GretaCarroll: September 2009 Archives

Looking at Layouts

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The first front page I looked at, The Border Mail, an Australian newspaper, makes great use of a big picture to get the reader’s attention.  The picture takes up more than half of the page.  Also, instead of keeping the masthead separate from the picture, they superimposed it right into the top of the picture.  I can see pros and cons to this decision.  I think it makes the title of the paper stick out less how it is; however, this does allow them to maximize the space for the picture.  The caption for the picture is also superimposed onto the picture.  It is mostly white, but they decide to add a splash of yellow to make the white both a little less boring and also a bit more eye-catching than plain white.  Right bellow this huge picture is a banner headline all in black.  The thing about it that jars slightly is its disparity with the picture above it.  The headline proclaims, “OFF THE ROAD.”  The font size is very large and all in capital letters.  While it is impossible to make everything on the front page of the paper coordinate, the massive celebration above this article on new laws against drunk driving contrasts a bit too much in my opinion.

The second front page I examined was the Chicago Tribune’s.  This front page is a good bit busier than The Border Mail’s.  The masthead is separated from the articles, so it is easier to decipher it from the headlines.  The largest picture, which dominates the page above the fold, is of the Bears and Seahawks’ game.  The picture corresponds to an article immediately below it unlike the giant picture on The Border Mail.  This picture is also given a very large headline; in fact, the headline takes up more room than the small amount of text on the game.  They do provide a convenient headline right above the picture though with the teams’ names and their scores for quick reference.  What was surprising to me was the fact that in the bottom right corner was a very large advertisement Sealy mattresses.  One would think that advertisements could be shuffled off to an inside page, while the front page remains reserved for only news articles and pictures which relate to them.  The weather report on this front page is also less ostentatious than in The Border Mail.  In the Chicago Tribune, it is not in color and is very, very small and is located in the very bottom left hand corner.  The Border Mail’s stretches across a little more than half of the bottom of the front page and is printed in alternating colors of yellow, blue, white, black, and gray, making it easier to spot.       

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When is Vulgarity Acceptable?

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Wendy’s blog made me consider why vulgarity is inacceptable in news writing, while it is accepted in some other things.  I think that there is a clear distinction between what newspapers print and theaters, music, and films.  Theaters, music, and film are creative works which are not serving to report factual information.  At times there may be fact in these things, but that is not their primary function.  It is the artists creative license to include vulgarity if they so wish.  Vulgarity could in fact serve a specific purpose in some cases.  For example, maybe a character in a play swears all the time to show the audience something about that character’s personality.  Furthermore, it is one’s choice whether they watch a play, listen to a song, or see a movie.  If they are offended by the language, they can always leave or turn it off.  Some of these (such as movies) have rating systems as well which help people to decide whether there could be language in it that they might find objectionable.  Newspapers do not have a little code at the top of each article that says, “Warning, this article includes strong language, sensuality, and violence.” 

Newspapers are read by a plethora of different people and therefore, journalists need to err on the side of caution.  In addition, while in theater (or one of the other things listed above), the vulgarity may serve a specific purpose to help the audience perceive something about somebody; news writing is not really meant to do this.  It is meant to state the facts in a simple, inoffensive way.  Including a vulgarity that someone said in a quote will add very little to the facts of the article. 

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The Power of Absence

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From Chapter 8 of The Associated Press Guide to News Writing:

“The ellipsis (…) indicates omitted matter.  The trouble is that it calls attention to what is not there rather that to what is” (70). 

I try to salvage or bend quotes to my will with ellipsis all the time.  It allows me to use the parts of the quote that I want and to omit the rest.  I never really considered that there was any danger in this.  However, the point that Cappon highlights is very significant.  When one inserts those three little dots, it sends a message to the reader than something is missing.  The reader will undoubtedly wonder what it is that has been left out.  In a sense, the ellipsis kind of undermines your credibility.  After all what is missing and why did you remove it?  The lesson is not that we can’t use them, just that we need to be aware of what readers may think about the absent text.

Read more on Cappon.

News Writing, Literature, and Linguistics—All In One!

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From Chapter 6 of The Associated Press Guide to News Writing:

“Again and again Mr. Micawber, soaring, abruptly pulls himself back to earth.  That’s the side of him news writers should emulate” (50). 

I really like this quote; first, because I am a literature major and therefore any sort of relations between journalism and literature always make me happy.  Putting the foreign ideas of news writing in terms of the more relatable literature always works well for me.  However, not only did this quote explicitly refer to Charles Dickens, it also reinforced something I learned in Linguistics.  This past week we discussed the idea of “dead-level abstracting.”  One is dead-level abstracting when one becomes stuck either in only using very general terms which are pretty much indefinable (for example, “justice” or “freedom”) or one gets stuck doing the opposite and can only see things in very specific terms.  The secret to good writing and speech as our textbook (Language in Thought and Action by H.I. Hayakawa) explains it, results from an interplay of higher and lower levels of abstraction and the interplay of verbal levels with nonverbal (objects) levels.  In other words, we should try to vary our language (while still making it understandable) and focus on showing with our words and by giving specific examples. 

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Zooming Out for a Clearer Perspective

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Jeanine’s blog on “Spot News” really helped me to understand the idea better.  She explained it essentially as an article made up first of the little picture, then a tie-in, which brings the reader to the big picture.  This helped me imagine a video camera focused in on one-specific person, and then it zooms out a little to the town where they live, then to their country, and last to the world.  This is significant for two reasons.  First, it cleverly creates a wider group of people who would be interested in the article.  The local readers will be interested in the article because of its proximity to their homes, while at the same time, less local people will still be interested since it focuses on a larger subject than a city-specific issue.  The second thing is that it gives a bigger view of the world to the readers.  It helps them to feel a bigger sense of community, not just with those who live next door to them, but others who live farther away.  In a sense, it reminds the readers of their humanity and relationship to each other and the world.  It helps both the journalist and the readers keep things in perspective.     

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I Spy with my Little Eye…A Story-Telling Structure!

