Q-and-A with The Washington Post’s Courtney Rukan and Jesse Lewis

November 7, 2016

For this edition of The Style Guide, I interviewed Courtney Rukan, deputy multiplatform editing chief, and Jesse Lewis, multiplatform editing chief, of The Washington Post.

 

Alison Krug: What is the workflow of the copy desk like at The Washington Post?

Courtney Rukan: (Editors) pull the story up and edit it, and then you either publish it to the web or you’re doing a backread on it, so you would republish it to the web once you’ve made some changes.

Sometimes the editor who handles those stories during the day for the web might also handle it for print if the print specs are done early enough before their shift ends. And then at night the stories are generally assigned to copy editors, and then they will handle those for print and put print specs on them. And then if they have not been published to the web, they will make a web channel copy and publish them to the web. If they’ve been up on the web all day, they’ll input their changes into the digital version and then republish to the web so we can have the very best story as possible out on the web.

After that, for print, we will proof the pages and make any changes, and we still do that in a pretty traditional manner, just like you would do it at The Daily Tar Heel.

AK: What is the difference in how stories for online and for print are treated in the editing process?

Jesse Lewis: Well, there is no distinction in the editing process. The whole point is that as soon as the story is done, it goes up. So if we have a story at 8 o’clock in the morning, we’ll put it up immediately, and we’ll update it through the day.

As long as the originating desk says the story can publish, we’ll publish it any time, so there’s no distinction in the editing process. It’s just they may decide that they want to publish it, for example, like on a Monday morning but then decide not to run it in the paper until Wednesday. So it’s a matter of what the decision is in terms of how we’re going to present the story. Of course breaking news stories and news stories are going to be the same day, but feature stories … we could publish a feature story on a Friday and not see it in the paper until Sunday.

AK: How do you decide where The Washington Post’s style guide differs from the AP?

CR: We adhere to our own style. Some of it matches AP, but a lot of it doesn’t. One of our very popular stylebook entries is our different style entries versus AP, which we encourage new hires to look at. It’s evolved over many, many years, much like the AP style guide. We have our own sensibilities. We also have a lot of exceptions to Webster’s New World dictionary that we use because sometimes the dictionary doesn’t quite keep pace with what makes sense.

Much like the AP, we use the evolving world around us to make sense of things. With the advent of cyber, for instance, 20 years ago hardly anybody used anything for cyber, and now there’s cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare, cyberkinetics, cyberspace, cyber everything. And you have to figure out what makes sense as a solid word, what makes sense to hyphenate and how you render it. I think the bottom line is what makes it most clear for the readers and what’s keeping up with the times … so you know we can’t just sit on it and say we’ve done that for years, let’s keep doing it that way.

And I think that we just have our own voice and our own sensibility. Like when AP made the decision to put states and countries with all datelines instead of having breakout cities anymore, that’s something that we could have done if we’d wanted to, but we made the decision not to because we trust readers to know where certain places in the world are. Our dateline list has also evolved over the years. We have cities now in the world that we put countries with that we didn’t 20 years ago because they were in the news more often. Likewise, we now have cities that stand alone in our dateline list that did not 20 years ago.

JL: One thing I would add to this is that AP style is, I think they’re forming (the style guide) because they have a global audience and just a reference to, you know, putting states with cities in terms of datelines. A reader in Pakistan isn’t going to know where Atlanta is or where Milwaukee is, but readers in America know that.

So that’s the kind of thing where AP is appealing essentially to a different and broader audience, whereas we are right now a domestic audience.

CR: We’ve also had to change certain things too for the web. When Marty Baron first came in as editor here, he wasn’t familiar with the area, and we had a story about a plane crash that happened in a town in Virginia that is very well known in the area to people. It’s one of those suburbs that people know about. And Marty said, “No one outside the Washington area is going to know where this place is.” So I think we also have a different sensibility for what we put into print and what we put online as well.

And the other thing too about AP, Jesse made a great point, and another thing too is I think AP also listens to their clients, whereas we’re not beholden to selling anything to anybody except the product to our readers.

