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September 1, 2009

Munch Mush Much

"His visitor, reading slowly, makes a stab at it..."
--173, America's Best Newswriting

I chose this quote because it is the only time in the entire story where the writer calls attention to herself. So far, it seems that injecting yourself in a profile story is a no-no, but I think it works here. Gorney clearly had done her research in addition to conducting a very thorough interview with Geisel, and she did a marvelous job of selecting tons of interesting details to keep the reader invested in the story, from the personal details about their house to his career to his dedication to his craft (I love the use of the "different shades of green" detail). It's almost like this guy is so impressive and incredible that by the end you want someone who seems a little bit more everyday and down-to-earth. It's particularly effective because it connects the writer with the reader in a very specific way--I got mentally tongue-tied when I read "munch mush much," and in the very next sentence she mentions that she got tongue-tied. She doesn't stay focused on herself for too long, however; she immediately connects it back to Geisel with a quote from him explaining that he intentionally wrote the line to challenge beginning readers, which once again is a testament to his genius. I know that technically it's not a good idea to include stuff about yourself in an article, but I think it worked so nicely because it was very minor and secondary compared to Geisel (it actually helped to enforce the good things about him that were present throughout the article) and it helped fill a need to connect with another person who's just as much in awe of Theodore Geisel's accomplishments as the reader is. It was a nice example of the "this reporter" rhetorical device that wasn't too cheesy or self-centered. It just goes to show that the exception proves the rule.

Just the facts, ma'am

"Clear writing packs power."
--English Essay vs. News Story

While there certainly are differences between academic and news writing, I think the thing that they really have in common is the above quote. I think any kind of good writing ought to have the kind of simplistic clarity shown in both the English essay and news story examples in this section. Unless you're writing a novel, short story, or play featuring a character who talks in overblown sentences, you should say whatever you need to say in the most compact series of words possible. Even when you're writing a character who doesn't speak simply and directly, you still need to accomplish that character trait in a succinct manner; you don't want to have the whole play be about a character who rambles endlessly. But I digress. Anytime you're writing as yourself and not a character, it's probably best to condense what you have to say down to a very few words using very specific action verbs. You are on display, after all, so you want to show off your best writing. And the best kind of writing is writing that doesn't put you on display, so it's kind of confusing. Anytime you're trying to use flowery language or complex sentences to show off how brilliant you are, you're standing between the reader and the message you really want to convey. This is a big no-no, especially in journalism, where people usually don't read an article based on who has written it. They just want the information without any frilly crap. Now when you're writing an editorial, I can imagine that you would be able to inject a little bit more of an individual voice in your writing. But you still only have so much space, so you still need to cut all the unnecessary words. See, like "still," I used that twice there, I didn't need to do that. Anyway, the point is, this blog is rambling and probably full of unnecessary words, so one must never write an article like this.

What a saint! Or is she...?

“She’s under 5 feet tall, but just a whirlwind of energy,” Henderson said. “To see her in the meetings with mostly these guys who are big, often over 6 feet tall … she just says ‘jump’ and they say ‘how high?’ ”
--"Profile Article of Delancey Street’s Director, Dr. Mimi Silbert" by Halle Stockton

This is a great quote; I think there always tends to be something appealing about short people who are a whirlwind of energy who run around telling tall people what to do. I bet this quote really drew in the short demographic of the audience. But seriously, this article is a wonderful example of really fantastic quotes. I didn't know someone could be as perfect as the way people describe Silbert. Did she pay them, or give them happy juice? Okay, probably not. But she probably chose the absolute best quotes out of all the sources she interviewed. All of these quotes not only are very complimentary to Silbert, but also give you a very strong sense of her personality and how energetic she is. The fact that these quotes are so fantastic suggests that Stockton got tons of information, much like Gorney in the Dr. Seuss story, just to make sure she had more than she needed. It seems like that's a pretty important element of preparation for an article. I'm sure that she got some quotes which weren't particularly terrific; some people probably said things which weren't as descriptive or well-phrased, and maybe someone actually said something negative, or at least not as hyperbolically complimentary. Normally when I read these types of articles I don't think so much about the person who wrote them, but now that I'm examining them this way I'm realizing that this whole portrait of this woman is constructed by a writer who may have emphasized certain things and downplayed or just ignored others. What if she set out to do a story on this person, and she got a bunch of people who said really negative things about the Delancey Street complex and how it's such a failure? Maybe she would have written it differently, but she might also have found other people who said only positive things and decide to spin it that way. Would she even want to do the negative version of the story since it wouldn't fit the whole inspirational-figure genre of profile pieces? And I don't have anything against the Delancey Street Foundation, it's just interesting to consider these types of questions.

