How To’s

Quick tips for building journalism skills, from reporting to using Twitter. Suggest or submit a How To.


The power of slow reading in fast times

I am a slow reader, and that’s a good thing.

Let me give you an example.  Go back and re-read my first sentence, more slowly this time.  What do you notice about it?  What surprises you?  How does it work?  You can’t answer any of those questions by reading it fast.  Only through slow reading can you get an X-ray view of the writer at work.

slow-reading-275When I read that sentence, I notice it is divided into two parts:  1) I am a slow reader) and 2) that’s a good thing.  Both of those parts work as independent clauses.  Connecting the two creates something called a compound sentence.  There is a kind of equality, a balance between the parts. Turning from structure to content, my slow reading reveals to me a creative tension between the parts.  Read more

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Dorothy Bland didn’t let a dead rat or a stalker hold her back

Dorothy Bland at USA Today. (Submitted photo)

Dorothy Bland at USA Today. (Submitted photo)

Name calling, a dead rat and a stalker. What do they all have in common?

No, this is not a quiz for an episode in “How to Get Away With Murder,” and I’m certainly not the angry black woman in America.

I became a news junkie as a child and have lived through all these experiences over the last 35 years in journalism as a reporter, editor and publisher. Do not call me a victim as each of these experiences has made me stronger.

I owe much gratitude to Florestine Purnell, the reporter I succeeded at the Rockford Register Star in Illinois in 1980. For more than a year I was called “Flo” because a white male state’s desk editor praised Flo as the only black woman reporter in that 1970s newsroom. Read more


Friday, Mar. 06, 2015


Photojournalism ethics needs a reexamination

The latest in the world of photojournalism contest ethics and photo sleuthing took another turn yesterday with World Press Photos’ rescinding a first-place award after disqualifying 22 percent of the entries that had made the penultimate round.

Amid controversy, World Press Photo announced yesterday that based on its investigation, it is withdrawing the controversial “Dark Heart of Europe” award presented to Giovanni Troilo. Troilo, an Italian independent photographer, had received the award for his 10-photograph series depicting the gritty Charleroi city of Belgium in this year’s WPP Contemporary Issues Story category.

The 58th Annual World Press Photo competition’s organizers previously disclosed that 22 percent of the finalists were disqualified due to excessive post processing, or digital manipulation.

“It seems some photographers can’t resist the temptation to aesthetically enhance their images during post-processing either by removing small details to ‘clean up’ an image, or sometimes by excessive toning that constitutes a material change to the image. Read more

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Wednesday, Mar. 04, 2015


Turns out we have a lot of pet peeves about grammar

Happy National Grammar Day! On National Grammar Day eve, we shared the pet peeves of a handful of journalists and asked people to share their own. We got a lot. Enjoy!

If you’re ready for more National Grammar Day fun, Poynter’s News University has the Webinar “National Grammar Day 2015” at 2 p.m. Eastern. Use the code 15PPGRAM50 for a discount. News U’s “Language Primer: Basics of Grammar, Punctuation and Word Use” is also always popular. The American Copy Editors Society is having a grammar day #ACESchat today from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern on Twitter.

Here are a few of the pet peeves we shared yesterday:





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Tuesday, Mar. 03, 2015


What are your biggest grammar pet peeves?

Wednesday is National Grammar Day, which isn’t a bank holiday but may be cause to celebrate or hide if you’re a journalist. I asked a handful of journalists about their own grammar pet peeves. They range from the very specific to the broader wish that we used grammar to spread peace, not war. What are yours? Email or tweet them at me and I’ll share tomorrow, in time for the big day. (Update: Here are the results!)

Janice Cane, copy chief, The Atlantic: “Besides the popular its-versus-it’s issue (at a previous job, I once had to stop someone from correcting the right form, not to the wrong form but to a whole new word: its’), my biggest pet peeve lately is when writers attach hyphens to adverbs ending in -ly. Read more


Friday, Feb. 27, 2015


The lesson from the dress color debate that every journalist needs to know


Yesterday’s insane Internet debate over the color of a dress offers a critical lesson that every journalist must incorporate into their daily work.

This lesson has nothing to do with viral content, fashion, BuzzFeed, social media, the future of media, Tumblr, or audience engagement.

Many of us looked at a very simple photo of a dress and saw something different. This had nothing to do with intelligence, experience, fashion sense or any other personal characteristic.

We are all at the mercy of our brains and its cognitive processes. Our eyes took in the information in front of us, our brains processed it, and in many cases it gave us the wrong answer. But the fact that it was coming from our brain meant that it seemed like exactly the right answer. Read more


Monday, Feb. 23, 2015


4 lessons on recalling war stories learned from Bob Hope

Bob Hope appeared in or hosted almost 200 USO performances. (USO Photo)

Bob Hope appeared in or hosted almost 200 USO performances. (USO Photo)

These are tough times for war stories from high-profile TV hosts.

Fox News star Bill O’Reilly is under attack from Mother Jones over his claims that while at CBS News, he reported on the ground from active war zones – especially during the Falklands conflict between Argentina and Britain in 1982.  Adept at verbal combat, O’Reilly has called David Corn, the article’s co-author, a liar.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for six months without pay after his anecdote about being under rocket fire in a helicopter in Iraq in 2003 turned out to be false – he wasn’t in that helicopter.

This hatched several published reflections on false memory. Read more


Friday, Feb. 20, 2015


What journalists should know before taking a buyout

job-negotiationBuyouts have become commonplace in the journalism industry.

For instance, The New York Times announced it was requesting 100 voluntary buyouts last year and the Chicago Sun-Times announced earlier this month it plans to cut 22 percent of newsroom staff through buyouts and layoffs.

Experts say there are things journalists should consider before signing a buyout or severance agreement with their newsroom employers.

“The most important thing is to be aware of what rights [and/or claims] you’re releasing and what you’re not releasing,” said Katherine Blostein, a partner with Outten & Golden, a New York based law firm that represents employees.

She said it’s important to understand what obligations former employees still owe to the company, such as confidentiality or non-compete agreements. Blostein also said not to rule out legal counsel and consider pro bono assistance or lawyers who have a low hourly fee structure. Read more

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Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015

Video: Dave Cohn discusses mobile strategies for smaller news organizations

Dave Cohn, Former Chief Content Officer for Circa and current Executive Producer at Al Jazeera’s new mobile-centric AJ+ venture, discusses ways smaller journalism organizations can deliver their content to a mobile audience. He talks about the “wide push” to get content out in editions and suggests coming up with a strategy to take advantage third-party apps, like Twitter.

Read more


Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015


Is it time for news anchors to take a ‘Vow of Chastity?’

News' anchors Katie Couric, Brian Williams, left, and Charles Gibson,  on the NBC 'Today' show in 2008, for cancer research. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

News’ anchors Katie Couric, Brian Williams, left, and Charles Gibson, on the NBC ‘Today’ show in 2008, for cancer research. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Let’s think of the fall of NBC’s Brian Williams as the climax of a narrative that began in the 1950s when the television news business was still young.

It was in 1958 that Edward R. Murrow of CBS addressed a convention of broadcast news directors and offered, “It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.”

It turned out to be Murrow’s most famous speech, hitting this high point near the end: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.  Read more