Isadora Vail

22 Mar

Statesman reporter Isadora Vail answered the following questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope.

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
Going on five years this summer

What are some examples of stories you write about?
The public safety beat covers anything from weather to murders to fires to traffic collisions.

How did you end up covering these types of stories?
I began working crime and courts in Williamson County. I wanted to stay on the crime beat, but also move downtown.

What steps did you take to get into Journalism?
My degree from Texas State University is in Print Journalism. I tried to be in as many activities and organizations I could to learn about journalism (since I changed my major my last semester). I wrote for the school paper and was President for the student chapter of Society of Professional Journalists.

How do you find crime stories to report?
Usually crime just happens. On slow days I will call around to see if there is anything more I could be working on and I go to the courthouse to check arrest affidavits.

Why do reporters use “alleged” a lot when reporting crime stories?
We try not to use allege too much, but when someone’s arrested for a crime, it’s still preliminary and nothing has been proven in court. We can’t say for sure someone “did” a crime when they haven’t been convicted by a jury. Once and if they are convicted, we can drop the “alleged” and say convicted with some authority.

How often do you blog and twitter for your job?
I use both every single day.

Why is it important to blog and twitter for your job?
Twitter helps me connect with readers and get some outside perspective and blogs are written quickly to get breaking news on the site. Some days I make it out to a crime scene before a photographer, so I will take that opportunity to snap some photos with my phone and post that to Twitter. It’s an amazing tool for reporting.

What hours do you typically work?
1:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Overall, which story/issue has been your favorite to report? Why?
I really enjoy covering court cases or breaking news. These types of stories really connect me with people who are feeling something in that moment. I try my best to portray their feelings and the challenge of recording that by deadline always drives me.

How is reporting about crimes different from writing other news stories?
Crime reporting is definitely daunting because most of the time, these are stories in which someone has been hurt or killed by someone else. It never fails to amaze me how people have such little value for another’s life or property.

What type of person makes a good courts & crime reporter?
I think they have to be unbiased and quick thinking. They also have to be able to handle reporting on crimes and death as well as be multimedia. It’s also very competitive. The stories they will be writing are also going to be told by every media outlet in the city, so that reporter should be creative in finding a different way to tell the story.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I love what I do. :)

Gabrielle Munoz

15 Feb

Statesman copy editor Gabrielle Munoz answered the following questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope.

What is your job at the Statesman?
I work on the news desk, primarily as a copy editor, but I also design pages and work as a wire editor. I often edit for the sports desk, too.

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
I started as an intern in September 2009, during my senior year of college, and joined the desk that December.

What experience do you have?
I got interested in journalism when I joined my high school newspaper staff, and that’s what drove me to major in journalism in college. I worked at UT’s newspaper, The Daily Texan, for three years and had two editing internships before coming to the Statesman. Those internships gave me firsthand experience editing at metro newspapers and really helped me decide that copy editing was something I wanted to pursue.

What hours do you work during the day?
I usually come in a little after 4 p.m. and leave around midnight.

What happens during your average work day?
I come in and get started on any early stories that have already been turned in. The metro editors and copy chiefs meet at 5:30 to plan exactly what is going in the next day’s paper (for instance, they might decide that a story that’s been planned for the metro front should be pulled to A1 instead), so after this meeting I’ll get my story assignments. The A, B and Business section chiefs assign all the stories that go on their section fronts, and all inside stories are up for grabs.

As the night goes on I’m constantly keeping an eye on the editing queue, waiting for my assigned stories to arrive and also picking up inside copy that hasn’t been assigned. I check stories for accuracy, style, spelling and grammar, as well as any news holes or facts that don’t quite add up — if a quote seems like it might be missing a word or I think a name is spelled wrong, I give the reporter a call to verify. I then write headlines, photo captions and any other display type and send the story on to my section chief for another edit.

