How To’s

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

twitter-haiti

How one young Canadian reporter in Haiti helped turn Twitter into a storytelling tool

Twitter launched in 2006 and in less than a decade has almost 300 million users. Conceived as a social network to share information, it was gradually embraced by journalists and is now an essential tool for reporting and communication. In spite of its 140-character limit, it has also become a powerful platform for storytelling, used as a live blog or as a kind of inverted serial narrative, with each tweet a micro-scene or mini-chapter.

One of the pioneers of this use, I have argued, is a young reporter from the Toronto Star named Joanna Smith. A beat writer of Canadian government and politics, Smith was sent to Haiti to cover the effects of a devastating earthquake and early efforts to recover. This week marks the fifth anniversary of that disaster.

I have written about Smith’s groundbreaking work before. In my book The Glamour of Grammar, I wrote:

“Reporters and photographers rushed to Haiti in 2010 after an earthquake devastated the island, destroying many buildings, killing more than 230,000 people, and injuring many more. The narrative they produced from the rubble told a story of hardship that inspired a great outpouring of support for the Haitian people from across the globe. Of all those reports, I was especially taken with the series of short vignettes created on Twitter by Joanna Smith, a report for the Toronto Star. I found it remarkable how much she could convey in scenes or snapshots of 140 characters.”

What follows is a brief anthology of some of her more interesting and memorable tweets I harvested back then and saved. They are re-published here, but not in the order in which they appeared on Twitter:

  • Was in b-room getting dressed when heard my name. Tremor. Ran outside through sliding door. All still now. Safe. Roosters crowing.
  • Fugitive from prison caught looting, taken from police, beaten, dragged thru street, died slowly and set on fire in pile of garbage.
  • Crowd watched him exhale blood.  Little girl in blue/white Dorothy dress pushed her way into mob to see.
  • Luckner Lewis asked to send msg 2 CDA: ‘We’re v glad 2 c u in #Haiti bc we need ur help. ‘Biggest prblm is the smelling,’ sez in 2 recorder.
  • Pile of garbage, some of it burnt, reeking on corner of Cana-Pevert. 2 chickens pecking it for spare crumbs.
  • 2 men carry little girl on cardboard stretcher, her arms around their necks, leg in newly set cast, yelping.
  • Man shouting into megaphone to clear road for garbage truck. Told it is on its way to mass burial site.  Following, but not sure.
  • Too dangerous to set up distribution point in notorious Cite Soleil slum now, but assessing.  Org gangs trying 2 profit, says UN.
  • Woman shrieking, piercing screams, ‘Maman! Papa! Jesus!’ as dressing on her wounded heel is changed outside clinic. No painkillers.
  • Little boys playing with neat little cars constructed from juice bottles, caps.  Fill with rocks and pull with string. Fun.

There is something in Twitter that is structurally antagonistic to narrative storytelling, not unlike the classic inverted pyramid style of reportage.  Good narratives usually require chronology, time moving forward.  If you were following Smith in real time in 2010, this straight narrative was real and remarkably vivid, not a motion picture, but a kind of strobe-like sequential snapshot effect.

Most Twitter readers enter such live blogs in media res – in the middle of things – and either have to scroll back in time or just pick up from the entry point.  Author note: I’ve always wondered why Twitter has not yet provided a way to link on a Tweet in such a way that it turns a sequence of messages upside down so that you can trace the steps in chronological order.

On this fifth anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, I contacted Smith via email with a series of questions.  In her sharp answers she reflects upon the power of Twitter as a reporting and storytelling tool.

Clark: You were the first reporter I noticed who used Twitter as a live blog for breaking news.  The effect was something like a serial narrative in miniature, like a movie made up from one snapshot after another. Where did you come up with the idea?

Smith: Twitter was still relatively new to journalism back then and I was one of the earlier enthusiasts at the Toronto Star. I was already pretty active on Twitter and so had planned to tweet while I was down there, but there was no real discussion or forethought beyond that.

I think it came about largely due to circumstance. It was taking much longer than expected to get into Haiti. I knew my editors were anxious for my first file from the country as soon as we (Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk and I) finally crossed the border from the Dominican Republic.