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I was a bit surprised by these articles.  I guess what I was picturing “on-the-spot” article to be is a bit different than what they are in reality.  I was imagining the article to focus on the event and what happened there.  Neither of these articles do that.  In fact, it is not even really clear what prompted these news writers to report on these places.  I mean, in the first article, the subject is the lay-off of workers from Golden Gate Park and in the second it is the efforts of race car drivers to cut down on pollution.  However, these are much broader topics than just referring to one specific event.  The reporter does not say, “this one time, I went to Golden Gate Park…”  In fact, it’s not even really clear when or where they got their quotes or did their interviews. 

As for the structure of the articles themselves, something very notable to me in both cases was that the article at the end looped full-circle.  The articles basically consist of three parts:

1. They began in a positive way

  • In the first article, a worker is caring for trees in an idyllic setting.
  •  In the second, the racer comes up with a way to pollute less while racing.

2. They move to some sort of challenge of problem

  • In the first article, the monetary problems of keeping the park running threaten the beauty and well-being of the park.
  • In the second, there is the problem that not all racers try to be more environmentally conscious.

3. And finally, they end on a more positive note.

  • In the first article, the laid-off employees have such strong “community values” that they volunteer their time to keep the park going.
  • In the second, there is the hope that other racers will follow Steve Zadig’s environmentally friendly policies. 

This again makes these stories seem like story-telling in a sense.  We have the beginning of the story, where everything is happy.  Then some problem occurs, and finally there is some resolution. 

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Long Lists of Charges

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After reading Derek’s blog and considering his question of whether the court article was actually news or just facts strung together, I went back and looked at it again more closely.  I noticed something which I thought was strange the first time through, not on closer inspection, it bothered me even more.  Yes, as I observed in my blog, I didn’t think it was necessary for all the accused’s addresses to be included in the article, but I’m not sure it was necessary to include every single thing they’ve been charged with either.

For all three of them towards the end of the article, a long list was given of everything they were charge with.  For example, “Jonathan Pollard was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, interference with the custody of children, aggravated assault, simple assault, corruption of minors, terroristic threats, recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy.”  I can’t help but wondering whether this is really necessary either.  I mean, the reporter doesn’t go into any more detail about this charges.  Furthermore, if some sort of “plea agreement” has been reached, most likely the defendants will not even be convicted of all of these.  Nor do I think the average reader would enjoy sitting there and reading a huge list of charges.  It seems like the list could have been condensed into something like, “Jonathan Pollard was charged with 12 offenses,” or something else along those lines.  It almost seems like these were just tacked on at the end to take up space. 

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The Ethics of Crime Reporting

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Richelle’s blog made me consider several things.  First, it made me think about the victim’s voice.  In most instances that I can think of, the victim is quoted.  Unless the victim is a minor or the victim wishes to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the situation, they generally are given their chance to speak.  Quoting the victim is certainly a good way to add a humanistic spin to the story.  It makes it all seem more real, more possible, like it could happen to us.  So in this sense, it makes the victim’s point of view essential to one’s story.  Yet, on the other hand, some of the responses left by Derek and April pointed out a very important detail.  Sometimes the victims will want to be left unknown and this got me thinking, even when they are known, there is a certain degree of care which reporters must proceed when dealing with victims.  Whatever happened to them could be very upsetting, not only must one keep this in mind when interviewing them, but one should keep this in mind when choosing quotes.  Perhaps something they said would be a wonderful addition to your article; however, what are the implications to including it?  Is it going to cause a lot of pain and suffering to them that otherwise would not have happened?  There are a lot of ethical implications involved in this type of reporting.    

On the other side, I think it would be irresponsible of a reporter to only consider the victim.  There are two sides to every story.  The “accused” is innocent until proven guilty.  No one knows for sure whether they did what they are accused of or not.  Even if they did it, maybe there are extenuating circumstances.  Maybe they didn’t realize the gun was loaded, maybe they were protecting themselves.  As in any other news story, it is a reporter’s job to present all sides of the story—this includes victims, the accused, and police.  

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Counteracting Rumors

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From Chapter 35 of The News Manual:

“You have a role to play, in providing information to counteract rumour.”

As this chapter points out there is a very distinct difference between reporting in a big city and in a small town.  I come from a small town, just counting the borough itself (and not the township, which includes many smaller places), there are about 6,000 people who live there.  Needless to say, this means that when anything happens almost everyone knows the people who are involved.  Furthermore, this means there are lots of rumors about the situation and people involved that circulate.  It’s hard to know what is true after a story has been repeated about 10 times.  How much is exaggerated, how much has changed through the retelling.  It’s almost like an out-of-control version of the game “telephone.”  Therefore, I really like how in this chapter it is stressed that part of a journalist’s role is to “counteract rumor.”  It is important for a news writer to realize this, because it heightens the importance of providing an accurate portrayal of the story.  One cannot just rely on interviewing one or two people (who knows what biases they might have), nor can the reporter let personal bias influence them at all.  It is their role, obligation, and job to report things accurately. 

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Giving Addresses, Protecting Names

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The breaking news story was obviously much shorter and had less information than the second.  One of the main purposes seemed to be to seek potential leads on the “would-be-robber.”  The article both reports what happened and asks that if anyone knows anything about what happened that they tell the police.  It was also apparent that the author did not have as much time to write or proofread the article, notice the double “the” in the following sentence: “State police said the man sprayed Mr. O'Neil with pepper spray and attempted to grab the the deposit bags.”  This isn’t that grievous of an error and the rest of the article is well written, but it’s just little things like this that make the time-limits evident. 

The court story was much longer, had a lot more detail, and included quotes.  One thing I noticed that I found rather strange was that the reporter included the addresses of all of the accused.  I personally as a reporter don’t think I would do that.  Maybe, this is just common practice for news articles, but it doesn’t seem very nice to do that to anyone involved.  Another very notable sentence was, “The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.”  First, they set this sentence apart all by itself in its own paragraph which really made it jump out.  Secondly, the girl that was kidnapped was 17, meaning that as a minor her name couldn’t have been published anyway.  I don’t know why they just didn’t say that.  It’s almost like the reporter is trying to brag about how considerate and respectful the paper is. 

