October 2009 Archives

Playing Reporter

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While surfing Google for interviewing strategies to help with the Holocaust assignment, I stumbled across a recent educational tool for developing interviewing skills that was very unique and interesting. Around 2006, the University of Minnesota introduced the game Neverwinter Nights (NWN) into the classroom.  The game allows users to modify its environment.  In the classroom version, students play reporter in a fictional town collecting information about a derailed train.  I've never been a "gamer" per say, but I think this approach to learning would be wonderful practice for beginner journalists. So, here are links to the articles along with brief excerpts. 

"Neverwinter Nights" in the classroom:

NWN has another, very important feature: it is sold along with a game-building toolset that allows users to modify the game, and BioWare encourages players to design their own versions of NWN using "tilesets"-groups of images-which are available legally and online in databases set up by NWN fans around the world. This element of the game is what allowed Hansen and Paul to modify the software for the pedagogical needs of the 3004 course: they replaced the medieval world of Forgotten Realms with the modern world of a small American city called Harperville, and transformed the rogues, wizards, and barbarians into news editors, reporters, and other modern characters.

Where do games belong in Journalism schools?:

Around 2006, the University of Minnesota professors Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen started experimenting with Neverwinter Nights as a platform to create a training game for journalists, a way to use games as a new educational tool: "We wanted to develop an educational game that would allow us to do some experimental work on the efficacy of computer simulations as education tools," says one of its creators. The project has evolved, and they are now using a more suitable platform based on Flash, but the biggest step made here is that they tried to experiment with the intersection of training and games.


Interview Techniques

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"It's odd that so much emphasis is put on teaching journalists how to write an article when that skill is useless without also teaching journalists how to develop strong interview techniques." - Sarah Stuteville

I knew when enrolling in EL227, I would have to interview people.  And, in honesty, the vision of me awkward and stammering questions at an interviewee was enough to make me quit the idea and never look back.  Eventually, though, I would have to tackle this course to fulfill my major.

I've never been an eloquent speaker - this is why I enjoy writing.  Pair poor verbal etiquette with a stubborn shyness and the result is a terrified journalism student.  Ok, maybe terrified is exaggerating just a bit.  Anyway, I didn't look forward to embarrassing myself in front of other students, let alone intimidating faculty or influential figures (like those attending the Holocaust Conference).

My first interviewing experience went better than anticipated.  I came across as only mildly nervous, hopefully.  I'm sure my inexperience was obvious, but the persons were polite and patient. 

Important in journalism is that the journalist voice is mostly silent.  An article depends on the sources to carry the message.  The talent of a reporter is not creative writing it's collecting, organizing and complimenting the views of others.  This became very clear to me during the Localized story, because I had a hard time getting sources.  Where there is a shortage of quotes and opinions, the inclination to insert your own thoughts is more likely to fill the gaps.  That's bad journalism.

Good interviewing skills are necessary to creating good news.  So, HOW do I get a better handle on it?  Practice will play a big part I'm sure, but what else is there to do?

Self-educate. I did an online search for "Interviewing Techniques" and found some helpful tips, which I'll share:

MOST helpful sites for interviewing strategies, in my opinion:

13 Simple Journalist Techniques for Effective Interviews (this doesn't want to link-up, so) http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2007/03/26/13-simple-journalist-techniques-for-effective-interviews/

The Art (and Science) of Interviewing

New York Times on the Web: Learning Network


So sensitive!

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Sensitivity can be learned.  Newsrooms should hold training sessions that will teach staff members that will ask the kinds of good questions suggested by the experts. (37).

When I first read this, I thought isn't it horrible that people need to be taught how to be sensitive.  Then, I thought about it in relation to the reporters role and job responsibilities--time as a motivator, etc.  And I remembered something I did unthinkingly while trying to get quotes for the current article.  After the "Music Reborn" concert ended, I approached Dr. Scheib for a quick interview.  I was so nervous that I jumped into my questions without even considering to compliment him on the amazing performance he gave--something that would have been polite and deserved, not just mere flattery.  It didn't even register that my voice recorder had replaced my manners, until a lady came over and said what I should have.  When she finished with her praises, I chimed in with my own, but I realize now that by not having done so sooner, I may have come across as rude.  If I'd been more sensitive, maybe he would've gave more generous  responses to my questions.  I'll never know.  This isn't a serious case of insensitivity.  Still, I've always thought myself quite considerate in my conduct with others; because I was in an unfamiliar situation (playing the reporter), I acted in a way that was uncharacteristic of me.  So, the moral, I guess, is don't think, "Oh, I would never do something like that!"   