The trouble was that around that time, my mobile device could no longer access email on the Internet and it also wouldn’t let me call anyone to take my copy over the phone. I could send text messages, but it was around 4 a.m. and I did not have anyone to send them to. So, I decided to tweet my story out, line by line, using SMS text messages. My first one was directed at the Toronto Star’s Twitter account: “Anyone on the Web desk there? Going to attempt unconventional filing method: cut-and-paste via Twitter! Here we go.” I think it took me 15 tweets to get that story out.

Then I just kept going. There was so much happening all around me that I wanted to share, but it was virtually impossible to file traditional story updates to thestar.com throughout the day because we had no access to the Internet or electricity until we returned to our hotel at night.

I felt compelled to keep reporting, because if I wasn’t reporting, what on earth was I doing there? I wasn’t handing out jugs of water, or searching through debris for survivors or setting broken bones. I was there to tell stories, which felt like such a small thing, but that was my job and this was really the only way I could do it consistently.

Clark: It seems as if you were tweeting in real time from Haiti. Something dramatic would happen and you’d send out a tweet. Is that how it worked? Were you tweeting in the moment, or would you let some time pass between what you saw and what you reported?

Smith: I usually tweeted in the moment, just sharing my observations of what was happening in Port-au-Prince. It was like a digital notebook. For the first few days, when I was working exclusively with text messages, I couldn’t see the replies I was getting on Twitter. I didn’t even realize anyone was paying attention to what I was doing. Once I started receiving feedback, I learned that people were treating it as a way to join me as I traveled throughout the city and spoke to the people I met. Then I felt a responsibility to keep up that in-the-moment aspect of my tweets.

I think that is also when I started becoming more conscious of how I was crafting the tweets. I realized that people were reading them as stories – very, very short stories, but stories all the same – and so I put some more deliberate effort into achieving that effect.

Clark:  How did your tweets fit in with your other reporting and writing responsibilities?  What did the Toronto Star expect you to produce?

Smith: I tweeted throughout the day and then at night, after we returned to our hotel, which had a generator, I would file a story for the next day’s paper. I found my tweets – not just the content, but the style of writing – would often work their way into these stories. I think the 140-character limit really forced me to strip my writing of extraneous adjectives and adverbs, to use an active voice and to follow that basic writing adage: show, don’t tell. Once I sat down at my laptop and I had thousands of characters at my disposal, I really didn’t want or need them anymore.

Clark:  What kind of technology were you using for Twitter and your other reporting?  What were the technological challenges reporting from the site of such a terrible disaster?

Smith: I used a Blackberry for Twitter and a notepad, pen and digital audio recorder for the print/web stories. We used a satellite BGAN to access the Internet in order to file the rest. Since Lucas had the BGAN connected to his laptop to upload his photos, which took awhile, my access to the Internet was usually limited. This meant I had few opportunities to read what my competitors were filing or do any research beyond what I had seen with my own eyes. Other members of our team, both in Haiti and back in Ottawa and Toronto, were doing a great job adding historical and political context to our coverage, but I was just writing what I saw and heard out in the streets. And because we were pretty much incommunicado with our editors until close to deadline, we had complete control over our time and how we would approach the news that day. So, while the technological challenges could at times be frustrating, I also remember it as a really liberating experience.

Clark:  What did you learn in Haiti about the use of Twitter that you have been able to apply in your reporting on government and politics back in Canada?

Smith:  It’s hard, because political reporting can be so abstract. I’m writing about ideas and arguments and facts and figures more often than I am writing about what I see, so it can be difficult to tell stories in the same way. Still, whenever I am tweeting about something right in front of me, such as a particularly strong or interesting message in a speech, I aim to tell a short, complete story in a single tweet. It’s really tough, though, given the subject matter. I wonder how many of the new followers I gained while in Haiti abandoned me at the next committee meeting.

Here are some links to the work Joanna Smith did for the newspaper while in Haiti (as well as the amazing photographs by Lucas Oleniak, which will allow you to see some of the scenes Smith was tweeting about):

Read more
Tools:
1 Comment

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 4.47.46 PM

One reporter’s journey to Cuba and how to get the story

Flag and fins - Harrison reporting from Cuba. (Photo by Carlos Harrison)

Flag and fins – Harrison reporting from Cuba. (Photo by Carlos Harrison)

The announcement came as a total surprise. The United States and Cuba would normalize diplomatic relations, ending their half-century-old Cold War stalemate.