Celebrity death or hurricane? Hmm...

"Pope loses clone of George Washington in vending machine!"
--Jerz, Newsworthiness

I really appreciated this recording because it lays it out in black and white just what precisely makes something newsworthy. One might think some of this is common sense, but it's still a good idea to come up with a strict definition that you can have in the back of your head as you're brainstorming story ideas or gathering information to construct a story. For example, people sometimes think everything a celebrity or political figure does is important, but Dr. Jerz brought up the good point that a headline like "Mayor Bakes a Pie" isn't all that interesting. I don't particularly remember the "George Bush chokes on a pretzel" story, but in the end, unless it was a truly life-threatening situation, I don't think it would have been that fascinating. However, it is kind of unusual, or am I making it out to be more of an unusual occurrence than it is because it happened to a president? Perhaps. It certainly seems less newsworthy than a major hurricane or earthquake causing destruction. I wonder if certain factors make something more newsworthy than other factors? Like, what would get more coverage if the president choked on a pretzel and almost died and had to be rushed off to the hospital on the same day that a hurricane devastated a city and an extremely famous celebrity died? Wow, that would be an eventful day. It brings up the old subject of Michael Jackson and the controversy that surrounded the amount of coverage of him at the same time that seven soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. You get into all these disturbing ethical questions about how much the death of a celebrity may trump deaths of non-celebrities. At the end of the day, I think it's important that all the newsworthy factors get leveled out so there is about an equal amount of coverage of all the stories with major newsworthy factors.

September 2, 2009

Faith and Begorrah, What a Good Irish Catholic!

"Another inventory of names, typical of obituaries, but now special because her life has been celebrated"
--72, America's Best Newspaper Writing

This quote was very apt in summarizing the overall effect of this obituary, I thought. I wonder why they don't write more obituaries like this. Probably because they don't have enough time, unfortunately. The amount of character-defining detail in this story is amazing; Clark and Scanlan did a great job pointing out all of the different elements that make it work so well. Unlike the story about Mimi Silbert, this one allowed for some details that portrayed in a more human and less saint-like way. True, they're somewhat superficial failings like, not being able to cook or tell a joke well, but these little imperfections make us all the more drawn to her because she was a good person who was also down-to-earth and relatable. It makes us want to be more like her. That's what I love about this story--it's about an ordinary person who did ordinary everyday things to help the people around her. A lot of times people like this aren't celebrated as much as they should, because they didn't do a lot that was notable or had the characteristics we've defined as "newsworthy." But in the end, I think people like to see a well-done story about an average person, because, let's face it, most people are average. I also like the elements that tie Byrne to a larger demographic and time period; she was very much rooted in the Irish Catholic culture, and the writer made great use of the characteristics we normally associate with that culture (hospitality, devout religiousness, etc.) Overall, I felt this piece did a wonderful job of celebrating this woman's life, and it's the kind of obituary I think we'd all like to think we'd have in the paper someday when we buy the farm.