When every story on a page has had its final edit, the page designer prints out a copy of the page for a final edit. I’ll give the page a final read to catch any last-minute mistakes. After deadline, we get early copies of the newspaper from the press room, and we’ll check one more time to make sure there aren’t any major errors. If we find something really bad, like a misspelled word in a headline, we can fix it for the final edition of the paper.

Why do you like copy editing?
I’m a word nerd, and I just love editing, fine-tuning and fixing mistakes. I get great satisfaction out of catching an error before it can make it into the paper. And the stories are always different, so I’m constantly learning new things, whether it’s a grammar rule or a fact about a foreign country.

Why did you choose copy editing over reporting?
I prefer to do the behind-the-scenes work. Some people like to do the interviews and reporting, but I’d rather take a close look at the story once all the big pieces have come together.

What traits/skills make a good copy editor?
Strong grammar and language skills, of course, and extreme attention to detail. Knowing when to ask questions is one of the most important traits — you don’t need to know everything or memorize the AP Stylebook, but you should know where you can look to find the answers.

What advice do you have for someone who might want to become a copy editor?
Read everything you can get your hands on — newspapers, books, anything — and stay on top of current events. Familiarize yourself with the AP Stylebook, and get involved with your high school and college papers.

What is the AP Stylebook and what is your favorite entry in it?
The AP Stylebook is one of our most important reference tools — it’s often referred to as the editor’s bible. It’s an A to Z guide of grammar, punctuation and style rules (for example, “senator” should be abbreviated as “Sen.” when used as a title before a name). I’m not sure if I have a favorite entry, but I enjoy all the different rules in the numerals entry, which has tons of examples on how to use numbers, from ages to votes to percentages.

What is something that most people probably don’t know about your job?
Many people don’t know that we write the headlines, photo captions and other display type that you see in the newspaper. Being a copy editor is about more than just editing.

Patrick Caldwell

20 Oct

Statesman music writer Patrick Caldwell answered the following questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope. (Update – Spring 2011: Patrick left the Statesman to move out of state to Portland, Ore.)

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
I’ve worked for the Statesman since August of 2008, but I started working as a full-time music writer in November 2009.

What types of stories do you write?
I work on a pretty wide variety of stories. Sometimes I write stuff that’s news-oriented and straightforward and not all that different from what you find in the Metro and State section. I also write a lot of profile stories on bands and musicians. These can range from short and (hopefully) sweet stories to in-depth profiles that involve talking to a lot of different people who know the subject. From time to time I do broader stories on trends or developments in the musical world — which can mean something like a story about the young soul music scene here in Austin. On top of that, I do a fair number of reviews of live shows and albums. And, sometimes, I get to do fun stuff that doesn’t have much of anything to do with anything, other than that I think it’ll be interesting to read — like hanging out with the indie band Titus Andronicus from wakeup to bedtime during South by Southwest.

Do you have a blog? If so, what is it called and what is it about?
I contribute to the Statesman’s Austin Music Source blog, along with the paper’s other music writers. It’s kind of a catch-all blog about the Austin music scene — so you’ll find everything from reviews to interviews to essays to news to short features.

What is the best thing about being a music writer?
Learning about the people behind your favorite clubs and bands. Music is fascinating and fun all on its own, of course, but getting the chance to find out about the personalities that make the music scene what it is always fascinates and often inspires. Austin is full of passionate people who lead interesting lives, and getting the chance to dig in and find out what drives them and what stories they have to tell never fails to intrigue.

What is the worst thing about being a music writer?
That nagging feeling that no matter how much you do — no matter how much you write or how many shows you go to — you’ll never be able to do justice to music in Austin. It’s such a big, layered beat with so many different dimensions that you won’t ever be able to cover everything. The Statesman could employ a dozen full-time music writers and still not be able to write about everything out there that’s interesting. Sure, there’s a lot of other difficulties to contend with — I struggle with late nights and writer’s block quite a bit — but that’s definitely the thing that bothers me the most. That, and the e-mails. Hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails every day.

