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Searching for a news anniversary angle? Look to your audience


For Katrina’s fifth anniversary, CNN partnered with local residents to shoot a series of then-and-now photographs. (Katie Hawkins-Gaar/CNN)

Every journalist knows the drill: As a milestone anniversary of a notable event approaches, the planning meetings and team discussions begin. How are we going to cover this? What’s our angle? How many resources will we devote?

The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is no different. Given the magnitude of the disaster and the proliferation of digital content, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s been published so far. (If you are trying to keep up with it all, is a great resource.)

Places like The Washington Post, BuzzFeed and ESPN produced beautiful longform pieces. Journalists created poignant radio stories, smart interactives and stunning photographs. Read more


Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015

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Should you use the video and the fax from the WDBJ shooting? That depends.

WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward became the 31st and 32nd journalist murdered this year while doing their jobs.

They were on the air doing a routine morning show assignment on tourism. They weren’t on a foreign battlefield or similar dangerous place journalists around the globe report from daily, but today’s news underscores that it isn’t just war correspondents who find themselves in danger these days.

The Committee to Protect Journalists provides this list of journalists killed in 2015:

But look at where these killings happened:

Now you can add rural Moneta, Virginia to that list.

The public nature of the shooting raises several questions about the ethics of including graphic images of the incident in news stories and television broadcasts. Read more


Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015

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Making the case for Black with a capital B. Again.

When I opened the door to my office after a summer doing research and writing far away from campus, it was there: The 2015 Associated Press Stylebook.

It was like Christmas morning for a copy editor, though the book had probably been there since its release in May. As always, I flipped through it to read new entries and see if there’d been any update to a particular entry, this year on page 30.

There hadn’t. The b in Black is still lowercase, according to the AP.

Photo by takomabibelot/Flickr

Photo by takomabibelot/Flickr

Perhaps it’s a quibble to some, but the decision to keep the descriptor in its lowercase form is a niggling reminder of the pervasive issues of Black underrepresentation in the newsroom and its effects: tone-deaf and/or anemic coverage of Black individuals and communities. Read more


Friday, Aug. 21, 2015


‘Resist the urge to be clever or cute’ and other tips from a writer-turned-reader

As a reader far more often than a writer these days, I find that I’m bothered by different things than I was when the situation was reversed. A sports section that can’t get its agate correct consistently. A story that fails to include a person’s age when it is clearly relevant. Reporting that lacks adequate geographical references so I can locate an area.

I could go on, of course, but you get the idea. This hit home for me the other day when I heard from an editor about a story I had written. His first question was one that I couldn’t answer very well. I immediately realized that I’d fallen victim to one of my own observations: insufficient reporting, compounded by not writing well enough to camouflage it. Read more


Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015

Screen shot, The New York Times

This is why we write stories

Most of the texts we call stories in journalism are more properly called reports. The imprecision of our nomenclature matters because the differences between reports and stories are important, both in how they are produced and how they are received.

The differences, I have argued, begin with the purpose of a report. In general, we write reports to collect, sort through, check out, and dish out information in the public interest. In short, we report to inform. A good report points you there. This is what you need to know. Pay attention to that.

A story is different. In the end, no one reads a story for information. No one reads “Gone with the Wind” to gain information about the Civil War. No one reads “Hamlet” to find out how to get to Elsinore castle. Read more


Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015

Photo by Andy Wright/Flickr

12 basics of interviewing, listening and note-taking

As a writer I would NOT give myself high marks for the crafts of interviewing, listening, and note-taking. But I have sat at the knees of journalists who are experts at these elements of craft: John Sawatsky of ESPN, Jacqui Banaszynski of the University of Missouri, and Tom French of Indiana University – all of whom have taught at Poynter.

Not long ago, I taught a workshop on these topics to the young men of Poynter’s Write Field program, about 40 minority students attending middle school and high school. They found my lessons useful, so I thought I would pass them on to a larger audience.

I realize these dozen strategies constitute the basics. But when I am struggling with a craft – golf, music, writing – I find it helpful to remind myself of those basics, to climb down from the penthouse and visit the ground floor. Read more


Monday, Aug. 17, 2015


Managers, use that ‘You’re a Fraud’ voice in your head to become a better leader

Did anyone out there wake up this morning convinced that today was “The Day?”

The day they discovered you don’t know what you’re talking about?

I did.

Fact is, I wake up on many mornings feeling that way. And I’m not alone. Whenever I ask a group of managers whether they ever start their day with a crisis of confidence, they overwhelmingly say yes.

And when I ask them what they would most like to take home from the seminar or workshop, increasing numbers of them — no matter how experienced they are — say they would like to be more confident.

Ah, insecurity. It isn’t enough that managers have to deal, every day, with unpredictable news developments and wave after wave of change. They also have to deal with that little voice inside their heads that say, “You’re going to mess this up.”

One way to deal with the fear is to just live with it, taking comfort that many creative people suffer from insecurity. Read more


Tuesday, Aug. 04, 2015

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Eat cereal, and other tips on creativity from Snapchat superstar Shonduras

Snapchat celebrity Shonduras

Snapchat celebrity Shonduras says anyone in a creative industry should involve the audience as often as possible. (Screen shot)

When it comes to social media platforms, Snapchat users might be stuck with the most limitations. Most famous for its (supposedly) self-destructing messages, Snapchat limits videos to 10 seconds, text to 31 characters and offers only rudimentary tools for users to draw images.

But Snapchat celebrity Shaun McBride, known as Shonduras to his followers, says Snapchat’s limitations foster creativity rather than restrict it.

Hundreds of thousands of Snapchat users have tuned in to watch McBride, a 28-year-old Utah native, gorge on massive bowls of cereal, pretend each of his many airline flights is his first or perform skateboarding tricks with his luggage.

McBride’s creativity and cheerfulness have built a massive and devoted fanbase and sizable earnings through branded stories. Read more


Monday, Aug. 03, 2015

Poynter to host conversation on covering social justice issues

AJ+ producer Damu Bobb uses a mobile rig to report from Baltimore. (Photo by Devin Allen)

AJ+ producer Damu Bobb uses a mobile rig to report from Baltimore. (Photo by Devin Allen)

As editors reorganize and identify new beats or topics, social justice reporting is gaining ground as an area of coverage. In the San Francisco Bay area, where social justice is a simmering topic, newsrooms are developing creative approaches.

The Center for Investigative Reporting sent poets and playwrights into the field with reporter Amy Julia Harris to examine the state of the some of worst public housing imaginable in Richmond, California.

Public radio station KQED commissioned graphic artist Andy Warner to create a comic book describing citizen’s legal rights when they get pulled over by the police. They distributed comic book to high school students.

AJ+’s Shadi Rahimi helped develop a strategy for covering citizen protests that starts with reporters documenting events and witnesses on their cell phones and publishing raw video straight to social media. Read more


Why I always play music during writing workshops

Roy Peter Clark plays the accordion

The most fun I have as a teacher is when I can incorporate music into writing instruction. (Photo by Armondo Solares)

I was 46 years old, and my life and time were filled by three pursuits: teaching writing, coaching girls soccer and playing in a rock band. My imagination was born, or reborn, that year in 1994.

I saw them as discrete activities. For each I wore a separate uniform, spoke a distinctive dialect and derived a different reward. It felt like a rich and satisfying life, and it was.

I would soon learn there was something more.

I was at work on the book “Coaching Writers” with Don Fry. That word “coaching” made me wonder whether there was something I was learning from coaching my daughters’ soccer teams that I could apply to the coaching of writers. Read more