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I’m not going to deny, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this class…I might have even had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it.  I recognized the importance of taking the class.  As an education major, I realized that I may one day be called upon to run a school paper and I need to know something about news writing.  However, when I thought about news writing, I saw it only as dry, boring, and devoid of creativity.  I saw it only as an attempt at compiling facts (which I knew from EL312 last semester don’t actually even exist, since facts are really just manifestations of value-judgments) and being objective (which is also impossible, since there is no such thing as a word which does not influence a reader’s thoughts in some way). 

As the semester began, my bad attitude (I may be exaggerating my feelings slightly here, I don’t think my attitude would actually have qualified as bad) remained.  The readings only seemed to confirm my fears, articles used words such words as “noxious” and “fierce” and I felt my frustration growing.  How could a “good” article use such subjective words?  But as time went on and I read some of my more open-minded peers’ blogs, things began to click into place for me.  First, I realized that within news writing, there are different types of writing.  What is acceptable in a profile, obituary, and accident report are all very different things.  Second, I began to realize that creativity, as in any other form of writing, is essential to news writing.  It might be a different type of creativity, but writing in a way which will keep readers interested and incorporating many quotes from different people takes skill and creativity.  Lastly, I began making connections between news writing and other fields which I like.  With Katie’s help, I realized that story pitches are not so very far from my beloved thesis statements and with Michelle’s help I realized that teaching in a sense is a form of reporting. 

Coverage: I completed all of my blogs; bellow are the entries which did not fall under any other category.

Depth:  These are the blogs in which I really felt I went above and beyond.  I put extra effort and thought into these entries. 

  • My blog, Seeing is Believing, Or Should It Be?, was written early in the class; however, I think it shows my development as I begin to consider journalism in a more critical fashion.  I recognize the skepticism we should regard the news media with, link to Katie’s blog which got me thinking, and note the balance that the news media must find between sensationalism and allowing their audience to sleep soundly at night. 
  • In Capturing the Soul in an Obituary, I highlight the qualities which Nicholson’s obituary had which I felt made it tower above most other obituaries I have read.  I also relate some of my past experiences with creating an obituary index at my local library and some of the changes in obituaries over time.
  • One of the blogs which is representative of my changing view of news writing is Revelation: “The craft, the art, of storytelling” within News Writing.  In it, my increasingly positive attitude towards journalism is evident as I begin to see that it doesn’t have to be all boring, dull fact without any life or zest.   
  • In Infusing Voice into News Writing—Remaining Objective without being Withdrawn, my budding understanding of voice in the news appears.  After much struggle with whether voice is allowed at all in news writing or not, I realize that readers actually want the author to have a voice, they just don’t want that voice to skew the facts. 
  • Making connections between both Linguistics and News writing, The Struggle to Structure Short Sentences, includes my struggles to be concise and keep things short, but also my realization of the importance of doing so. 

Interaction: These are blogs in which I participated in meaningful discussions on my peers’ blogs. 

  • After a full eight other comments on Angela’s Good Quotes Can Win Awards, I step into the action by giving my opinion that Stockton not only interviewed those biased in Silbert’s favor, but other impartial people as well. 
  • I politely disagree with something Aja says on her blog, Duck Profile?, and we both clarify our views.

Discussion: These are discussions which were inspired by my blog entries. 

Timeliness: All of my blogs were turned in at least 24 hours ahead of time (as soon as the RRR sequence was introduced).  Bellow are just a few examples.

Xenoblogging:

The Comment Primo:

The Comment Grande:

The Link Gracious:

Wildcard:  For my wildcard, I chose two reflections I wrote.  I think that both show my progress towards understanding news writing better.  In the first blog, I relate news writing to teaching a classroom and in the second, I begin to have a more open-mind about the stylistic rules involved in journalism. 

Reflections:  These are blog entries I wrote before class.  They are based on my classmates’ blog entries.  I expand on what I have learned from their blogs and what I now understand better thanks to them.  The two I used as my wildcard are not included in this list.    

Previous Portfolios:

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The Secret to News Writing: Pretend You’re Teaching

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I think that Michelle had some really good advice on Cappon’s chapter 4.  She wrote in her blog, “Remember newspapers are approximately written on an 8th grade reading level. People aren't reading the news for scholastic advancement.”  This whole idea of imaging that you are writing for an 8th grader, I think will really help me keep my news articles more succinct and readable.  As a future educator, I have a better idea of what an 8th grader would understand than the general populace, so simply keeping in mind an audience of 8th graders will help me keep things in perspective.  As Cappon stresses, part of this is by keeping things short, not making the sentences overly long or complex, and getting rid of confusing jargon.  All of these things are necessary when one is teaching a class.  Furthermore, when one is teaching, one should not let one’s personal beliefs or bias control the class, so in a way there are many similarities between teaching and news writing.  So, if I pretend that I am teaching a class of 8th graders about whatever my news article is about, it will set me in the right direction.    

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Pitches and Theses

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I really liked how Katie related story pitches to theses.  It really made pitches more relatable to me, because she put it in terms of something I (as English literature majors) am very familiar with.  She also made me consider how hard it is for reporters to constantly be coming up with creative pitches.  I mean if you think about it, reporters are probably given a very short time to come up with their pitch, research it, interview, and write it, and then it’s back to the beginning of coming up with a good story pitch.  It would take a lot of being informed with what’s going on and originality.  A distinct difference though between pitches and theses is that if we decide to change our thesis halfway through a paper, it’s not a big deal (besides the time loss).  However, if we change the topic of our article, there is no guarantee that our editor will be ok with it, whether we find the second new topic more interesting personally or not. 

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Packing Info in a Lead like Sardines in a Can

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Aja’s blog on overstuffing her leads made me consider my own tendency to do the same.  I try to cram as much information into my leads as possible.  I’m afraid I won’t put enough detail into my lead, and I have a hard time deciding which information is most important.  So instead of forcing myself to prioritize the information I just try to stuff it all in the lead.  However, as Aja pointed out, this can cause some serious problems.  It makes the lead long and the sentence can become confusing, increasing the probability that the reader will misunderstand what you write.  I think another valuable thing to consider is that if we really and truly stuff all the important information into our lead, why even bother writing the rest of the article?  Sure, we want to use the inverted pyramid, but that doesn’t mean we need to include every single detail in the first sentence.