What is an average work day like for you?
Like a lot of people at the paper, I don’t know that I really have one — some days I might be outside the office all day writing about a music festival. Other days I’ll be biking around Austin to interview subjects for a story. Some days I’ll have several phone interviews arranged, to talk with bands on tour. Other days I’ll block out, free from distractions, just to write. And some days I’ll focus mainly on listening to music, researching forthcoming stories or otherwise planning for things I’m working on. It’s a very fluid life.

Would you recommend your career to someone else? Why or why not?
Absolutely, insofar as I would recommend to anybody that they do what makes them happy — or at least try to. There’s a lot more people out there who want to write about music than there are paying gigs, so it’s a hard world to make it in. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it if you want smooth sailing. For my part, I’ve been very lucky to get where I am today. But we’re put on this Earth to do what we love, so if writing about music excites you, then go for it. It may not be easy, but you can always find a way to make it work — maybe you’ll have to find another paying job and freelance on the side, or start your own blog or website. But if you’re interested, I would definitely recommend getting your feet wet and doing some writing — and if you dig it, by all means give it a go. As a general rule, try to do whatever you have a passion for. If that doesn’t work out, you can always try something else.

What steps did you take to get into reporting about music?
I started writing about music for my college paper — in my case, the Daily Texan, the student newspaper at the University of Texas. That’s where I learned a lot of the fundamentals, and I’d recommend that anybody interested in any kind of journalism get their start at a student paper — they usually have open auditions for writers and it’s a great way to find out if journalism is right for you. On top of that, of course, I also listened to and continue to listen to a lot of music — and read a fair amount of music writing.

How is being the music writer different from reporting?
There’s a critical dimension to music writing that differentiates it from reporting. All reporters use critical thinking, of course, but a music writer has to report and tell stories, like any other reporter, while also acting as a critic. They have to parse the music that’s out there — talk about what’s good and what’s bad and why. And it can be difficult to juggle those two responsibilities.

What advice would you have for students who want to be music writers when they grow up?
Like I said earlier, write for your student newspaper or any other small publication where you can get your foot in the door — or, if you’d prefer to not have to answer to The Man, start your own blog and write about what you want to write about. Either way, find an excuse to write regularly and extensively. Read a lot — not just music journalism, but anything that’s well-crafted and insightful. And, of course, listen to a lot of music and go to a lot of shows and build your knowledge of the art form. Your musical vocabulary can never be large enough — I’m a long, long way from where I’d like to be.

How do you find stories to write about?
Fortunately, I don’t have to work very hard at finding stories. It’s a huge music scene with so many stories in it that the only challenge is figuring out what to write first. Stories come to me a lot of ways — sometimes I get a CD in the mail that sounds great and has a fascinating story behind it, and off I go. Sometimes I get an e-mail or a tip from a source. And sometimes I go out and see an amazing band or notice something about a club and it snowballs from there. If you listen to a lot of albums or music online and go out a lot, these things will come to you. There’s an infinite supply of stories in the Austin city limits.

How much of your day is spent listening to music?
It varies pretty wildly. Most days I try to listen to at least three or four hours of music, often while I’m doing other work. But if I’m reviewing a record or doing a story on the band I’m listening to, I generally focus my attention exclusively on the music. I try to block out nearly a full day once a week to listen to music that’s been sent to me — especially the local stuff. And there are some days, though they’re rare, that I don’t listen to any music at all. It’s important for me not to get too burned out on music — no matter what you do, even if what you do is something as great as write about music, you have to take breaks. Otherwise the thing you love can turn into an obligation, and that’s not good for your writing or your peace of mind.

How do you find out about new bands? And how can you tell they’re good and worth writing about?
New bands come to my attention almost a million different ways — e-mails from publicists, CDs and records that get mailed to the Statesman, bands that I randomly catch when I go out, bands that I read about on blogs or hear on the radio. In one case, I found out about a band because I was seated next to their bassist on a flight back to Austin from Chicago. Anything can happen. As for what makes them worth writing about — I wish there were a perfect formula for that, but it essentially comes down to two things. Either their music can be interesting or captivating or entertaining, or they can have a personal story that’s fascinating. Either one makes a band worth writing about, and when you get a band with both you’re really lucky.