September 4, 2009

Reflecting on News and I Presentations

Seeing my fellow Newswriting students' presentations on their relationship with the news helped me realize that I'm not alone in not being a big news junkie. I expected some students to express views similar to mine about the news (that they get so wrapped up in activities they don't have time, that they don't always keep up with events that don't particularly pertain to their interests, etc.), but I was surprised to find how many journalism students arent' actually that interested in the news. I guess I've never thought about how journalism includes many more things than just the news, such as magazine writing, writing editorial columns and reviews, etc.
Angela was one of the few presenters who seemed to have a pretty good relationship with the news--her grandfather, a World War II vet, was once featured in a news story, and she has worked on student-run newspapers in the past. The only element she didn't like was broadcast news because it scares her. I appreciated her creative use of pictures to convey her points, especially her picture of a monster to represent broadcast news.
Katie's short story was also very creative; I appreciated her personification of the news as a friend who she had a falling out with over the news' publication of a story about her team losing a game. She found an interesting way to convey her experience without telling us directly about it.
Kaitlin also has a less-than-stellar relationship with the news. She said she tends to only read the news when something big happens, and she also reads the comics. I could relate to that--I lose interest in the more day-to-day events that get covered, because they're often boring or are part of an ongoing narrative that I have to work to catch up with.
Richelle is an example of someone who has worked in news but still doesn't have a very strong relationship with it, having been the sports editor of her school paper. Once again, I can relate to having an interest in one section of the news but not being invested in the news in general.
Jessie's presentation was a big surprise--she's a journalism major who's worked on news before, yet still doesn't have much of an interest in it. She said she's more interested in magazine writing and writing reviews, two aspects of journalism I hadn't really considered before. I could relate to her statement that she paid more attention to the news during the election, though, since that was a time when I felt the biggest responsibility to follow what's going on.
Megan is another shocking journalism major who's not very into the news. I do understand where she's coming from in saying that she doesn't enjoy reading headlines about all the bad news, though she knows it's necessary. It can be hard to read some of the more grisly or sad things that occur; sometimes you really have to force yourself to want to become informed.
Cody's presentation was interesting because he mentioned he started to watch the news more after September 11. I also found that I turned to news more after that event, because that event seemed to bring the news much closer to home than I had ever remembered it being before. It was a major event that helped define our generation, and made the news more relevant for us.
Overall, it does seem kind of disheartening that a bunch of Newswriting students aren't very interested in the news. Still, many classmates have said this class is renewing their interest in the news, which I agree with. When you learn how to create something that you've always taken for granted before, you look at it in an entirely different light than you did before. So hopefully, I will begin to pay attention much more to the news even after this class is over and not stay shut up in my little theatre bubble.

September 5, 2009

A Catholic that's not devout...it happens

"The loss of skilled workers will be a crippling factor in the economy of East Germany...will cripple the economy of East Germany."
--page 10--Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting

I agree wholeheartedly for the most part with what this chapter says regarding economy of language, but a couple of the examples they used bother me, like the above quote. I would argue there actually is a difference between saying something is a crippling factor in the economy and just saying it will cripple the economy. The former indicates that the situation is more complex than just that one factor, that the loss of skilled workers is a detrimental element but can't singledhandedly cripple the economy. Now maybe this is just splitting hairs. Is it more desirable to go with the simple, direct statement even when that statement is an exaggeration? It seems that in newswriting, the emphasis is a little bit more on reporting the facts than on having a good writing style, but that's just my perception. In fiction, it's easier to be more simple and direct because you're the one making it up. But with a news story, it seems kind of unethical to make a situation sound simpler than it is just because it makes for stronger writing.
Another section that sat a little uncomfortably with me was the list of adjective-noun cliches. To me, "Catholic" doesn't always imply "devout." Yes, those two words are used together a lot, but someone can also be a "lapsed Catholic" or just a "Catholic who doesn't go to church all that often." "Picturesque village" and "sprawling reservation" are similar; villages can look rundown, and reservations can be small. True, that's not the norm, but I don't think you can just assume that readers will always assume certain things about a noun just because they're normally described with certain adjectives.
Still, for the most part I agree with cutting as many unnecessary adjectives or long-winded phrases as you can. I just think one has to be careful to not lose one's sense of the complexity of a situation for the sake of making a sentence sound better. The facts need to be delivered in as succinct and accurate a manner as possible.

Pepper my menu with some more physical description, Johnny!

"Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats organically cultivated by local growers, like the ducks brought from Sonoma County Poultry, pepper a menu as focused as Waters’ passion."
--John W. Cox, Personality/Profile article

This sentence is a good example of the difference in styles between this profile piece and the one by Stockton. Stockton hardly ever seemed to let her own writer's voice guide the story, choosing instead to rely on the quotes of the people she interviewed. Cox uses a lot more of his own rhetorical flourishes, and he uses description a lot more, mentioning that Waters "grimace[s]" when asked a question about redwood trees. Of course, his article does seem to be a bit longer, so he has more room to put in his own writerly invention in addition to the requisite quoted sources. Overall, the way this article was written gave me the impression that the writer is more confident in his voice than Stockton was. I know that as a novice newswriter, 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. I think there are pros and cons to each approach; Stockton's story gave me a clear sense of the people in the subject's life because she showcased the way they spoke. Stockton was able to show how much impact the subject has had by directly quoting people who she's helped. The downside was, I couldn't really picture the subject or any of the people interviewed because so little time was spent describing them physically. In Cox's article, I got a much clearer sense of the physical environment of his subject. Then, when he relied more on quotes throughout the second half of the article, I could picture the anecdotes people told a little more vividly because I had more of a sense of the place in which they happened. Would Stockton have spent more time describing what the Delancey Street complex looked like if her article was as long as Cox's? Perhaps. As it is, Cox's article seems to be a bit stronger to me, because it relies on physical description and what people say to tell the story. As a playwright, I'm always drawn more to the dialogue than the physical description, of course. I can see how this kind of description can be helpful, though.

