Final Essay

This semester as an advanced editor in the Integrated News Center was full of challenges and triumphs. Of all of my experiences in the professional world, I know my time as an advanced editor provided me with invaluable experience I will use in my career as a lawyer and beyond when I return to a bustling newsroom.

Favorite aspects of the INC Experience

One of the best parts of the INC was collaborating with students outside of the journalism program. Our schedules are relatively limited about what we can and cannot take due to critical tracking and other requirements. As a result, I feel like I did not have the opportunity to take many classes with advertising, public relations and telecommunication students.

During this semester, I had the chance to work with many of the telecommunication students. I greatly enjoyed getting to know members of the news production team, as well as the various anchors. Julian Hernandez, the producer of the 6 p.m. news show on Thursday, and Chris Peralta, a master’s student who works in the INC, have been wonderful to work with. When I first started participating in the “Web Q & A” on the 6 p.m. news show, Julian was extremely helpful in preparing me for my television debut. I must admit I feel much more comfortable behind the computer screen or notebook than I do in front of a camera. However, he and anchors Steven Gallo and Lauren Rautenkranz made me feel welcome as a valued member of the team.

Working on these “Web Q & A” segments has been another positive part of my INC experience. My ultimate career goal would be to serve as a legal or political analyst for a major news network, which would likely involve being featured on the news. As someone who often speaks too quickly and with my hands, it has been a learning process to speak slowly and clearly while keeping my hands on the desk. I feel like experience in this regard makes me more marketable because I can find the news, in addition to reporting it to audiences on multiple platforms.

Another one of my favorite aspects of this semester in the INC was getting experience in a real newsroom. During my sophomore year, I was enrolled in writing for mass communication. It was hard to see the value in writing news stories and press releases based on fake prompts. With the INC, students have the ability to report on what is actually happening while also earning clips along the way. It is disappointing when students only seem to want the grade instead of the preparation for their future journalism careers.

Least favorite aspects of the INC Experience

It was difficult to stay updated about what was going on in the INC in between shifts. While it is the nature of the beast that advanced editors are only scheduled for one shift each week, I think a web supervisor needs to also be at the super desk during all shifts.

In the past, this role was held by Ethan Magoc. When I was enrolled in editing, I enjoyed working with other student editors. However, it was beneficial to have an experienced voice providing additional guidance about news judgment and paragraph placement. Even though we are in advanced editing, we are still students.

Having Tripp with me during my shift has been of great assistance, but he is also a student. He cannot be there all the time, and he has other responsibilities. In addition, Matt is running a newsroom. It does not seem appropriate to bother him with a small issue when he is dealing with much more pressing matters throughout the day. Dr. Lewis comes into the INC often, but he cannot and should not have to deal with small issues.

I envy the radio and telecommunication students because they have Forrest Smith, Bridget Grogan, Mark Leeps, Tom Krynski, master’s student Chris Peralta and other student producers. What about the web team? I think adding an additional position or hiring someone to replace Ethan would alleviate many of the back-up issues, as well as contribute to continuity from day to day.

Overall, I had a pleasant experience working with a majority of students. However, I took issue with some students who were disrespectful and rude, not only to me, but supervisors in the INC as a whole. One student named Rachel Kurland was especially hard to work with because of her constant badgering. She would send multiple emails inquiring about the status of her story, as well as continue calling the super desk. It got to a point where Matt would say, “Rachel called again.”

While I want to provide answers to all students about exactly when their stories will be published, this is not always possible. Breaking news occurs and other stories are submitted in the mean time. I always maintained my professionalism when I returned her messages. She is a student who cares about her grades and getting published, which I respect. However, I did not appreciate the way she went about it.

Issues also occurred when working with Marisa Ross. She would come into the INC usually less than 24 hours before her deadline claiming she did not have any ideas for a story. I will never forget how one time she questioned why Tripp could not give her a story.

After seeing other students toiling away to find interesting and relevant stories, I had no sympathy for someone who seemed to want the easy way out. In addition, she would often complain and whine to Tripp for extended periods of time. I wanted to respect her wishes to speak with him, but we are also trying to run a website. When it became necessary, I would ask Marisa to wait a few minutes while Tripp took a final look over an article.

I am also happy it was decided that Dr. Lewis, Matt or Tripp make the final decisions about story pitches being approved. Lauren Richardson, a student who is also in my ethics group, submitted a story Tripp ultimately decided to spike. In response to this, Richardson claimed I had approved the story idea. It angered me how someone I was working with for another class was willing to lie about what occurred.

I am grateful for the email because Tripp was able to look back and see how I had never approved the idea. While I have no hard feelings toward her, I am glad Tripp called her out for her behavior.