It was a big story. Even bigger in South Florida. They don’t call it Little Havana for nothing.

As a Miami-based freelancer I knew that all of the local TV stations would want more than what the networks would offer. They wanted stories catered to their market. And because of their connection to South Florida and el exilio, I knew Cuba wouldn’t let most – maybe not any – send one of their own in.

I had been to Cuba a dozen times as a reporter. I covered Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to the island for Fox News. Most recently, I supervised the South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune Company’s Havana bureau.

I sent an email immediately: “How would you like to be the first local station to get your own stories out of Havana?”

I got the job the same day.

That’s Rule #1: As a freelancer, you have to know your market.

Rule #2: Have a plan.

I landed two days after the announcement. Havana was already crawling with foreign news crews. I was alone – on purpose.

They walked in groups of twos and threes – a reporter and/or producer, a videographer and a sound technician – swimming through crowds with boom microphones dangling overhead like lures on fishing rods, trolling for audio. I carried a small Canon that fit in the palm of my hand. They wore government-issued badges, credentials authorizing them to work as journalists. I did not.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Their credentials gave them access to official sources and, perhaps, to the interiors of government buildings I couldn’t enter. But I didn’t want a government “handler,” visible or in-, trailing along and watching me. And I didn’t want to risk having the people I spoke with questioned or possibly harassed after they did. The downside: I could be arrested and, possibly, imprisoned for violating Cuban law.

My plan was very much like what I would do for a hurricane or an earthquake: Take what you need. Get what you can. Get out.

Gear: I carried a Canon HFR 500 with two extra batteries and a charger, six 64-Gigabyte flash cards, and a lightweight tripod. I also had a clip-on lavalier mic with extra batteries for my standups and my iPhone earbuds to check my sound. It all fit in an over-the-shoulder bag.

Broken down: Cuba is trapped in the past and struggling under a broken economy. I wanted an image that said both, symbolically, and found it as I walked the streets of Old Havana. The people on foot and the antique car on blocks seemed to say it all. (Photo by Carlos Harrison)

Broken down: Cuba is trapped in the past and struggling under a broken economy. I wanted an image that said both, symbolically, and found it as I walked the streets of Old Havana. The people on foot and the antique car on blocks seemed to say it all. (Photo by Carlos Harrison)

Preparation: I had promised three stories in English and three in Spanish to the local Telemundo and NBC stations. Before I left Miami, I put a shot sheet on my iPhone of things I knew I needed: Street scenes. Crowds of people. Decrepit buildings and antique cars. Cigars, of course. Images I felt represented “Cuba.” Those were general shots. I included Havana’s famous seawall, the Malecon, and the iconic fort overlooking the harbor entrance.

One story was about the pope’s involvement in the negotiations, so I knew I needed a church and churchgoers; a mass where I could get natural sound and cover shots of parishioners and clergy; religious statues and icons.

Another story was about the hopes of the people: Who benefits if the trade embargo ends? The answer involved economics and politics. I needed shots of private stores and government shops, of the restaurants known as paladars that 20 years ago operated as well-known secrets in people’s homes and now compete publicly in prime locations along streets bustling with tourists.

The third was about how long it might be before there would be any real change.  That called for people, lots of them, and symbols of government control, like uniformed police, images of Che Guevara, revolutionary slogans.

Execution: To save time later, I logged video as I went. The way the camera was set up, it counted each time I started recording as a separate segment. I would make a note on my iPhone of what each contained as soon as I could. It might say, “Seg 241 – street scene, kids playing soccer under Che sign.”

At night I logged interviews and checked video. Accidents happen, and did. Times I thought I was recording, I wasn’t. I hadn’t pressed the record button, or I double-pressed it, turning it on, then off before I got what I wanted.

I’d also recheck my shot sheet to see what I still needed.

It took a lot of walking. My iPhone fitness app logged about 17-1/2 miles walked the first day, around 15 the next two.

Rule #3: Be flexible, keep your eyes open and seize the moment – luck is a big part of it.