September 9, 2009

Just Like Writing a Play! (Only with Real Life)

"The language of journalism is not like speech, but it is closer to speech than most other forms of writing...It also explains the journalistic obsession with quoting, the attempts to represent speech in prose."
--301, Clark and Scanlan, America's Best Newspaper Writing

As I venture into some of my first attempts to write news, I couldn't agree more with this statement. First of all, there's hardly any room to be flowery and over-explanatory. When you have a 400-word limit, you're usually working hard to shave off words, rather than add more of them as padding. This forces you to say what you need to say in as concise a manner as possible, which automatically leads you to use simpler language than you might use for an academic paper. Ideally, any kind of writing should have this kind of simplistic clarity, but with an essay the tendency sometimes is to repeat what one has just said while tacking another idea onto it. In a news story, you have to explain the whole situation in all its complexity using a very finite amount of words. I've found myself quibbling over "the"s and "and"s, something I've never done before. And it makes you aware of when you're really using more words than you have to; I can feel I'm using tons of unnecessary words in this blog right now, but since there isn't a word limit, I'm just letting myself go crazy. It's hard to write with that constant editorial sense in the back of your mind.
Amidst all this foreign territory, the one thing I can really grasp onto is the need to keep the writing voice closer to everday speech and to use helpful quotes as much as you can. As a playwright, I'm all about capturing different characters' voices, so whenever I hear somebody talk in a unique way or use an interesting phrase that tells the story so much better than I could, I automatically feel like I should quote it. I agree with Clark and Scanlan that this should be done in moderation, especially when you're trying to quote officials and experts who use a lot of jargon the average person wouldn't understand. 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. The people you talk to are the ones your audience is going to relate to, most likely, so I think 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. That's so much like playwriting (except, of course, you don't make the lines up in a news story). But even when creating fictional dialogue, there's a point where the characters' voices kind of take over and the writer's work is really in honing and shaping the narrative structure so that the voices don't overwhelm the overall plot. Anyway, that's how I'm finding my way into this kind of writing.

September 12, 2009

The past is not the present

"Use 'said.' A news article is a record of something that has happened. Those events may be recent, but they are definitely in the past. The present tense 'says' is inappropriate."
--AP Style Tips

I think this is definitely a rule that I broke when writing my profile. I've probably been influenced by broadcast journalism, which is all very much about making it all sound like it's happening now to hold viewers' interest, like any other TV show. I felt tempted to use present tense because my article wasn't talking so much about specific events that happened in the past but about the personality of the person I was profiling, which is an ongoing thing. I wanted to make the reader feel like they were getting a snapshot of the person's life as it is right now, so I think I slipped a little bit. Although I think most of the time I stuck to past tense because it sounded more correct. I guess my instincts were on target then. I think there are probably other good ways to make an article have immediacy; it doesn't say that we're not allowed to use present tense at all, just when we use "said." If we connect what people have said with events that are currently in progress, that helps achieve the whole live broadcast news brought-to-you-as-it's-happening feel.
As for the examples from the website:

"Assistant News Editor, Anne O'Nymous read the article."
I think the comma should be removed, which would make "Assistant News Editor" a formal title. Or, you could say, "Anne O'Nymous, assistant news editor, read the article," although that sounds a bit clunkier to me.

"She was highly appreciated by Jameson for solving the problem. "I really appreciate her work ethic and problem-solving ability," said Jameson."
One of these sentences has to go; both together are redundant. Quotes are usually better than paraphrases because they show instead of tell, so I would strike the first sentence.

"Spunky Inkworthy has only written for The Setonian this year, but Obituaries Editor, Lazarus O'Mortigan, was very complimentary towards Spunky's contributions."
"The" should not be capitalized because it is not officially part of the title of the Setonian. There shouldn't be a comma after "Obituaries Editor" since it is a title, and there should not a comma after "O'Mortigan." "Towards" should be "toward." "Very" is kind of an empty modifier, so you don't really need it.

In a telephone call from Head Librarian Marian Paroo, she discussed Inkworthy's contributions.
It's better to start the sentence with a subject and verb, so you might want to say "Head Librarian Marian Paroo discussed Inkworthy's contributions in a telephone call." It's also unclear who the pronoun "she" is referring to, the way the sentence is worded right now.

