2008 Breakfast of Editing Champs
Gathering of profs and professionals draws capacity crowd

The Breakfast of Editing Champions brought professionals and professors together at AEJMC's convention in Chicago to tackle the topic of how to train tomorrow's copy editors.

It was the seventh straight year for the breakfast, which is underwritten by the Hearst Journalism Fellowships and the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

Here's a wrap-up of the breakfast, followed by details on how to get the Breakfast DVD as well as information on past and future Breakfasts.

By Ron Rodgers
University of Florida

If there is one thing to be drawn from Breakfast of Editing Champions 2008, it is that copy editing has become much more complex and multi-dimensional. Each of the speakers indicated that editors must consider many more elements and deal with many more responsibilities than in the past. This, of course, is all being driven by the ever-changing capabilities of new media technologies.

Adrian G. Uribarri, a recent Dow Jones Newspaper Fund editing intern who is now a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, said that current students need to get comfortable with technology. That is because newsroom operations are becoming much more integrated and collaborative, he said.

With integration, newsroom workers write stories, write blogs and look for other ways to tell a story. In addition, he noted, editorial, marketing and advertising efforts are becoming much more integrated. That, then, means there is a growing need for ethics training so reporters and editors understand the "clear line" between what is appropriate and not appropriate, Uribarri said.

He also noted everything in the newsroom now moves much faster. Breaking news now drives the Web, he said, so students need to be more comfortable with "filing as you go."

To address the issue of speed, Uribarri suggested an assignment that would involve breaking news on Twitter. This would be followed by blog updates and the use of audio or video online. Next would come as many interviews as possible, and then writing the story with links. Indeed, he noted, there are "no more stories without links."

But, he said, the assignment is not yet done. The story should then be posted to at least three social-network sites. And then students would edit fellow students' stories.

Remarks by Danielle Gordon, a senior producer with chicagotribune.com, dovetailed Uribarri's. She observed that the editor's role is "building bridges" to the audience. She then displayed and discussed some of the tools her paper uses to understand the audience and then what to do with the information garnered from those tools. One of these tools included a "heat map" in which color coding indicates the popularity of stories.

She also explained that the Tribune's site attempts to draw in readers through search engines, social media sites and through the site itself. For each of these, good headlines are a must. And with each of these portals, headline writing involves slightly different elements. For example, to attract readers through a search engine requires the keyword mastery of writing headlines using search engine optimization (SEO).

And Jason Morris, a Metro copy editor at the Tribune, insisted that newspapers need to follow the mantra: "You have to edit before you publish." Back-editing does not work, he said. For example, an editor cannot go back and rewrite an SEO headline because by then Google has already grabbed the earlier headline.

Still, Morris said, copy editors have to be more flexible. As a copy editor these days, he said, you need "to be faster - but take your time." There is a skill in writing around questions, he said, which involved taking out the problem at issue and then go back later to add it back in.

Asked what goes into a good SEO headline, Morris explained how to grab all the aggregators and get your name out there. For example, he said, a print headline might say "Jordan scores 60 points." But an SEO headline would add the name "Michael" to the headline. Indeed, he noted, such headlines require more full names, are a little longer and a little "clunkier," with more descriptive words.

To reinforce the points made by the speakers, roughly two dozen Breakfasters afterward toured the Chicago Tribune to view its Web operations. The tour began four stories below the building where the presses once throbbed. Today, it is a wide - and largely silent - expanse of cubicles and meeting areas where technologists assemble the backbone of the company's many Web sites.

Gordon then took the group on a tour of the newsroom. One thing that more than one Breakfaster took away from the tour was Gordon's comment that the online operation had only recently been moved from some distant corner of another room and plopped down in the middle of the newsroom. That one move tends to acknowledge both the strategic shift in newsroom operations and that the online operations are no longer subsidiary but a key player in gathering and distributing the news of the day.

Danielle Gordon's Web sites

- Chicagotribune.com's Most Popular

- Google's Hot Trends

- Digg

- A forum about Exploring Race

- An overview of Web metrics

- Google Analytics

- Poynter's new media bibliography

Adrian Uribarri's Web sites

Using tech to connect

- The Green House, an interactive graphic that demonsrates simple ways to conserve energy

The power of blogging

- Orlando Sentinel's Altamonte Springs blog
- Orlando Sentinel's Sanford blog
- Orlando Sentinel's downtown blog

New media videos

- Video that shows how information works in the Web 2.0 world
- Prometeus, The Media Revolution
- Q&A with BBC multimedia executive

Teaching Idea Exchange

Every year we kick off the Breakfast with the Teaching Idea Exchange, led by Bill Cloud of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to share teaching tips and strategies. Here are this year's contributors, with links to their ideas in EditTeach's Teaching Resources section.

- Tom Clanin: Starting off with mini-editing quizzes
- Norm Lewis: Are you smarter than a nerd?
- Lily Norton: Looking for alternatives
- Jim Eggensperger: Starbucks' link to Moby Dick: Cultural literacy
- Mary Bohlen: Stylebook feud; killer grammer quiz; the $50,000 exercise
- Ronald R. Rogers: Ah, what's DDT? Cultural literacy assignments
- Bill Cloud: Whip brackets now
- Doug Fisher: Fun with wikis
- Kathryn B. Campbell: The essence of editing

The Breakfast DVD

Get a bunch of editing professors in one room, and you get a lot of great ideas and a ton of resource material. A ton makes for a hefty suitcase, so the materials are put on a DVD. Some of this year's offerings are posted under "Additional Resources," at left and up:

- A clipping from the Sonoma County (Calif.) Journal, 1848, when news had more value than ads.
- A sign of the times: Dayton Daily News graphic cites Wikipedia as a source.
- A 10-page list of Web resources, including several online videos. Here's a taste: Bill Murray on fact-checking, and "The Office" debating the use of who and whom.
- And several editing-related videos, musical selections and cartoons that might would not survive a fair-use legal fight if posted on the Web.

Resources tend to beget more resources. Within days of the Breakfast, Vicki Krueger of Poynter's NewsU sent in two more:

- Eight Things I Learned as a 40-Year-Old Intern, by Andy Bechtel, UNC-Chapel Hill, on his seven weeks with the Los Angeles Times' Web site.
- Copy editing resources

If you'd like a copy of the DVD and to get your name placed on the invitation list for next year's breakfast in Boston, send a note to the breakfast's organizer, Deborah Gump.

For a report on the 2007 breakfast, click here.

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