The gods of journalism smiled on me repeatedly. Once, I shot a standup in front of the rickety commuter ferry and a couple of cargo ships as I said, “the people of Havana dream of a day when this harbor is filled with cruise ships.”

The next morning, I went up to the fort overlooking the harbor so I could get some skyline shots of the city. As I looked down, I saw a lone cruise ship docked at the terminal below. Apparently, it came in during the night. If I hadn’t gone up to Morro Castle when I did, I might have missed it.

More luck struck when I was working on the story about the pope’s involvement.

When I went by Havana’s cathedral to check what time mass started in the morning, I learned there was a Christmas concert that evening. The exuberant choir provided exactly what I needed to start the piece.

Then, when I came back for mass Sunday morning, I discovered that Havana’s cardinal, Jaime Ortega, was officiating. That not only gave me plenty of great video, but he also delivered some strong sound bites in his homily.

After mass came an even bigger piece of sheer luck. I saw the parish priest shaking hands with parishioners and turned on my camera. Then, right next to him, Ortega appeared. He was surrounded by a small gaggle of European reporters thrusting recorders at him, asking questions in Spanish and French. I squeezed in, camera on, and got what I needed in Spanish.

Then I leaned in close and asked him a question in English. He seemed surprised. English is not the best of his multiple languages, but he answered. Then the priest pulled him away.

It was a coup I couldn’t have planned. His answer was about the steady deliberateness that led to the historic U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. But it seemed to say something about journalism, also.

“I think that history is not made in big steps,” he said. “It is achieved with small steps.”

Big stories, too. Read more

Tools:
2 Comments

Secret to Fark’s longevity: ‘do nothing’

Drew Curtis of Fark.com was at The Poynter Institute this week in a continuing discussion on new revenue models for journalism. We sat down with him and asked about those discussions. He also gives his recipe for Fark’s longevity, which is to be about two years behind the curve.

Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015

aerial-photog

2015 may be the year journalists actually get to use drones

logoFAAThe Federal Aviation Administration got both friendly and tough with journalists who want to use drones to capture video.

The FAA signed an agreement to work with CNN in a test project to come up with ways that journalists can safely use drones. CNN’s official release included these two passages:

 “Our hope is that these efforts contribute to the development of a vibrant ecosystem where operators of various types and sizes can safely operate in the US airspace,” said CNN Senior Vice President David Vigilante.

“Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned newsgathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System.”

Here are some questions, and issues, we still face.

Will 2015 be the year journalists fly?
2015 will almost certainly be the year that American journalists will get some Federal Aviation Administration guidance on how they can use drones to capture video and still photos. The FAA received more than 18,000 public comments on its website about how to regulate drones.

But if Congress gets involved, it could be years before journalists will have clear guidelines on how to use remote controlled aerial cameras called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). While the federal government moves slowly, 20 states have enacted their own laws regulating unmanned aircraft. Most of the UAS state laws enacted in 2014 speak to law enforcement’s use of drones.

The FAA’s website lists the guidelines that all drone operators must currently observe:

Dos

  • Do fly a model aircraft/UAS at the local model aircraft club
  • Do take lessons and learn to fly safely
  • Do contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of the airport
  • Do fly a model aircraft for personal enjoyment

Don’ts

  • Don’t fly near manned aircraft
  • Don’t fly beyond line of sight of the operator
  • Don’t fly an aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds unless it’s certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
  • Don’t fly contrary to your aeromodeling community-based safety guidelines
  • Don’t fly model aircraft for payment or commercial purposes

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Small UAV Coalition created a website that lays out the state of regulations for recreational users and for business users, like newsrooms.

In short, recreational hobby fliers can fly their aircraft up to 400 feet.

But businesses, such a newsrooms, must have specific permission from the FAA to fly a drone anywhere at any height. That is why CNN sought a specific permit from the FAA. The current rules PROHIBIT:

  • Professional real estate or wedding photography
  • Professional cinema photography for a film or television production
  • Providing contract services for mapping or land surveys

The exceptions are the handful of instances when the FAA issued a permit. The permit is called an FAA airworthiness certificate, called a “section 333″ permit. Except for the CNN deal, the FAA has not granted exceptions to journalists or journalism schools. The FAA has told at least two journalism schools to ground their drone fleet over public property.  The schools have scaled back their use of drones awaiting FAA permission, but still are making limited use of their aircraft.

