For starters, this post is not about crepes. And it’s actually a pretty obnoxious and superficial post. But I can promise that I’ll get you outta here in less than 3 minutes (4 minutes if you’re multi-tasking) , so we can all get on with our merry royal baby-stalking lives.
This post is really about the 5 things I learned from my 2-month journalism internship. In reality, I learned a lot more than 5 things- not just about writing, but about technology, multimedia, and the way we consume information . Most likely, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to read it all (nor I to write it). About 40% of you have already clicked away. Half of you will dart off after this paragraph. And I understand: there are more exciting GIFs waiting to be explored.
For those of you remaining (thank you), here are some lessons I learned from Business Insider that are invaluable not just for writers, but for anyone looking to leverage some influence in our modern, distractible, cyborg world.
I. Inflict emotion.
Why should anyone care? Ultimately, it boils down to framing: picking a nugget of information that will resonate.
The age of objective journalism is gone. A headline like this will get clicks, Dunkin Donuts Hired Psychotic Credit Card Thief Carolyn Kravetz As Director Of Communications ,
These headlines sound like bullish statements made at the bar, which is exactly the point. Read them, and you’ll see that they’re actually marvelous stories: the first being a serious piece of investigative journalism, the second a creative integration of new media.
We act on our instincts which are guided far more by emotion than logic. So, appeal to the audience with colorful adjectives , and the way YOU feel about something. It’s not completely PC, but I guarantee it will leave an impression and get people to bite into an important issue worth reading.
II. Simplify simplify simplify.
Humans like to digest information in compact bits, so any sort of list you can compile will be dopamine for the brain.
III. Pictures are (sometimes) more important than anything you’ll write.
I hate to use this story, but it’s a telling example of how superficial we are.
I manned a daily business advice column which averaged about 200-300 views per post. Each post had a picture of the person offering the advice. One particular post came from a businesswoman who shared an uncanny resemblance to Kim Kardashian. (Before you ask for the link, it wasn’t her.) Within a day, her post received over 1000 views, more than most of these posts receive in a lifetime.
Several commenters admitted the only reason they clicked was because of the “hot picture”. Admittedly, this post was not written better than any other post, but having a fair face certainly got people to care.
IV. Brother, be brief.
V. And clear.
I love a good story that weaves its way to an unforeseen ending in novel form. But theres a time and place for that, and the web is not that place. Albeit a few exceptions, a modern reader (or friend, colleague, whatever) wants to learn something new (with some context) fast.
Thanks to Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, along with my editors Vivian and Gus, who helped elucidate these insights along the way.
I’m not saying page views are all that matter. I’m going to work for a government agency which isn’t exactly known for provocative, click-baiting headlines. Impact will be measured by relatively dry economic initiatives. But, for every silly story out there, there are a myriad of other stories that matter. If you can figure out how to get people to care about really important issues, you can maximize your impact and maybe, just maybe, increase your chance of doing something truly world-changing.
What makes a good story? Writers are often judged by what appears below their byline, but there is so much more to a good story than that. The public rarely gets to see the exciting grunt work behind the scenes. An initial story idea, like any entrepreneurial venture, goes through several pivots and iterations, before the golden story materializes.
Pitching to my editors is my favorite part of the job, but it’s also the hardest. Balancing what the public wants to know with your moral compass of what you think they should know is tricky.
There are a million backstories behind the final product. The vetting process – determining what is worth writing about, what people will like, what they should know – involves asking the right questions. What are readers curious about? What is their perception on a topic? What do they know that I don’t?
I’m creating a newsletter to involve my friends and family in story development. Each week, I’ll share stories I’ve posted, stories in the pipeline, and stories that need some fleshing out. I want to hear your thoughts on the stories in queue. Think of it as a sounding board, and your chance to add input to a story before it is published.
My strategy thus far has been to post a question on Facebook and Twitter. “Hey, what internship advice do you have for new interns?” “Do you know anything about Atlanta? Let me know!” It can get annoying. So, one other purpose of this newsletter is to reduce my clutter and create a targeted community of people who do actually want to participate in the development of stories without bombarding everyone else’s social feeds.