Who was the most interesting person you’ve ever interviewed? And why?
That’s a hard choice, but I’d have to say Christopher Owens, the lead singer of the indie rock band Girls (a band which does not include any girls, incidentally). Owens grew up in Europe as a member of the Children of God cult, where he was kept isolated from the outside world. He eventually fled to America and bounced around as a Texas punk before eccentric millionaire Stanley Marsh III took him in. He eventually wound up in San Francisco. Needless to say, his life is going to make for an awesome rock star biography someday. He was as nice and open as you could possibly hope for, and in terms of people with a fascinating, winding history, he’s probably at the top of my personal list.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned from an assignment?
I’ve learned way too many things to answer this question definitively, so I’ll just say the first thing to come to mind. The Warehouse District bar and music venue the Ghost Room — which used to be the (awesome) bar the Ginger Man — is so named because its employees are convinced it’s haunted. Stories of creepy things happening there date back all the way to the late 70s, when, the general manager told me, someone died there when it was a different club. I wasn’t able to verify that by the time a story on the venue was due — the details were a bit too scarce — but I’m always fascinated by supposedly haunted places. So if you’re ever seeing a show at the Ghost Room and a chair goes flying across the room, you’ll know a poltergeist might be at work. That or somebody had a little too much to drink.

What bands have you interviewed and/or written about?
Gosh, I honestly don’t know. I probably should have kept a tally all these years. I do know that it would be a very long list, ranging from local bands with interesting stories and/or great music to artists who have sold tens of millions of records and who could buy and sell people like me. Locally, I’d say this is something of a greatest hits: Balmorhea, the Octopus Project, Alejandro Escovedo, Dana Faclonberry and Spoon. Going outside of Austin, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to the very sweet, very missed folk rock genius Vic Chestnutt, who died last year, the guitarist for my all-time favorite psychedelic surf rock band Man or Astro-Man?, and even — although individually, not together — classic pop duo Hall and Oates, who have sold more than 60 million albums. Remember when I said I’d talked to people who could buy and sell me? I was pretty much talking about Darryl Hall.

What are your work hours?
For the most part I try to keep my work hours in the general area of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — most of that time I’m in the newsroom, but I often go out for interviews, and sometimes to write. But as I’ve said, there’s very few rules you can count on when it comes to my job, so sometimes I’ll be in earlier — I once had to come in at 6 a.m. to do an interview with a musician in Berlin — and sometimes I’ll work late on assignments. Every now and then I’ll work until midnight or so to catch up, and on at least a few occasions I’ve worked overnight into the early morning hours. And during festivals, all the rules fly out the window and my work hours are generally whenever I’m awake — during South by Southwest, I was up at 8 a.m. every day and seeing or writing about music until four in the morning or so. It’s kind of all over the place. Of course, there are quieter times, too, so it all balances out in the end.

Do you ever have to see a band you don’t want to see? What do you do?
All the time. Which is not so unusual — every job involves doing something you don’t want to do, and in my case that’s seeing bands I may not be hugely into. In which case I try to do my best to show up, be enthusiastic, be open to the (very strong) possibility that I’m wrong, and keep an open mind.

Do you ever get nervous interviewing bands? Why or why not?
Believe it or not, yes, pretty much every time. Even after years of doing this, I still get a bit jittery whenever I interview someone. It’s not as pronounced as it used to be, but I still feel it, and I get especially anxious when I’m interviewing somebody I really like or somebody really popular. Partially that’s because I’m a shy person by nature. But another big part of it is that intimidation factor that comes into play when you’re talking to somebody with an amazing talent. I spend a lot of time talking to talented, impressive people, and it’s easy to be nervous when you do that.

