Sunday, March 31, 2013

Observations of an Editorial Intern: On Being Deadline-Driven

#DailyWings: "Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation." -Charlotte Brontë, Villette

This post is a part of my blog series, "Observations of an Editorial Intern" (as inspired by the CAFME Summer Intern Diaries). This series focuses on my experiences of interning as a journalism student for a news publication. Any viewpoints expressed on my blog are not reflective of the publication I work for. 

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It's been a while since I updated my blog series for this semester, Observations of an Editorial Intern. Juggling classes, multiple school organizations and an editorial internship has been both a challenge and a rewarding experience. I've become much more attentive to news values, email communication, deadlines and interviewing tactics; at the same time, I am still learning new things every week. 

For anyone who is hoping to gain a better sense of a particular field, there is a lot of value in learning from experts -- essentially, others who have been working in the industry for much longer. You can ask them about trends they've seen over the years, impact on the public and the micro-level details of working in that field on a daily basis. These people can include long-term employees, graduates who have gotten their feet through the door and are navigating the waters, even your mentors or bosses. 

Tonight, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Henry Fuhrmann, assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Times copy desks, at a dinner organized for UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It was incredibly neat to hear Mr. Fuhrmann's perspectives, particularly on the social media aspect of journalism, and learn more about his experiences in the news industry. 

As an aspiring journalist, I've got a long way to go; in the meantime, I think it's helpful to learn from people like Mr. Fuhrmann and also pick a few things up along the way on my own. One of the most significant skills I've learned -- and am still working on -- this semester involves meeting deadlines on a regular basis. This doesn't pertain to just my news internship, but also class assignments and club events. There are always more stories to write, more exams to study for and more emails that need a response. They are all a part of the process of "getting things done," but that's much easier said than, well, done. I have yet to discover a formula for being both deadline-driven and well-rested (if someone makes this discovery, please let me know ASAP), but here are a few specific tips I've picked up over the past few months that have been really useful: 

1) Prioritize your deadlines based on timeliness and importance. Obviously, you would choose to cram for tomorrow's test rather than edit your job application that's due in two weeks. But what if you had two exams to study for, or two stories to write? I spend twice as much time reviewing for science exams as I do for humanities classes, mainly because I'm terrible at science. And for stories, work on the article that will have a greater impact and will matter most to the audience, first. 

2) Spend a fixed amount of time on research. Before this semester, I used to take hours and hours researching the people I was supposed to interview for stories and coming up with the perfect list of questions. Now, I know there's no such thing. One, interviews can spin in different directions that lead to many follow-up questions that I hadn't expected to ask. Two, most of the background information I gather comes from conducting the actual interviews rather than anticipating answers or reading up on every single article ever written on the topic. 

Now, I spend about 20 minutes, tops, preparing for interviews. While it's important to know what you're getting yourself into, there's only so much homework you can do before picking up the phone. Get the basics down, then make the call. 

3) Focus on one deadline at a time. Point is, multitasking is overrated and can often lead to disappointing outcomes. If you procrastinate and then try to finish a class assignment while writing a story (assuming both are due tomorrow), you end up with an awful -- or mediocre, at best -- grade, a poorly written article and baggy eyes. Do one or the other, take a short break and then switch tasks. Trust me on this one. 

4) Keep deadlines at the forefront of your mind with easy-access reminders. Without Google Calendar and a Moleskine notebook, my world stops turning. And if I didn't keep up the Sticky Notes on my laptop at all times, I'd forget half my deadlines. Of course, you could argue that having the deadlines ingrained in your mind makes you more anxious about meeting them; I say these reminders keep me going. 

I also use Sticky Notes to write encouraging messages for myself, like "You can do it!" or "Finish this essay and you can buy yourself a cupcake from Sugarland." Sounds cheesy, but it works. 

5) Get it done, but get it right. With the rise of new media, there's competition to be the first in posting breaking news. Sites like Twitter and Facebook make this easier than ever now. But in all the haste to hit "Share" or "Publish," there's greater potential for making mistakes. Embarrassing ones. My UNC-CH journalism professor, Ryan Thornburg, always says, "Write  the story that gets done." Whatever you're working on doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be thorough and accurate. Meet the deadline, but make sure your work is of quality.

Wendy Lu

How do you manage your time wisely and make sure you meet deadlines in a timely fashion? Do you have any suggestions for balancing classes, work and other aspects of your life?


Monday, March 25, 2013

Call for Submissions: Wander Magazine Wants "Travel Horror Stories" From YOU!

#DailyWings: “I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters.” 
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Earlier today, we were greeted -- as if "greet" is the right word -- with a flurry of snow. On my way to class, the wind and snow almost knocked me over! Either North Carolina weather is being ridiculous or I need to start eating meat again. What is going on, y'all? I mean, it's almost April. 

