In Communication on February 9, 2017 at 4:18 pm
One of my personal goals for the coming year is to reconnect with Wick editors. To that end, I would like to set up some phone calls.
I know, I know. No one is clamoring for more conference calls. But I think it’s important that we talk more often, that we share solutions to common dilemmas, that we discuss our collective passion for community journalism.
To that end, I’m going to set up monthly phone calls with editors by region. I want these calls to be small enough to be intimate and meaningful. I think doing it on a regional basis lessens the time-zone problem and could create synergies between our shops that have similar reader interests. I will do everything in my power to set them up at a convenient time for all.
On first blush, I am thinking one call will be for Arizona editors, another for Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado, and a third for the Dakotas, Montana, Louisiana and North Carolina.
These calls will not take long. Definitely less than an hour. The first might be just a get-to-know one another call and in following months we might talk about achieving the 2017 goals spelled out in another post today, proper use of social media, photography tips, FOIA requests — I’m completely open to your topic suggestions.
So don’t be surprised when I touch base in the next couple of weeks asking what times work for you.
In Writing techniques on February 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm
I’ve known Jay Croft for 30-something years. He is a former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has worked in corporate communications for Coca-Cola, among other well-known brands. He is now engaged in freelance consulting work. More to the point, he is one of the best writers I know. Among the reasons: he is economical with his words.
I asked him if I could cut and paste one of his recent blog posts because it touches on just that aspect of his writing. Sometimes what you leave out is as important as what goes in. Take it away, Jay. — Clay
Do you want to be a stronger writer?
Of course you do. Everyone writes so much these days — at school, work and home. And who would say, “No, thank you. I don’t want to write better.”
Think of it like this. At the start of every new year, many people resolve to lose weight, so they join a gym, maybe even hire a trainer. Now, what if we decide to cut the fat from our writing this year? To stop using words and phrases that slow down our copy or confuse the reader — or just take more space than is necessary.
So you want to get buff, lose the flab, and strengthen your core? Bravo! But just like physical fitness, this is a commitment to caring about “the little things” over a long period.
Here are 17 words and phrases to stop using now if you want your writing to be stronger and leaner. No matter if you’re in business, the media, school or government, your writing should be clear, compelling and useful. Some words and phrases make that impossible. Clichés, overused jargon and useless words like “very” weigh down any message. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Editing on January 27, 2017 at 11:08 am
Smart writers know that writing is really rewriting with a dollop of careful spooned on top.
You start every sentence with a surge of inspiration and your fingers go to work. When they lift off the keyboard, if you look closely, you’ll likely find they didn’t bang out exactly what you thought they would. There are typos. Transposed letters, missing vowels, capitalization that didn’t take.
This is where the careful comes in. Take it from someone who has suffered over the years from a zillion errors in his printed and online work: proofreading is the most important reading you will do.
You likely know this. You probably also know that proofing your own work is fraught. It’s mysterious. How can you read something three times and still miss an error that is glaring to everyone else? It has to do with the high-level task that is writing itself and how it affects your brain. Cool, right? … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on June 10, 2016 at 7:25 am
For the complete list, click the link in the post.
If you write for a newspaper or website long enough, you will collect an assortment of former editors and bosses who together are more colorful than a rainbow. I had an editor who once kicked my Thermos across the room. Another was smoking a cigarette at his desk at midnight when he asked me what it meant that he couldn’t feel his left arm.
Then there was Tom O’Hara. He was the best of the bunch and the managing editor at The Palm Beach Post when I knew him. He later served as ME at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and at a foreign newspaper before landing a teaching gig at Florida Atlantic University. He is a thoroughly competent, wonderful man and editor, and he used to scare the bejesus out of me. He took journalism seriously in a seriously competitive newspaper environment. He did not suffer fools like me.
He was known as a crusader for clear language. He had a list of words that he didn’t want to see in the newspaper and that former newspaper that was so thoroughly his recently reprinted that list. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on November 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm
Quick outline for a longer story.
Occasional Kicker contributor Ed Henninger got on my bad side recently with a column he wrote that was published on his website and in the Local Media Association monthly. Here’s the heresy, which begins with a premise he holds to be false:
“We’re in the business of writing.” No we’re not. We are in the business of bringing meaning to readers’ lives.
See how easy it is to ruin my day?
OK, Ed’s right. Completely. It’s just that I and most of the people I know in newsrooms consider ourselves to be writers. We got into the business – whether in 1975 or 2015 – because we like to write, work hard at writing and believe our writing is an important way we bring meaning to readers lives. Let’s just say effective writing and bringing meaning are not mutually exclusive.
Take that, design boy! … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on September 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm
This week the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an absolutely heartbreaking story on the death of one child who was failed by a system designed to protect him from the monsters in his own family. It will absolutely make you cry. I read it twice. And it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck both times. It is an unhappy story of the short life and horrible death of Eric Dean who didn’t make it to his fourth birthday. It begins like this:
Bruises covered 3-year-old Eric Dean’s face. A scab formed above his lip. His ear bled from a red welt.
Before his stepmother, Amanda Peltier, left him at his new day care, she bent down to meet his blue eyes and told the boy to say he fell down.
Day-care provider Colleen Myslicki watched in disbelief. After studying the strange puncture wounds on Eric’s face and ear, she realized they were bite marks. Later that day, she asked him what happened.
Eric’s reply: “Mommy did it.”