Is it better to interview a band you like than one you don’t? Why or why not?
For the most part, yes, because you’re liable to know more about a band you like and have a deeper understanding of their music, which generally means you ask deeper and more insightful questions. But that’s not an ironclad rule — as I’ve said, interviewing a band you like can also be really stressful. And sometimes bands you’re not all that into can still turn out to be fascinating, fun interviews that go places you wouldn’t have expected. So to answer the question: yes, generally, but there are exceptions, and they’re not all that rare.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
One word: earplugs. Wear them, live them, love them. It’s all fun and games until you lose your hearing at 35 years old from standing next to the amp at Emo’s.

Is there anyone you would recommend we interview next?
It looks like you’ve talked to a lot of the writers, so I’d suggest talking to someone on the photo desk, like the hard-working, seemingly-able-to-be-five-places-at-once Jay Janner. He shoots great material, and he’s often got a real front-row seat to some of the biggest, most diverse stories. He’s also a thoroughly nice fellow.

Addie Broyles

11 Aug

Statesman food writer Addie Broyles answered the following questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope.

What is your job at the Statesman?
I am the primary food writer and columnist.

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
Since 2006. I was a copy editor when I first started and became the food writer in 2008.

Why did you want to work at the Statesman?
I have always loved telling people’s stories, which is why I got into journalism. Austin is such a great place to live that I moved here without a job and immediately applied for any position they had available at the newspaper, which just happened to be as a copy editor.

What is an average day like for you on the job?
I divide my time between gathering data (cooking at home, doing interviews on the phone or out in the field, reading food blogs, meeting with sources, doing research, taking photos), creating content (blogging, writing stories, publishing photos) and engaging with readers (tweeting links, leaving comments on other food blogs, responding to e-mails).

What is your favorite part of your job?
Learning how to cook new recipes at home. I didn’t go to culinary school, so I’m constantly teaching myself new techniques and recipes in my own kitchen.

What is a memorable story that stands out to you from your experience as a food writer?
I worked a shift as a cashier at a check-out line at H-E-B. I loved getting to talk with all the customers and ring up the items they were buying. Everyone has to buy groceries, but we all have our individual food preferences and habits. It was so cool to see that first hand.

What is the name of your Statesman Blog? What do you write about on this blog?
I write the Relish Austin blog (www.austin360.com/relishaustin), where I get to expand on stories that appear in the paper or put stories or items that don’t have a home in the physical newspaper. There’s so much food news out there that there’s no way to get it all in the paper, plus the audiences for online and print are different. Print readers are typically older and want to read specifically about things going on in Central Texas. Online, the subject matter is much more varied geographically and by topic.

Would you recommend your career to someone else, why or why not?
I’d definitely recommend food writing to anyone who really loves food. Not just to eat it, but what it represents in our lives. You have to understand that a pie isn’t just a pie. Who makes it and how, where the ingredients come from, whom you are eating it with all matter just as much as how it tastes.

What advice do you have for someone who might want to be a food writer?
Read as much about food as you can. You need to know both the technical aspects of cooking, but also how food fits into people’s lives. If you flip through a cookbook from 1960 or 1990, you can find out a lot about what people’s lives were like then. Pay attention at the grocery store to ingredient trends and even prices, and most importantly, relish the art of cooking and eating!

How did you become the Statesman’s food writer?
When Kitty Crider, the former food writer, retired in 2008, I applied almost on a whim.

Do you have to be a chef or a good cook to be a food writer?
You don’t necessarily that to be a great cook, but you need to be curious about the process and what goes into making a good meal. Every single one of us is always learning how to be a better cook, but the important part is that you are willing to try new things and challenge yourself in the kitchen.

What are the differences between a food writer and a restaurant critic?
I don’t review food by giving it a letter grade or a rating. Rather than critiquing a dish, a chef or a restaurant space, I explore the who, what, where, when, why and how behind the food. I’m a storyteller rather than a reviewer.

What do you do when you have to eat something you don’t like?
I don’t eat it.

How do you choose what foods to write about?
I try to write about all kinds of food, keeping a balance between the familiar and the new. Americans aren’t so shy about ethnic food anymore, so I can do a story about exotic fruits and vegetables, chutney, dim sum, kimchi, bahn mi or other dishes that were once unheard of. We also try to write about food in a seasonal way, so you wouldn’t read a story about stews in the middle of summer or watermelon in the middle of winter.