Suggestions for future semesters

Before bringing up ideas for future semesters, I must first acknowledge how far the INC and WUFT has come since I first became involved. In fall of 2012, I was one of 10 selected students to serve as the inaugural web producers. While I had the opportunity to cover some stories on my own, I spent a large amount of my time transcribing radio stories. Apart from stories being pursued by various individuals, we did not have a set group of content creators. The website remained relatively stagnant because we did not have the content to continually update it.

Fast forward a year and a half, and we have approximately 40 content creators in the field during the week. In addition, we have teams of web producers ready to edit the material. On any given day, several stories that are important to our stakeholders are posted.

One issue inhibiting this process is lack of communication with the reporters. We have had many problems this semester with students claiming their stories have been substantially altered during the editing process. Some have said their ledes have been altered to remove the news, and others claim vital sections have been cut.

What can be done to fix this? During the half of the semester where students are content creators, they are supposed to have 12 hours in their schedule to devote to editing. While they can make excuses about being too busy to find this much time, they at least have the five-hour window set aside for their newsroom shift.

In future semesters, I think they should be required to come in for a thirty-minute consultation with editors. In order to make this possible, I think shifts should be regulated for size. A maximum of four students should be allowed to be in the field at a time. This would hopefully alleviate the unevenness of some shifts having five students, while I only had one student in the field on Thursday afternoons.

During the mornings, it is typically quieter from 8:30 to 10 a.m. This is when the thirty-minute sessions could take place. Students could sign up for a specific meeting time that remains consistent during the remainder of the semester. In the afternoon, meetings could be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. This would make sure these meetings are complete before preparation begins for the 5 and 6 p.m. news shows.

These content creators would need to send their stories before coming into the INC. The best case scenario would allow editors to read the article with some notations and questions before the reporter comes in.

If reporters need to fill any holes in their story, they should be given an opportunity to do so. However, I think we should place deadlines on their updates. Some students wait several days or even weeks to provide WUFT with the required information. We are a news organization that wants material to be timely. This issue is leading to many stories being spiked because they are no longer relevant. Forty-eight hours should be more than enough time to collect the last bits of information. Exceptions could be granted for extenuating circumstances, including unreachable sources and impending updates.

I think these sessions could also be used for work on headlines and ledes. We need to continue working on making these components concise and as dense with information as possible. If we start working with the reporters on this from day one, we will likely spend less time addressing these issues as the weeks progress.

Office hours with advanced editors could also be helpful at several intervals during the semester. Two night sessions could be held during the first half of the semester, and an additional two sessions could take place after the switch. Many students have claimed they are not able to come in during the day because of other class and work engagements, so this could eliminate these complaints.

These office hours could be held in the INC from 7 to 9 p.m. At this time, the 6 p.m. news show should be wrapped up, which would also mean the newsroom would be available for use. At least two advanced editors could sign up for one or more shifts. The course graduate assistant or super desk supervisor could also facilitate these sessions.

In addition, a system needs to be implemented to ensure stories do not get lost in the shuffle between shifts. While some people leave handwritten notes and others send emails, I think a uniform system should be used. I think email is the most effective way because it allows for editors to open the email and the WordPress simultaneously to see the status of that day’s stories.

I have also noticed ways we can assist the editing graduate assistant. Tripp has to keep track of ten shift’s worth of stories each week. When stories are submitted through email, advanced editors should fill out the story submission sheets kept on the super desk. These sheets are also helpful for advanced editors because we mark whether three sources are included, as well as if there are photos and audio. Stories can then be pasted into the WordPress and assigned to one of the editing students.

One other problem pertaining to email relates to story pitch submissions. Most students send their pitches into the WUFTnews@gmail.com account. This allows advanced editors and supervisors to look through the email chain when stories are submitted to see whether the pitch was approved, as well as if other editors have sent questions to the reporter. However, some students send ideas directly to Dr. Lewis and Tripp. We obviously do not have access to their emails, which makes it difficult when assessing how the story came to fruition.

To eliminate this issue, all students should submit pitches and stories to the WUFT account. If people have a question about grades or if they think a story pitch was wrongly shot down, Dr. Lewis and/or Tripp can be contacted. I am hoping this will eliminate Dr. Lewis and Tripp being flooded with emails that can be handled by advanced editors and those at the super desk.

As I hear content creators complaining about their stories getting completely changed, I have begun thinking about ways to prevent this from happening. We need to keep track of who is editing a story. Some editors have been using the Google Document that delineates the story headline, the reporter and those who perform first and second edits. If we know who edited the story, we can contact them about why changes were made, etc. If problems continue to occur with a particular student, this should be reflected in their evaluation.