AK: Do you have a formal process for amending your style guide?

JL: Well, as formal as it’s going to get is where someone says, “We don’t like this style,” and then I’ll talk with the slots and if necessary consult the executive editors and decide whether to do this or not. So there’s no committee meeting — someone makes a request, and we review it and discuss it among ourselves and also with the department that’s most affected by it. Then we determine whether we’re going to do it or not.

AK: How do you communicate with the staff about style changes?

JL: They’re sent through email; we have regular staff meetings where we bring up some of these developments; and the style book is updated so it’s on the web and everyone has access to it. We also have this new software that does proofing, and it contains information in the style book, so when we run the software, it flags things that are in the style book. And that’s another way to convey the information.

 

Q-and-A with BuzzFeed’s Megan Paolone

October 3, 2016

This week I interviewed Megan Paolone, deputy copy chief at BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed’s style guide has some pretty big fans at my student papers. It’s functions well as “a style guide for the internet” that I’ll refer to for things not yet in the AP that the DTH or Southern Neighbor don’t have a stance on yet. (It also has some clear and concise explainers of copy basics — check out their guide to possessives!) Megan also writes BuzzFeed’s style newsletter, Quibbles and Bits. You can check out BuzzFeed’s style guide here, Quibbles and Bits here and BuzzFeed’s style guide Twitter here.

Alison Krug: Can you tell me what the workflow of copy desk is like at BuzzFeed?

Megan Paolone: So there are seven of us. There’re three of us here in New York, including me and our copy chief, Emmy Favilla, and then we just have one other copy editor here. And then we have two people in the U.K. who handle a lot of the international copy but mainly U.K. stuff that’s sort of the overflow from the U.S. And then we have two people in LA who pick up a lot of the late night stuff coming out of New York and then LA stuff because we have a pretty big operation out there — and then even sometimes some very early morning Australia stuff. We’re currently trying to get a copy editor in Australia because they’re kind of just on totally opposite schedules from us.

Basically our workflow has changed a lot since I’ve been here. I’ve been at BuzzFeed for about three years, and actually just three years this September was my one-year full-time work. I started as an intern in June 2013 as the second copy editor on the staff. So when I first started a lot of it was just searching around the site and looking for things that hadn’t been edited, and we really didn’t have a way of keeping track of that, so it was kind of a free for all. There just was really no copy structure in place.

We had the beginnings of a style guide that Emmy had put together when she got hired about six months before me, and so a lot of it was figuring out what people wanted and how frequently they wanted to interact with us and some sort of edit desk email where people could send stuff to be edited. The only real structure we had was at that point in time, BuzzFeed was publishing a longform story once a week on Thursday nights, so we knew, OK, Wednesday/Thursday we’re going to have one big story to edit. And then as time progressed and team got bigger and the editorial team was a lot bigger and it became slightly more organized, we realized we needed a more streamlined structure and system for people to submit drafts and ask us questions. We basically did for a really long time all of our workflow through email where we have a copy desk email where people can ask us questions and send drafts, and we basically just sit on that all day. But I think a lot of our workflow is still very much, or it was, checking Google Analytics, seeing the things that were trending or things that were getting the most eyes on them and making sure those were edited because we were so small and we simply couldn’t get to all of the content on the site. And then gradually the team grew to seven people, and we started working more closely with the tech and product teams to sort of be like, “Hey, what can you guys do for us to make our lives easier?” And so very gradually we gotten some new technologies that have totally changed what we do.

