How To’s

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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

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Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

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

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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

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Monday, Feb. 23, 2015

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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

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Friday, Feb. 20, 2015

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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.

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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015

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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

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Friday, Feb. 06, 2015

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5 tips for getting people to go on the record

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the BostonGlabe.com)

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe’s deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the BostonGlabe.com)

With the presidential primaries just a year away, we’ve entered the stage of the permanent campaign that will include many foundational profiles of the potential candidates.

Among the perennial challenges of such stories: sources reluctant to go on the record with critical remarks or recollections about someone who might end up as leader of the free world.

The Boston Globe published a 4,100-word version of the genre in its Sunday edition: a profile of Jeb Bush’s high school years at Phillips Academy by Michael Kranish, the paper’s deputy Washington bureau chief.

It’s the sort of look back at the bad-boy-years often diminished by blind quotes that readers have no way of verifying (and that I’ve been guilty of relying on myself way back when). Read more

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As photos flood our screens, which ones hold our attention?

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During a week when millions of viewers/readers keenly search internet screen, mobile devices and publication pages for photographic images of a botched Super Bowl XLIX pass, an encaged Jordanian ISIS hostage and a tragic Taiwanese TransAsia Airways flight 235, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) released some pretty revealing findings of their own.

The question the study looked at is “What makes a photograph worth publishing in an age when images are shared in an instant, around the world?” The study has gone beyond the anecdotal to provide some scientific facts.

John Loengrad, former Life Magazine picture editors insisted that the picture editors see her/his roles as the advocate for the photographer,  “Other editors, with the story’s text in hand, may judge photographs by what they have read. Read more

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Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2015

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Timing and other writing lessons from Harper Lee

Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie "To Kill a Mockingbird." (AP Photo)

Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (AP Photo)

Today is a day in a writer’s life when the stars seem in alignment. On a day when I am working on a revision of a book chapter on To Kill a Mockingbird and the writing strategies of Harper Lee, news has broken that her publisher will produce a sequel this summer: Go Set a Watchman.

Reports say that the manuscript was written before her most famous book but serves as a kind of sequel with the narrator Scout now grown, living in New York, and still learning from her righteous father Atticus Finch. Read more

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How to find details that make a powerful story

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy as they arrive at Love Field in Dallas in 1963. (AP Photo/National Archives via Jimmy Carter Library and Museum)

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy as they arrive at Love Field in Dallas in 1963. (AP Photo/National Archives via Jimmy Carter Library and Museum)

I was 11 years old on the November Friday when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Does anyone else remember what Jackie Kennedy was wearing that day?

A pink suit. Not an important detail at first glance, except that this designer suit bore the bloodstains left behind after the wounded president collapsed into his wife’s lap. When Mrs. Kennedy refused to change her clothes until she returned to the White House the following morning, the suit took its place among America’s most tragic symbols. I remember the picture of Mrs. Kennedy still wearing the suit as she stood with Bobby Kennedy, her hand in his, behind the hearse bearing her dead husband. Read more

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