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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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.

Keep Calm. and Query On!

“The benefit is the time to do something you really care about.  The sacrifice is that you must prove to everyone- your sources, your editors and your readers- that your story is worth their time.  You must believe in yourself and in your project, because you have a lot of big people to convince.”

Marketing your work is not an easy feat.  Authors are rejected on a regular basis- even the famous ones- for good books.  James Lee Burke’s Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 52 times from publishers across New York.  When he finally got it published by Louisiana State University Press, the novel was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and he even got a movie contract.

So first things first, as a freelance writer, you need to embrace rejection and just let it go.  “The road may be long and hard.  But let’s hit the road.”

When you’re deciding who to give your work to, go to a magazine first.  They pay more than a newspaper.  However, the good thing about a newspaper is they need a lot of copy- so they’re not a total loss.

When you’re trying to sell your story, you’re going to need to write a query letter to sell your idea to the editor.  You query should include the significance and timeliness of timeliness of your article.  You’re letter should include the proposed length of the article and ultimately, why it should be printed in this particular magazine or newspaper.  Don’t forget to include your qualifications, your sources, and self-addressed, stamped envelope as well as your e-mail address.

You should also include a cover letter.  If in a few weeks you haven’t heard a response, you can also send a follow-up letter as well.

Now, each story should receive a unique pitch.  Also, write about something that you’re an expert in and you’re the only one that can write about it.  If you prove that to an editor- then they’ll have to hire you.  When you send you’re query letter, include clips of something else you’ve written that pertain to your idea you’re pitching.

Good luck!  Keep calm, and query on!

Editing means duking it out with yourself

      I liked Anne Hull’s take on editing in Telling True Stories. She said successful editing means you are in a fierce competition with yourself and no one else. I think this couldn’t be truer since in essence you are the only person that can hold your story back from being awesome. I also love the advice she gives about listening to your editor’s critique of your story. She says, “Love the subject, not your rendering of it.” Sometimes you get so invested in a story that you can’t tell what it lacks or needs. If another person who reads it with a fresh perspective gives you advice, you should listen. Your ego isn’t worth ignoring what is most likely good advice that will make your story better.

      Chapter 12 of Writing Feature Stories also makes good suggestions about editing. One of my favorite that I have found most useful recently in improving past stories is to edit line by line. Although this is painstaking and takes up a lot of time, I think it’s the best way to take your story to the next level. I was recently revising a story to turn in to be judged for competition, and I found that using this technique vastly improved my story. The main change I found myself repeatedly making by analyzing sentence by sentence was the verbs I was using. When writing a story, it’s often difficult for me to continuously crunch out sensational and appropriate action verbs. But when I’m finished writing the story, it is easier for me to go back and think of better verbs when I look at the context of the sentence.

Editing

According to the syllabus, we are supposed to discuss editing today in class. For my blog post, I thought I would focus on reading stories aloud to check for errors. When we write something, we know exactly what we want to say. Often times, this leads to us missing our mistakes that are obvious to our readers. For example, I am terrible at leaving out articles when I type on Facebook. It’s not that I’m too stupid to know where they go, it’s just that I believe I put them there and I see them in my text. However, that’s in my head, not necessarily on the screen. Reading stories aloud forces us to focus on the words and pick up on things that don’t sound right. Not only can we catch errors through this process, but we can make sure a story flows or makes sense. I like to say reading the story aloud brings us closer to being nothing more than a reader of our work. Your readers are unlikely to miss things that you would as the writer, so catching these errors ahead of time is important.