Comments on writing commentary

I think writing commentary is one of the most exciting features to write. Basically, you take an idea in the news and write the story in a different perspective. I really appreciated the advice the author gave about writing commentary: “Collect facts, ideas and thoughts you want to include in your work. And then devote time to reviewing them and establishing their importance.” Honestly, this is a challenge for me sometimes when I have a commentary idea. I may think it is a wonderful idea, but the readers may think otherwise. It is important to think of the audience first. 

I absolutely love writing humorous editorials because I really show my personality in the story. But, I now have a different view of humorous commentary. Humor pieces can be persuasive, informative and interpretive. To execute humor well in a story, it must have a purpose and a focus on one central idea. The “writing to persuade” section was helpful in that it laid out a basic outline for persuasive commentary stories. I now feel more confident in presenting idea because the outline will keep me on track with stating the problem and my position and then presenting the arguments or evidence. 

Also, the section in Chapter six about a standard review format was very helpful. I am in the process of writing a movie review.  While most think writing about a movie you saw is simple, it requires more work than you think. Yes I saw the movie and I have mixed reviews about it. But, what are those underlying views? That’s the difficult part. I like the how author was straightforward and said to talk about appraisal of work, intent of the artists, synopsis of the work, evidence supporting your approval and if the artist’s intent was accomplished or not accomplished. 


Today’s Review

Have you ever encountered that random pop-up on your iPhone that asks you to rate an app or conduct a review on an app you recently downloaded? If you’re like me, you probably ignored it, but for others who actually rate and review these apps or other purchases, they feel a need to voice their opinion to offer future customers a glimpse at what they may run across if they download a specific app or that song they have been contemplating about after a couple of listens to its preview. Though it’s not as major, established critics who make it their mission to conduct proper reviews share a similar purpose.

 The difference between your average iPhone user and a professional critic is what chapter 6 is all about. It offers a standard review format with five elements to impact your review and tips to creating effective reviews that don’t seem biased and cause customers to stray away rapidly. In the chapter, Winthrop Sargeant The New Yorker’s music critic for 20+ years says “The critic’s function is not to lay down incontrovertible laws or pronounce absolute truths. It is to reflect his [or her] personal taste…and try to stimulate his [or her] readers into accepting or rejecting it according to their own lights…” I found this extremely helpful because journalists must always remember that it’s not our duty to say what’s good or bad for someone else. We can state our own opinions (supported by reliable references) but there has to be some room for the reader to have their own voice whether it agrees with us or not.

Let’s Talk Commentary: Preppy

Why should I care?  This is the question you most explicitly have to answer and make the author feel a need for.

Commentaries are unique, but the writer needs to do them correctly.  First, you need to prepare and have guidelines to follow.

1.  Collect facts, ideas and thoughts that need to be included in your piece.  Set aside time to really focus on them and realize what is important.  Then, compose your outline.

2.  Be curious.  When you write feature stories and articles for magazines, you develop an innate foundation of asking, “Why?”  Curiosity and sensitivity to your subjects life and experiences are an absolute must.

3.  Feel the story.  Don’t let yourself get in the way, but develop emotions about your story and your subject.  If you want your audience to be drawn, you must be overdrawn (just not in your banking account).  Think of Pocahontas when she sings, “Paint with all the colors of the wind.”  I don’t care how old you are, you can’t watch that and not have compassion for Pocahontas and want to smack John Smith in the face. Every word should just flow through you like it does through Pocahontas.

4.  Become best friends with your local barista.  Writing takes time, but commentaries take even more time and energy.  This will most definitely require caffeine.  There are certain people in our realm we don’t want to piss off- our editors and our baristas; they both hold the key to our career.

Think about your different types of commentaries.  Editorials, columns, essays and reviews.  Think about what you’re writing about and which style of commentary that will fit best into.  Then read several examples of that particular style.  Sometimes, the best work is mimicked and gathered from other great works.

Good luck and have an awesome day!

Reviewing and Commentary without being mean.

I hate reviews. I find reviews to usually be mean and unnecessary and I think it sad that now anyone can write a review on anything and others will take them seriously. Review writing is something I do not take lightly and I think if you are to biased against a company, movie, person, or whatever you are reviewing your review is skewed and you should immediately stop writing.

Words are fueled by passion and many people do not understand just what the damage could be if you give a review and it is written from one experience you, personally, had that no one has experienced before. The internet is a cesspool of negative reviews and people who are just trying to destroy others hard work. I seldom read reviews as I like to have my own opinion on my feelings toward things. If I have already tried something I will find myself reading a review to see how others felt about it and if we share similar feeling, but I would never use a review to create my own opinion on anything.