"Here is a quote", said Bill Jones freshman.
The comma belongs inside of the quotes. Also, there should be a comma after "Jones."

September 14, 2009

Babies and Sunshine

"He was incredibly loving. One girl described him as 'sunshine'."
--Sophie Elsworth, "Brisbane man James Nielsen dies as bus plunges over cliff"

"In the mishap, a three-month-old baby which was thrown inside a bush was miraculously found unhurt. The child is of Rajiya of Bolyaru."
--"Mangalore: 21 hurt as bus plunges into ditch"

I picked these two stories because they both had pictures that drew me in and want to read about them. I was almost afraid to click on the one with the baby, because I was scared it might describe the horrible death of an infant. But it actually was a bright spot in otherwise rather mundane story. They just listed the names and ages of the injured, and I can't imagine there'd be any reason anyone would read through all those names unless they though they might know someone who was in the accident. It was pretty miraculous that that baby survived the accident; it's sort of reminiscent of what Dr. Jerz said in his blog about cats surviving shipwrecks, although this is obviously a little bit more emotionally rewarding. It's interesting how they put the detail about the baby at the end of the story instead of following the inverted period format. Maybe they thought people would read through all the names just to find how the picture of the baby is relevant.

The story about James Nielsen was a much higher-quality bus plunge story. It was kind of a combination of a profile piece and bus plunge story. I really liked how they got into the details of his life and showed how these kinds of events really affect people. It told the story on a much more human level, which aside from the interesting detail about the baby was pretty bare-bones. Although the families of the other victims might wonder why the reporter didn't cover their loved ones with the same amount of detail, it was good that they put a face on the situation that kind of represents the larger tragedy of the accident. Of course, Elsworth seems to have had much more space and time to craft this story than whoever wrote the Mangalore story, so that's part of why it's a more interesting read. I still think the Mangalore story could have spent more time getting quotes from people who witnessed the accident or from the relieved parents.

Link to Newswriting class website

The wheels on the bus go round and round

"Of course, it's callous to make light of anybody's tragic death. But by the gallows-humor standards of journalism, competing to publish bus-plunge shorts was fairly benign."
--Jack Shafer, quoted in "The rise and fall of the "bus plunge" story"

I must admit, when I first heard about this trend I thought it was kind of callous. But when you have to deal on a daily basis with reporting stories about horrible things happening to people, I would think you do develop a rather dark sense of humor. But that doesn't mean that all bus plunge stories are just insensitive listings of facts with no consideration for the victims or their families, as I learned when I was reading a few samples. There are bus plunge stories that just give the facts and are there just as filler, sure, but then there are other stories that really take into account the humanity of the people involved, like this one. Now the story I linked to may also be considered filler because it was just a slow news day, but it's really good filler. Like Dr. Jerz says, it can be a "minimalist art form," and the challenge is to write it in a way that would actually interest people enough to want to read it, be it using a picture of a baby or focusing on the personal details of one specific victim.
At any rate, buses plunging, whether or not one's covering them just to fill up extra space, can be very newsworthy because they involve more people than just your average car accident, and I think they secretly tap into a fear we all have about dying in public transportation. Doesn't anybody else feel just a little bit nervous at that moment when a bus first lurches into movement? I do. But I'm probably more neurotic than the average person. And now I'll really be nervous about it now that I know how often it happens. And that a group of journalists somewhere will laugh about it.

September 17, 2009

Such a fine line between clever and stupid

"Hello, tree. There is good news and there is bad news for you today."
--page 28, The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting

I picked this quote because I think it illustrates how hard it is to write good leads. As David St. Hubbins once said, "It's such a fine line between clever and stupid." I think that would be my problem in writing news stories; I can be as creative as I want when writing plays or short stories, but if I start injecting too much personality into the story, it distracts from what I'm really trying to communicate. So I think I'd err more on the side of being boring and dry, which isn't good either. I don't want to write a lead that sounds like a forced attempt at being creative, but I don't want to put the reader to sleep either. Now, I'm gonna say that as a reader, I'd probably prefer a stupid attempt at humor than a sentence that's accurate but doesn't really get my attention. Even a bad joke can make you laugh just by virtue of how bad it is. So I'm gonna agree with Cappon that that lead was silly, but I think it's probably better than some line that doesn't do much of anything except say that some trees are being cut down.
Another difficulty is this whole notion of objectivity that confuses me. If you get too creative, couldn't this cloud the facts a bit? What happened to the whole window metaphor? If you start adding all kinds of funky decorations to the window like bits of humor and wacky ways to phrase things, doesn't that make it kind of hard to see through? So while I agree that it's important to find ways to grab the reader's attention, I think you need to be careful that you're not sacrificing integrity for getting readers. Once again, the whole integrity vs. being entertaining thing pops up. And I think it's most important to balance the two, rather than completely favoring one over the other.