Who would you recommend we interview next?
Marques Harper, the fashion writer, or Patrick Beach, the features writer and beer columnist.

August 2009: Corrie MacLaggan

9 Aug

Corrie MacLaggan

Statesman reporter Corrie MacLaggan answered questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope. Post your own questions for Corrie here. (Update – Spring 2011: Corrie now works for the Reuters service in Austin as a journalist.)

Do you have a beat? If so, what is it? What types of stories do you cover?
Yes. My beat is health and human services. I am part of a team of reporters who cover state government and politics. We are based at the Texas Capitol when the Legislature is in session. I write about issues such as children’s health insurance, foster care and state services for people with disabilities. I also cover political races like the gubernatorial race.

What do you do on a daily basis?

During the legislative sessions, I spent my entire day at the Capitol. I either attend legislative hearings or watch the action on the House floor or Senate floor, and I write about what the lawmakers are doing. For example, if they pass an important bill, I’ll immediately write a blog for our Web site, Statesman.com. Then, I’ll work on a story for the print edition of the newspaper. That may involve interviewing lawmakers and others about why they are for — or against — proposed legislation. During the 2009 session, lawmakers debated everything from whether there should be a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces (that didn’t pass) to whether everyone riding in the back seat of a car should have to wear a seat belt (that did pass).

When the Legislature is not in session, I am based in the Statesman newsroom. During political season, I am assigned to certain races. For example, during the final weeks of the gubernatorial race in 2006, I was assigned to Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s campaign. Strayhorn, a former Austin mayor who also served as Texas comptroller, calls herself “one tough grandma.” When she flew around the state on a private plane for her events, I went along with her and wrote about her campaign.

When I’m not covering political races or a legislative session, I focus on how the state’s health and human services programs are doing. And sometimes I’m sent to various parts of the state to cover news such as the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.

What is the best thing about being a reporter? What is your favorite part of your job?

I love learning about new things, meeting new people, and getting to ask nosy questions! I like going to people’s homes and talking to them about things that are important to them. I get to meet people I would never have met otherwise. Then there is the thrill of breaking a story before anyone else does. And it’s exciting — though of course challenging — working under a deadline.

I also get the opportunity to travel to cool places. Last summer, I won a fellowship to travel to India to write about Americans who seek health care in foreign countries. I accompanied a Texas truck driver on his trip to Chennai, India, for hip surgery. Then, while he was recovering in Chennai, I traveled to two other cities in India — Bangalore and New Delhi — to interview doctors and patients.

Why did you want to be a reporter? How did you get interested in journalism?

Ever since I was little, I have loved to write. I started keeping a journal when I was about 8, and around that time, I started writing short fiction stories. In high school, I got involved with the school newspaper and I was hooked.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a reporter when they grow up?

Write. A lot. About anything you want to write about — and get published somewhere, like your school newspaper. Read a variety of books, blogs, newspapers and magazines. Learn about history, economics, statistics, foreign languages, literature and technology. Be aware that journalism is changing.

Which Statesman reporter would you recommend we interview next? And why?

I think you should interview restaurant critic Mike Sutter. Do I really need to explain why he has a great job?

January 2010: Jaime Margolis

9 Aug


Statesman copy editor Jaime Margolis answered questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope.

What is your job at the Statesman?
I am a copy editor and occasionally a designer.

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
I began as an intern in August 2006 and have been an employee for a little more than three years now.

What does a copy editor do?
When reporters and columnists have stories that are ready for the paper, we read and correct them for spelling, grammar, consistency, accuracy and length. We also write all the things the reporters don’t write — headlines, photo cutlines and sometimes the text that goes with graphics.

When I design, it’s a matter of making those same stories look good on the page and selecting images that help tell the story.