Any-who.. my rant on reviews is over. So about the chapter… I loved the outline and the advice on how to write a review. It helps when you can see a structure and see how others write before you begin. It is a stress reliever to have a starting point set up by past writers.

A Little Bias Never Hurt Nobody

News writers are supposed to report the objective facts and let the people make their opinions from there. Inserting our personal opinions into what we are writing is the wrong thing to do hear in America. That is why our newspaper industry is dying while the tiny nation of the United Kingdom has 12 national daily newspapers. Wait, are we the ones doing something wrong?

I think people now like to have a little bit of an opinion in the news writing. With social media, reporters can’t hide behind their bylines anymore. They are really encourage to make it a more interactive process with the reader, and showing the reporter is in fact a real human being. Well, you can’t prove that just from making a Facebook account, because there are plenty of fake ones out there. A bias in writing allows the reader to connect with the writer and the story. They can either agree with what is being said and connect in a positive way to the story, or totally disagree and just feel like this is the dumbest article ever written. Either way, you are able to get an emotional response out of the reader, and that is something that is key to feature writing.

Maybe we should start doing this a little bit. Yes, objective news stories are still important. People deserve a source that isn’t trying to sway them to believe in one thing or the other, but opinionated features would be a great way to really get the reader more interested in the publication and maybe even that particular writer. If I have a response to a writer, I will probably come back for me. I mean, it’s a pretty sound argument, right?

Let’s Just Look At It This Way

I think I’ve mentioned before that as part of my undergrad curriculum I have to do some big Honors thesis that involves a lot of research. I’m noticing a lot of themes from my prospectus writing class overlap with feature writing.

One of the things we are told in my prospectus writing class is to look at a question someone has already answered, and try asking a different question related to that topic. Does that make sense? Basically, you have to look at things from a different angle to find something new. Yes, the guy killed his family, but why? When did the Olympic athlete decide that was what she was going to do with her life? How did men survive the trip across Antarctica? It’s all about asking the right questions when it comes to feature writing.

For personality profiles, don’t just ask questions about what makes the person interesting like their job or whatever their hobby is. Ask about the boring stuff like what coffee they drink in the morning or if they prefer night or morning showers. You never know if that ends up turning into a story. In a travel story, don’t just focus on how where you are is different from where you are from. Anecdotes from the trip might reveal a lot more than you might think. Just try to think of something new to ask.

People are so annoyed because I ask them why a lot of the time. I sound like a toddler, I know. But it’s interesting to see people’s reasoning behind things, and that might factor more into the larger picture than the actual decision that was made. Having some background info always makes the story more well-rounded.

I can’t help but think of that seen from Ratatouille where the restaurant critic orders some perspective, because he hasn’t had any in awhile. Maybe we should all think like that guy, and try to get a little more perspective when writing our stories.

Writing profiles: More than meets the eye

I had never had a lot of knowledge about how to exactly write a profile story. I have written one personality profile and I will admit, it was not half bad for my first go-round. My subject for the profile was Owen Bowen, a employee who works in the Southern Miss Athletic Administration. I had never met him before, but I had wonderful stories from other people I had interviewed about him. The most interesting part about interviewing him was asking the details and the questions no one else would usually ask him. 

If I could rewrite his profile story, I would do a few things differently. One, I would describe the people and the place. In Telling True Stories, Jaqui Banasynski says to locate the characters, to describe them physically and to explain their motivations. I met O.B. in the Fresh Food Company while he was eating lunch and talking with his friends. I should have described the environment in more detail and how interesting it was that O.B. ate at the same place and same time every day. 

Also, I would make O.B. a storyteller. I merely just interviewed him rather than asking open-end questions to dig deeper into his life. Banasynski says to ask questions so layered, so deep and so odd that they elicit unusual responses. I found it interesting when the author said you interview right, you will feel exhausted after you leave an interview. 

Therefore, it is difficult sometimes to see interviewing as a real job. Most see writing the story as the hard part. I had this mindset since I came to Southern Miss. But, now I realize the interview is just as important as the story. If you have a good, meaningful conversation with your subject, then the story is already formed. It makes our jobs as journalists a lot easier. 

Profiling never felt so good.

The section about profiles is what I enjoyed most about this reading. I also realized how easily this relates to me, especially the Niche Profile featured on page 68. The Niche Profile is just a brief description of how this individual person came to be, and is exactly what I am working on right now through a portrait series about workers. The Paragraph Profile is also something I have experience with, and it pairs perfectly with a portrait of someone to tell someone who they are, and it makes them into a character.