Good point.

"The period mark in lieu of all those conjunctions, participial and relative clauses is a splendid antidote. Some of us need to rediscover it."
--page 37, The Associate Press Guide to Newswriting

I have just rediscovered this antidote, and I just wanna say that it's awesome! I have a big problem with writing overly complicated sentences which just go on and on, hardly ever stopping to let the reader catch a breath, and so when I read this, I realized what an incredibly useful tool this would be. (Yes, that sentence was purposely long for demonstration purposes.) With all of the pieces that we've written so far, I've often found myself combining sentences that really don't need to go together. And it's perfectly legal if you use "and" or any number of clauses; don't even get me started on semicolons. But I remembered what we've been saying about keeping sentences short and to the point, so I've just rediscovered periods. I don't know what it is about our tendency to make sentences longer. I think we sometimes believe we sound smarter the longer our sentences are. And certainly you don't want to have all your sentences be short and choppy, as the book points out; you need some variety. Choppy sentences throw readers off just as much as long, verbose sentences. But in general, when you're dealing with readers who don't have a lot of time and just want you get to the point, it's probably best to favor the short over the long, I think.

September 18, 2009

God, I hope I get it!

"Look at it from the editor's point of view. This is not selling out or "playing the game," this is framing your idea in a way that will strike the right chords with the newspaper and get your story into print."
--Joe Grimm, "Newsroom politics: Pitching a story"

Oh, here we go again. Forgive the theatre major for once again comparing the reading to something in show business, but this kind of reminded me of what you're not supposed to do when auditioning. I think it's just kind of interesting to notice the differences. As an actor, you can never really fulfill what you think the director wants to see in an audition, because you don't know exactly what they're thinking, and even if you do, if you try to tailor your audition to be everything the director thinks is a good audition, you're not going to have a very genuine or creative audition. As a newspaper writer, though, I don't know if you have as much of the luxury of creative independence. That sounds kind of cynical. Maybe it is. However, even actors have to do what the director tells them in the end. If you're going to get your work out there, you need to be willing to collaborate with people, and newswriting seems like one of the most collaborative types of writing. You have to collaborate with the people you interview and your editors; no one completely operates in a vacuum. And ultimately, you don't have to completely change your idea to fit an editor; as Grimm says, you can try pitching your idea to different editors to see if it's more appropriate for one section than another. If you don't get cast at one audition, you can always go to the next one and try again. So in both newswriting and acting, you still need to hone your talent to meet certain criteria, but you don't necessarily have to compromise your creative integrity as long as you have a clear vision that you know is compatible with some people, if not others.

An actor plays the role of news reporter

This is a portfolio of all of the blogging I have done about reading assigments for my Newswriting class at Seton Hill about a quarter of the way through the semester. I am very new at news, so it's been exciting to learn about a world of writing that I haven't even begun to explore.

Coverage (a list of all the blogs for each reading)
The front page of the Tribune Review
America's Best Newswriting, pages 287-294
"Famous Person Has Died" comic strip
WTAE Newscast
Onion, "Something Is Happening in Haiti"
Byron, "What Local Stations Don't Want You to Know"
America's Best Newswriting, pages 164-174
English essay vs. News story
Profile article by Halle Stockton
America's Best Newswriting, pages 70-72
The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, chapters 1 and 2
Profile article by John W. Cox
America's Best Newswriting, pages 294-302
AP Style Tips
Comparison of bus plunge articles
"The Rise and Fall of the 'Bus Plunge' Story"
The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, chapter 3
The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, chapter 4
"Newsroom politics: Pitching a story"

Depth (blog entries that examine the reading in depth)
Comparison of bus plunge articles
America's Best Newswriting, pages 294-302
The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, chapters 1 and 2
Byron, "What Local Stations Don't Want You to Know"

Interaction (blogs that include interaction with my peers)
Onion, "Something Is Happening in Haiti"
Profile article by John W. Cox

Discussion (blogs that generated numerous comments from my peers)
Profile article by John W. Cox
America's Best Newswriting, pages 294-302
"The Rise and Fall of the 'Bus Plunge' Story"
Comparison of bus plunge articles

Most of my blogs were timely. "Newsroom politics: Pitching a story" and The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, chapter 4, the two most recent blog entries, are the least timely because they were written the morning before class.