So the first big one that was just really great and helps us sort of keep track of everything is built into our CMS: We have a little button that’s only accessible to the copy editors, though everyone else can see it, and it’s basically just a “copy edited” button. It has the name of the person who copy edited it and the timestamp, so if updates were made after that timestamp of the original edit, you can go back in and switch it and say you’ve gone through the updates. And there’s also a place in the CMS where you can leave notes for people, which isn’t as used. Usually we’ll just email or Slack someone if we’ve made any extensive changes to a post that’s already live. But it’s just another really useful thing that the tech team has built for us and for other people on staff. And the other thing that’s really, really changed our workflow and really just made it super easy and keeps us accountable to each other and everyone else is Slack, which is our group chat client that so many people use now. It’s kind of amazing how customizable it is. We have a chat room where (the copy desk) hangs out all day to chat about issues and keep track of who’s doing what and delegate and also ask each other questions like, “What’s our style for this?” “Have we talked about this word before?” “Does this sentence sound weird?” So that’s a lot of what we’re doing. And we also have a channel for requests where people can not only send us emails for drafts but they can drop them in requests. And the other really cool thing that’s revolutionized our workflow is this thing we call Copy Bot. It’s this little Slack bot that our tech team built, and basically it scans the site every 15 minutes for posts that are trending or are about to start trending and have not been copy edited.

AK: Oh that’s so cool.

MP: Yeah, it’s amazing. And we each kind of keep track of what we’re doing. We all have different emojis that we use — little reactions. I use a little octopus; one person has a cat; another person has a little whale. So it’s easy to keep track of who’s looked at what, and it also shows us how many views the posts have, so if there’s something that comes in that has a ton of views, but it comes in at the same time as 10 other posts, you want to get to the thing that has the most views first. And obviously that’s for posts that are already live. And like I said, the majority of the things still that we look at are backreads. The only things that we definitely, definitely read before they get published are really sensitive news stories that have been vetted by legal that could use another set of eyes on them, things that have gone through multiple layers of edits and someone just wants an extra set of eyes, but especially longform features and graphics and things like that that are over a thousand words and need that extra work. And we’re publishing a lot more of those than we used to. We originally just did Thursday nights like I said, but then went to Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, and now we’re kind of publishing a feature a day, which was kind of daunting at first, but I think we’ve done a really good job of managing it and working with people.

Another thing that helps us keep really organized is a features calendar and just being really reliant on our Google calendars and keeping everyone updated and just communicating. Slack has been — Slack and email, but Slack especially  — has been super super super useful for us because it’s easy just to shoot off a message to someone because everyone’s sitting on their computers all day.

So that’s the basics of our workflow. There’re some things that still come through email. A lot of questions still come through email. But also people will direct message us individually. And we also do — I know you said you subscribe to the newsletter — so we do that, but we also do internal newsletters for the staff. I do one where — we call it the Copy Q&A — where we publish for the staff basically all of the questions we’ve been asked over the last couple weeks because if one person has a question, there’s a chance another person has a really similar question if they’re having an issue with some sort of grammar topic or even just a common style thing. People find those really helpful. And we also do copy roundups. We sort of rotate weeks to do each of those on Fridays. This is a copy roundup week. That’s just basically common errors we’ve been seeing, things we’ve added to the style guide — basically just updates from the copy desk. And it’s kind of cool because we’re the one remaining or one of the few remaining universal teams who sort of work with everyone. We work with the news team, and we work with the features team which is under news, but we also work with the traditional BuzzFeed content like the lists, and we also work with original projects, and we work a little bit with video, and we work with social, and we work with the apps. So we’re even editing things like push notifications or Twitter text occasionally or cards that are going to go on Twitter or Facebook. So yeah, I think the communication has been a really, really an important thing in just trying to stay involved and show people that we’re there but not be overbearing. I definitely don’t like to think of us as police officers. We’re just kind of like consultants, and there are people use us frequently and some people don’t use us at all, and that’s fine. We know the writers who are really messy and whose work we have to look out for, but there are also people who I would trust copy editing my work. So it just sort of runs the gamut.

 

AK: What response have you seen from the newsletter and the Twitter?

MP: The Twitter’s really fun. We always joke not to ask us questions because it’s very much a secondary fun project for us. I’m kind of on Twitter all day, but I’m also not monitoring it minute to minute if we’re getting questions, so we always tell people to email us or Slack us for questions, but a lot of times we just joke around with us. For people outside of BuzzFeed, it’s been really positive, like, “Oh, BuzzFeed has a copy desk, that’s cool.”