If it is possible, I think the editing students should also meet with their advanced editor after they make changes. During the second half of the semester, Keith has made his edits in a Word Document. We then go through his recommendations together before making changes in the WordPress. At this stage, we often call and/or email the reporter for any necessary clarification.

I think keeping initial edits separate from the submitted article would help advanced editors monitor changes being made before the original is transformed by edits.

Throughout ethics and advanced editing, I have seen the importance of follow-up stories. I think WUFT.org could do a better job of updating stories that warrant follow-up coverage. A system could be implemented where the reporter on the original story has the opportunity to do the follow up for extra credit. If someone else wants to pursue the update, he or she could get full credit or bonus based on how much additional work is involved in the subsequent coverage. This could also help students who struggle to come up with ideas each week, as well as help provide material on slow days.

What I am proud of

I am glad I had the opportunity to participate in election coverage for WUFT. I live blogged during the 2012 elections from the newsroom. Each editing student covered a couple counties in our coverage area as results came in.

During this semester, I had the opportunity to help cover the Gainesville City Commission election. Erica, Katie, Haley and I went to the supervisor of elections office and live tweeted results as they came in. In addition, we went to two additional election-watch parties to collect audio and photos of the winners. It is difficult to learn how to report objectively from a textbook, so it was helpful to practice this skill in the field. I am passionate about politics, but I must put aside my political affiliation and beliefs when I am on duty as a reporter. Journalists have a duty to provide facts and context, not commentary on the situation.

I also covered the runoff election between Helen K. Warren and Annie Orlando on April 8 with Erica and Haley. I enjoyed live tweeting this race because the results were so close. It still amazes me that out of 10,723 votes cast, only 127 votes separated the two candidates.

Working with my fellow advanced editors is always a positive experience, and I feel like we function like a well-oiled machine. I interviewed Warren, and Erica spoke with Orlando and Pam Carpenter, the supervisor of elections for Alachua County. Haley circulated and took some awesome photos, my favorite being the one capturing Warren’s victory.

We were also able to share our materials with the radio students. When we returned to the INC to write the story, we sent the audio to Forrest to be used during the morning shows. This collaboration is one of the greatest benefits of the INC.

I am also proud of the connections and friendships I have made with other editors. I worked a lot with Jennifer Hernandez earlier in the semester on her stories. She would come in to discuss pitches, as well as work on her stories in the INC. When I saw her in the library in early April, she invited me to lunch. I thanked her for her diligent efforts during the semester, and she praised me for my positivity.

I have also gotten to know Jaclyn De Bonis. She was one of Erica’s web producers earlier in the semester. After the switch, she has liked coming in on Thursdays afternoons to discuss future pitches, as well as to work on her current story. One week, we edited her story line by line. This was helpful for both of us because I was able to learn more about the two bills in the Florida Legislature, and she was able to see what she still needed to do before her story would be publishable. Working with editors like Jennifer and Jaclyn made up for the sass and rudeness of some of their colleagues.

Preparation for Advanced Editing

In-Class Preparation

Editing has always been something I was passionate about. While I enjoy reporting, I feel more in my element when I am working in a newsroom helping reporters perfect their stories, as well as balancing a variety of other tasks.

Even though I have seen students struggling during this semester of editing, I also envy them. While I earned several clips during my editing semester, these students have the opportunity to get five to seven articles published, in addition to showcasing their photography and audio skills. They should be thankful for the opportunity instead of begging for a return to a lab setting. I feel much more prepared for a real newsroom after working for WUFT than I did after my lab work during writing for mass communication and reporting.

One major concern I have about my in-class preparation pertains to my semester in fact finding. When I enrolled in the course, professor Corey Armstrong was on sabbatical. While she was gone, Dr. Sunny Skye Hughes was brought in. She had never taught this course before, and she attempted to transform it completely.

Before providing instruction for how to obtain records, she sent us to the Alachua County Clerk of the Court. The records custodians were inundated with more than 60 students who had no idea what they were doing. I went to each class meeting and read all of the required online text readings, but I can honestly say I did not learn anything of value.

Our final group project entailed issues of national security, so we sent Freedom of Information requests to the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency. As you can expect, we were promptly denied. When writing these requests, I felt more comfortable using Google than what we had learned in class.

As I edit stories in the INC, I wish I had gained more skills during fact finding that would allow me to check out certain information quicker, as well as add material that can be obtained through a public records search.

I am glad I am enrolled in ethics and advanced editing during the same semester. As I read through stories, I am constantly looking for where information was obtained so I can verify it. During my week 13 shift, a story featured statistics about crashes in certain Florida counties. When I saw how this information was not included with a source or hyperlink, I immediately called the reporter. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel taught me “the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.” Keeping this in mind has made me a better editor.

