clarify.

On dealing with people: I thought just because I wasn’t reporting this semester I wouldn’t be dealing with people. Wrong. I have realized there are things that combine people and editing that bug me. I don’t like when I’m editing and a writer sidles up next to me and challenges me on the changes I make. I don’t like when writers get defensive over reconstructed sentences. If those are changes I feel are necessary, I need to stand firmly on my decision, accompanied by an attitude of grace. I should remember how I feel when editors change my carefully constructed words around on an article. I should remember the skepticism I have of the changes editors make because that piece is mine, and I’m proud of it. I have discovered I need to be gently firm, describing my reasoning and keeping in mind how I feel when my pieces are edited.

This class and everything in between: Throughout the semester, I frequently called this class my “half job” because even if I’m in one day a week and don’t get paid, I feel a loyalty toward my newsroom and work hard to express that. The story pitch requirement kept me on my toes and gave me an insatiable hunger for news. I didn’t want to look completely stupid in front of the TV people. This drove me to consume news so naturally, I would open my laptop and my fingers would already be guiding me to my favorite news sites. It really was just a great way to get me energetically exploring the news. I used to think knowing as much news as possible about an area like Gainesville would cause me to run dry on ideas. But it helps to know exactly what is going on. Some story ideas build off of others. Or by knowing all the news reported, you can actively think about what news is slipping through the cracks unreported. I think this is the most valuable type of news anyway.

My only regret in this system is that students like myself are more motivated to give a story idea to WUFT than the Alligator. I will admit, I was a bit torn over one of my ideas I pitched to WUFT instead of the Alligator in the name of good grades. I hope both outlets will continue to thrive, and I believe they will, because of the different audiences they serve and unique offerings of each.

What it takes: I suppose I will form my answer to what it takes to be a good editor through my experience with good editors and things that have worked for myself in the role. A disciplined humility. An insane knowledge of news. An empathy for and personal investment in the coverage area. A forgiving spirit. A dedication to verification and conciseness. A love for good storytelling. A solidarity with writers. Over all, a dedication to the truth.

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Written by charmainemiller

April 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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