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!

What’s In a Lead?

Leads to a story can be tricky.  Sometimes, I’ll write the body of the story first and the lead last.  Leads should be enticing, interesting and compelling.  The reader should be drawn in to read the rest of the story.

The dramatic lead.

“His classmates called him “the leper,” because measles had left his 12-year-old body scarred.  His mother said children tended to blame him when things went wrong.  One day, distraught, the boy in Tromsoe, Norway, took a rope and hanged himself.”

This lead is from the Associated Press in 1983.  The story is about suicide among children, but aren’t you enticed?  They could have begun with statistics- which would be interesting- but doesn’t this really impact you?

The question lead.

“Acid rain- how much is falling and where?  Where does it come from?  Is the problem getting worse?  Are its effects cumulative?”

This is from the West Virginia University Alumni Magazine.  When I read this, I’m genuinely concerned about my area and I want to know if acid rain is coming near me.  The biggest rule about a question lead- it needs to be clearly answered in the article.  Again, CLEARLY answered.

The setting lead.

This lead should really set the scene.  The reader should have a vivid picture of where the story is and what’s happening.  These are generally filled with descriptive verbs and adjectives.

The combination lead.

Alright- let’s throw it all together!  Combine two and be creative.  Try something many different ways and see what you get.

Titles

Don’t forget your amazing heading!  A good title will draw in a magazine editor and the general reader.  Make your reader have to read the article- make them need to know the story.

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!

Is having a point of view unethical?

 

First of all, I found suggested origin of the definition of the word piping hilarious: the act of making up quotes or inventing sources which came from the idea that the reporter was high from covering the police busts of opium dens. As light-hearted as this is, I found that the book made very viable point about the ethical principals of telling the truth in journalism. It made the point that just because someone writes fictitiously, does not mean they are making something up on purpose. The memory can affect the truth unknowingly to a certain degree.

As journalists we are to report the truth, but the book brings up another good point- whose truth? Where is the line between hard fact and point of view drawn? If I was covering the same story as another reporter, I may choose to paint the subject in a different light or describe the scene in a different way according to my own personal history and overall point of view. The other reporter may paint a completely different picture of a person or a place, but does that mean that one of us is fictionalizing while the other is sticking strictly to the facts? No. Although subjectivity is necessary in journalism, I think it is hard to achieve since there is no on and off switch for a person’s point of view. I think the main ethical question a journalist has to ask himself is whether or not his story will deceive.

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.