If you’re interested in participating, here’s the link to sign-up and feel free to forward to anyone else who is interested:
ps. the inspiration for a newsletter came from Ann Friedman, who wrote this helpful post on How Writers Can Use Email To Share Their Work. Her weekly newsletter is a mix of her original work, suggested reads, pie charts, and funny gifs.
I attended an editing workshop at The Poynter Institute this week. In some ways, I don’t really know why. I’ve never held an editing role in my life. I’m not particularly enthused by the thought of reading over other people’s work. And for all I know, editing is the red markup you get back when your writing is bad. Who would ever aspire to be that person, that word janitor?
Beyond reason, I went to the workshop anyway, and I’m glad I did. It certainly didn’t hurt that Poynter is conveniently located in St. Petersburg, Florida, home to soft white sand that sifts seamlessly through your toes and a sun that coalesces beautifully with your skin. I figured that my indulgent beach lounging would be justified if I acquired some form of knowledge in addition to a bronze glow (which ended up being more lobster-red than anything).
The other attendees at the seminar were -surprise!- actual editors, and way more accomplished than me. I was humbled to sit alongside some really impressive individuals. Shout-out to Lisa, a news editor who works for a news wire I can’t pronounce (the Swedish version of the AP) and who travelled all the way from Stockholm! The 15 of us learned tips on line editing, brainstorming story ideas, coaching reporters, and social media. But for me, the most important takeaway was quite basic: an understanding of what an editor actually does.
Traditionally, the image of an editor conjures up images of a white male, legs perched on a desk, brooding over a newspaper mark-up or proceeding over a meeting. It’s a grand representation of man’s authority over what is “fit to print”. That image is partially true. But there is also a softer, less tactile element that involves the relationship between editor and writer. I learned that editing, at its core, is less about being a hardline news guru as it is helping to nurture and coach writers to construct stories in a way that enhances their value beyond the individual lens.
So, the most basic question an editor must ask is: “What to look for in a piece of writing?” Looking over someone else’s work is a huge responsibility. The first temptation is to rewrite from our own lens. All spelling, grammar, and syntax aside, I learned that there are really only 2 important things to look for: theme and clarity.
Theme – A story is only good when you know what it’s about. At the end of a story, you should be able to easily identify the core message. If you can’t, that’s a problem. Determine the focus of the story and be sure that every section directly adds to that theme. This eliminates redundancy and trims fat, builds muscle.
Clarity – This goes hand-in-hand with theme. If you know the theme, find a way of mapping it out – clearly. Kelley Benham, a writer and editor for the Tampa Bay Times (whose recently Pulitzer Prize-nominated piece you should read) recommended “running a chronology comb” through the writing. Making a timeline with a logical procession of events usually helps to construct stories with absolute simplicity and clarity.
I found these guidelines reassuring and helpful. Previously when given a piece to edit, I would strap on my writing helmet and enter battle. Never was the pen a mightier sword as it slashed through words and corrected spelling like a gallant warrior. (Allow me, itt was the closest I’d get to feeling like my life was an action movie. These days, it’s not so glorious when everything is done on a blinking screen; I type louder to make the process seem more dramatic.)
But in reality, making the paper bleed is not an editor’s job. It’s the reverse, actually; becoming a word janitor is what happens when you don’t let the writer do what he or she is supposed to do: write.
John Carroll, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times, advised editors to cultivate a lazy streak:
“What’s better than rewriting is to take an extra few minutes diagnosing the story’s one or two biggest problems (but not all of them) and return it to the reporter for adjustments. This is good for all concerned. You won’t get bogged down doing someone else’s jo b while oher stories pile up. And the reporter will be able to take pride in the story. The story’s minor problems tend to get straightened out in the rewrite process.
Good editors often have a lazy streak. Instead of impulsively jumping into the fray, put your feet up and figure out how to get somebody else to do the work. Things usually turn out better that way.”
