Journalism

5 Reasons Why You Should Read This Awesomely In-Depth Post

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 ,

or Here Are The Angry Texts A Mom Sent Her Bonehead Son Before He Ran Across The Field At The All-Star Game 

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.

The writer’s first job is to help us understand, not to dazzle.

———

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.

Advertisements

The Backstory

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 12.25.33 PM

Bad hair reporting days. You rarely get to see this.

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.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

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:

https://tinyletter.com/lynneguey

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.


Buzz Buzz Buzz…

I’ve spent a large part of the past month applying to jobs. Since many of these are writing jobs, I’ve toiled long and hard over the perfect cover letter, figuring that if the sole quality I’m selling is my supposed mastery of the written word, I better well as heck communicate something Pulitzer Prize-worthy in the only representation of myself to a company. (No pressure, you know?)

On this fun Friday, I thought I’d share the cover letter I wrote a few weeks ago for BuzzFeed’s Fellowship program. In a moment of “who-cares-they-likely-won’t-read-it-anyway”, I decided to write something a little different, in the style of Buzzfeed. Not going to lie: a small part of me thought that if I could make it go as viral as one of Buzzfeed’s cat videos, well, maybe just maybe I’d have better luck getting my application through the black hole of online submission.

——–

Dear Buzzfeed,

I could humor you for several paragraphs on why I want to be a BuzzFeed Fellow but it’s pretty obvious. Who doesn’t want their friends to gawk, “OMG you get to look at cute cats all day?!” That would be a very clear win.

In all seriousness, I like cats but am a newshound more than anything. I’ve been an avid consumer of news since well before the days of GIFs and viral lists. I loyally watched the 6:30 evening broadcast as a child, which resulted in a serious crush on Tom Brokaw’s stately baritone voice.  Having since reported for local and national news mediums, I can comfortably write and produce the full range of content – 800-word articles and videos- at rapid newsroom pace. But additionally, I spend a large portion of my day following hashtags and tweeting 140 characters of wisdom @heyguey.  Times have regressed, they say. However, I see the most apathetic of my friends taking an interest in content – cat videos AND heavier matters alike – and to me, that’s progress. Social news gets people engaged. I want to learn how to make serious journalism go viral. I’m already a natural sharer (ask my pre-K pals- I always shared Lunchables, Dunkaroos, and even Gushers!). Yet I also realize there’s more to virality than simply tweeting and posting things to Facebook.

Truthfully, I am probably no more qualified for a Fellowship than the majority of your applicant pool.  There are many talented writers and editors who can do what I do: write, curate, and generate buzz. So I’m going to simply tell you a little bit about myself,BuzzFeed style. Maybe it will go viral, most likely it won’t.  My simple hope is that, at the very least, you’ll get a laugh out of it.

5 Things You Should Know About Me

Through Embarrassing Videos I’ve Made

 1. In my spare time, I chase zombies.

 2. Everyone has a story so I won’t stop asking questions until I hear it.

 3. Weight loss programs follow me on Twitter.

 4. I’m Asian.

 5. Why I’m Not in Broadcast Anymore.

In short, I am a pesky Asian reporter who likes eating food, chasing zombies, and making Blair Witch-style videos. I care deeply about meaningful content. It excites me to read impactful stories on BuzzReads and easy-to-read conversations on BuzzFeedBrews. I also want good writers to make a living, which is why I am eager to learn more about sponsored content and native advertising. I believe journalism could use a boost from BuzzFeed’s understanding of human emotion and the way we share. My goal as a BuzzFeed Fellow is to create and aggregate content in a way that advances the conversation and brings journalism back to its watchdog roots.

If given the opportunity to join BuzzFeed, I will be absolutely bold and enterprising. I already consume and generate content like it’s my job…so it might as well be.

Hope to hear from you.

Best,

Lynne Guey

——–

I never heard back which is okay. In fact, it’s more relieving than anything that no one watched those videos. Last night I saw the founders Jonah Peretti and Ken Lehrer speak at Columbia and I paused for a nanosecond fearing that they would recognize me as the kooky Asian girl who applied to their company with these silly, poorly done videos. Then, I remember that they don’t read the intern applications. Plus, a whole department there makes a living looking for pictures of cute animals.  What is more silly than that? No shame. In this day and age, just be yourself and share away. Happy Friday!


editing, defined.

image

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.

37039_613182188709792_15692346_n

Editors of all experience levels, w/ Poynter Faculty

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.  