The newsletter was kind of like a pet project of mine. Someone suggested, “You guys are doing this anyways. You should make a newsletter out of this.” And then I sort of like took it upon myself to approach our newsletters team — which there’s about five of them, and they patrol all of BuzzFeed newsletters — and conceptualize and talk to a few people about what they might like to see. And I’m the one who writes it every week with input from a few other editors. But that has been really positive too, and we’ve had people emailing us and tweeting at us their favorite part and suggestions. And I know a lot of the staffers subscribe to it because it’s a little different from the things that we send out to them. So it’s fun, it’s like a little window into our brain. It’s given us a fun creative thing to do outside of everyday editing, but it’s also made us more accessible to both the staff and people outside of BuzzFeed who may not know that we really existed before. A lot of the news editors especially who are older and have had more experience in other journalism-type jobs are sort of amazed at the copy desk that we’ve built here that it’s like super accessible, and I think we’re all really easygoing and just want to work well with people and make it easy for everyone. And we’re pretty flexible — if there’s a certain style thing that you want to change and you have a good argument for why, we’re probably not going to fight you on it. We’ll hear you out and take it into consideration. And we’ve heard from people that were just super easy to work with, and it’s sort of like day and night compared to other copy desks they’ve worked with at other places where copy editors are sort of at odds with a lot of the other writers and editors.

 

AK: Do you have a formal process for changing the style guide and then letting the staff know when changes have been made?

MP: Not really formal — a lot of it is just us talking all the time, and we’re constantly fighting about things. There’s a lot (Emmy and I) added (to the guide) a long time ago that as new people have come in, they’re like, “We should change this; this is weird,” and we’re like, no way, we put that in there ages ago. The one we’ve been fighting about lately is roller coaster, which is two words in the dictionary, and it’s two words if you Google it pretty much everywhere, but everyone wants to change it to one word. It’s just — it just looks wrong as one word to me. And that’s usually the argument: “It doesn’t look right.” But I mean if there’s a compelling reason why, we’ll usually just talk about it a little. But sometimes it’s as easy as, oh yeah, this is a word we’ve been seeing a lot, and we should probably add it to the style guide. So I think we added “butt plug” to the style guide today because it wasn’t in the dictionary and we’d been seeing it in a lot of posts, so that’s a good inappropriate one for you to use as an example.

We have an internal Google doc that’s sort of just among the copy desk that we keep that goes back to probably the beginning of the style guide that is everything that we’ve added, where it was added and when it was added. So that’s been really helpful to see where our heads were at at a certain time. But also the style guide wasn’t always public. For a really long time it was an internal document. When I started it was internal; it was just a Google doc that we shared with staff and we were pretty much constantly updating and at that point not reporting the updates because they were reported in a Google doc. 

And then Emmy and I started the process of cleaning it up and making sure that it was OK to be a public-facing document. And that’s been great because it’s sort of kept us accountable and encouraged us to keep it updated and make changes and have this open dialogue with the staff but also with readers and other contributors to the site.

One of the big ones we changed was our style for suicide, reporting on suicide. For a really long time we used “committed suicide” as an accepted variation of that verb and act, and we had a lot of pushback from activists. The way that we explained it was we were using the word “committed” in its most basic dictionary definition, but for a lot of people, that can be construed as a crime, as in you’re committing a crime, so we have now changed it. We now have the language as “killed oneself” and “be specific, but use good judgement in terms of the extent to which specifics are reported.” So yeah, it’s a lot of open dialogue between the staff and readers.

As far as keeping the staff in the loop about what we’re doing, we do the newsletters every other Friday internally with the editorial staff, and we’ll detail changes in there, and we’ll also tweet the changes a lot, especially if it’s a big one. I’ll read you the last couple of things we added to the style guide: We added “dancehall” — one word — for the music genre. “Rickroll” — one word. “A$AP Rocky” — with the dollar sign — the rapper was added under the celebrity names section. We added “Big Oil” and “Big Pharma,” which we are seeing a lot in news stories. I think a lot of things we add are contrary to AP. So we follow AP, and Merriam-Webster is our house dictionary, so most of the stuff that we have in our style guide is stuff that’s for specific to BuzzFeed but also where we differ from those places, and a lot of times for specific definitions and style changes we’ll note that this is different than AP for people so they know because a lot of people here are used to writing according to AP or checking AP when they have problems.

