Apple mixes editing, reporting and visuals to create ideal product
By Nick Gebhart
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
In the changing world of journalism, newspapers are turning more to visuals to tell stories. For Charles Apple, a longtime graphic artist and editor, that has always been essential to storytelling.
As a reporter with an art background, Apple was the “go-to” guy in breaking news situations in some of his previous jobs, he said in a phone interview.
“It was rare to send an artist to cover breaking news,” Apple said. But Apple has always been one to defy convention.
In one case, he won an award from Adobe Systems for a graphic he created using Adobe Illustrator. However, a team of programmers who wrote Illustrator itself believed that he could not have possibly created the graphic using their program.
“Nobody told me it was impossible, so I did it,” Apple said.
He had an advantage because as an artist he could questions that reporters wouldn’t think of, Apple said. In 1996, for instance, Apple covered a fire at a fraternity house for The News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, the night before graduation.
For that story, reporters asked where the floor plans of the building were, while Apple asked sources who had lived in the house about how the house was structured. Apple designed a layout of the house based off those sources, which proved to be accurate after the paper located the floor plans.
Apple’s reporting and graphics skills in that story were an award-winning combination; he won an award for graphic design for his work on that story. Apple has also won several other awards for design and news coverage throughout his career.
Apple loves his job because of its unpredictability, which keeps him interested.
“You never know what’s going to happen every day at work,” he said.
This is especially true at his current job as managing editor of visuals at the Victoria Advocate in Victoria, Texas. He has only held the job for four months, after working for other publications including The News and Observer, the Des Moines Register and numerous others.
At the Victoria Advocate, Apple is in charge of all things involving visuals including graphics, photos and video. Apple’s main challenge is to tell stories using visuals.
“Not every reporter knows how to tell a story visually,” Apple said. “There are a lot of moving parts, so young reporters can get overwhelmed.”
Like writing, changes to a story can happen quickly.
Apple said he believes in teaching reporters and building their confidence so they can be better at what they do.
“Do you want to make a point or do you want them to learn something?” Apple said. “You can’t just walk up to someone and start teaching them. An editor is a manager and a manager is a teacher.”
In his view, newspapers are dying off because of bad management.
“Some editors are not good managers. At a place like McDonald’s, bad managers are weeded out or trained to be better,” Apple said. “There’s a lot of turnover because people don’t like working for bad editors. In a lot of cases you don’t leave because of the job, you leave because of the people.”
Apple said he thinks the solution is simple: Find ways to train editors to be better managers. But newspaper won’t do it because it’s too costly or time-consuming.
For aspiring journalists, Apple said his best advice is to be as knowledgeable in as many subjects as possible.
“Get training outside of the field. Learn about government and politics. Math is also important. Probability and statistics has helped me the most,” Apple said. “Technology, history and science are important, too because they can be relevant in a story in a way people may not know about.”
Another lesson is to write clearly for the common reader.
“Don’t write to impress people,” Apple said. “Write for the average man on the street.”