Now that we've established the peculiarity of April snow, I wanted to share an awesome opportunity with you: Ever wanted to be published in a magazine? 

One of the best things about being a student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communication is getting involved with various media projects in a professional news setting. This semester, I'm on the staff for Wander travel magazine, a JOMC 456 class project that has just released a call for submissions. My wonderful readers, if you have studied abroad (or currently are), spent a holiday somewhere exotic, conducted research in different parts of the world or engaged in other all-around cool things while traveling, this might interest you: 

We're looking for memorable "travel horror stories" from people who have traveled abroad outside the United States. This includes cultural food first-times, language flubs, awkward moments, you name it. We're in search for fun, amusing and quirky anecdotes from anyone at all -- you don't have to be a UNC student! If you've got a good story you'd like to tell, just comment below or email me at 

Submissions should be no more than 100-200 words long. They're really just short snippets -- a few sentences about a "horrifying" experience you had while traveling abroad. 

Other details: Some folks have been sending in longer entries; if it's just a little bit longer than the 200-word limit, that's fine. The design of this feature also depends on how many submissions we receive, so if we have fewer entries to choose from then having 200-word forms would work. 

Wendy Lu

What's the weirdest, wackiest, scariest thing that has happened to you while traveling abroad? Share in comments below!


Friday, March 22, 2013

In a Nutshell: My Week as a Vegetarian

#DailyWings: “It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them.” — R.A. Salvatore, Sojourn

I used to be one of those people who said they'd never go on any sort of diet because of how much they love food. Well, the latter still applies to me: I love to eat. (Who doesn't? In the end, no matter how terrible your day is, pepperoni pizza and cookies and other comfort food will always be there for you.) 

But since coming to college, I've developed a bad habit of eating junk like processed edibles, unhealthy snacks and fatty meals because of the convenience. And, let's face it, junk food tastes pretty good. I was lucky enough to avoid gaining the "freshman 15," but having a fast metabolism doesn't necessarily equate to top-notch health, nor does it last. Earlier, it hit me that I'm going to be 21 years old in a couple months — well into adulthood — and, 
unfortunately, can't eat whatever the hell I want anymore. 

A few weeks ago, I made the choice to go vegetarian as part of my resolution to be healthier. Also, quite a few of my friends are vegetarian for various reasons, and they love it. Plant-based diets tend to be lower in fat and higher in fiber, because the focus is on vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and seeds rather than meat and fish. Evidence suggests that people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to exercise more, weigh less and live longer. 

Being on a diet isn't always easy, especially for a first-timer like me, so my original plan was to try vegetarianism for only one week (no big commitments). That way, I could promise myself that I'd stick with vegetarian meals for a short period of time without feeling pressured to continue in case it didn't work out. 

I decided to go vegetarian because I wanted to be healthier and feel less bloated after every meal. That meant cutting out meat -- beef was never really my thing, anyway -- but not eggs or dairy products (also known as lacto-ovo vegetarianism). But more than that, I wanted to be creative with cooking again. 

I spoke with Suzanne Hobbs, author of "Living Vegetarian For Dummies," who said many people who start out vegetarian tend to dwell on food restrictions, which makes avoiding meat more difficult and following the diet less enjoyable. 

"Thinking not so much in terms of what you can't have, but in terms of what is available that you can have is one way to do it," said Hobbs, who is also a clinical associate professor of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Public Health. "Frame it differently in your mind. Instead of taking it [all] away, boy think of all the things you can have." 

So during my week as a vegetarian, I branched out. Pasta dinners that would normally contain chicken or pork were modified, and my daily pepperoni pizza lunches were replaced with fresh 1.5.0. on Lenoir Mainstreet meals. I tried quinoa tabouli for the first time and blended ingredients together that created a unique combination, like rice and peanuts. 

Many people often think of foods like tofu, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils and other types of legumes as "vegetarian food." (Vernon Dursley most notably described fruits and vegetables as "rabbit food.") But with every experiment in the kitchen, I couldn't help but think, "Why haven't I tried cooking with these foods before? I feel so silly for missing out!" 

I've gleaned a few meals from my week as a vegetarian and posted photos below. If you're seriously considering vegetarianism or simply want some new ideas for meals, perhaps this will spark inspiration: 

Props to my sister, Hope, for coming up with this veggie omelet: cheese, onion, tomato and spinach. Sides include an adorable clementine, bread rounds and cheese

Here are the ingredients I used for SELF Magazine's Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas (not including chicken or anchovies), which I've been meaning to try forever

About an hour later, dinner was served: Chickpea, broccoli and mushroom rigatoni in a lemon-olive oil sauce (my own addition), dashed with garlic and seasoning

This hearty lentil soup is perfect for days when you are just too busy for homemade meals (A.K.A. you're a full-time college student like me...)