Who has gotten exceptions?
An Associated Press story reported that soon, the FAA may respond:

The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to altitudes below 400 feet, forbid nighttime flights and require drones be kept within sight of their operators. 

The AP story said some inside the FAA are considering exemptions for very small drones, weighing less than five pounds, as Canada recently allowed.

Matthew Schroyer, Professional Society of Drone Journalists (DroneJournalism.org), says he hoped the FAA would release proposed rules for small aircrafts in December. Now he says, he is not at all certain there will be rules drafted in January either. The PSDJ has about 400 members from 37 countries. 

The FAA has granted a handful of exemptions so far. In September, the government gave six film and commercial companies permission to fly drones under specific restrictive circumstances.  The “333 exemptions” require specific clearance from property owners, air traffic control and the individuals shown in the video. It can only apply to what is referred to as a “sterile set” which is a specific property zone. And the permits say the operator of the drone must have a commercial pilot’s license. Read that again. To fly an unmanned drone, the FAA is requiring the operator to be a licensed pilot. The permits also forbid night flight.

“For journalists this just doesn’t work,” Schroyer said.

In December, the FAA granted four specific exemptions to unmanned vehicle rules, including an exemption that allows oil companies to fly drones around oil rigs and another to allow drone use in monitoring construction sites.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International applauded the exemptions as a step forward but said, “The FAA needs to begin the rulemaking process and finalize a rule for the use of UAS as quickly as possible to allow UAS technology to realize its full potential and allow a wide range of industries to reap its benefits.”

FAA asks for police help to track down drones
Even while the FAA works with CNN, on the same day, the FAA sent a signal that it intends to strongly enforce its ban on widespread commercial use of drones. The FAA sent a letter to law enforcement urging local cops to help enforce federal laws banning commercial and reckless drone operations. The FAA is asking police to collect names of operators and urged police to photograph or record proof of drone use. The FAA says it needs police help because drones don’t have markings that clearly identify who owns the craft. The FAA wants police to be especially alert to drones flying near or in forbidden zones like near airports or federal land.

Would new rules require a pilot’s license?
The exemptions, limited as they are, Schroyer says, give a window into what the FAA might require of journalists. Schroyer says there is talk in Congress that would require drone operators who want “333 exemptions” to have an airplane pilot’s license just as the current exemptions do. Could it really be that in the future, all commercial drone pilots, or journalists who want to record video with a drone, you would have to get a pilot’s license? “That is what it looks like, that is what they have required so far and that is all we have to go off at this point. It is expensive, and it does not train an operator to safely use a drone,” Schroyer said.  

“These things are not harmless,” Schroyer says. They can fall from the sky, they can strike people if they are flown carelessly.  But he said, even if you could fly a plane, it does not qualify you to fly a radio controlled drone. “They are very different skills,” he said.

Schroyer says the United States lags behind many other countries in creating guidelines for drone use in journalism. Canada, he says, allows commercial users, such as a working journalist, to fly at heights up to 400 feet. They can fly in populated areas with permission, Schroyer says.

Australia, he says, allows operators to register for courses, learn how to fly, and you take what amounts to a driver’s course in front of a government official to show you can safely operate a drone. Then, the government grants a commercial operator’s license to drone pilots. Australia wants commercial drone users to have aviation knowledge if they are going to earn money from flying.

The UK requires permits for fliers and restricts where drones may be flown.

What are the repercussions of the ambiguity?

Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Photojournalist

Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Photojournalist

New FAA rules can’t come soon enough for Detroit Free Press photojournalist Eric Seals, who teaches with me at Poynter’s Backpack journalism seminar. Seals has been experimenting with drones for more than a year.  But for all of 2014, he has not been able to use his drone camera for professional purposes. In November of 2013, before the FAA issued new guidelines restricting journalists’ use, Seals used his $1200 quadcopter several times on assignments. He hoped to use the quadcopter to help tell the story of divers looking for shipwrecks in Lake Huron. A quadcopter would have saved thousands of dollars in helicopter costs to get the same shots.  “At least 16 or 20 times in 2014 I have said I wish I could use a quadcopter on this.

