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!

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!

Profiles:

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.

Travel:

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!

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!

The Art of the Interview

Of the four different types of information gathering, the interview is the most unreliable.  The first time the interview was used in the newspaper was in 1836 by James Gordon Bennett.  Since then, newspapers have changed forever.

Now, before you interview someone, you must do your research.  Thankfully, with the Internet this has become much easier.  You must pay attention to details, such as the setting of the interview and the person being interviewed.  Your goal is to have accelerated intimacy.  To build a quick and deep relationship with your subject.

Phase one of the interview is the introduction.  You get to know each other.  Next, you adjust.  You ask yourself, “Am I getting what I need?”  Then, you have a moment of connection.  You must connect in order to get an accelerated relationship with them.

Now you’re settling in.  you’re subject is enjoying the interview and maybe he or she sets their briefcase down.  Before you know it, you have a revelation.  The subject opens up and says things they never though they would.  They can’t believe what they’re telling you- but it just keeps coming out.  You want to keep encouraging more revelations so you use comments such as, “I didn’t know that,” or, “Tell me more about that.”  Those responses keep encouraging your subject to throw up more information (sorry for the graphicness).

Lastly, a wrap up.  You put your notebook away and continue to talk to your subject.  This puts them even more at ease and makes them believe you are genuinely interested in them and what they have to say.

Practice with a friend or colleague and perfect your skills.  Good luck with your interviews!

 

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!

Chapter 2, Feature Writing continues

Well, first things first- how is a feature story different from an ordinary news story?  Well they both rest on the foundation of reporting- you have to report what’s going on.  Well, a news story is the ordinary news.  A feature story is the extra-ordinary news.  Features take it a step further in structure and in subject matter.

Features generally take much more time.  More time in writing, preparing, interviewing, and gathering information.  Features aren’t for the weak at heart, and features aren’t a phone call and done. They take time and energy.

Finding a good idea is key.  First, an unfolding action must take place.  The story has to have somewhere to go.  Something needs to happen to keep the story unfolding and the readers intrigued.

Telling True Stories gives great incite on some questions to ask yourself on how to get the story and keep the readers attention.  One question is, “What’s the big idea?”  Lane Degregory states, “If you can find a universal truth in a story, even if it’s as silly as ‘people like to be entertained at a bar,’ that’s important.”

Jan Winburn also gave an excellent list of questions to ask ourselves.  A time-saving tip she gave is, “Where would it be worth going deeper?  Where is the close-up on a story?  Where does mystery remain?”

This is where we need to go to get the story.  This is where the feature is.  Also, what is going to intrigue your readers?  What do they want to know?  This is how you select the “award winning” topic.