I also enjoyed learning about how important the interview process is when profiling someone, and I have come to learn myself just how much of an art form it is. I liked how the author gave specific examples of interviews they have done, specifically with the people trekking across Antarctica and the Olympic runner. It explains just how deep in the interview process you have to go sometimes to get people to talk about themselves, even though what you asked them may be totally random. Another thing that stood out to me was what Tomas Alex Tizon said in Every Profile is an Epic Story. He said, “It’s very easy for journalists to create one-dimensional characters in their stories, especially when they consider only the person’s official role as soldier, mayor, victim, robber.” This is exactly why it’s important to delve deeper into the interview, almost as if you are trying to be annoying. Avoiding creating one-dimensional characters in your stories I think is the best piece of advice I have taken away from this reading.

What is the purpose?

“Profiles provide specificity – the micro that illustrates the macro.” says Jacqui Banaszynski in Telling True Stories. If anyone remembers Harry from our last class meeting, then this quote definitely defines what Banaszynski is trying to say when it comes to profile stories. Profile pieces are meant to give a reader a sense of connection to a person in a matter of minutes with the help of vivid details and tons of in-depth information even the general public may not be familiar with.

Banaszynski delivers several tips in the reading on how to approach a profile story and what writers should keep in mind during their process of collecting information. Banaszynski says, “The key to reporting for a profile is figuring out the questions. Interviews are crucial.” This cannot be stressed enough! The interview is probably the most valued part of a profile piece because that’s where the audience is able to hear from the source directly or even from the source’s close friends and family members. We’ve discussed in class several times that it’s never good to ask the typical “yes and no” questions because they get us nowhere. Think further. If your source is a cake designer, it’s not best to simply ask why do they like making cakes. Really engage in a conversation with the source and ask a more detailed question such as “What inspirations drew you to becoming the cake designer you are today and how?” That sort of question automatically guarantees you a longer answer instead of something short and dry.

Aside from that, the reading helped by describing a few types of profiles including cradle-to-current (sweep of a person’s life), niche (biographical information), and paragraph (story format). Each type of profile presented a subject/issue and applied each of the different profiles to it for clarity.

To really understand your subject even more, Tomas Alex Tzion offers a few tips to help the writer see that their subject is just like anyone else with a story. He states “Every story has a protagonist who wants something, and must work through a series of obstacles to obtain it Every good story, and every great profile is a quest.” This stood out to me because it’s pretty much the ultimate goal a writer should aim for when trying to explore another person’s life for their readers’ sake. Always remember that.

Writing Writing Writing: Profiles and Travel

Writing can be overwhelming at times especially for beginners (such as myself).  It’s important to take a step back, and focus on one assignment at a time.  Remember the general beliefs we all share and the real world isn’t as nice as we would like it to be.  These general facts of life will help guide and focus some of your writing and make it impactful.  Today, we’re going to focus on writing profiles and travel pieces.  Ready, set, go!


Your reader needs to look up from the page feeling like they’ve met that person.  They need to know that individual on a personal level.  Think of it this way, a celebrity stalker can feel like they have a relationship with a person, and have never met them.  In a strange way, that’s the idea you need to give your reader.

Now, you’re not just describing the person- but the place as well.  Put the person in a scene and paint the picture for the audience.  To be able to do this, you must know what questions to ask.  Ask abstract questions and then get more specific.

For example, you ask a doctor, “What is your motivation?”  They say, “Well my mom.  She died of Leukemia and that’s why I want to cure cancer.”

What a story you have now.  With this, you can give your readers emotion and a nugget to the story.  They have compassion for this doctor and by the end- they want to donate to his fund and give him a long big hug.

Emotion is key in all writing.  Even in a general news story, your readers want to gain knowledge and feel something.  Your job is to give it to them.


Think about travels close to home.  You don’t have to write a piece on India to be a travel writer.  Sometimes the most unique and attractive pieces are those about a place close by that most don’t know about.  The example Telling True Stories gives is a random Manhattan paper writing about South Bronx.  Most in Manhattan don’t know much about South Bronx and readers will be interested in what’s going on there.

With travel writing, give a unique unusual nugget about something general.  Or the exact opposite- a general fact about a place unique and unusual.  Be the best, and make the magazine unable to say no to your query.


Good luck writers young and old!  Focus on the task at hand- you can do it–well!