What you need to know about writing (as told by my former professor)

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Although being a reporter on deadline can be stressful, sometimes newspaper reporters, photographers and editors get a break to be recognized for their hard work.

Saturday I attended the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest banquet. I didn’t personally snag an award this year but two of my coworkers did and our newspaper received third place for “Best Online Site/Webpage,” for a total of six awards.

Before the awards luncheon however, I was able to have a one-on-one coaching session with an editor as well as attend two workshops. One of the workshops was with a former professor and editor of mine.

I forgot how good she was as what she does. She commands attention, has humor and teaches something to everyone she speaks to.

Her workshop was called “5 things I learned about writing (After I thought I knew it all).” She makes the point that after college we all have that moment we think we know everything and then we find (usually abruptly) we don’t.

1.) It all starts with a great idea 

It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and do something that comes easy to you. She noted that people will grow the most by “constantly do a story you believe is beyond you.”

She also noted when you finally do challenge yourself to do something bigger, the difficulties will frustrate you because you’re used to being the expert at what you do.

2.) Concrete words can transport reader into your story

Using concrete words will not only allow readers to easily follow the story, but it will also paint a picture. 

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific words or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent…” -George Orwell

Your not dumbing it down, your finding the right, short words, she said.

3.) “Direct quotes are seriously overrated” 

I struggle on this one. Sometimes I quote people too much. She reminded me that quoting isn’t great story telling and should be used to add to the story, not carry it.

4.) Nobody writes a great first draft 

She said writers have to lower their standards, get something on-screen and then they’ll have more time to polish it.

Many writers have said a different version of this. Hemingway is by far my fave saying, “The first draft of anything is shit.” 

5.) Your words have great impact 

Be accurate, fair, balanced and consider the impact of your words. You have an obligation to do the story justice.

She reminded us our words have an impact and before we publish something, we should think of that impact. If it passes that, it’s okay, she said.

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There’s something about a thank you

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We have all been told before we shouldn’t do something for acknowledgement or reward. I believe that is true – we shouldn’t do something for the sole purpose of getting something in return. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely wonderful, when you do receive a thank you.

Without realizing what I was doing, I started a “nice notes” folder in my email. The folder includes thank you emails I have received. (Of course the thank you emails are listed under some random, unrelated folder name.

As a journalist. if you get something incorrect like *cringe* misspelling something, you will receive a call. If you word something in a way someone doesn’t approve, you get a call. If someone sent you something and it hasn’t appeared in the newspaper in what they deem a timely fashion, you get a call. It makes me wonder if they realize we aren’t evil gremlins who have the sole purpose of ruining their life, printing malicious lies and doing other evil gremlin things.

However, that being said, every time I receive a thank you email, phone call or card, I can’t help but feel validated. It reminds me there is a reason I ended up in journalism and no, it’s not the pay. I get to talk to people daily and figure out what makes them tick. Of course there will be mistakes. Whenever I’m having a bad day at work where I’ve received seven calls about how the media sucks and I suck, I turn to those emails and a yoga class and know that for every negative remark I receive, there is a silver lining in there somewhere – I actually enjoy what I do and sometimes, just sometimes it is appreciated.

So now it’s my turn to thank all the people who took the time to thank me. At the risk of sounding like a needy twenty something who is unsure of her ways – it made a difference.

Bad rep

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Last night I attended a black-tie gala for work. It was a good time with good food, drinks and occasion to dress up. After the gala I went in to a gas station and waited patiently behind a police officer who was talking to the cashier. Their conversation went as follows:

Cashier: I saw you on the news.
Police officer: Oh, yeah? I was on the news a few weeks ago too. 
C: I love watching the news, weather. It might be weird but I do. 
P: I don’t follow myself and read or watch myself anymore on news outlets and I most definitely don’t read the paper.
C: Oh, I don’t either they get everything wrong.
P: I don’t believe anything they say. 

This conversation went on for five minutes. By this time there were five people in line behind me and I was chuckling at the irony this convo was happening right in front of me (because I work at a newspaper).

The police officer looked behind me and said, oh you better ring this girl up she looks like she’s dressed to go somewhere. The cashier then asked me why I was dressed up. It was my utmost pleasure to tell them both I had just come from a work event…for the newspaper.

The looks on their faces were priceless. The cashier turned white and the police officer started mumbling something like “oh, um,” and then he scratched his head. I started laughing and told them both to have a great night as I walked out the door.

