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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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!

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?

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.

Stephen King: ‘The adverb is not your friend’

We have been talking a lot in class about writing and stripping away the unnecessary words. We have discussed using powerful verbs, rather than relying on adverbs to modify our weak or tiresome verbs.

This post, on Brian Pickings, offers an excerpt from a book on writing by Stephen King that chisels this point. According to the post by Maria Popova, King offers this advice in his book, On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft:

Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind.

King, one of the most prolific writers of our time, goes onto explain that powerful verbs make adverbs redundant. Use “slammed” rather than “closed firmly” because it says what you mean, he suggests. Why use a boring verb and hope an adverb will bring it to life?

Words to remember.

Welcome to Feature Writing

Dear students!

Welcome to MCJ 301 Feature Writing. I am excited to be teaching this class, and I hope you are happy to be part of it. We will be exploring feature writing in this class. We’ll start on the first day with figuring out exactly what a feature story is — and how it differs from a “news story.” We’ll be discussing the writing process and how to interview and observe to paint a picture for readers. We will be reading other writers to learn from them, and you will have a chance to read each other’s work. You’ll learn in this class to report and write a feature story and how to submit it to magazines, newspapers or websites for publication.

On this blog, you will be posting your reactions to the readings we do in class. You’ll use this space to ask questions — and get answers from me.

Let’s get started!