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Prepare Your Pitch, Don’t Just Assume It Will Work

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From “Newsroom Politics: Pitching a Story”: “Prepare your pitch with a little reporting. Talk to some people. Search the newspaper's library. Is this really a new idea? You don't want to be pitching a story that was written six months ago.”

I think this is really good advice that could be easily overlooked, which one may have very little time to come up with a story idea.  One has no way of knowing if there is enough information or in interest in a pitch if they don’t do some initial research. 

Furthermore, the checking to see if it’s a “new idea” seems pretty important to me.  It reminds me of that story we read in the Tribune Review about texting—that was old news.  So many reporters have reported on that on TV news and print news.  Sure, it was a slow news day and they wanted to fill space, but still as most of us in the class observed, there was nothing “new” about this “news” article. 

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There were several things which Matt observed in his blog that intrigued me.  Matt explained that he chose which articles he read based on the pictures that corresponded to the articles.  After his mention of the graphics which went along with his articles, it made me remember that one of my articles (the one which Matt also chose about James Nielson) also attracted me because of its picture.  I didn’t even realize this really, until Matt did.  The article included a picture of Nielson, which in addition to all the quotes, helped to make Nielson seem even more real to the reader. 

Another interesting fact that Matt pointed out was that his other article actually had a list of the names of the injured.  At first, I thought this was a good idea.  I mean, if you list all the people’s names, you are making it more personal.  They’re not just a number, they are given names and respected as individuals.  Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I came to agree with Matt.  Why list all this names, no one will probably read them (unless they are concerned their loved one was in the accident)?  And since the article has no quotes, the reader doesn’t really feel any connection to these names anyway.  Quotes would be a much more effective way of drawing the reader in, than a bunch of names. 

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How do Reporters Preserve their Perspective?

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Josie’s blog on “bus plunges” helped me to see a new side to the “bus plunge” issue.  I never really considered how callous making a joke of such a tragic event could seem.  However, as Josie also observed, it’s not really all the disrespectful.  (Most) journalists handle the articles in a very professional manner.  Some even take it a step above and beyond—they get quotes and put emotion into the story.  And those empty spaces in the paper need filled with something, so they do their best. 

In some ways considering how journalists attempt to cope with the depressing material they are constantly forced to deal with makes me realize how hard their job is.  How would you like to be in charge of writing obituaries all the time?  Or how about covering murders and robberies every day?  Does one become desensitized to all the destruction?  I think it might be difficult for a reporter to keep in perspective how (in)frequent these events are since they are assaulted with them day in and day out. 

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The Struggle to Structure Short Sentences

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“But the longer the sentence, the less readable it’s likely to be, and the more exposed to mishaps or syntax.  The remedy is simple: Chop up long sentences into their functional components and aim for an average sentence length of 16 to 17 words” (Cappon 37). 

I like Cappon’s writing style and format.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, he practices what he preaches.  He keeps his chapters succinct and gets right to his point.  He also does not just “tell,” he “shows” the principles he is talking about by giving real examples from real news articles.  He explains what is wrong with them and then improves them. 

I have a tendency to write long sentences…and long paragraphs…and long papers…and yes, even sometimes long blogs.  It is difficult for me to sort through all the details and information and decide what should be left out.  What is most important?  After all, what I think is most interesting may not be what is most interesting to everyone else.  But deciding what should get cut and stay in the article is not the only place where things need to be simplified.  As Cappon explains, every single part of the article needs simplified (including the very word choices). 

The focus of chapter 4 is on simplifying sentences.  While it is good to have sentences of various lengths and some can be longer than 17 words in order to switch things up and keep the article interesting to the reader, Cappon says the average length of a sentence should be 16 to 17 words (which means I’m in trouble because there were about 45 words in this sentence…).  However, it really does make sense to keep the sentences shorter.  The longer a sentence the easier it is for the reader to get lost.  It reminds me of something that I read in my Linguistics textbook.  It explained that sentences can be as long as one likes, they are only limited by our ability to understand what we’re saying ourselves and the person we are talking to understanding what we are saying.  Well, the longer the sentence the easier for everyone involved to get confused and for the writer to make a syntactical error.  So, the easiest thing to do for everyone involved is to keep the sentences short and simple, as difficult as that may sometimes be.  A complicated and long sentence does not prove one’s intelligence; it just leads to possible confusion for readers. 

Read more on Cappon chapter 4.

“Reporters indulge in tennis-ball writing and legal jargon because they don’t quite trust themselves to tell in a straightforward way what’s going on.  By sticking to the legal terms, they play it safe” (Cappon 34). 

A common quality seems to be popping up again and again that is necessary for journalists: self-confidence.  Qualifiers aren’t allowed, because it makes the story seem less credible.  Journalists must weave enough of their own voice into their articles as well as quotes.  They must use strong verbs.  They must be assertive and out-going enough to interview and talk to people they have never met before.  And now, they need to be confident enough to explain complicated jargons in everyday, easy to understand language. 

It makes sense that a reporter needs to be self-confident, after all, they are supposed to be the authority.  Yet, at the same time, I can also understand why a reporter would hide behind jargon.  Chances are reporters are not experts in the law field.  Unless they’ve been reporting court cases for years, they probably don’t know much more about it than the average person.

 However, as Cappon points out, it is important for them to simplify it.  If they don’t write it in an understandable manner, no one will read it, so why even bother writing it at all?  Maybe in this case, the best policy would be to get quotes about the case.  Instead of relying on one’s own limited knowledge, the reporter could call a lawyer and ask them to explain what the jargon really means.  Regardless, reporters need to be sure about what they write, because if they’re not, it’s going to be very obvious to everyone that reads their article that they’re not sure what they’re talking about.

As for articles that have leads that begin with "when," I would say that almost none of them do.  Usually the "when" is included within the lead, but it almost never starts it. 

Read more on Cappon’s Chapter 3.     