Try reading that passage aloud. Do you notice the musical meter? Three short, declarative, sentences are followed by the languid comma-filled second paragraph. In fact, the first three sentences form a rhythmic funnel. They are sentences of 11 syllables, followed by eight, followed by six, before the second paragraph allows you room to breathe. After that, the sentences unfold like this: Short, longer with one opening clause, repeat. Finally crescendo: Eric’s reply: “Mommy did it.” …
Read the rest of this entry »
In Editing on August 21, 2014 at 2:27 pm
There is a lot of dispiriting stuff on the Internet, so allow me to promote something that is bound to make you feel better about yourself and the stuff that you write. Hear it is. I mean, “here it is,” darn it.
It’s Nick Stockton’s explanation in Wired of why we are too smart to catch our own typos. That’s right, we’re just too great for our own good.
As Stockton explains much more elegantly than I, the reason we don’t catch our own typos is because we’re engaged in high-level thinking and we consider spelling the actual words and so forth to be mere details in a larger endeavor. We don’t sweat the easy stuff because we’re focused on meaning.
“The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads,” Stockton writes. And he quotes an academic so you know it’s true.
So what do you do about it?
Well, in my experience, the only thing that really works is to show your work to someone else. And brace yourself for the snarky comments that come from your editor. The more eyes touch a proof, the more likely you will catch embarrassing typos.
Two or three other ideas:
- When I proof work, I feel better about it when I print it out. I always read stories on the computer for line editing, then I print them for proofing.
- I run a pen along with each word as I read. It slows me down and makes me feel better about catching mistakes.
- This story suggests changing the font or color of the words on the screen, the idea being that you want to “defamiliarize” yourself with your own work. Which is an interesting idea.
Good lock out there.
In Editing on August 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm
From Caleb Garling’s column at SFGate.com
Now comes this. For $6.99, you can have Hemingway be your editor. No, not the drunken misogynist and one of the English language’s greatest writers, but rather a piece of software that pledges to tidy up your writing. Just plug in your next story and it will point out unnecessary adverbs, ambiguous word choices, wordy passages, comma splices and all the rest. It will tell you the grade level of your writing and help with headlines too.
It’s like a real live editor, only without the persistent stink of coffee and occasional profane outburst.
It also doesn’t know good writing when it sees it. That’s because editing is a nuanced job and not merely a collection of rules.
Take that paragraph at the top of this post. It’s a passage from For Whom the Bell Tolls, by that other, less than perfect Hemingway who wasn’t always earnest but the one and only Ernest. As Caleb Garling noted in his own blog post for the San Francisco Chronicle, the software Hemingway isn’t so fond of the work of the flesh and blood Hemingway. All that stuff in red is supposedly no good, the purple is ambiguous and “smally” is an iffy adverb. Ironic, isn’t it?
Look, tools like this one, which you can buy for your desktop today, can help you unpack the junk in your writing trunk. We would probably all be better off looking at something like this before we commit to print. In fact, it’s nothing new. Word and most email programs already underline misspellings and so forth. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Online media on June 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm
Here’s one thing I would be willing to bet on: Everyone reading these words has had reason to worry over comments on a website. It’s one of those modern concerns that replace things like, “Dinosaur about to crush hut” and, “Which one of you cretins scratched my Deep Purple album?”
This week the site dailywritingtips.com discussed the subject. It pointed to these helpful hints from the folks at WordPress.com (which powers this very blog). The company suggests those who comment on websites:
- Be specific.
- Don’t leave a link.
- Stay on topic.
- Be nice.
- Keep it brief.
Good advice, right? If all of our commenters took those five simple lessons to heart, if they truly reread everything they were about to post to test those posts against these simple rules, our sites would be more vibrant and meaningful to the communities they serve.
Obviously, we don’t live in that utopia. I delete comments from our site and our Web forum just about every day, sorry to say. I hasten to add that the deletions are a very, very small percentage of the total. I usually only delete things for violations of that fourth commandment – when people aren’t being very nice.
Perhaps the above list is helpful to you as you seek guidance on whether a post goes to far. I don’t think I would recommend deleting posts that are simply long or aren’t specific in their language. But I might use the advice as a guide. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on May 8, 2014 at 2:38 pm
So we’re talking about those weekly meetings. How they almost necessarily shape the coverage you provide. Here’s the next point I want to make: If you don’t emerge from a weekly meeting as a team, you are doomed to produce three kinds of stories – fluff, process and breaking news.
OK, OK, let me define terms.
Fluff you know. These are stories about the bake sale to raise money for the cheerleading squad or a local who appears on a reality TV series. They are stories about an art show, the school fundraiser, a church picnic. All of this stuff may belong in your newspaper, but it’s fluff. It’s not going to fulfill your inner journalist, nor is it going to win you awards at year’s end.
Process refers to things that come from government machination. City Council meetings, planning commission workshops, school board gatherings. This stuff is important too. It’s a matter of public record. But it isn’t why you went to J school.
Breaking news will get your heart pumping. The scanner honks and next thing you know you are chasing ambulances. Covering breaking news is crucial to our existence and people want to know why there is smoke around the bend. It’s also a crutch.
What’s missing is context. Context, as you know, brings things into focus. It’s a bit hard to define as it relates to a newspaper story, but you know it when you see it. It’s the sports page story that delves into the need for more youth playing fields. It’s the news story that segues from yesterday’s car crash to efforts to make dead man’s curve safer. It’s not a regurgitation of standardized test scores, but rather an examination of how demographics in your community affect those scores.
Context requires forethought. The weekly news meeting is your best shot at accomplishing that. You might not know that the bridge planned over Municipal Creek could present a danger to the smelt that run underneath it, but the sports writer might. Your weekly meeting is a chance to triangulate, to see tthe story from different angles, to hear the voices of everyone in the room. … Read the rest of this entry »