You can never go wrong with hummus and carrots, which is much more delicious than cookies or candy and makes you feel 10x better about yourself
Honestly, I thought sticking to a vegetarian diet would be more difficult. But that was only the case when meat was right in front of me or I had to turn down offers. Being able to cook my own meals and trying out different recipes made the experience much more fun and rewarding for me. Also, I felt a lot lighter -- but not hungrier, which is common for new vegetarians -- and felt full, not bloated, after meals. 

Although technically it's been more than a week since my vegetarian ventures began, I've kept going! Well, I did end up going back to meat for a couple days, mainly because my mom made her delicious duck specialty over spring break and I couldn't say no. Since then, I've minimized my meat intake simply because I feel better when I choose a veggie omelet and fruit over bacon and eggs. This probably won't last forever, because if anything, vegetarianism taught me that well-rounded meals are the best. 

Wendy Lu

Have you ever tried a diet before? If so, what was the experience like for you? If not, would you ever? 


Friday, March 8, 2013

What Makes You a Writer

#DailyWings: "“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive." 
-Thich Nhat Hanh

It's been a while. With newspaper articles, magazine stories, research papers and midterm exams swinging at me like cherry bombs every few days, I'm beginning to understand how a juggler must feel. These days, I'm averaging four hours of sleep and barely have time to eat or take a mental breather. Occasionally, I'll watch an episode of "My Mad Fat Diary" just to remind myself not to go, well, mad. 

I miss writing. To keep myself content, I have written some poetry. Short pieces, portholes for me to displace my strongest emotions. But I miss prose. I miss long-winded sentences that keep going and going until you aren't quite sure how you got from Point A to Point B but you know you're in a different place than you were before you started and it feels like a good thing. 

It's true that I crank out two to four stories every week for the town newspaper, and it's been an incredible training experience so far. But last night, I cracked open my journal for the first time in a month. One month! I couldn't believe that it had been that long since I actually sat down to write for myself without worrying about making the sentences perfect. I miss making mistakes and letting them be. I miss writing for the love of it. 

The thing is, when people find out I'm a writer, they always ask: "So, what exactly do you write? Why do you do it?" 

I tell them it's impossible for me to go one week without writing -- otherwise, I start to feel miserable and become a cranky person to be around. I tell them that going so long without writing makes me start to fall apart in every possible way. The lack of an expressive outlet, a canvas on which to put my thoughts, raw and dripping with intention and emotion, makes me feel like I'm trapped in a jar. 

Here's the awful part. Last night, I only opened my long-neglected journal because, finally, I could feel myself slipping. My ability to stay on top of things -- studying for school, reporting for stories, remembering to eat -- had reached its threshold and was going downhill. Fast. 

Let me say it again: I only began to write again because every other part of my life was beginning to crumble. Because I figured doing some journal work would allow me to focus on my "real" work -- the work that actually counts. Pathetic. 

That was the first time I wrote in a month, and for disgusting reasons. One whole month! I wondered, almost afraid of the answer, How can I call myself a writer when I don't even write consistently? Does this mean I've lied to the people who think I'm incapable of going a week without writing because I so obviously love and need it that much? 

As I pondered over these questions, a part of me felt like a total fraud. One of the most flawed tendencies a writer can have is to only write when it's convenient. When the "itch" is there and time allows. As it goes, I've easily fallen into that trap. 

Yet, something occurred to me. I'd labeled myself as an awful person for going on hiatus and practically abandoning my personal literary ventures. But then what made me return to my journal, and to this blog, again? The thing is, no matter how long it's been or for whatever reasons, I always come back. 

Even though I'm working nearly every day toward my dream journalism career, I've realized it's not enough. there is still this need to take the time to be creative in my own way. I've flirted with different pathways -- clinical psychology, medical school, freelance artistry, even archaeology, for God's sake! I could be doing anything else in the world, but the literary life just keeps popping up. 

I chose UNC-Chapel Hill instead of some hipster arts and communications college in Boston to keep my options open, but I still went into journalism. Even when midterms loom ahead, I get inspired for my next poem and make sure to write down a couple phrases for later. Even when I'm writing a 50k-word novel and it totally sucks, I keep going. Even when I hate myself for ignoring the words in my head that are just begging to be written, I jot them down anyway -- even if it is one month late. Maybe Albus Dumbledore was on to something when he said it's our choices that make us who we are. 

So when people ask what makes me a writer and why, I'll tell them it's not because my life depends on it; to a certain extent that may be true, but I like to think that I'm a writer because I choose to write. Maybe it's better this way. Now that I think about it, telling people I don't live to write, but that I write to live, seems like such an easy way out. The truth is, I chose to come back and start again. And if that wasn't for the love of writing, I don't know what is. 

It could be the black ink that just never rubs off the side of your middle finger. It could be that you stay up past midnight because the words are just flowing and, oh god, you don't know how long this high will last. It could be that your best friends all happen to come from stories -- yours, especially. What makes you a writer? 

Wendy Lu

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