Not All “Bus Plunges” Are Filler

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The first “bus plunge” article I read (23 killed as bus plunges into gorge in northern India) follows the more typical pattern of such stories.  We get the requisite number of deaths, number of injured, how far the “plunge” was, and how far it is from the capital city (just as Shafer said they usually include).  Now, if this was a typical “short” from the 50s and 60s when the “bus plunge” stories were truly necessary, the article probably would have stopped after these first two paragraphs.  However, it continues to give the reader some quotes from a policeman and some facts.  We learn the additional information that the bus “plunged” because the driver could not “negotiate a bend” and that India has more fatal car accidents than even China (which is more populous).  Of course, this information could be cut off if necessary, true to inverted pyramid style.  However, I would say that this “plunge” story has advanced a bit from the shorts that Shafer referred too.  This article was probably meant not to simply fill a small space left open because of typesetting, but to fill a larger space in the event of a slow news day.  Or, since the source is South Asia News, this could just be a real article which is relevant to its intended audience, since the people would be in closer proximity to the accident.

My second “bus plunge” article ("Brisbane man James Nielson dies as bus plunges over cliff”) is a bit of an exception to the typical “bus plunge” story.  First off, it is relatively long for such a story, about 370 words long.  Second, it lists the name of a specific person who died and focuses on him, instead of leaving all of the deceased in anonymity.  Thirdly, it uses quotes from the deceased’s mother to invoke emotion within the readers.  It also talks of his long-time girlfriend’s memorial to him (by traveling the same road he died on).  I think it’s safe to say this is an atypical “bus plunge” story (undoubtedly because the man who died was from Australia.  Shafer addresses this by quoting Mort Rosenblum, “‘A hundred Pakistanis going off a mountain in a bus make less of a story than three Englishmen drowning in the Thames.’ By and large, if an American plunged on a bus, the news was always more likely to run as a free-standing story in a U.S. newspaper than as filler.”)  In other words, this story about Nielson is not even really filler at all.  My point is that just because something is a “bus plunge” story, does not make it filler.

Read more “bus plunge” article comparisons. 

A Replenishing “Oasis”—Bus Plunges

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I found it interesting that “bus plunge” was apparently a common headline, because I couldn’t recall ever having seen such a headline.  Granted, I don’t look at a print newspaper all that frequently, but I skim through them enough that I found it odd I had never noticed it.  But voila, here the answer for why I have never seen one is explained by Shafer.  Bus plunge articles have disappeared over time.  They were used primarily to fill space when necessary back when typesetting had to be done by hand.  How much space articles would take up was hard to estimate and these little shorts (since bus plunge stories could be edited to very few lines) could fill in the extra spaces.  Now, since everything is electronic spaces are easier to fill by simply making a picture or the font bigger. 

However, Shafer opines that these “shorts” might actually have served a purpose, “The abundance of bite-sized pieces scattered about gave readers multiple points of entry into yesterday's newspaper. Parched by a long story about tax policy that jumped from Page One, a reader could always count on finding a little oasis where he could replenish himself. Knowing that most pages contained a few shorts gave readers added reason to flip through the paper and nibble here and there.”  And I really agree with him.  Not only because these shorts provide little snippets of text to contrast with the longer, more complicated stories, but also because they provide amusement and interesting facts.  As I mentioned before, a previous summer job required me to spend a lot of time looking at old newspapers on microfilm.  I noticed a lot of these shorter articles, some would just be facts.  The very randomness of some of them just made me laugh.  Shafer gives an example of one such short from The Times, “Most snails are both male and female, according to the Associated Press.” 

I’m not suggesting that newspapers should forego the actual, newsworthy stories, but once in a while amid the death and destruction, it can be heartening to a reader to simply read a random fact.  Granted, bus plunges are not particularly amusing, but I’m going to have to agree with Shafer, I think that shorts did serve a purpose. 

Read more on “bus plunges.” 

This I Must Accept—Rules are Rules for a Reason

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I was annoyed because I was wrong.  I used “says” in my peer profile and not “said.”  In all actuality, I did use “said” the first time I wrote it.  Then as I was revising it before I turned it in to Google documents, I remembered that news articles are meant to seem immediate so that they seem more real and important to the reader, so I went back through and changed them to “says.”  Then we went over the copyediting tips and it said to use “said.”  Therefore, I fumed over the contradictory nature of news writing. 

Just as I was beginning to get over it, I read Angela’s blog.  She commented, “These rules were just created by some people sitting around a table deciding what is and is not standard for our language/writing.”  This got me thinking, who did make these rules exactly and who made them the experts?

A few blogs later, I read Josie’s blog.  She wrote, “One reason for the necessity of AP Style procedures is uniformity.”  Now, I did realize this.  I knew what the rules were for and why they were created, but sometimes I just need a little reminder.  The rules do exist for a purpose and some of them even actually make sense.  Using Angela’s relation to Linguistics, there is no reason that words should be spelled how they are other than that we decided they would be spelled that way.  However, if we had no decided on a “correct” spelling things would be much more confusing.  These news writing rules can be viewed the same way.  Sure, we could do many things in different manners, but it would be much more confusing if we did not have a set way to do it.     


 

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Solid Tips to Write Solid News Articles

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From “Setonian Copy-editing Tips”:

“A news story doesn’t need a conclusion.  It should be written so that the bottom of the story can be chopped off at any time.” 

This was not actually a shocking realization to me, since we have already read several times about the importance of the inverted pyramid.  However, it provides a unique challenge.  As a news writer, we have to provide appropriate closer at the end of every paragraph, yet not make the closure too final.  This is a real challenge for me.  Finding a way to make it clear the article is over without using a conclusion. 

Now for the corrections of the following sentences:

1. Assistant News Editor, Anne O'Nymous read the article. 

                There should not be a comma between Assistant News Editor and Anne.  Therefore, the sentence should read as, “Assistant News Editor Anne O’Nymous read the article.” 

 2. She was highly appreciated by Jameson for solving the problem. "I really appreciate her work ethic and problem-solving ability," said Jameson.

                Too redundant, the quote says the same thing as the sentence before.  It could be simplified to, “Jameson said, ‘I really appreciate her work ethic and problem-solving ability.’”   

 3. Spunky Inkworthy has only written for The Setonian this year, but Obituaries Editor, Lazarus O'Mortigan, was very complimentary towards Spunky's contributions.