Peer Responses

Who said that?

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From "Best Practices for Newspaper Journalism," Robert J. Haiman:


When we do use anonymously sourced material it must pass three tests:

1. The material must be information and not opinion, and not speculation, and it

must be essential to the story.

2. The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity

imposed by the source.

3. The source must be in a position to have accurate information and we understand

the source to be reliable. The reporter must ascertain from the source

how he or she knows the material to be accurate.

These guidelines come from the Associated Press.  I'm glad to see the appropriate stance to take with anonymity.  This was touched on in class when someone - I forget who it was, now - asked Dr. Jerz about his choice to use an unknown source.  This gives a clear example of when it is okay to do so.  Also, I think, it is obviously best to get the information for a story on the record, a clear goal of my papers and reporters.  It seems that the nameless source tactic is often done messily and the result is lost credibility.  I don't think for this class I'll need to use unknown sources, or should, but having an idea of when to trust their use in the news is worthy information to the news reader, also.


Editorial Attitudes

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An editorial has the perk of being persuasive and entertaining where some news writing areas do not allow but still has an obligation to deliver facts.  Many of the old rules continue to apply.  Think persuasive essay - but be mindful of the aforementioned differences between a college essay and a news article.  It is important to remember facts will speak volumes; whereas, gripes will only fall warmly on agreeing ears.  This also means representing an equally valid case for the opposing side.  Intelligent readers will make the wise decision on their own when provided with reasonable information. 

On another note, the advice to strong editorial writing as given in "Lessons Learned: Exploring the Process of Award-Winning Editorial Writing" reminded me that whatever the lesson to be learned is it can be adapted to serve the writer's style.
For example, there are two different attitudes shown toward outlines:

The cons of outlining:
"If I'm outlining, I might as well be writing."

-- N. Don Wycliff

The pros of outlining:
"The least effective work I do is when I don't take the time to outline it."

-- John McCormick, Chicago Tribune

I think it's important to not forget how you as an individual are best motivated.



Portfolio 2: The Coverage Continues

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Portfolio 2: The Coverage Continues


cute news.pngThe first portfolio introduced news for what it is and taught how to deliver it.  This portfolio will show the continuation of those lessons, but it will also demonstrate how to apply them effectively.  As a class, we've been composing news stories and editing them, trying to impart a working knowledge of the new material discussed in both blogging portfolios.  Because much emphasis has been placed on crafting the news story there were less blogging opportunities.   But quantity doesn't equal quality, right?  I've discovered fundamental lessons on language and style from the readings and their resultant blogs and learnt that time constraints should not become an excuse for sloppy writing.     

Less in-depth, but fulfill the blogging purpose.

How the news relates to "THEM"

On the spot brings it home

To quote or not to quote, that is the question




Rule #1: There Are No Rules




How the news relates to "THEM"


On the spot brings it home


Story Pitch


I spy - THREE


To be continued...


Entries others could relate to, disagree with, or expand on.


Angela Palumbo said, "This is a really detailed and well-written entry, April. Kudos to you!"

I spy - THREE


Here I ask a question to which classmates respond:



Subjects I found useful and pondered over longer.


Advice from the text really sparked my interest:

The vanity of authorship


I took my time in observing the layouts and offer my opinions as to why color-patterns are important.

I spy - THREE


My contribution to classmates blogs.

In Matt Henderson's blog the conversation considered why the tabloid layout  sends out an untrustworthy vibe.
Better because we're Irish

On Michelle Tantlinger's entry:  "Excellent example, Michelle. Something that might seem limited to California transcends state lines."
Hitting Home

On the perspective of villains and victims in Richelle Dodara's blog:
A Learning Experience for the Reader, the Possible Victim

Blogs where I provide links to further info reinforcing the subject, topic or theme:


I spy - THREE

Give credit when it is due:

On the spot brings it home

Wild Card

Following the news cycle
To be continued


Other Student Portfolios

To be continued...

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I skimmed over several news pages debating what would and wouldn't be a prevalent topic for the next few days.  Just to be safe, I'm jotting three articles that hint at possible follow-up stories.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009
By Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  "Mt. Lebanon teen in hammer attack sent to detention center," an online-article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explains conditions that will lead to a decision for a 2007 case, in which an 18-year-old youth attacked an ex-girlfriend with a hammer.  There is only a one partial-quotation from a psychiatrist provided.   On the web page it promises more details in tomorrow's paper.  Hopefully, there is more story to be told.