Rather than rewrite, an editor’s job is to discuss the story and make it culturally relevant, together, with the writer. It is to make the story so deep, rich, and revealing of something deeply embedded within our human nature. It is to find a story that rises above the individual lens, that spreads its wings beyond the mere facts. That’s editing.
I knew I was attracted to it for a reason.
*Many thanks to the staff at Poynter for a well-organized and insightful workshop. I highly recommend their training programs to those in the journalism profession looking to sharpen their skills. Special thanks to Tom Huang of the Dallas Morning News who led the seminar and encouraged us to find our “personal dimension” to this line of work. The story will continue to evolve, but I think, just maybe, I’ve found the beginning scraps.
Today marks the last day of classes for the Spring semester. On a lighter note, it’s also my last day of class as an undergrad at the University of Florida. The feeling is surreal. As I step out of my comfort zone, at this place which I’ve been lucky to call home for the past four years, the question is: What’s next?
I started this blog for my Advanced Interactive News class in January with the full intention of learning as much as I could about the latest technology that bring our worlds together. I even hailed it as a digital revolution. But, perhaps the greatest lesson I learned is that this revolution will never fade. Technology will advance relentlessly, and we can either choose to follow it or stay stuck in our own world.
The Center for Media Innovation and Research (CMIR) at the University of Florida is taking steps to bridge that gap between the old school mediums and the newest technologies. They are “working to create new ways of telling the stories that journalists tell…providing an outlet for student and faculty projects to tell stories in new ways.”
This 21st Century Newsroom and Laboratory is fully convergent and multi-platform. It provides advanced training for UF students, equipping them with tools to combine text, real-time and edited video, podcasts, and other web-based/mobile applications when publishing. Instead of solely utilizing one form of media, all forms of innovation are fused into a completely 3D, real-time experience.
I am thankful that the University of Florida has the foresight to educate future journalists in this way. The assortment of projects that has already been published by the Center is amazing. With crisp photos, movement and sound accompanying every piece, storytelling is taken to a new level. One of the Center’s biggest accomplishments is their comprehensive Election 2010 coverage of Florida’s elections. Real-time results and soundbites from candidates and election figures gave the public an interactive play-by-play of the major developments. CMIR also covered the Gulf oil spill by tying together professional radio, television, and newspaper reports with amateur video and photographs. They even installed a Gulf Oil Tracker on their website, courtesy of PBS Newshour’s widget.
Learning to combine all mediums,old and new, into our reports as journalists is the best preparation for the future. One only knows what new developments will come two, five, ten years from now….but at least CMIR is making efforts to keep up.
There are some more standout bloggers I neglected to mention in my last post. Better late than never, so here they are:
Lee Ziesche’s blog, Cooking College, offers more than food knowledge, contrary to its name. In fact, I learned lots about the ONE Campus Challenge and the significant role college campuses are playing in raising awareness of poverty. Lee produces the UF Chapter’s official ONE awareness videos, which is really impressive! Check it out- UF ONE. I love being informed of the latest causes and I’ve signed the ONE pledge, thanks to your informative posts. Keep up the great work, Lee!
Shout-out to Zach Aldridge, who I’ve had the pleasure to give tours with as a fellow Florida Cicerone here at the University of Florida! I am always amazed with Zach’s charisma and people skills, but never knew much about his background. So it was interesting to read his thoughts on attending a private school and his current aspiration to make it big as a SportsCenter anchor. With his magnetic presence, I have no doubt that he’ll go far with that goal. However, it is cool to know that Zach has other talents and interests other than sports. He played a leading role in a play on campus, Crossroads. I know that in some way we’ll see Zach in the limelight.
Certainly, I cannot forget to mention the talented and awe-inspiring Lucia Tolosa. Her blog, Stories in Spanglish, sheds light on her life as a Uruguayan living in America. Her posts are beautifully written (some are in Spanish) and she often shares her informative news reports on that air on local WUFT. It makes me want to beef up on my Spanish so I can comprehend more of her writing! I’m also very impressed with her work as host for LiveVibe TV. Keep it up, Lucia, and I’ll see your reports on the digital sphere soon!