                Very long and clunky and too many clauses, it is confusing for the reader. The comma between Obituaries Editor and Lazarus is also not necessary, as Obituaries Editor is part of a formal title. Also, the word choice of “only” seems too subjective to me.  It could be reworded as, “Spunky Inkworthy joined The Setonian this year as a writer, Obituaries Editor Lazarus O’Mortigan was complimentary of her contributions.”

 

 4. In a telephone call from Head Librarian Marian Paroo, she discussed Inkworthy's contributions.

                This is awkward in general.  I’m assuming the reporter called Marian Paroo and not vice versa, so “from” would not be the correct preposition.  Also, how the reporter got information from Paroo is not really relevant to the story.  And also the sentence leaves the reader who just skimmed the article wondering to what Inkworthy’s contributions where.  Assuming this sentence comes shortly after the one including Lazarus O’Mortigan (in number 3), one could instead say, “Head Librarian Marian Paroo concurred that Inkworthy has made contributions to The Setonian.” 

5. "Here is a quote", said Bill Jones freshman.

                First, the comma should certainly not be outside of the quotation mark.  Second, it is best to introduce who the quote is from before you give the quote.  One revision could be, “Bill Jones, a freshman, said ‘Here is a quote.’” 

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Matt Henderson’s blog made me reconsider several things.  First, there is the importance of using simple language when we are writing our news articles.  He wrote, “But I do think that the plainer language you can use, the better, and usually the language of people just speaking off the top of their heads is much less artificial than the plain prose you as the writer sit and agonize over and revise.”  This can be a challenge at times for me.  When we over think what words we use, we end up making things more complicated then they have to be.  While we are searching for that fancy word which avoids repetition of some repeated noun, we are cutting off some of our readership.  I think this even extends beyond using big or complex words, simply to words that may seem awkward or unusual to one’s readers which may seem normal to you.  For example, I rarely use the word stuff, even when I talk.  I just don’t use it.  I’ll say “I’m going to go gather my belongings” or “hold on one minute, let me get my things,” but I don’t say “let me get my stuff.”   If I was writing a news article and wrote, “Then she went to collect her belongings,” it would seem strange to the readers, because most people don’t say “belongings.”  Therefore, we need to be aware of our own little speaking quirks so that they do not seep into our news writing and distract our readers.

Second, Matt wrote, “…the real task of newswriting is how to weave the different voices of the people you interviewed into one well-crafted story that has a good flow.”  As I have been struggling the past few reading assignments over the idea of voice in news writing, this quote shed some new light on it to me.  First, I thought that no writer’s voice was allowed in a news article, then I realized that voice was necessary, Matt helped me see that the real task is creating voices for the people you quote (through the actual things they say and the little details about them), while still infusing your voice in (without it biasing the facts).  It is truly a balancing act, one which will take practice to master.  

Read more on Scanlon and Clark 294-302.

Voicing Concerns About Voice

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Sometimes it is just comforting to know that other students are struggling with the same things as you are.  That’s why it was nice to read Matt Henderson’s blog and see he has been considering the whole issue of a journalistic voice as well.  He noted very wisely that Cox used much fewer quotes than Stockton did.  Stockton used many quotes, which is good, but it didn’t give the reader a chance to feel like they knew the author at all.  As he wrote, “I couldn't really picture the subject or any of the people interviewed because so little time was spent describing them physically.”  There was no real connection with the people interviewed or the author.  It was just quote after quote after quote, which can have its advantages, it’s just the Cox showed a different way of doing things.  He quoted less, but spent more time helping his readers to feel like they knew the people and environment.  There was a much stronger journalistic voice present.

Matt, like I have been feeling, remarked that “I'm more attracted to letting the quotes do most of the talking in my story than try to describe things myself; I don't feel particularly confident enough to know how much of my own voice I can inject into a story while still being tasteful and correct.”  How does one know how much of one’s writer’s voice he or she can use and how much must be carefully controlled and hidden?  I think a lot of this is simply that we don’t have enough experience; this is probably partially something that comes in time with practice.  However, I also think that Clark and Scanlon start dealing with this in our next reading assignment, which I discuss on my blog for it. 

Read more on Cox’s profile. 

Oh those Qualifiers, They Get Me Every Time

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Michelle’s blog on Cappon’s chapter 1 and 2 made me reconsider the use of qualifiers.  I’m not going to deny it, I use them constantly.  I never realized I did until I came to Seton Hill and my roommates started teasing me about it.  They tell me I can’t phrase a sentence without sticking one in.  Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at least not in every day speech (there I go qualifying again ;-)).  I think there is a distinct difference between speech and writing.  For example, when I write a research paper and take some stance, I know better than to water down my arguments by throwing in qualifiers.  I don’t know if I would have unwittingly stuck qualifiers into a news article or not, I hope that I wouldn’t have, but then again news writing is different than an essay.  With so many different people reading an article, it’s hard to please everyone.  It would be easy to slip in a few qualifiers to cover one’s butt.  But, as Cappon clarifies, this really isn’t a good idea.  If you write an article and after every couple sentences add, “probably” or “perhaps,” you’re going to destroy your credibility and believability with your audience.  I know if I read an article full of “probablies,” I would believe very little of what it said.  So, if nothing else, I know I need to be aware of these little words which slip in oh so easily to one’s writing (and speech) and which make one less believable. 

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I thought there were a lot of important things in this reading, so I’m going to be using more than one quote again.  It’s just too hard to pick one.  First is a quote from George Orwell about using plain language when one writes news articles, “Orwell puts this sentiment more plainly, despite the help of a simile: ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’  The reader notices not the writing, but the world” (299).  This is very similar to a previous comment made about the obituary that Nicholson wrote, “The obit is so easy to read, so direct and simple that it seems devoid of craft” (67).  Obviously if this has been stressed twice, it is extremely important.  News articles should be easy to read and understandable.  It should not draw attention to the words, syntax, etc.  If we as reporters chose to use big words or make things too complicated, we are shifting the attention from the story and onto ourselves.  We, as a journalist, are not meant to be in the article, we are meant to stay outside of it, presenting facts clearly without bias.  A reporter who draws attention to their writing is simply trying to show off.