By Bobby Kerlik

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mt. Lebanon teen in hammer attack sent to juvenile detention center
"Robertino DeAngelis, 18, will be placed in the state's New Castle Youth Development Center, where he could be housed until his 21st birthday."
Common Pleas Judge Kim Clark will reevaluate the case every three months.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Rich Cholodofsky, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"Arrest in Loyalhanna Township triple killing called 'priority'" talks about 3 unsolved murders and police reassurance that the murder will be found out. It's a pretty solid article.  I just wonder if it will be a while before we hear about it again, because it may depend on the progress of the police investigation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
By The Tribune-Review
(no individual writer was given credit)

"Coroner: Beaver County boy found in septic tank had drowned" is, in my mind, sure to be a topic of lengthy conversation.  People care about what happens to children.  Any death is tragic, but the loss of a child is tragedy against innocence.  Plus there has been no determination of death, whether it was negligence, homicide or accidental.  On a more human note, I can't help but feel how awful the reality of this story is. 

By The Tribune-Review

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The boy's cause of death has been determined as a drowning, by the Beaver County coroner.
Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the drowning.  Police say it is possible the boy was able to move the septic tank lid on his own. 

Also, this story has been in cycle since September.  Coverage includes the discovery of the boy's remains, the funeral ceremony and the placement of Wyatte's siblings into foster care.

Links to said articles:

Mourners stress boy's loves in Beaver funeral

Siblings of Greene Township boy found dead taken into custody (This doesn't want to link-up for me)

Beaver County child's remains discovered in septic tank; father held


On a lighter, non-news-cycle related note:

Russell Crowe is filming a new movie near Fayette County and was within a short driving distance of my home Sunday and Monday!  I thought that was a very cool thing.  The movie, "The Next Three Days," follows a married couple's troubles after the wife is accused of murder.  The film is said to be shooting in Western Pennsylvania until December.  Exciting, you don't have too many celebrity sightings in Fayette County.

More News Cycles



To quote or not to quote, that is the question

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"Good quotes should summarize what's on a person's mind, crystallize an emotion or attitude or offer an individual perspective."  - Rene J. Cappon, Guide to News Writing

 When and how to quote sources, appropriately, is tricky for a beginner.  Chapter 8 answers questions like how to use partial quotes and when to paraphrase.  I think most of the class, probably, appreciated this section with the Homecoming article due.  With my first attempt at the assignment, I kept trying to sandwich quotes between unneeded signal phrases and justifications.  I also, quoted information better left to a paraphrase.  The transition to news writing requires a different approach than academic writing, as was addressed early on.  However, I've always learnt best from trial and error.  Maybe, I'm a slow learner.  I just find seeing less impacting than the act of doing.  Hopefully, though, I won't need to address too many more personal mistakes before these points sink in.


The vanity of authorship

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What is it they say?  Oh, yes - there is a fine line between genius and stupidity.  This sums-up chapter 6 pretty nicely.  Cappon's point: If you're not confident about where that stunning line of prose you've just concocted falls on the brilliancy-scale, scrap it and try again.  But this is one of those easy said, not so easy to do situations.  We writers often like the sound of our own words.  George Orwell once made a list of writer motives with the number one motive being sheer egoism.  I know it might sound harsh, but the truth usually is.  Orwell attributed this quality to a "desire to seem clever."  He also said, "Serious writers ... are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money."  Now, without taking his comment too seriously, he likely meant there is something in the imaginative-writer - not labeling journalist unimaginative - that fancies a grandiose language and aims for it often.   A burdensome chore it then becomes to discard beloved phrases.

 I know there've been instances in which I've invested so much into a particular sentence or thought that I, so badly, wanted to make work in a space where it had no place being.  Within these moments of what Cappon calls "Fine Writing," a writer might compromise the quality of their work for a creative-fix.  As I read Cappon's critique, I couldn't help but feel a bit embarrassed by the flaws he highlights, which I am guilty of.  I'm forgetful when writing that what I'm saying could carry over in cryptic-bursts, unless someone has mindreading capabilities.  All the pieces are there, in my head, but it's easy to forget: just because I get it (the words on the paper) doesn't ensure others will see my intent so clearly.

Luckily Cappon suggests what to be mindful of in terms of tone:

            Don't jump from informal to formal mid article.

                Don't be too informal.

                Don't make unseemly comparisons (Pairing Death with Humor is a no, no).

                Don't put readers in shoes they can't fit (Starting a sentence with "If you've ever" is risky).

                Don't forget the context of the story (When going for serious leave out silly oddities).

                Don't insinuate with nuances (NO winks, leers or nudges).

                Don't insert emotive words.  Let the evidence stand alone.

                Don't force style and tone for effect.

DO embrace simplicity.

Class Thoughts



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