Xenoblogging (comments that I left on peers' blogs)
Josie Rush's blog on bus plunges
Angela Palumbo's blog on the Dr. Seuss profile piece
Jennifer Prex's blog on the "Famous Person Has Died" comic strip
Derek Tickle's blog on "English Essay vs. News Story"

I think my blogs on "Newsroom politics: Pitching a story" and America's Best Newswriting, pages 294-302 are pretty representative of my blogging. Because I'm so new to newswriting, I have a tendency to compare a lot of the information with a world I'm more familiar with, theatre (almost to an annoying degree). I think relating the readings to certain aspects of theatre has helped me understand them better, though.

September 19, 2009

Short but Sweet and Contradictory Statements

"State police at Greensburg said a would-be robbery victim fought back late Saturday night when he was attacked outside a bank in Westmoreland County."

"The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

In 2007, Cynthia and Mark Pollard Sr., along with their children, Jonathan, Tabitha and Mark Jr., were charged with kidnapping and enslaving 19-year-old Emily Nicely in Greensburg."
--Sample Crime Reports

Although it was shorter and the wording was relatively cut and dried, I like the "Would-be robbery" article a little better than the "Plea deal reached" article. The lead was well-written in that it made me want to read the rest of the story, and since it was so short, people in a hurry wouldn't feel intimidated about reading it. Anytime you have a story about a potential victim fighting back, I think that speaks to readers because it's what I think most people would hope they could successfully do in a situation like that. There wasn't a whole lot the writer did to make the story sound more exciting (they really couldn't have on short notice and with relatively little information), but since the facts that are known are pretty interesting, there isn't that much need for embellishment. I suppose it could have been more boringly worded to emphasize the attempted robbery and not the victim fighting back, and the interesting emphasis is the biggest contribution to the story that makes it more interesting.
The other article was notable to me for doing things that I thought newspapers generally weren't supposed to do. For example, they mention the exact addresses of the people accused. Maybe the writer thought they'd mention the address to warn readers to be careful of the people living there, but they haven't even pled guilty. It seems like that's sort of against protocol, because now those people, guilty or not, have absolutely no anonymity. And speaking of anonymity, the quote I mentioned above really threw me off. They say they don't name victims of sexual assault, but in the next sentence they mention by name the victim of a similar crime. Perhaps the 2007 charges didn't involve sexual assault, but even if it wasn't formally charged, it really seems in poor taste to mention the name of someone in an extremely similar situation. Especially because those two sentences juxtaposed really make it look like they're violating their own standards. Overall, the second article just confused me over what you should and shouldn't do when reporting these types of cases. Another, perhaps more minor point, is the direct quote from Chuck Washburn is kind of unnecessary. It could very easily be paraphrased. I'm afraid this article seemed like it was kind of a mess to me.

September 20, 2009

Order? Laws? What?

"You have a role to play, in providing information to counteract rumour. People will hear about crimes through casual conversations or rumour, or they may hear a siren as a police car dashes along the road; they will be only half-informed. It is your job as a journalist to tell them the truth about the rumoured crime or explain why the police car went past."
--Chapter 35, The News Manual

This is an aspect of crime reporting that I think sometimes people forget about. There is definitely a sensationalistic element to reporting on a particularly scandalous crime to the point of over-exposure, but there is a responsibility journalists have to provide the facts about a crime. Without this reporting, there would probably be a lot more fear and confusion because rumors would allow the real facts of the story to be exaggerated. However, the fact that news stations spend so much of their time reporting on crime gives some people a false perception of how often crime really does happen, and that sometimes causes needless fear as well. Still, it's more important to have an objective account of what is known about a crime to keep things pretty much in perspective. That's why it's so important to report in a way that preserves the integrity of the legal system and doesn't accuse people who haven't been found guilty. Another interesting thing this chapter brought up is the idea that reporting on crime shows people how laws are broken and how they are punished. I think we all take it for granted that when a crime happens, we hear about it on the news and we find out about the trial and the sentencing. But without the news, a lot of people would not have as much immediate knowledge of the legal system and perhaps feel more at liberty to do unlawful things because they don't know about the consequences. So the next time I see the media become obsessed with an O.J. Simpson or a JonBenet Ramsey kind of case, I'll just remind myself, "It's for the greater good!"