I told my brother about this and he laughed and said I should have told the police officer, “It’s okay I talk about police officers when they’re not around too.” But alas I did not.

The reason I’m even writing this blog post is not to vent about the experience but to clear something up for people who might mistakenly feel the same way they do.

The newspaper gets a bad rep from people and I think some honestly believe news outlets are lying about what is going on in the world like it’s a conspiracy theory (It’s not, I promise).

Newspapers, magazines, television and radio broadcasters most likely studied journalism in school. In journalism school, we learn it is our duty to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.

It is also said journalists have a duty to be watchdogs for the public. While in school, we are taught to seek the truth and tell it accurately so others may know about it. We are also shown the ramifications for plagiarizing or falsifying information. My point is journalists are simply seeking the truth of what is going on and reporting to their best ability.

It’s not a ploy to make a mistake. It’s not a ploy to get a fact wrong. We are humans. I’ve made a mistake in print. I’ll make more. If someone is making a mistake in print or printing false information, you can pick up a phone and tell them and they will change the mistake and print it correctly.

ex-poet, ex-pianist turned reporter

I’ve been slacking. My last blog update was a month ago.

What’s been going on since then?

I had a birthday and turned 23 (exciting). I also accompanied my cousin Rachel to a wedding in Ohio and crashed the event, Vince Vaughn style (way more exciting).

I fell in love…with New York City and Jon Hamm. I love everything about NYC and I spotted Jon Hamm as he came out of a Broadway play. And yes, Don Draper is just as handsome (if not more) in person.

Well, with the fact that my internship ends on Friday, I have been relentlessly applying to job openings.

On top of that, I have been covering a range of stories at work including car accidents, a bomb threat, a Cub Scout day camp and I went on a 2.5 mile hike for story.

My cousin, Andrea came to visit me and we explored mountain towns, drove around listening to music and witnessed the senior citizen nightlife of Hazleton when DJ QB comes to the Timbers Lounge. (Note, those senior citizens out-danced and out-drank everyone there).

Oh yeah, and I accepted a full-time reporting position. I am happy to say that I am looking forward to the challenging atmosphere that the newspaper business brings. Even though I am a young twenty-something, it doesn’t escape me how lucky I am to have a print job in a profession that is becoming more and more digital.

Well folks, that’s where I have been the past month. Here’s to finishing an internship and beginning a career.

Talking With a ‘Slightly Eccentric Man Across the Pond’

While reporting for the IU School of Journalism, I have had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing many people for features I have been covering.  My most recent feature allowed me to speak with Phil Rees, a journalist located in London.  Out of all of the vibrant people I have met, Rees has been one of the most delightful.

Rees, if you don’t know, is a very impressive and successful man.  He is a reporter and television director who has created shows that have appeared on Al Jazeera network as well as BBC.

As I dialed the odd, nine digit telephone number than began with 011, I was a little nervous to speak with Rees.  Over the past four years I have interviewed many people, but I’ve noticed it’s easier to speak in person than over the phone.  In person it is easy to have a conversation and engage with the person based on their facial reactions to questions in responses.  On the telephone, there are sometimes awkward pauses, moments when both people interrupt each other, or misinterpretations of what the other is saying. However, from the moment Rees answered the phone, I found myself laughing out loud as he rambled on about how he was currently using a “five dollar Nokia because his two-year-old daughter thought his Iphone was a toy and threw it at his fire place.”

Rees and I bantered on for about thirty minutes before I realized my cellular phone had dropped the call because the battery had died.   I tried to turn it on and get enough battery power to call him back and explain that I didn’t hang up, however, it was pointless, it had no power.  I finally sent him an email explaining I was stranded on campus in between classes and had no way to run home, charge it and make it to class.  He sent me a email back within seconds, “See you should buy a 5 dollar Nokia from Sri Lanka, the bloody battery lasts a week. :)”

By the time I got home after class it was too late to call Rees in London.  The next day I called him around the same time and we instantly fell back into conversation.  Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I had received all of the information that I needed for the feature I was writing.

Rees told me he loved mentoring students because it allowed them to connect with “slightly eccentric people across the pond.” I am one student who benefited from speaking with Rees.  The interview allowed me some laughter and a reminder of why I do the hard work that I do to be successful at my major and future profession.   I work hard so that I can emulate journalists that I look up to, such as Rees.