Tag Archives: Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Denny, Wardle Offer Tips for Editing Copy At SPJVPA16

Capital News Service staff member sitting on the floor reading newspapers. Client: Journalism Marketing Campaign.

Photo by John Consoli.

Reprinted by permission of the Virginia Press Association.

By Janeal Downs
VCU Senior Journalism Major

A good news story means more than presenting information as an inverted pyramid and applying AP style. In today’s newsrooms, reporters also must be copy editors and turn in articles that are as ready for publication as possible.

At the VPA/SPJ Region 2 Conference, two experienced editors offered advice on how journalists can better copy-edit themselves. Karen Denny, director of the Annapolis Bureau of Maryland Capital News Service, and Suzanne Wardle, copy editor and books editor for The Roanoke Times, led a session titled “Stop Errors in Their Tracks: Copy Editing for Everyone.”

Both Wardle and Denny have had their fair share of editing reporters’ work: Wardle joined The Times’ copy desk in 2006, and Denny has been an editor for the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and the Washington Times.

Here are 10 of the many tips they offered during the session:

  1. Look at all elements of a story. Don’t forget that every piece of content must be copy-edited, including infographics and cutlines. Don’t just edit your article and forget the rest.
  2. Double check everything. Every time a name appears, make sure the spelling is consistent. Not only are the words important, but the math is as well. “Ask someone to read over your shoulder,” Wardle said. “That’s allowed; that’s OK; that’s not a weakness.
  3. Know your reporters (or yourself). Do you or your reporters tend to mix up they’re, their and there? How about issues with passive voice? Remember these things, and look for them in copy to save time. As a reporter, work on breaking bad habits.
  4. It’s better to be right than to be first,” Wardle said in discussing digital reporting. With the rise of social media, reporters feel even more pressure to be first in breaking news. But they must remember that accuracy is paramount. Not only should reporters strive for accuracy on the web, but Denny said journalists should have a policy for how to make corrections on social media posts.
  5. “What would I tell my parents to Google?” When writing headlines for the web, think search engine optimization, or SEO. Web headlines need more information to attract online readers. Wardle suggested that reporters think about what words they would search for in Google to find the article – or better yet, what words they would tell their parents to search for. And then use those words in the headline.
  6.  Before turning in copy to an editor, Denny suggested many things to avoid. For example, avoiding using the same word in a sentence; avoid generalities or cliches; avoid technical language; and avoid euphemisms.
  7. Another thing to avoid: passive voice. Denny recommended using Ctrl-F – the “find” command on your keyboard – and searching for “by.” This usually signifies a passive sentence.
  8. Know the rules for writing a good lede. Denny mentioned such guidelines as: Don’t have a lede with more than 30 words, don’t begin with a quote and don’t use exclamation points!
  9. Know which is better, a direct quote or paraphrase. “I hear this all the time from students: ‘I’m almost done with my story; I just need a quote,’” Denny said. “No, you never need a quote. What you need is two things – information, and you need to give people the chance to explain why.” Take advantage of paraphrasing and making the information clear. Moreover, don’t quote what you’ve just written, and try to keep quotes to fewer than 15 words.
  10. Take a break between writing and editing. When editing, you might read from the last sentence up; print out your story and edit it with a pen; or scrutinize it line by line.

Former CNN Correspondent Candy Crowley Visits Merrill College

Candy and Renee

By Amanda Eisenberg’16

Former CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley spoke to Renee Poussaint’s Women in the Media class on Tuesday, March 29. Among the many topics she covered, Crowley spoke of gender discrimination she faced in journalism school.


She also discussed the importance of having different voices in the newsroom to come up with the best way to present a story.


A student in the class asked Crowley if she ever worried about how she looked on TV.

Ph.D. Candidate Wells Named Arkansas Assistant Professor

Rob Wells

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Merrill College Ph.D. candidate and popular journalism adjunct lecturer Rob Wells will be heading to Fayetteville, Arkansas and the Lemke Department of Journalism this fall. As an Assistant Professor, he’ll be teaching data journalism as well as developing new classes there. Another Merrill College Ph.D. graduate – Ray McCaffrey – is the director of the Ethics Center in the Lemke Department of Journalism at Arkansas.

We had an opportunity to talk with Wells about his upcoming job and what he has learned here as a Ph.D. student in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism:

1) Tell me about the new job and what you’ll be doing.

I will be teaching data journalism at the Lemke Department of Journalism in Fayetteville, a very nice town in the northwestern corner of Arkansas.  The department has a mix of journalism, advertising and public relations students, which I find interesting because of the different perspectives students bring to class. This will be a basic data journalism class examining how to use spreadsheets, data visualization and relational databases, and will draw material and concepts I’ve developed in my business journalism classes. I will also be teaching the graduate level communications theory class, which is very exciting since this is at the intersection of history, philosophy, culture and journalism. I will be able to drop some Plato and Aristotle and Marx on the students and make their heads explode – which is exactly what happened to me here and at St. John’s College when I read this material. I am very, very excited about this class as well.

2) You’ve been working on a new online statistics course for journalists – how challenging has that been? Why online?

