Ethics. Let’s be honest.

Ethics:  a system of moral principles.  the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class ofhuman actions or a particular group, culture.

Being ethical in the journalism industry is of most importance.  One of the most questionable lines journalist tend to cross in the line of fact and fiction.  In some instances, this line is clear as day, however, sometimes it is not as clear.  There are principles to help journalist navigate between these blurred waters.

1.  Be unobtrusive.  Work diligently to gain access to people and events so you are not on the outside looking in.  So you can obtain all of the facts clearly and avoid the “observer effect.”  The “observer effect” is a principle applied in physics, which states that by solely observing an event changes it.  So be in the event.  Live the moment.

2.  Avoid using anonymous sources.  Avoid it at all cost- except in cases where the news is very important and the source is especially vulnerable.  Whistleblowers quite often fall into this category, because they are exposing wrong doings.

3.  Never put something in your story that you have not checked out to be true.  There is always someone knowledgable and someone that knows the truth, so do not fall into the trap.  Check every detail out- you may find a story in that.

4.  Do not add.  Adding to a story is false and you can be held liable.  Career: over.

5.  Do not deceive.  This is obviously an ethical dilemma.  Be aware, sometimes you can deceive and not be aware you are.  Always check your word choice and how things come across.  My tip: read it aloud and let someone else read it.

What tips do you have for keeping yourself ethical 24/7?  What do you do in a sticky situation?  Have a great day and I look forward to your comments!

 

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Ethics in feature writing

We will be discussing ethics in feature writing in class today. Here are some links we’ll be using.

Here is he Janet Cooke story that won her a Pulitzer Prize until it was revealed the story was a fabrication. She acknowledged she never interviewed any of the people in the story and that she made it up based on composite information she had gleaned from other sources. Cooke sort of explained on the Phil Donahue show why she lied.

We will be discussing this story in the context of the ethical decisions that reporters make at every turn that lead to true and accurate reporting or breaches. It is important to remember that no one sets out to be unethical. These lapses start as a series of misplaced choices, much as one small lie may lead to larger untruths.

Be thinking about what small ethical lapses you may make that could lead to bigger gaps.

Ethics is also about journalists’ decision to be impartial or stay out of the lives of subjects. When should a journalist step in?

Writing and Critiquing Features

Do not fear- features are here!  Sometimes reading general news story after general news story can let your thinking get dull and creativity dusty.  Feature stories however bring a whole new light to the right side of the brain.  So how do you begin?

1.  Let’s get an outline together.

I’ll be honest- I’m type A.  I love my planner and I love making lists, so an outline is second nature for me.  But even if you’re type B, C or E, an outline will help you put your thoughts in order and give you a structure of the story.

For example, a persuasive outline might look something like this: (from The Art of Feature Writing, p. 273)

  • Introduction to the issue and your stance
  • Arguments in support of your position
  • Arguments in opposition to your position and a refutation
  • A reaffirmation of the stance taken in the opening paragraphs, but phrased differently.

Do you see how this helps your story flow?  Now take this general guideline, and make it specific to your persuasive story.

2.  Now let’s write:

Good writers craft every element of their work, down to the joints between the words.  During this meticulous process it’s nearly impossible to step back and experience the text as a new reader would,” said Mark Kramer and Wendy Call in Telling True Stories.

This is such a true great piece of advice.  Keep that in mind when you begin to edit.  Here are some other great tips for perfecting your writing abilities:

  • Embody ideas in the nature of language
  • Restore worn-out words
  • Take an art class
  • Use concrete detail
  • Compose the pace
  • Experiment with form
  • Cultivate your own style
  • Get someone to read and critique
  • Raise the bar through each story
  • Each year choose three skills to concentrate and develop on

 

Take these tips and apply them to each story you write.  Perfect your feature and see how far you can go!

Better writing comes from learning to edit yourself

If you really want to improve your writing, spend some time as an editor. Being an editor makes you read a story differently. Rather than seeing the story as a collective whole, editors see it as pieces (words, sentences, thoughts, ideas.) They learn to compartmentalize, reading for content first, and then going line by line to spot mistakes, clunkiness, lack of flow.

The best writers learn to use these editing tools on their own work. They distance themselves from their writing by “letting it gel,” or writing and then leaving their work before reading it again. Then they put on their editors’ hats and spot the problems.

You can give it try here by editing each of these sentences.

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!

A Fly on the Wall

Reporting can be very difficult at times, but you have to push through- you’re story depends on it.  Ann Hull in Telling True Stories gives great insight on how to be a great reporter.

1.  Observe.  Be the fly.  Sit in the top corner of a room and just watch.  Be that hidden camera in a teddy bear.  Just watch everything and remember every detail.

2.  Live as they do.  Now is when you leave your corner, or the inside of the Teddy Bear, and mimic everything your subject does.  This is how you learn the details and catch things you might have missed.  This is when you experience your subject’s life and truly understand who they are.

3.  Minimize your presence.  It’s probably going to obvious you’re outsider- try not to draw attention to yourself.

4.  Remember, you are not one of them.  Don’t get too caught up in the moment.  Remember your place and respect your subject. Keep your distance and remember, you’re the fly, not the subject.

5.  Check out your subject.  Look for anything you can find.  You want to legitimize your subject so you need proof.  Paper trails and the Internet are great places to begin.

6.  Keep a friend around.  Sometimes writing can get lonely and depressing if your story isn’t going well.  Keep someone around who can cheer you up and renew your spirits.

7.  Think about each word.  I have a bad habit of writing something and never rereading it.  Don’t get this habit reread everything.  Ask yourself, “what about this word?”  “Is there a better word?”  and always look at synonyms.

8.  Learn about the community.  Reading the local newspaper is a great start.  Another great thing is going to a local church.  Also, the coffee shop is a great place to learn about the community- it’s also a great place to be a fly on the wall.  You get a feel for the atmosphere in the community and it really helps you understand your subject more.

9.  Use their language.  If you want to get a story, you have to connect with your subject.  In order to connect, you have to be on the same level.  If you’re in the south- say “y’all” instead of “you guys.”  Simple things like this can really help you connect with that person and build a relationship.

10.  Be as open as possible.  Reporting and interviewing is all about building relationships with your subject.  You can’t build a relationship if you’re mute and have your head in your notebook the whole time.  You have to be engaged and share a part of yourself with your subject.

Good luck with reporting, and if there is anything I can help with feel free to ask!

Great feature writing makes you feel something

As promised, here’s a bit of good — great — writing that you should read. We’ll be talking about it in class next week (Jan. 22). This is a first-person narrative.

As you read it, ask yourself:

  • How does the writing make me feel?
  • What do I see?
  • What do I feel?
  • What techniques does the writer use to make me feel what I feel and see what I see?
  • What is the pace of the story?
  • How does the writer generate that pace?