 

AK: Our style guide right now for The Daily Tar Heel, well, it’s pretty messy right now. Basically when it was handed to me we had stopped printing it and we only had it as a Google doc.

MP: We actually in a couple weeks, all of the copy editors on staff are coming to New York, which is where our headquarters are and where I’m based and where the three of us in New York are based. We’re all going to sort of do like a copy editing summit, and one of the projects we have on the itinerary is go through the style guide and clean it up because we’ve noticed some little inconsistencies that probably only stick out to us.

One of the resources that we have for staff now is we have a page on the BuzzFeed intranet, which is like our internal resources just hosted on Google sites. We do a lot of specialized style guides, so for example we have ones for different editions of BuzzFeed. The U.K. editors put together a U.K. style guide. We worked with the managing editor and the news editor in Australia and put together an Australian style guide. We have a Canada style guide because they’re like a bastardized version of British and American English. This year I wrote a style guide for the Olympics. I wrote a Harry Potter style guide because I’m a big nerd and no one else on the copy desk knows anything about Harry Potter, which is crazy to me. But we have a lot of Harry Potter content so it was super, super necessary to sort of like standardize everything. We also as a project of probably about a year ago, now, we sort of did an audit on all sections and kept a record of the really common errors that we were seeing and have now put together like vertical-specific guidelines that are like, “These are the things you should be looking out for because these are the errors we see all the time from you guys.”

We have a useful links section that we give people like all the dictionaries and the style manuals that we use, great Twitter accounts, good podcasts to listen to, useful links writing on style and grammar.

We have this really great document that we use that we worked on with the health team about body positivity and how to write about bodies in a positive way and be really inclusive. That’s something that’s been really important to us: being inclusive and welcoming to different groups that have traditionally been marginalized. I think BuzzFeed’s done a really good job of that, and we’re very cognizant of it. One of the people we talk to the most on staff I think about changing and keeping guidelines updated is our LGBT editor. And we’ve been told by multiple people in and outside of BuzzFeed that our LGBT section — which is actually adopted from GLAAD’s style guide and media guide, but we’ve added a lot of stuff that’s specific to BuzzFeed — is just like super super inclusive and progressive compared to a lot of other media organizations.

We do a lot of education with the staff. We make ourselves readily available to them for questions and do the newsletters and emails obviously, but we also hold copy classes once and a while. For onboarding for new hires — we’re just starting to do this — we do sort of like an overview of BuzzFeed’s voice and copy and style guidelines for new staffers and basically anyone else who’s interested. We do a basic copy class on style and grammar and on how our style differs from other publications. And we do a sensitivity class, which goes again into the sensitive language. I think the title of it is basically like, “How to Write and Not Sound Like a Jerk.” We do a punctuation class — Punctuation 101, we have the U.K. and U.S. edition of that — and then some very specific grammar-based classes that only the real nerds come to.

We also do copy quizzes and do prizes. I think we do them every six weeks now, but we’ll do them internally first and then usually just host them on the site, and it’s like a little five question quiz. And that’s been a fun little experiment about how people engage with language content.

 

Q-and-A with Connor Bolinder, the Technician’s copy desk manager

September 19, 2016

This week I interviewed Connor Bolinder, a sophomore political science major and the copy desk manager at the Technician, N.C. State University’s student-run newspaper. Connor has worked at the Technician since August of his freshman year (“this was the first and only thing that I really do”). The Technician uses both the AP Stylebook and the paper’s own in-house style guide.

Alison Krug: Could you describe the workflow of the copy desk at The Technician?