September 22, 2009

Wait a minute, the writers actually got off their butts and went somewhere?

"Steve Zadig’s auto racing career had never been higher, but his passion for the sport had never been lower."

"But the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s massive budget deficit soon will leave Cadwell with one fewer crewmember to care for the trees—with more layoffs likely in the future."
--on-the-spot assignments

When I was reading these articles, I was very confused as to why we were reading them because they looked like profile pieces, which we've already covered. They definitely didn't feel like they were about "events," but people. It was only when I skimmed through the articles again that I found the parts that mentioned a specific event where the reporter was. So it seems to me like these articles are only technically "on-the-spot" articles; the reporter going to an actual place seems more like an excuse to find out about larger situations. That's probably the most interesting way to do on-the-spot assignments; if you could find a really specific and person-centered way to write about a sports event, that's way better than writing about the game in a general, abstract way. That's why the auto racing article was especially interesting; I hardly noticed that the writer went to an actual race because the story about Zadig was so much more engrossing. The contradiction in the lead is fantastic and really sums up what the article's going to be about in a way that draws the reader in instead of telling them exactly what's coming so they don't feel the need to read further. I don't know if I'll be able to take such a personal approach to my coverage of an event, but it sure would be cool if I did. I think you need to be lucky enough to find people who want to talk and have an interesting story to tell.

September 29, 2009

Is this a short story or news story?

"The more that quotes resemble dialogue in form, the livelier they are. An exchange gives readers a special sense of participation."
--Cappon, Chapters 6 and 8

This was a pleasant surprise. Sometimes when writing news stories, I feel so out of my element that I don't realize I can use any techniques that I've learned from other styles of writing. I think that's why they spent a whole chapter about tone. It just comes naturally when you're writing a story where you can make everything up, but I've found myself trying to write something that has a humorous tone but then switching to a more straightforward tone when I realize I can't keep it up while sticking to the facts. But one way you can make a story more exciting is by using dialogue the way you would in a short story. It seems like the example they use, where they quote the question that was asked and have the person repeat it back as a statement, may be redundant, but I like the snappy effect it had. You probably wouldn't want to use it when it takes up space that could be used for more important information, but if you have the space, it really helps set the scene better. I wasn't aware that the reporter was able to inject him or herself that much into their own story, but the examples they used seemed really effective. I guess that technique, like anything, can be abused and can make it more about the reporter than the subject if used too much. But all the same, I like it when reporters can dispense with the pretense that the people quoted just made these statements of their own accord; it's a lot more involving for the reader when you can make them feel like they were present at the interview.

Better because we're Irish

--Comparison of Front Pages, Newseum website

The headline quoted above is the one that caught my attention the most. Perhaps it was because it had some of the biggest lettering. Perhaps it was also because the picture of the woman showed her with big bulging neck muscles and looking like she was in pain. It could also have been the weirdly worded phrase "Shock death" as opposed to "Shocking death" (maybe that's an Irish thing). I also appreciated the picture of her with her husband at the bottom to give her some more humanity. The bullseye in the top right corner also grabs your eye and shakes it violently. Overall, this front page looked more like a supermarket tabloid though, so I was a little surprised to see it included in the Newseum website. Maybe it really is a reputable paper, and in Irish culture the garish colors and use of huge white lettering aren't seen as signs that the paper is less than truthful in its representation of events. Certainly, the front page seemed very preoccupied with sports and athleticism of all kinds; the deaths of Ireland's strongest woman and a racehorse are big news stories. So is a 24-page soccer pullout. Once again, maybe it's an Irish thing. I was also surprised at the "Better because we're Irish" tagline; you don't normally see American newspapers make such a big deal out of their Americanness. Overall, it's the bizarreness of this front page that caught my eye more than anything else; nothing on the front page seems at all concerned with world events, but there is a huge fixation on sports. Except that the paper doesn't seem to advertise itself as an exclusive sports-related publication, in the title or the tagline. I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing that the bizarreness is what drew me to it; if I saw this paper in a supermarket, I might glance at it for a few seconds, but I wouldn't want to take it home and read it cover to cover. So maybe colorfulness and strange pictures aren't always the best techniques to attract readers. I guess it depends on what kind of an audience you're targeting.

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to MatthewHenderson in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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