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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

My drugs have not improved, but my earworms have.

Here’s how my stem-cell-harvest drugs work (besides supposedly stimulating release of my stem cells for the next day’s harvest): I get the shot of Mozobil at 10 p.m., then head home exhausted after about 15 1/2 hours at the hospital, ready to sleep. Depending on how long it takes me to settle in and what we need to talk about, I crash hard sometime between 11 and midnight. Then about 1:30 or so, I wake up suddenly, as if someone came into the room and shook me hard. Then I try to fall back asleep. Then the earworms invade.

Sometimes I fall back asleep (and then wake up, as if startled again, at 3 or so). Sometimes I give up after 15, 20 or 30 minutes and get up to blog until I think I can get back to sleep again.

I don’t play much music myself. But I hear songs on TV or movies or when Mimi plays her iPhone as we’re driving. From one of those sources, I get my earworms, usually songs I don’t like. I can’t recall what the song was in July, the first time we tried a stem-cell harvest, but it was an annoying song and tortured me all week.  (more…)

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Few techniques helped me more when I was a reporter than when I learned the value of writing as I reported. It challenged my discipline, but when I succeeded at incorporating writing into my reporting process, I found that it improved both processes.

With today’s digital formats, many journalists have to write as they report: liveblogging events, covering breaking news stories as they unfold, reporting routine beat news or even investigative stories over time as you nail down important developments.

But this was one of my most popular and effective workshops back when I was doing lots of writing and reporting workshops. And I think lots of reporters still cling to the old linear process of reporting first, then writing, when breaking stories don’t force them to write as they report. I think learning the value of writing when you report, even if it’s not a breaking story, will help improve your writing and reporting, as well as helping you succeed in situations where digital formats demand better integration of your different work processes.

So I offer this old workshop handout, not much updated except for this intro, because I think it might still have value.An earlier version of this handout was posted on the No Train, No Gain website. I often paired this, either in the same workshop or in companion workshops, with my teaching about Using Story Elements. The process of writing as I reported and the mentality of thinking in terms of story elements were critical to whatever success I achieved as a reporter.

I addressed both the process and the use of story elements in telling how I wrote the homecoming and twins stories, two of the best narrative efforts of my career. (more…)

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Leading my workshop on Making Routine Stories Special. Photo by Bryan Cantley

Leading my workshop on making routine stories special. Photo by Bryan Cantley

I’m updating some old workshop handouts that I think will be helpful in teaching journalism, maybe in some of my classes, maybe in some of yours. “Make routine stories special” was my most popular workshop about a decade ago, when most of my training focused on traditional writing, reporting and editing skills as well as leadership.

In a meeting of Digital First Media editors in New Haven last year, Tony Adamis of the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y., suggested that some tips in improving coverage of routine news would be helpful, and I promised to dust off this handout and update it. Well, that evening I learned about upcoming upheaval at Digital First Media that would bring the end of my job. So it took me a while to get around to it, but here it is.

What I’ve done here is grab an old copy of my workshop handout from those days, dated April 2003, update it with some newer tips on making routine stories special and add some links. I’ll also update references to the journalists who provided some advice for this workshop when I was doing it originally more than a decade ago and provide links, where I could find them, to the journalists today. Where I could not learn what some journalists are doing today, I have cut them out.

In most cases, I could not find the stories referenced still online, but I’ve linked to stories where I could. I welcome your help in updating this with new stories and links illustrating these techniques as well as new tips for covering routine stories.

After my tips, I’ll tell the anecdote I used to use in the workshops, a story involving the cap I’m wearing in the photo above. So here are my updated tips for making routine stories special: (more…)

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“Dear Mr. Author,” started a letter recently from an 11-year-old boy to my cousin Doug Worgul, author of the novel Thin Blue Smoke.

With Doug’s approval, I share the child’s letter and his response:

Doug letter 1Doug letter 2Doug letter 3Doug letter 4Well said, Mr. Author! Good advice for adult writers, too.

FYI, Doug‘s other books are The Grand Barbecue, Kansas City Quiltmakers and A Table Full of Welcome.

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I am spending a week at the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. I’ll be presenting a workshop each day. Today we’re starting with some basic writing skills: writing leads and writing tight.

Many of the points I will be making are covered in these earlier blog posts:

Here are my slides for the workshop:

That’s an old set of slides, updated. Someone chose the template for me. The last few years, my slides have been just black text on white background (unless I’m pulling in screen shots or other photos). If you’ve seen my other slides, I’m interested in which you prefer.

I’ll also be using this clip from “Finding Forrester” (starting at the 2:18 mark), which offers some of the best writing advice you can find in any movie:

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Gathering String by Mimi JohnsonMy wife, Mimi Johnson, last week published her first novel, Gathering String.