Connor Bolinder: Well, ideally it would be that reporters, columnists, they write things, and they send them to their section editor. The section editors give them sort of a scan for the flow and the ideas, and they don’t really pay attention to the copy errors. And by 5 p.m., they would send those articles to the copy desk, where two or three people would look at them, proofread them for AP style, for Technician style, fact check everything and then send them to the editor-in-chief for final review — but that doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes things come in a lot later. Sometimes not everyone has the time to spend looking at something, and then usually just one person might look at it on a very busy night. But we try to have at least one copy editor look at it.

AK: So your editor-in-chief looks at it after the copy editor looks at it?

CB: Yeah, she shouldn’t be looking for style or grammar because it shouldn’t be a problem at that point, but she has an idea of what (final product) is going into the paper.

AK: What’s the setup of your copy desk? Here at The Daily Tar Heel, we currently have two copy co-chiefs, three assistant copy editors and about 30 to 40 copy staffers. What is copy desk look like at the Technician?

CB: Well I’m the chief, and then I have one person who’s kind of an unofficial assistant, and then everyone else — I think seven people — are just regular staff.

AK: So what does your in-house style guide physically look like? Ours right now — well, we used to print it, and I think we stopped doing that in 2008 — now it’s all in a Google doc, which can sometimes become a mess.

CB: Every year the guide should be updated. It’s been updated this year, but in the past it’s kind of been neglected. We have a physical copy that’s printed that sits in the office, and then everyone has it — or should have it — saved to their computers. But most people just use the physical one.  

AK: Is it saved as a Word document, or is it housed online somewhere?

CB: It’s saved as a Word document. You said a Google doc is what you use? It sounds like that could be edited by people?

AK: Yeah, we try to send out the view-only version outside of copy desk, but you know how Google Drive links can get mixed up. It’s not the best practice.

CB: Yes, I can understand how that can get messy.

AK: Do you have a formal practice for updating style?

CB: Once every year we usually have a formal meeting with the professional staff members and the editor-in-chief and the managing editor and the copy desk editor. We decide if some things are going to be changed. Like this year we started using “advisor” — “or” instead of “er” — because it’s more commonly used. And things like that we’ll handle all at the beginning of the year, but if things come up, like — we haven’t had anything like this recently, but any huge breaking events, we usually try to decide as soon as possible how we want to format things like that, just the editor-in-chief, the managing editor and myself, the copy desk manager.

AK: If something big came up, would you reprint the physical copy you have or just make a note in it?

CB: Probably just make a note.

AK: Since the Technician uses both an in-house style guide and the AP Stylebook, do you see a lot of crossover in your in-house style guide? That’s something I’m very much toying with now: how much of the copy editing basics should be included in our in-house guide.

CB: The in-house guide, we have almost nothing that is directly copied from the AP Stylebook. There are some things, like academic degrees, where (in the Technician style guide) there’s a short entry, and then it says to see the AP Stylebook for reference. But we try to avoid anything that you could just look up on the AP Stylebook because it would make a lot more sense to just go directly to the AP Stylebook for stuff that isn’t specific to N.C. State, the Raleigh area and North Carolina.

AK: At the Technician, what is the the general attitude toward style and copy editing. Is copy editing and looking at AP style and usage something exclusively the copy desk does, or is it something everyone is cognizant of?

CB: I think everyone tries to be cognizant of it, and I really try to get on people about looking out for errors — just basic things like spelling out numbers that at this point should be second nature to anyone. Overall I would say everyone has kind of a basic understanding of it.

AK: I’m trying to look for more ways to communicate about style directly to the staff. How do you communicate about style with the Technician staff?

CB: That’s actually something I’m really glad that you asked about because I started sending out every week an email about general style points — mostly Technician style but also reminding people of AP style. They’re 300 to 400 words about a specific topic that I think people have been missing lately. For example, last week I did one specifically about commas, Oxford commas. That’s the one thing that everyone always loves to talk about, but they’re never prepared to really get into it.

AK: What sort of response have you gotten back from these emails?

CB: For probably a few weeks after I send an email, people will be catching those things. Then they might slip away.

 

Take a look at the Technician’s style guide here!

The state of The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor style guides.