What section do you copy edit? Do you like it?
I primarily work in the sports department. I love that there’s always a record being set or someone doing something new and remarkable. I’m always learning.

I work on the news and business desks a few times a month, and I enjoy the seriousness and import of the stories I read there, as well. As long as I’m editing, I’m happy.

Does a copy editor read everything in the paper? Why or why not?
We read everything but the ads! It’s important that everything have as many eyes on it as possible.

Have you ever noticed an error in the paper? Chances are several thousand other readers saw the same thing, and that comes back to us.

We’re on strict deadlines, so mistakes are bound to slip by us sometimes, but we do our best.

What do you need to know to be a copy editor?
Know grammar, and know what you don’t know. Know when to double-check. Reference books and the Internet are a copy editor’s best friends.

Know when to practice restraint. If a sentence isn’t written exactly the way we’d choose to write it, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Learn when to let the writer’s voice shine through.

Lastly, it helps to have a substantial and ever-expanding vocabulary. In sports, I’m always learning new ways to say “win.”

What is an average day like for you on the job?
I come into the office in the late afternoon and find out what the next day’s paper is going to look like, then wait for the stories to start rolling in. Then I get to work editing and writing headlines. My copy chief reads stories after me to tie up any loose ends and make sure I’ve done everything that needs to be done.

Often games don’t start until 7 p.m. or later, so we might not have the day’s big story until almost midnight. If there’s a late-breaking story that our writers aren’t covering and our wire editors have gone home for the night, I will often be responsible for finding the story on The Associated Press or another wire service, editing it and putting it in the paper.

The last thing I do is review a copy of the paper hot off the presses for any errors we missed the first several times we looked at the story. On most days, a copy editor is the last person to leave the editorial newsroom at night, other than a Web editor.

How is a copy editor different from an editor?
The main difference is that an editor works mainly on the big picture — he or she is instrumental in deciding which stories get written and communicating with reporters as they shape each article. I focus on the story after they’ve polished it up.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Reading has always been my favorite pastime, and now I get to do it for a living. I also love coming up with clever headlines.

Would you recommend your career to someone else, why or why not?
Copy editing is definitely not for most people. If working quietly behind the scenes is for you and you’re passionate about language, it might be something to consider. It helps if you’re a night owl, too. Remember that the paper has to get out seven days a week, even on holidays.

It requires patience, flexibility, fast work and precision. If you’re a person who relishes perfectionism, it might even be fun!

What advice do you have for someone who might want to be a copy editor?
Get to know your dictionary, thesaurus and AP stylebook, and love them.

The best advice anyone has given me is “read, read, read.” Not just the newspaper, which should be part of your daily routine, but also magazines, books and the Internet.

Why is copy editing important?
I work with an extraordinarily talented group of writers, but everybody makes mistakes. It’s our job to make sure you (the readers) don’t see them. We make the Statesman look its best.

What is a memorable story that stands out to you from your experience on the copy desk?
Let’s just say there are plenty of typos that make me laugh — some that aren’t meant for sensitive readers.

What is the AP Stylebook? How important is it to a copy editor?
The AP Stylebook is a newspaper copy editor’s primary resource for questions of punctuation, capitalization and the proper word in any situation.

If I forget whether I need to insert a comma or semicolon, I have the AP Stylebook as a reference.

Many turns of phrase we use in common conversation are actually grammatically incorrect (it’s “different from” not “different than”), and we often use trademarked names for generic objects (not all large, metal trash bins are officially Dumpsters).

Style rules are all about being as accurate and fair as possible.

What is your favorite entry in the AP Stylebook?
I like the “What’s new” section at the front of every year’s Stylebook. It’s a reminder that we need to keep up to date with our changing world.

For example, the 2008 edition included the terms “anti-virus,” “wiki” and “iPod” for the first time. This section lets me know that if there’s anything I need to know about how to use these words (and about 100 other new terms), I’ll find it in the pages that follow.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
The Statesman has its own style guide just for our staff members. It reminds us which terms to use when talking about the things that matter to Central Texas readers.