Ethics has also prepared me to look for objectivity and the presence of bias. We read an article by Reid MacCluggage about the importance of skeptical editing. At the start of this course, I think I trusted the editing students too much. I wrongly assumed that they were writing in a truthful and objective manner.

I have gotten better about “prosecuting the story” by making sure assertions are supported by factual information. If “most people” feel a certain way, I wonder why I am  only hearing from one person. In addition, I am better at realizing when a certain stakeholder group is missing from an article. A recent article about legislation involving foster children and driving comes to mind. While it is beneficial to hear from the legislators, it is also necessary to hear from a foster child who would be impacted. With these inclusions, I think Jacyln’s article was much stronger.

Out-of-class Preparation

I have been fortunate to have several internships during my four years at UF. This has included an internship at the Pittsford Central School District Communications Office. With this position, I have worked with the director of communications for the past two summers, as well as during winter breaks. During my final semester at UF, I have also done freelancing work for the district.

As the first-ever intern for this department, I am involved with many different projects. I have the chance to write for the quarterly newsletter, website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. When I am preparing to write something, I often interview administrators and faculty members. Over time, I have honed my interviewing skills. While I have a set of questions prepared beforehand, I also am able to go with the flow of the interview.

In addition, I have the opportunity to use my editing skills. My boss often writes a variety of press releases and letters that are sent to the families whose children attend one or more of the nine schools. She often asks me to read and make suggestions about what she wrote. Catching an extra or misspelled word can make a difference, especially on something that will be seen by several thousand people.

The spring of 2014 is also the third semester I have worked at the UF Foundation Office of Donor Relations. With this internship, I have access to personal information for major donors to the university. I can look up Billy Donovan or Will Muschamp’s address and phone number with a simple search. However, my personal ethics would prevent me from ever using this information for something that was not work related.

This office is largely responsible for all stewardship activities. We collaborate on ways to recognize donors for their continued support of UF. One way we recognize donors is through personalized endowment reports. It is essential to capture any spelling or grammar errors because this demonstrates carelessness to our donors. My editing eye has become sharper because of this position.

One activity unrelated to classes or internships that has helped prepare me for this capstone is reading the news from a variety of sources. It is difficult to recognize a good piece of news if you do not have a sense of what this reporting entails. While I wish I had more time to sit down and absorb the news, I always try to read as much from as many resources as I can.

Personal Strengths

I am skilled at fully vetting story pitches before discussing them with my supervisors. I do my best to learn all that I can about an angle a reporter is pursuing before I spike it. I ask a variety of probing questions because these reporters often have good ideas that just need further development.

When I originally received a pitch about the last Catholic school in Citrus County closing, I was interested. However, I am also aware that schools close down on a regular basis. How many students and families would be affected? Where was the closest Catholic school outside of the county? She answered these questions and more in the published article about Pope John Paul II Catholic School.

Also, I am good at editing for grammar and AP Style. During my semester of editing, we were the last section to take the version that focused predominantly on grammar, AP style and numeracy. While students now have to take a writing mechanics course, I am glad I had this experience because I am able to pick out these errors.

I would consider my ability to assess story flow to be a valuable strength. Sometimes, stories are submitted that go all over the place. A recent story submitted about the tethering of dogs in Marion County comes to mind.

This story was an update of an earlier story published on WUFT.org. I thought it was essential to put what the ordinance established at the top, followed by additional context about the April 1 vote. As the story flowed, I inserted a link to our previous coverage, so we did not rehash everything that had already been written.

Personal weaknesses/Skills I am still working on

As I edit, I need to focus on anything that might be missing. Whenever I am writing a story, I feel like I cover all the bases. It is sometimes difficult for me to spot the holes when I did not actually do the reporting. With each story I edit, I am making a conscious effort to ask what is going on, who is involved, why is it occurring.

I also tend to wrongly assume reporters check everything. It baffles me when I find fact errors, especially because of the hefty penalty. I have learned the importance of doing the math. This step saved me from publishing a citrus greening article that said more than 26,000 beekeepers are registered in Florida instead of the correct number that was closer to 3,000.

In my speaking and writing, I tend to be verbose. Sometimes it is difficult for me to cut phrases or sections from a story. As the weeks progressed and I went through stories, I think I got better at assessing stories paragraph by paragraph. What does this section or source add to the story? Does this quote need to be included? As a self-described abuser of the word that, the redact rule has also helped me eliminate this word if it is not integral to the sentence.

I must also continue to focus on making sure headlines and ledes are dense with information while also being concise. Resources, including the DWI Headlines post, have helped me see ways I can focus on this skill.

Inventor Thomas Edison once said, “Our great weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Through additional experience and practice, I look forward to turning these weaknesses into strengths.