September 12, 2016

The current state of The Daily Tar Heel style guide:

The DTH style guide is roughly 50 pages and is kept and distributed to the staff in a Google doc file. The staff used to print a few copies of the style guide and distribute it around the office, but the style guide hasn’t been printed since at least my first semester at the paper in 2013. The guide consists of an introduction of copy editing best practices, a rundown of oft-searched usage basics, style entries and collections of desk-specific entries (there’s a sports breakdown for our sports desk, an arts section and a crime terminology section).

 

How the DTH’s copy desk works:

  1. Stories are sent over to copy desk from management. At this point, the stories have been read by an assistant desk editor, a desk editor and a member of management.
  2. The story is first read by a copy staffer.
  3. The story is then read by either the copy chief or a copy assistant.
  4. At this point, online-only stories are ready to go.
  5. As pages are completed by the design and graphics desk and read by management, they are sent to copy desk. Each page (and everything on it, from headlines to cutlines to graphics) is reviewed by both an assistant and the copy chief before it is sent to print.

Pros:

  • Keeping the guide on a Google doc means it’s easy to edit right away. Last year when our editor-in-chief launched an initiative to use gender-nonspecific language in the paper, I was able to add that in the Google doc right away.
  • The guide is pretty well-rounded aggregation of style points pertaining to Chapel Hill — most entries have to serve as background information on local people, places and institutions for staffers who are new to the school and the town.
  • While the desk-specific entries have gotten a little muddled on the Google doc, having a bulk of sports-related style and crime-related style pulled out can be helpful for both writers and copy desk staffers.

Cons:

  • When working off a Google doc, it’s easy for the doc to fall into unwanted or accidental edits. Due to an accidental edit, the style guide was copied and pasted in full in the one document.
  • There’s no current protocol to alert the rest of the staff when an edit is made to the Google doc.
  • Sometimes it feels like our style is locked away in the Google drive. It would be nice to have something more visible in the office, whether that be a hard copy of the guide or a poster with the web address to the guide.

Needs:

  • The DTH is a student-run newspaper, so each year’s turnover needs to be taken into consideration. The DTH needs a style guide that can easily change hands from copy editor to copy editor every year.
  • The guide needs to be more visible in the DTH office.
  • The guide needs to be easily editable.
  • The guide needs to be available both in the office and out for everyone from staffers to editors. 

The current state of the Southern Neighbor style guide:
The Southern Neighbor style guide is a little more simple. Southern Neighbor has one copy editor (that’s me!) who edits all content. The guide is newer and hasn’t had the bear the brunt the DTH style guide has, so there’s less background cleaning work I have to do in building a new guide. It is hosted on a Google doc and kept in the Southern Neighbor Google Drive. The bulk of the Southern Neighbor style guide is an older version of the DTH’s guide. As a result, there are some entries that ought to be updated. While the DTH’s staff consists of around 200 staffers who all spend at least a few hours in the office per week, Southern Neighbor is a much smaller staff, and the magazine’s staffers don’t spend as much time in the office. This elevates the importance of an easily accessible online guide. 

Southern Neighbor covers a larger geographical area than the DTH, one many students (including the Southern Neighbor staff) might not find as familiar as the DTH’s coverage area. The Southern Neighbor style guide might benefit from a breakdown at the end similar to the DTH’s desk-by-desk style breakdown that gives an overview of the cities the magazine covers.

What’s next?
My next blog post will be a Q&A with Connor Bolinder, the copy desk manager at The Technician, N.C. State University’s student paper. We talked about the flaws of Google docs and the importance of constant and consistent style and usage reminders to a student staff.

What’s next after that?
The more I’ve examined The Daily Tar Heel’s style guide, the more I want to dive into the history of the DTH’s guide. I’ll follow this post up soon with my research on DTH style guides of the past.

