Tips for reporting and telling stories with traditional and new tools, including “Writing Tools” by Roy Peter Clark.

Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

What journalists can learn about authorship from Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

In 2006 the Canadian scholar Stuart Adam and I co-edited a collection of essays titled “Journalism: The Democratic Craft.” It is a rich — and largely unread — anthology of work that reflects on the key aspects of knowledge that fuel the activities we describe as “journalism.”

The essays consider the essential elements of the practice: from news and evidence, to language and narrative, to analysis and interpretation. Stuart and I begin the collection with six essays on “Authorship and Craft,” written by writers as diverse as George Orwell, V.S. Naipaul, Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, and Robert Stone.

Toward the end of the process, I stumbled upon an interview with a famous author I found so compelling, so writerly — if there is such a word — that I argued for its inclusion.… Read more

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Be aware tweeting allowed in some courtrooms but not others

This is another in a series of articles by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press covering legal issues that affect journalists. RCFP’s McCormick Legal Fellow Jamie Schuman wrote this article.

George Zimmerman, right, stands with his attorneys, Mark O’Mara, left, and Don West, center, as they watch the jury enter the courtroom on the 17th day of Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was eventually acquitted of second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

At George Zimmerman’s trial last summer, Orlando Sentinel reporter Rene Stutzman wrote traditional stories but also tweeted courtroom highlights sometimes more than 50 times a day.

“It provided pieces of information to followers of Twitter who wouldn’t otherwise be looking at more conventional news sources, like reading the newspaper or watching an evening newscast,” Stutzman said.… Read more

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

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When cows type: the power of the written word

My friend and Poynter colleague Chip Scanlan has called me many things over the years, including “a Philistine with a Ph.D.” I resemble that remark. In fact, I celebrate the seeming contradiction. I grew up in a working-class, television-drenched culture that immersed me in the world of The Three Stooges, roller derby, and Little Richard. On a parallel track, I experienced an elite parochial school education that pointed higher and higher to a world in which I could speak easily about Shakespeare, Aquinas, and T.S. Eliot.

One practical effect of this duality: I am never surprised by the diverse sources of enlightenment. It may come from a strange inning in a baseball game; a subway map; a Latin inscription atop an academic building; a 700-page novel; a ship’s manifest from Ellis Island; a tweet; a fortune cookie; a children’s book.… Read more

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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

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The Shakespeare sentence that changed my writing – and can change yours

Although we do not know the exact day William Shakespeare was born, we celebrate his birthday on April 23, which brings us to the 450th anniversary of his birth. Since many of us will not be residents of this distracted globe when Will’s big 5-0-0 comes around, we should do our best to praise him now, and as often as we can for as long as we can. There is no one like him.

Those of us who have read my books or attended my classes know that I have a favorite Shakespeare sentence. It comes from “Macbeth” – or as those superstitious thespians refer to it, the “Scottish Play.” Lady Macbeth dies off stage, unable to wash the blood from her hands, no doubt. A messenger approaches Macbeth with the news.… Read more

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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

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Making the familiar strange: the legacy of journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez

This morning, on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times, I read the news that Gabriel García Márquez has died at the age of 87. He was a towering literary figure of the last century, journalist, novelist, essayist, public intellectual, and Nobel laureate. His fiction became a pillar in a literary movement known as “magical realism,” an oxymoron that elevated the work of a school of South American authors and gained it global attention.

A journalist at heart who wrote for newspapers in Colombia during the 1950s, Márquez expressed dissatisfaction with the “magical” part of the literary equation, arguing that every word he had ever written was grounded in experience.

Colette Bancroft, book editor of the Tampa Bay Times, included in her tribute to Márquez, the author’s most famous passage, the first sentences of his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 

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Despite ABC News/CPI blowup, here’s how news partnerships can work

Journalism organizations might get discouraged about joining partnerships after the public meltdown of the partnership between ABC News and The Center for Public Integrity this week.

CPI’s reporter Chris Hamby won a Pulitzer Prize for stories that exposed how coal miners who were dying from black-lung disease were being unfairly denied health benefits. ABC wanted to get some of the credit for the investigation. What followed was a nasty exchange that played out here on Poynter Online all week.

But let’s not forget the upside to great investigative journalists from different organizations working together. ABC and CPI did affect lives, expose wrongdoing and reach a national audience that neither could have done alone.

Some of the most important journalism in recent years has been the product of partnerships.… Read more

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Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2014

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Why no Pulitzer Prize for feature writing? Here are four theories

Once again the Pulitzer Prize board has decided to withhold a prize – this time in the category of feature writing. It is in our nature as journalists to wonder why. When this news hit the streets, I tracked down the three stories selected as finalists and tried to read into them any deficiency that might disqualify them as prize-worthy. This is not the way I like to read.

What follows is not a reported piece but an exercise in mind-reading. I have been a Pulitzer juror on four occasions — twice as chair of jury for general nonfiction books, once in commentary, and once in feature writing. The year I sat on the feature writing jury, the board chose not to select any of our three finalists, but picked a winner from another category, something that they could have done this year, but chose not to.… Read more

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Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2014

Students are escorted as they leave the campus of the Franklin Regional School District after more then a dozen students were stabbed by a knife wielding suspect at nearby Franklin Regional High School on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Murrysville, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The suspect, a male student, was taken into custody and is being questioned. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

How to cover what comes next in the Pennsylvania school stabbing case

Pittsburgh-area newsrooms now must live through the reality of covering a mass casualty attack, just as journalists near Fort Hood, Texas, did last week.

They will seek answers about how a student at the Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, Penn., slashed and stabbed 20 people Wednesday morning. For months, journalists will tell stories of heroism and panic, of missed signals and critiques of school security. Sadly, other journalists have been through this. I asked them to help guide us through the coverage ahead.

Lessons from Newtown

Josh Kovner-Reporter, Hartford Courant

Hartford Courant reporter Josh Kovner co-authored the paper’s reports that profiled Adam Lanza, the troubled 20-year-old who committed the second deadliest school shooting in American history. Kovner’s and Alaine Griffin’s reporting of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School was part of a partnership with PBS Frontline.… Read more

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Five things I learned from prize-winning journalism

I did something last year that I hadn’t done before in all my years as a journalist: I read (or otherwise consumed) virtually all of our profession’s prize-winning work.

The task was awe-inspiring; it gave me a new bar for measuring my own work as an editor.

“Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism 2013,” an e-book from The Poynter Institute

It was also daunting. As co-editor of Poynter’s first e-book, “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism 2013,” I knew the book could feature interviews with the creators of only 10 pieces. To say the selection process was tough is an understatement. But I believe the stories we ultimately chose are a fair representation of the larger body of work in at least this way: They prove that despite journalism’s challenges and its shifting landscape, the talent, tenacity and passion to do meaningful work is ever-present.… Read more

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Monday, Apr. 07, 2014

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What it takes to create a new kind of journalism

During the night, I tossed and turned over this question: What does it take to create something new in journalism and make it stick? The question was inspired by a Jay Rosen post tracking the progress of Nate Silver’s new ESPN venture called “FiveThirtyEight” (the number of votes in the Electoral College). I glanced at the alarm clock. It said – I am not making this up, Dave Barry – 5:38. It was a sign.

So if Silver’s efforts represent a body of work – data journalism – what exactly is it? Where does it fit in the history of other analogous journalism inventions? At first glance, data journalism is bigger than a genre, more transcendent than a beat. The word “form” feels too squishy, so allow me to call it a mode.… Read more

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