The next point I want to highlight regards voice, “The voice of most news stories is neutral and authoritative.  Editorials are often written in institutional voices.  Columnists, critics, and sportswriters often develop distinctive voices that readers seem out over their breakfast cereal and interact with in an imagined form of conversation” (301).  I frequently think that because it is a news article which is meant to be unbiased and objective that I cannot put any voice into news writing.  This to me removed some of the appeal of the writing.  However, Clark and Scanlon clarify that the journalist can and should have a voice; he or she just has to be careful what voice that is.  Readers would like to imagine that they are having a conversation with you; they don’t need you to be a withdrawn, omnipotent god laying out the bare facts to them.  Certainly we shouldn’t infuse our opinion into our voice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have one at all.    

Lastly, I will end this blog, with a quote at the end of the assigned reading which I feel sums a journalists goals up well.  I think this quote is important enough to re-read several times, because it reminds us what journalism is, when it is done well: “For journalists, such radical clarity means controlling the pace of information, translating technical language, knowing when to show and when to tell, creating analogies to help readers understand numbers and, most difficult of all, knowing when to leave things out” (302). 

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The News and I

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We all want it—

To be informed that is,

To be in the “know,”

Show our prowess at current events,

Small talk about events,

Give our opinions.

But far too believing, we are,

Of the news media who just want to sell.

Many just practicing an art of deception,

How many papers can we sell?

Yet, many are still bound

By journalism’s solid oath of truth.

Readers, we must sort through it,

Search, and wonder.

Just like journalists must “check it out,”

So should we, readers, the position I have always held,

Till now. 


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TV News is Not for Us

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I enjoyed hearing about my peers’ relationships with the news.  There were some commonalities which didn’t surprise me too much.  I think pretty much everyone was agreed that the news tends to sensationalize things too much.  Also, there was not one person who preferred TV news.  My peers, much like me, either get their news from the web or from the radio.  I was a bit surprised that so many people seemed to prefer radio news; I listen to it much more than the TV myself because I am frequently in the car (my summer job was about 20 minutes from where I live so I would listen to the radio).  Still, I would have expected people to watch the TV news before they listened to it on radio, but that is apparently not the case. 

As far as specific presentations went, Wendy made PowerPoint presentation.  Jennifer recounted a negative personal experience she had when a local reporter did not do their job very well.  She commented that reporters should at least “pretend interest” in the stories they are covering.  While I laughed when she said this, it really is true.  No reporter can get a good story when it is clear to everyone involved that they don’t care.  Aja explained to us the various sources she gets news from.  Josie wrote a play explaining that she only has a small relationship to the news.  Mike spent his summer in Rome and he expressed how disconnected he felt from the happenings in the United States while he was there (the only real news he got was that Michael Jackson died).  Michelle and Derek both made YouTube video about their relationship to the news.  Andrew discussed his preferred ways of obtaining the news.  He made a good observation that on the Internet the old and new news are all mixed together on the same page.  Jeanine very creatively made her own mini-newspaper to explain that she mostly gets her news from the Internet as well.  Diana made a humorous comic about how the news almost always only focuses on death and destruction.  And lastly, Malcolm recited a poem he wrote.  I found Malcolm’s poem interesting since I also chose to write a poem.  However, our takes were very different.  He focused mostly on how negative the news media always tends to be, while I focused on the fact that I have always viewed myself as a consumer of news and now I am viewing myself from the new position of a news writer. 

All in all, my classmates had very different ways of expressing their relationship to the news.  But one thing was clear, we as young people do not go to the TV for our news.  Our first source is the Internet and our second is the radio.  Furthermore, few of us have a positive opinion about the news media. 

Click here to view some of the projects and reflections of my classmates.   

Finally, some clear rules on what to do and what not to do when writing a news article.  I think there was a lot of really valuable information crammed into these two chapters (and notice while there was a lot of information, Cappon practiced what he preached, he got straight to the point and concisely and clearly told and showed what his points were).  Instead of just one quote, I’m going to be using two, because I just think that Cappon worded things so well that any attempt on my part to reword it would be inefficient. 

The first quote I want to highlight is, “Writing is the art of second thought” (5).  I think this is important to remember, because journalists do work on strict deadlines.  They don’t have weeks to research, write, and review their article.  However, it is important for journalists not to use this as an excuse.  Yes, they do have deadlines, but they still need to revise their works.    

The second quote, I want to emphasize is, “You must write to readers, not at them, in language attuned to their lives and everyday experience—language plain but not dull, terse yet relaxed, standard English that’s correct but neither stilted, nor high-flown.  There may be easier ways to make a living, but then, what’s more satisfying than the craft, the art, of storytelling, which is what we do when at our best?” (6)  Cappon stresses that it is important to consider the audience, he recommends that we right in simple language that is easily understood in a concise manner.  However, even more significant to me in this quote is the label which he gives news writing, “the craft, the art, of storytelling.”  I’m not going to deny it, when I write, I like to have a thesis, and I like to argue my side.  The persuasion is half the fun to me.  When I thought about news writing, I saw it as a void—just facts, no fun.  The idea did not exactly inspire me with excitement.  However, Cappon’s word choice helps me to look at news writing in a different light.  News writing can be a form of storytelling, sure it’s not storytelling in the sense that you can just make something up and say whatever you like, but journalism doesn’t have to absent of creativity and it doesn’t have to be boring.  It is telling a story, just like any other form of writing, and it’s up to you to make it appealing within the constraints which are inherent in all types of writing. 

Read more on Cappon’s chapter 1 and 2.

The Story is in the Details

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First, I noticed that Cox used less quotes in general than Stockton did.  And, he had less quotes from a variety of people.  I do not mean to imply that he did not have multiple sources, he interviewed plenty of other people, but there were less than Stockton.  However, I think the quotes from others he chose to use were more selective than Stockton’s and therefore packed a stronger punch.

I think a lot of the power of this article came from the very descriptive, little details that Cox got and used.  For example, he tells us that Waters is “dressed in a shin-length charcoal dress and wrapped in a multi-colored scarf,” that she “sipped on a Blue Bottle Coffee lattee splashed with organic Straus Family cream,” and that she has “short, maple-colored hair.”  All of these are details that are easy to overlook and to consider trivial, but Cox capitalizes on every detail he can observe and collect to make Waters seem like a real person to his readers, but drawing a mental picture of how she physically looks and how she is as a person.