Acknowledging my obvious bias and my financial stake in the success of her book, I want to share some writing lessons from her book experience:

Rewrite. I don’t know (and I’m sure she doesn’t know) how many times Mimi rewrote this book, but she rewrote multiple times: restructuring the whole thing, polishing chapters and individual sentences, updating, working out wrinkles in the plot. Rewriting is one of the most important and certainly the most neglected step in writing. As Forrester (Sean Connery character in the video clip below) says, you write the first draft with your heart and you rewrite with your head. Mimi did the heart part of this story years ago. But she had to finish the head part before it was ready for publication. Even if you’re blogging or tweeting, I recommend taking the time to rewrite. For a blog post or tweet, the rewrite might take minutes or seconds, rather than years. But rewriting is nearly always time well spent.

(more…)

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I will be leading a workshop at the Daily Local News of West Chester, Pa., this evening for local bloggers.

The workshop will be fairly short, then I’ll answer questions and we’ll socialize for a while. I will share with the bloggers some tips from these earlier posts:

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My move to Journal Register Co. and Digital First Media and my work for my new companies dominated my writing this year on this blog. I’ve reviewed my blogging each of the past two years, so I’ll do it again in a post that clearly is self-indulgent. Still, I think it’s good to look back on a year’s work, and as long as I’m doing that, I might as well blog it.

The most notable posts of the year were a series I wrote the week before Christmas, explaining aspects of Digital First journalism. The piece on the workflow of a Digital First journalist became my second most-read blog post ever in just a week. While it’s more than 3,000 views behind my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, I’m sure it will eventually become my most-read blog post. It took the C3 blueprint nine months to reach 5,000 views. The Digital First workflow topped that in just over a week. Three other posts in the series topped 1,000 views quickly.

My work for JRC and DFM contributed to the blog in lots of other ways. I explained what community engagement means. More than a dozen blog posts offer tips, links and slides for workshops I did in visits to Digital First newsrooms. I also blogged frequently about how Digital First Media colleagues are using social media and engaging the community: (more…)

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I’ll be leading a daylong workshop today for the CBC music staff on writing for the Web. Some topics we’ll cover:

Here are my slides for the workshop:

We’ll start with this song that brings music and journalism together:

I used the Detroit Free Press’ outstanding Respect package as an illustration of pulling multiple digital storytelling techniques together.

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Reporters and editors everywhere battle and complain over length of stories. Even online, where newspaper space or tight broadcast schedules aren’t an issue, you need to write tightly to hold the reader’s attention and keep the story moving. You need to hone your ability to organize information and write tight stories that make every word count.

Plan to write tight

Coordinate with your editor. Discuss story ideas in some detail with your editor before you start gathering information. Make sure you agree on the probable scope of the story. This can save time wasted gathering information you don’t need. As you are gathering information and writing the story, you will need at some point to agree on a probable length if you are writing for print. If you delay this discussion too long, you may waste more time and effort and invite more frustration.

Consider the reader. A failing of some long stories is that they are written for sources, rather than for readers. Consider why you are including information in a story. To impress sources with your knowledge? To keep a source happy? Or to inform the reader? A tougher challenge is to decide whether you are writing for the reader with strong interest in the issue or for the reader with average interest. For most stories, you should write primarily for the average reader who would read the story. (more…)

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The “5 W’s” of journalism are the building materials for web writing. Most journalists learned these fundamentals our first day in a newsroom or a journalism classroom. But we occasionally need reminding and refreshing.

These questions can guide your reporting as you interview, observe and research to gather the facts for your story. They can guide your writing, whether you are live-tweeting an event, writing a brief summary or a video script or crafting a long narrative. They can raise ethical issues to consider. They help you find links to add context or visual content to illustrate. They guide you to possible visual content for a post. I will address each of these possibilities for each of the fundamental questions:

Who?

Reporting. Accuracy and verification are the heart of good writing. Make sure you get the names spelled right. Ask a person to spell his or her name for you (even if it’s a common name), then spell it back and/or show what you wrote in the notebook. Get it in writing: from a business card, web bio or other source. If the written version doesn’t match what you have in your notes, resolve the conflict directly with the source. Who is more than a person’s name. Your research should uncover a person’s title and role in your story, the relationships, experience, perspective and motivation. (more…)

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Readers give you just a few seconds to capture their interest before their eye moves on to the next story, photo or link. On any platform, in any format, you need a crisp lead and a strong focus to keep the reader going.

Keep a sharp focus

To write a strong lead, you need to identify and understand the focus of your story. Using any or all of these techniques before you even start writing can help strengthen your story, especially the critical top few paragraphs:

Ask what the story is about. As you gather information and as you write, ask yourself frequently why a reader would want to read it. Novelist Bruce DeSilva, formerly of the Associated Press, suggests asking these questions as you try to find the story’s focus: Why do you care about this? Why did you want to write this story in the first place? What touches you emotionally? Who is benefiting/being harmed, making money/losing money? How are readers being affected by what you have found? What is new here? When you know what the story is about, you know what you need to tell the reader at the top of the story. (more…)

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