An introduction to me, my independent study and my syllabus

August 29, 2016

My name is Alison Krug, and I’m a senior journalism major with minors in creative writing and English at UNC-Chapel Hill. A tiny rundown of my resume: I’ve worked on the copy desk of the Daily Tar Heel, my college newspaper since my first semester of college, spending four semesters as a copy chief. I’m currently the newsroom director and a columnist at the paper, and I’m working with the copy desk this year to improve our style guide. I also am the managing editor and copy editor of Southern Neighbor Magazine, a student-run magazine which operates under the DTH brand and employs a style guide based off of the DTH’s. This summer I worked as an online production and copy intern at The Charlotte Observer and the McClatchy editing hub in Charlotte, N.C., and I have worked as a copy editor for UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and the UNC Center for Global Initiatives.

Yeah, I really like copy editing.

I wanted to pursue an independent study focusing on style guides after making the decision a few semesters ago to overhaul the DTH’s style guide into something more user friendly — I’ll spend a blog post on its current state later — and I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that would have to go into my beloved fixer upper style guide.

I found myself second guessing every decision, from the platform we’d use to host the guide (Google doc? WordPress?) to the balance of AP style and local style to include. I needed substantial research on which I could base my decisions.

There’s an Yves Saint Laurent quote I have taped to my wall that states, “Fashions fade; style is eternal.” I want to research the best practices for constructing a style guide that doesn’t fade by not having the flexibility to change or by having poor organization or by being inaccessible to staff, leaving it ignored. I want to see what makes a style guide a smidgen closer to becoming eternal and becoming something that can grow with the publication and remain an accessible resource to an entire staff.

This blog will be where I work through my research and share my findings. Here’s the syllabus I’ve created for this semester:

Focus

The role of the copy desk is evolving to suit the needs of news publications as they expand their digital initiatives. With that, the role of publications’ style guides has also evolved. Having worked as copy editor for two student publications, I was always looking for ways to optimize our style guide to be the most accessible, useful and inclusive for our staff, as well as ways to reach out to the staff to educate and remind them about style and usage points.

At The Daily Tar Heel, we experimented with having staff meetings and occasional emails to inform the staff about issues the copy desk had seen. These methods were time-consuming and irregular, though, and I’ve seen many professional publications approach staff style outreach through more organized methods such as copy desk Twitter accounts and newsletters.

Through this independent study, I’d like to approach style guides from two fronts, analyzing what goes into making an accessible style guide and then researching what news publications are doing to make sure the style reaches their staff.

As a final project, I’ll be creating a style guide for The Daily Tar Heel, as student-run daily newspaper, as well as a style guide for Southern Neighbor Magazine, a student-run monthly newspaper that circulates to towns around Chapel Hill. I will also be establishing a plan of action for style outreach for the staff. These publications cover similar geographical locations, but they feature different article formats and are aimed at different demographics, so I’m anticipating their style needs to be different.

Goals

  •      I’m interested in working more in the construction of style guides and their implementation, and a course that delves into this does not currently exist at UNC. In this course, I want to learn how professionals at various types of publications establish and implement their style.

Weekly assignments

  •      I would like to analyze one publication’s style guide and their methods of style outreach. I intend to conduct a Q&A with the publication’s editor about how their style guide functions in their publication and to publish my that along with my reflections on their guide/outreach in a blog post every other week.
  •      I’d like to explore a wide range of publications, from local newspapers to more national newspapers to online-only publications to local magazines to UNC departments that put out their own publications. I want to explore what will suit the needs of the local magazine and the local newspaper I’ll be designing guides and plans for in my final project, so I want to analyze how various publications adjust their guides to suit their needs. I want to look at a wide range of publications, from local papers to larger publications to student-run papers to publications outside traditional media — some don’t operate out of a single style guide, others eschew the AP in favor of one in-house guide.

Major Assignments

  •     A paper analyzing what I’ve learned about how other publications and institutions curate and share their style. The paper will also include my research on the background of style guides and a history of their purpose and statements of intent over the years.
  •      A style guide for both The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor Magazine — I will develop a guide for each publication based off of best practices I’ve discovered through my research and the needs of each publication.
  • A plan of action for style outreach (i.e. Twitter accounts, newsletters) for both The Daily Tar Heel and Southern Neighbor Magazine based off of my research on what other publications have accomplished through their efforts to inform both their staff and their audience about their style.