Also, similar to what Nicholson did in his obituary; Cox paints a realistic and honest picture of Waters.  He does not avoid writing about her faults.  He quotes an old chef who worked for waters and we see a new side of her as being extremely demanding and a perfectionist.  However, this does not make her look bad, but like a real person, like the rest of us who have faults.   It makes the interviewee seem more human and relatable. 

Read more on Cox’s article.   

Capturing the Soul in an Obituary

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I was kind of surprised by the fact that this obituary was so personalized and that Nicholson spent so much time, effort, and care on it.  I was under the impression that newspapers had a general form they used for obituaries and then the reporters just filled in the blanks for the individual person (and I do think that some papers and journalists probably do just use a form-obituary).  However, I think that Nicholson really honors and remembers the deceased much better than these other impersonal forms.  I was impressed by Nicholson’s ability to keep the obituary interesting, sensitive, and respectful, while still being true to the character of the real person by admitting their humanity.  He does not idealize Marie Bryne, he admits her faults.

 In the intro on Jim Nicholson, it says, “…the most noble of reporting goals is to chronicle the rhythms of life and the rites of passage—cycles of birth and death, of marriage and divorce, of achievement and failure” (67).  Obituaries are a reflection of the time in which someone lived and probably will be read again sometime in the future by one’s progeny.  

I worked in a library for several summers and one of my tasks was to work on creating an obituary database so that the patrons (and there were many of them, including people from other states) who came in to do genealogical research could more easily find the date of the paper in which the obituary appeared for the person in question.  It was very interesting to see the progression of how the obituaries changed over time.  The older obituaries from the 1800s would sometimes graphically explain the death, for example:

  •  “______ died while she was standing on her balcony and was struck by lightning.  She fell off the balcony onto her daughter who was in her pram bellow and crushed the infant to death”
  •  “_____ ‘s body was found in the lake earlier this week [the paper was only produced weekly at this point].   She caught her dress on fire while adding wood to the cook stove; she ran from the house to the lake hoping to put the fire out and drowned.” 

Now obviously, those were not the obituaries word for word, because I don’t remember them exactly, but there were some pretty interesting deaths.  However, as time passed the obituaries became less and less descriptive and slowly the cause of death disappeared from many of them. 

After spending hours reading obituaries on microfilm, many of them would become rather banal.  However, I still think that if this obituary had been among the hundreds I read that it would have stuck out to me.  It did give the necessary information, but it also memorialized the person.  Many obituaries today simply list date of birth and death, a brief list of hobbies or interests, and the names of the family members (whether already deceased or alive), and the service information.  Someday, when that person’s great-great grandchild looks up one of these “form” obituaries, it will not help them to get any sense of who the ancestor was.  It will give them the skeleton of the person, not the soul.  It is for this reason that I really respect Nicholson’s obituary, especially since, “The obit is so easy to read, so direct and simple that it seems devoid of craft” (67).  Writing an obituary like he did, took a lot of time and effort, and the very fact that it seems “devoid of craft” proves how masterly it is actually written. 

Read more on obituaries. 

A Review of What’s Newsworthy

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Pretty much Dr. Jerz’s audio clip was a review of what we’ve been discussing the past few classes.  Ordinary things, people, and events are not newsworthy.  While these things may be true, no one is going to be interested in reading them.  However, if the event is strange, involves notable people, is close to the readership, or affects a lot of people it deserves special attention.  If it’s a slow news day, you can do a soft news story on other topics.  For example, Dr. Jerz explains, “Ordinary people can become notable by being eccentric or surprising.”  However, as I mentioned in my earlier blog about word choice, this all comes back to opinion (which is not supposed to be involved in news), after all what is considered eccentric or surprising is ultimately decided by the journalist and the editor who may have different ideas about what actually is eccentric and surprising than each individual reader.

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The Power of a Well-Used Quote

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I was actually pretty impressed with Halle Stockton’s article.  She used many, many different quotes from many different people and I think this went a long way in making the article credible and believable.  She not only quoted people who have benefited from Silbert’s efforts, but also a judge and the public defender.  The quotes she chooses to use are full of emotion.  They are heartfelt and make Silbert sound great.  She also effectively uses quotes to explain the many roles that the Delancey Street Foundation plays in helping to rehabilitate these people and help them to get back into normal society.  In other words, I think Stockton’s article is pretty much a perfect example of what we should be doing in our own articles.  My only complaint is that she seemingly didn’t interview the prosecuting attorney of any of the people who took advantage of the program. 

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Who is this Unnamed “Visitor”?

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According to “English Essay vs. New Story”: “Traditional journalists stay out of the story.  No ‘I’ or ‘me,’ and no ‘this reporter,’ either.”  However, in Gorney’s article (featured in Clark and Scanlon), twice she made references to the fact that Geisel was visited by someone.  Gorney writes, “His visitor, reading slowly…” (173) and “Well now, demands his visitor” (174).  It’s more than likely that this “visitor” is in fact Gorney herself.  As was mentioned in class the other day and as quoted above, a journalist must never make reference to themselves or their opinions on any matter.  There is no “I” allowed from the writer.  However, in this article Gorney cleverly tries to get around this fact by phrasing it as “a visitor.”  Is this actually acceptable?  Is this ok to do when one is writing a profile?  Is this ok to do at any time?  It seems kind of deceptive to me. 

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Well, for the most part Gorney’s article was well-written (and even if I didn’t think so, the intro very clearly stressed how good the article is); however, I did have a concern about something.   I am unsure how one is to determine how far is too far when one uses descriptive language.  Certainly avoiding intensifiers is a good idea and makes things more interesting, but almost any other word choices result in words which express opinion.  For example, Gorney writes, “Then he is fierce in his judgment, dismissing instantly the noxious breed of children’s books that coo and mince and pat little heads” (170), but who says that his judgment is “fierce,” that this type of children’s books is “noxious”?  They are word choices on Gorney’s part and aren’t these in a way a sort of opinion?  The words one chooses certainly send the reader a message, how is one to decide whether these words lead readers into feeling certain ways or not or are too opinionated?     

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