Seals said this assignment to cover a broken water pipe could have been accomplished with a drone for thousands of dollars less.

Seals said this assignment to cover a broken water pipe could have been accomplished with a drone for thousands of dollars less.

There was a water main break in Detroit that covered eight to ten blocks, freezing water and snow and the pipe broke and an entire neighborhood was soaked with water. The assignment desk asked me to get to the helicopter the paper uses… this would have been perfect for my quadcopter.” The cost of flying a helicopter was about the same cost as buying a quadcopter and camera, he said. “Plus I could get closer, I could have done it with less risk to everybody in the air and on the ground and I could have also been capturing the story with my cameras on the ground level, too.”

Schroyer says fighting the FAA can be expensive. “There are people who will not fly because of the ambiguity of the law. News organizations are not buying this equipment because they don’t know if they will be able to use it legally.”

The result, Schroyer says, is “news organizations are turning to amatuers, people recording video for fun, to capture the drone video they want to tell stories.” The PSDJ says allowing professional videographers to operate the aircraft would help insure safer use.

What about privacy concerns?
A recent Pew Research Center survey of hundreds of global leaders on the tech industry showed that many believe “living a public life online as the new default.” Privacy is a shifting and some said eroding notion. And, critics say, allowing drones to fly freely above us will erode privacy rights further.

Even before the FAA and Congress act on regulations that would allow the commercial use of drones, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, drafted legislation that would speak to concerns about drones invading privacy. Rockefeller explained the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Privacy Act of 2014:

“The proposed legislation would prohibit private companies from conducting surveillance on individuals without their explicit prior consent. In addition, the draft bill directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in consultation with the Department of Transportation (DOT), to promote rules and guidelines on UAS privacy policies, including the legal obligations of model UAS operators who purchase their UAS on the retail market. The bill would be enforced by the FTC and state Attorneys General.”

The legislation would also add a significant layer of regulations that journalists are not used to when it comes to collecting images and video. Rockefeller suggests the The Act, should:

Require civilian operators of UAS to establish a privacy policy to be posted on a public website hosted by the FTC. The policy would include, among other things, information about the circumstances under which the UAS would be operated, the specific purposes for which images, data and other identifying information would be collected, the measures to be taken to anonymize and aggregate such information unless prior express consent of the individual was obtained; and contact information for an individual to revoke their consent or to obtain copies of collected information.

And then there is a separate section of the Act that recommends a way for those who believe their privacy has been invaded by a drone to sue:

Provide a private right of action for persons who suffer physical harm or an invasion of privacy resulting from violation of this Act.

Schroyer said the Rockefeller proposal raises serious First Amendment concerns about how the government seeks to regulate what can be recorded from a public place. Among the issues, he says, is when an airspace above a private property turns from private property to public airspace. 

 What about the ethics of drone journalism?
“I am very surprised by how many journalists are using drones for journalism despite the FAA’s restrictions. I see it in local news broadcasts, too,” Seals says, but his paper’s lawyers say until the government issues new clearly written rules on what is allowable, he is keeping his copter grounded.

When Seals taught with me at Poynter, he stressed to our class that drone journalism carries a new layer of ethical responsibility for safety and sensitivity.

Seals says it takes “a good month, even two months” to get skilled at operating a drone. “You have to develop a mental checklist to check out the gear, make sure you are below 400 feet and not too close to an airport. You have to know about wind conditions. It is not a toy and people who got them at Christmas have to realize that. A lot of people who got them and started flying them without any practice find the aircraft flies away. If you do not calibrate the aircraft you can lose them in flight and never see them again.”

The Professional Society of Drone Journalists has adopted a code of ethics. The code says drone operators should live up to traditional journalism ethics codes, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics. But there are additional ethics involved with drone photography:

