November 6, 2005

A journalist's lessons:
Newswriting presentation November 7, 2005

This entry is an outline for a talk I will give to Dennis Jerz's Newswriting (EL227) class on November 7, 2005.

I'd like to talk today about my employment experiences working as a journalist for different news organizations, particularly, the cool things I've gotten to do, how I've grown, how I've been jaded, where I, and most journalists need to develop, and some of the ways to develop in this reputed bad press press business.

About me...
My journalistic past, present and future:

  • Where I've been: high school intern (11th grade) at my hometown newspaper, The Mount Pleasant Journal.
  • Off to the Hill (Seton Hill, that is): I joined the Setonian as a freshman contributor, became a staff writer, then was promoted to news/online editor in the 2004-2005 year.
  • Summer 2005 (May-August): I applied and was accepted as an investigative reporting intern at the Greensburg Tribune-Review. My work is proudly on display.
  • Currently, I am the news editor of the Setonian.
  • Where am I going?: Um, trying to figure that out. I'm freelancing for the Trib...we'll see where that goes.

    There's a job fair on November 10, 2005. I'm attending. :-D I like NYC and where the Setonian has pointed me: The New York Times.

So today's about me--where I've been as a journalist. My experiences as a journalist on the job for various organizations. Here goes...

High points of Setonian reporting:

Internship tops:

As an investigative reporter, I didn't regularly cover the everyday newsroom stories (i.e. obituaries, fires, car crashes, etc.). I was, for the majority of the summer in an air-conditioned office with the senior writers on the staff.

It was a great position. My former editor pushed up the hierarchy for me to get some of the best stories, and I did get a great deal of them.

Learning landmarks:

  • First article: 'Truth in Music' stalls in committee
    -learning legal
    -Pennsylvania civics lesson: When is the PA session in? Why do legislators get paid so much for being in session only a few months per year? :-)

  • Court reporting: Three stories involving court coverage:
    Trial begins for parents accused in infant's death
    Coroner defends hypothermia finding in infant's death
    Children and vehicles: A tragedy in the making

    Court reporting is difficult for the novice. Defendants, lawyers, names, titles, issues, laws in question, evidence... It is mind-boggling; however, with practice, it can be formulaic.

    -Don't go it alone. Chances are, you won't get a chance to go alone as an intern. The Trib sent out my editor with me on my first assignment, and I paired up with David Hunt on the second article.
    -Take a recorder.
    -Don't write down everything--it's okay if you miss an amazing quote. The lawyers have enough rhetorical ammo; you'll get another one.

  • Ticking off the PA governor: Rail line reopens in Indiana County

    Asking the tough questions is your job as a reporter, but you have to keep those tough questions fair.

    Often, people can't separate you from your work, so you must assess your affiliations in order to keep yourself neutral. I've struggled with this over the past few years. In order to keep myself clear (to a certain degree) from conflict of interest issues, I don't join campus politically-affiliated or associated organizations. That's not only my decision, but also the guideline given by the Trib.

    Though you may be able to keep your affiliations separate in your mind (or think you can), your fairness in covering certain topics such as a political party, an issue such as abortion, or a sports team or university office, can be affected.

    Though you may think you don't have a bias, it still can exist. It's especially seen in the topics you approach and the questions you ask during interviews.


  • Sometimes it's great. (letters of praise, letters to the editor)
  • Sometimes it really hurts. (letters of disdain and calls for corrections)

Formulaic vs. Creativity:

Formulaic stories have a definite structure. They are usually constructed in strict inverted pyramid style or mimic the previous days' stories, for example, obituaries.

Creative journalism? To some people it sounds like an oxymoron, but to me it isn't. It's even more challenging than creative writing because you have to take someone's real story of extremes: pain or despair or elation, and make it comprehensible for a public who has not been through the same situation. Non-fiction is often more bizarre than that Kurt Vonnegut or Shakespeare drama on your bookcase. You are responsible as the conduit to make everyone who reads your work say, "I understand".

These stories have a definite formulaic or creative structure or a mix. Though I like to think I'm creative in everything I do, there are some stories that adhere to a certain structure, as set forth by the organization, tradition and the type of story it is.

So, what do you think these stories demonstrate: formula, creativity, a mix of both elements or something else?

Life's a beach

Well-drilling owner always put family first

Sony worker interprets when Japanese bicyclist hurt

Jerry Springer's (ahem) Amanda Cochran's final thought:
I've heard it said you either have ink flowing through your veins or not. I do, and there's no refuting it. You may not be interested in journalism, and that's fine, because if I get a paper cut, it's a lot harder for Shout to get it out for me.

But seriously, journalistic basics are foundational for a critical thinking about everything. By studying journalism, you carry with you tools for assessing arguments, and a dogged determination to find the truth in yourself and in others.

I love this work, but it is work. Living up to the standards of this difficult, competitive field is taxing. I have a long, long way to go.

Realize that not everyone's a good journalist, and that's okay, but everyone can benefit from the mindset of one.

Many thanks to Dennis Jerz and his class for the invitation to speak.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at November 6, 2005 4:37 PM | TrackBack

Your enthusiasm for journalism was evident in your presentation--I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was equally impressed with the experience that you've accrued. All of your articles were excellent. You effectively demonstrated how elements of creativity can be used in news writing, as well. By the way, thank you for your complement.

Posted by: NancyGregg at November 7, 2005 2:23 PM

Thank you, Nancy. I had a great time today. I'm not a teacher, but when the topic is something I love, I can talk about it for days. :-D

And your blog comments are stellar...keep blogging. I enjoy your perspective.

Posted by: Amanda at November 7, 2005 4:22 PM

I thought your presentation was awesome, Amanda...

You've come so far and done so many unbelievable things. I'd have been lost with my last article if not for you, and I'm so happy for your help, and for having such an amazing friend.

Don't let anyone bring you down, Amanda. People will always say jerk-ish things, but you're just too cool to dwell in their pettiness.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at November 11, 2005 11:13 PM

Don't make me break out in -another- chorus of "You Light Up My Life", Val.

Thanks for your sweet comments, dearie. I appreciate it. A gal needs friends like you. :-D

Posted by: Amanda at November 12, 2005 12:00 PM
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