If I were editing a story about a big parade on the Drag, for example, I could look at a map, then at our style guide and verify that the floats would be going down the right part of Guadalupe Street. Locals know that the only part of the street we call the Drag is the section that runs next to the University of Texas. It would be disappointing to read about an event in the paper only to show up to it and find out you missed it because you were led to the wrong area!

November 2009: Mike Sutter

9 Aug

mike sutter

Statesman food critic Mike Sutter answered questions from Newspapers in Education coordinator Flannery Bope.

Note: Mike Sutter is not a frying pan. As part of his job, he needs anonymity, so, when he walks into a restaurant, no one will recognize him as the Statesman food critic, and perhaps alter their cooking, service and etc. to get a better review. This way, restaurants treat him like any other customer.

What is your job at the Statesman?
I pull double duty as the Food & Life section editor and restaurant critic. I also have a restaurant blog on austin360.com called Forklore, I write about wine and I post Twitter updates through my @forklore account.

How long have you worked at the Statesman?
Since October of 1985. Ronald Reagan was the president.

Have you always been a food critic?
I started as a copy editor, then became a page designer for the Metro section and the front page. The Los Angeles riots, the first Gulf War, the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I designed front pages for all of them. For the past 14 years, I was the art director for our entertainment magazine, XL, which is called Austin360 now.

How did you become the Statesman’s food critic?
While at XL, I worked closely with our former restaurant critic to assign photos for his reviews, and I managed our database of restaurant listings. When the former critic retired in 2008, I interviewed for the job, wrote four reviews and organized the 2008 Dining Guide. I officially started in December 2008.

What is an average day like for you on the job?
On Monday, for example, I wrote reviews of an East Austin seafood place called the Shuck Shack and a Vietnamese sandwich trailer on South Lamar called Lulu B’s. Then I processed five or six photos from the dozens I took while I visited those places. That night, I had a dinner of rabbit with thyme-infused sauce and a glass of Spanish red wine at a downtown restaurant.

How is critiquing different from reporting?
Is reporting involved in critiquing? Both  disciplines involve gathering information. To report a house fire, you go to the scene, you take pictures, you talk to the homeowners or the firefighters. Then you write down the facts, the quotes and your observations of the scene. Same thing with a critique, except the food does most of the talking, and you use more adjectives.

What is your favorite part of your job?
This is where I say “eating,” right? Yes, that’s a magnificent fringe benefit. What I like best, though, is interviewing people who cook for a living. At taco trailers, in hotel kitchens, at fast-food places. Their food, their scars and their interactions with customers make for good listening and even better stories.

Would you recommend your career to someone else, why or why not?
Is there anybody who wouldn’t want my job? Creative writing, people-watching, double cheeseburgers. The work sells itself.

What advice do you have for someone who might want to be a food critic?
Always be aware that your work affects peoples’ lives. People who own restaurants and employ other people, people who work in them to support their families, people who might use your recommendations to spend the money they’ve set aside for special dining-out occasions. Build your knowledge of food by reading cookbooks (“Gastronomique”), chef memoirs (Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”) and online reviews (Yelp, Chowhound).

What is the thing people most misunderstand about critics and critiquing?
Even some of my friends have asked, “How can you be objective about a restaurant when they know who you are and you’re getting all that free food?” I don’t tell restaurant owners where I’m going, and I don’t announce my presence when I get there. I don’t accept free food. I order, eat, pay and leave a tip. The  American-Statesman reimburses me at the end of the month.

What is a memorable story that stands out to you from your critiquing?
An Austin food writer named Mando Rayo and I made a 10-stop taco tour of Austin, half in the morning, half at night. During that tour, we were panhandled, serenaded tableside (twice), offered “spare” power tools from a car trunk and invited into a steaming little kitchen next to a laundromat. We ate something like 40 tacos between the two of us.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I was surprised to learn from a Zagat Restaurant Survey that the No. 1 complaint people have about restaurants isn’t food. It’s service. Then noise. Then prices. Food is fourth.

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