New Journalism

I’ve visited three incredible startups in the first 48 hours since being back in New York. Some initial takeaways:

LearnVest – their first live event at the Metropolitan Pavilion on Tuesday night brought hundreds of women to learn about finances and how to live our “richest” lives.  Founder Alexa von Tobel founded the NY-based company after realizing that there was a basic disconnect among young career women on how to manage their money. She kicked off the evening with her 7 Money Mantras, which was followed by two breakout sessions from experts in dining, fashion, investing, and entrepreneurship. The evening was chalk full of helpful tips on how to save money and invest now so we can be prepared for curve balls that may derail financial stability in the future. It was extremely informative in a fun way, which is difficult to pull off for a heavy subject matter like finance.

Narratively – this is a new storytelling platform focused on long-form articles, bringing a level of depth and originality rarely seen in today’s 24-hours news cycle. They are currently based in New York but have plans to expand to additional cities in the future. Contributors have written for the Times, The New Yorker, and other respected publications. The catch? Just one story is published a day. But what Narratively lacks in quantity and distractions (each story demands its own page with zero advertising) , they more than make up for with substance. With substance comes raw and sometimes painstaking detail requiring patience and time to digest; in a nation of news skimmers, is this sustainable? I believe so. A model like Narratively’s will cater to a growing audience that increasingly craves depth and authenticity.

Behance – its goal is to connect creative talent to great opportunities by showcasing their portfolios. The premise is that the more exposure an artist gets, the more (and thereby, better) opportunities he/she will receive. The idea was born back in 2003 and now, almost 10 years later, boasts over 80 million visits a month. Aside from displaying some really awesome art, the site gives artists a way to actually make a livelihood out of their talents.  Schools and companies scour the platform for top talent. Check out all their success stories.

These are three awesome platforms with three distinct but simple purposes. LearnVest educates, Narratively tells stories, and Behance connects talent with opportunities. What happens when we merge the three? As a journalist, I’ve been thinking about how all of this can be applied to journalism.

Journalism is undergoing a seismic shift. Its original purpose was to inform and educate responsible citizens of a democracy.  This is still true but how many people actually turn to the newspaper to read up on the latest City Council action or House legislation?  As technology has changed, the stories have also changed.  We are a generation that finds little connection between journalism and democracy.  This is not criticism, but an irreconcilable truth we must simply live with. For most people under 40, information does not come through traditional means.  Aggregators like Google News use algorithms for choosing what stories matter, so gradually our cultural narrative arises socially from what we collectively follow and not from what newspapers decide to run.

Information is no longer the valuable commodity. The real value comes in networks and communities, our connections. Journalists still need to provide information by seeking the truth, but it is not the primary value-add.  What really matters is what the journalist does with the information and the varying responses to it. Engagement, inspiration, and activation are the goals.

This is a map of our emerging journalism ecosystem, courtesy of the Journalism That Matters blog. What this shows is that news is no longer single-sourced. It’s not a reporter dispensing information through a video stand-up. Multiple voices have their say now: social media, blogs, expert citizens. Talk all you want but it’s useless to spend time trying to discredit one another; a source with a logo is no more authoritative than a person typing at the computer. The savvy journalist spends time pulling all these various voices together, building a niche audience’s trust by providing credible information pulled from various sources, then facilitating a conversation.

Businesses have been successful with this. Look at American Express Publishing. They aren’t a news organization; they’re a credit card company. But AmEx has been effectively branding itself through content like Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, and partnerships with Foursquare. They are successful at 4 things:

informing through helpful articles in niche subjects,

engaging through social media,

inspiring through compelling stories, and

activating by ultimately getting readers to act on what they’re reading (in their case, booking travels through American Express’s travel rewards program and boosting their brand equity/bottom line).

Today’s journalists need to be doing the same. Our product is our individual brand and the knowledge we dispense. We need to sell it by leading conversations in a way that builds loyalty. There are lessons to be learned from startups, because we are essentially our own startup. Like LearnVest, we must continue to inform. Like Narratively, we must find compelling stories to engage and inspire our audience to care. Lastly (and this is probably the most important), like Behance, we must activate latent social networks and interest groups by connecting them to opportunities that help them reach their goals. This will lead to an enriching experience for all: one where journalists do not simply inform, but engage, inspire and most importantly, activate the population to meet its full potential.

However abstract all of this sounds, it’s going to manifest into a more concrete model very soon. Journalism is called to serve another purpose other than report and inform. It’s much bigger than that. I believe that whoever can crack the storytelling code will be onto one of the next big things (second to the cure for cancer and life on other planets, of course). Effective storytelling can awaken latent social networks to come together and tackle issues with a collective learning-through-experience mindset.  How we choose to communicate these emerging narratives and through what forms is an exciting possibility just waiting to be unveiled.


Cutting Edge

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.

This is the future.  News is no longer the 6:30 newscast.  It’s ongoing.  It’s the 21st century.

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.


Future Correspondents, Part II

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!