Professor Deborah Nelson and I have developed a statistics class for journalism students. It will fulfill their analytic reasoning requirements in the general education sequence. This covers all of the material in your basic college statistics class but the examples and context are for journalists. I intend to cover a variety of typical reporting problems that involve statistics, from medical studies to sports scores to crime rates to economics news. The whole idea is that journalism students need to improve their numerical literacy, or nummeracy. Being well-versed in basic statistics  is a very powerful reporting tool. You can really turn the tables on a company or a government agency if you have your statistical chops down. I’ve seen this done before. I will develop this class over the summer and, yes, it will be challenging to present it in an engaging way. We are doing it online because it is about time we do it online! The material lends itself to an online presentation. If we get this right, hopefully we can scale it up.

3) What have you learned as a Ph.D. student here at Merrill College? What should a student know coming in about the program?

This is tough to answer in a concise format. I learned how to become a much more effective teacher and how to experiment in the class. I learned the power of collaborating with awesome colleagues like Sandy Banisky, Sean Mussenden, and Deborah Nelson, and how that can make the classes so interesting and special for the students. My Ph.D. cohort ally Pallavi Guha and I figured out the immense amount of talent and resources available here for teacher training and professional development. That was a surprise and a welcome benefit of the program. The Ph.D. process is daunting and I was grateful to have allies like Pallavi, James Gachau and Carole Lee as members of my cohort – we worked through the problems and supported each other a lot. We edit each others’ papers and discuss presentation strategies. I could not have finished this program without those guys. The major thing is you have to go out and make the program work for you. There are general guidelines but you have to work really hard to find a dissertation committee that makes sense, find relevant classes, and reach out to a wide range of faculty both within and outside Merrill College. I was also glad I had experience in management before coming here, because so much of this involves working with your dissertation committee and telling them what you need and figuring out how to align your work with their schedules. My committee – Sarah Oates, Kalyani Chadha, Mark Feldstein. Ira Chinoy and David Sicilia – has been very demanding but also very supportive. Linda Steiner isn’t on my committee but was always ready to help me. I am surprised by their energy and commitment, and hope to reciprocate when I advise master’s students.

About Rob Wells

Rob Wells is the former deputy bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw 22 reporters who covered real-time business, economics and financial news in the nation’s capital. Prior to this, he was a business reporter for Dow Jones, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press. He holds a master’s degree in liberal studies from St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he studied philosophy, literature, history and political science. His 2015 paper on business journalism and financial history, “A Strong Sense of Outrage: Stan Strachan, the National Thrift News and the Savings and Loan Crisis” was awarded top student paper at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2015.

He was a 2012 Reynolds Visiting Professor at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, a program sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

He is currently finishing his dissertation.

Great Resume Tips from ESPN’s Heather Dinich

AWSM Student Chapter President Marissa Morris with Heather Dinich of ESPN.

Morris and Dinich. Photo: AWSM student chapter.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The student chapter of the Association for Women in Sports Media hosted ESPN’s Heather Dinich this week. One of the primary discussions was about resumes – and how to make them stand out. Student Chapter President Marissa Morris wrote down the best tips that were offered and we’re happy to pass them along here to all Merrill students:

1. Make yourself stand out. She spoke to several of her editors at ESPN and they see thousands of resumes a year. Find something that makes you unique and different and would be something they remember about you.

2. Before going on an interview make sure you know everything about the organization as well as the person you are interviewing with. Heather’s editors at ESPN explained this is so important because it shows that you did your homework and are dedicated to getting the job.

3. Employers really do look at your social media accounts. Make sure they are appropriate!

4. When choosing clips, find ones that relate to the job you are applying for. In addition, chose clips that show different styles of writing. For example, a game recap, an opinion piece, and feature story.

5. It is okay to venture into something different such as news or politics. Sometimes that will make you a better sports reporter!

6. Remember that it is all going to work out! Heather explained that she wished someone shook her and said, “It will all be okay!” when she was looking for jobs right out of school. She said you will receive many rejection letters but you can’t let this discourage you.

Merrill College Unanimously Recommended for Reaccreditation

Knight Hall Atrium

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism was unanimously recommended for reaccreditation Saturday in Chicago by a committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

The college has a “truly impressive four, five and six-year graduation rate, an outstanding office of student services and robust internship program with intensive supervision,” said Doug Anderson, dean emeritus of the Penn State College of Communications and head of the four-member site team that visited the college in February. “There wasn’t much not to like.”

Anderson’s report to the committee praised the college for its small classes that provide one-on-one interaction with teachers as well as the opportunities students have to publish their work while enrolled. He said the college’s assessment plans for both the undergraduate and master’s programs “could be considered models” for how to evaluate student progress.

The committee voted 14-0 to recommend reaccreditation. The recommendation will be considered by the full accrediting council in May.

The site team evaluated a 300-page “self study” prepared by the college that summarized its programs, curriculum, facilities, faculty and resources, followed by a four-day inspection of the college.

“We are delighted that the accrediting committee concluded that Merrill College provides an outstanding education for the journalists of tomorrow,” said Merrill College Dean Lucy Dalglish. “The site team had several terrific suggestions for improvement, and we look forward to implementing them over the next six years until the next accreditation visit.”