  • Newsworthiness: The investigation must be of sufficient journalistic importance to risk using a potentially harmful aerial vehicle. Do not use a drone if the information can be gathered by other, safer means.
  • Safety: A drone operator must first be adequately trained in the operation of his or her equipment. The equipment itself must be in a condition suitable for safe and controlled flight. Additionally, the drone must not be flown in weather conditions that exceed the limits of the drone’s ability to operate safely, and it must be flown in a manner that ensures the safety of the public.
  • Sanctity of law and public spaces: A drone operator must abide by the regulations that apply to the airspace where the drone is operated whenever possible. An exception to this is provided in instances where journalists are unfairly blocked from using drones to provide critical information in accordance with their duties as members of the fourth estate. The drone must be operated in a manner which is least disruptive to the general population in a public setting.
  • Privacy: The drone must be operated in a fashion that does not needlessly compromise the privacy of non-public figures. If at all possible, record only images of activities in public spaces, and censor or redact images of private individuals in private spaces that occur beyond the scope of the investigation.
  • Traditional ethics: As outlined by professional codes of conduct for journalists.
  • Seals reminds journalists that while unmanned aircraft are great storytelling tools, they are not the only tool available to tell worthwhile stories. “I want very badly to be able to fly, but we are not out of business without quadcopters. Nothing is more important than a great subject.” Read more

    Tools:
    2 Comments

    Monday, Jan. 12, 2015

    jobsearch-250

    Eight lessons learned from a former journalist’s job search

    As the AARP solicitations in my mailbox arrive with ever-increasing frequency, I am reminded of something a friend once told me about our aging: “When the rock starts rolling downhill, it picks up speed.”

    Whooosh!

    Next month I’ll mark my 10th anniversary as a member of Poynter’s faculty, and in addition to wondering where that decade went (and, by the way, when did Paul McCartney get to be 72?), I find myself thinking about how this gig has fit into the journey we call a career.

    My resume: Journalist, 27 years. VP of Communications, 3 years; journalism teacher, 10 years.

    The jobs are, in many ways, very different. But each one gave me the opportunity to try something new, to learn from talented and, often, inspirational people, and to contribute something I care about passionately: giving people the information and meaning they need to live better lives.

    job-searchOften, I tell people who ask about my career that I’ve been blessed. And I have. I also recall, however, the point in that resume when I spent many months looking for work—just as many journalists and other professionals are looking today. Some, like me, chose to part ways with their organizations, and some had no choice in the matter.

    Many of us have one thing in common: We never expected to be out of work.

    Eight years ago, I wrote a column about my transition from journalist to PR professional, and some of the lessons I learned about how to approach a job search – especially when it involves changing your line of work. Are they original? I doubt it. But none of them had mattered to me until that day when I thought about not being able to contribute to my family’s well-being.

    Here’s a short list of the things I learned:

    Truth 1: The process takes time. Some people are lucky; they leave a job on Friday and start another on Monday. Most do not. I needed almost six months (thankfully, I had a buyout check in my pocket.) But planning for a lengthy process increases the likelihood that you’ll create a plan for your search.

    Truth 2: Your resume is important, but the people you know are more important. In an age when it’s way-too-easy to submit your job application and resume online, differentiating yourself from the crowd often involves someone’s personal intervention. You need to know people. If you don’t, you need to meet them.

    Networking is not a cliché. It matters. When I decided to leave The Inquirer after almost 20 years, I also decided to look for a job outside journalism. First stop was my contact list (okay, we called it a Rolodex back then, but I’m trying not to date myself too badly.) I had hundreds of phone numbers and email addresses, but they were all for journalists. I needed a different source list if I was to find a non-journalism job.

    That’s why my plan’s first objective was to build a network. For the first few months of my search, my goal each day was either to talk with a new contact about my future, or to arrange a meeting with one.

    How did I arrange to meet them? Two ways, referrals and chutzpah.

    Sometimes I would ask a friend to introduce me to someone whom I considered creative or well-connected, or both. And sometimes I would simply call or write to people I wanted to know and ask them for a meeting. Both approaches worked.

    Call people you don’t think will talk with you. This is where being a journalist served me well. While many job seekers might hesitate to call people who help run universities, sports franchises, big companies and other organizations, journalists routinely seek interviews with people in positions of power and influence. It impressed me how many of those people said yes, I’d be happy to talk with you.

    When I called someone I didn’t know, here was the gist of my request:

    Hi, my name is Butch Ward, and I’ve recently left my job as Managing Editor of the Inquirer. I’m exploring possibilities for taking my career in a new direction, and I believe you are someone who could help me think through the possibilities. I promise not to ask you for a job. I would just appreciate a half-hour of your time.

    During the four or five months that I spent building a network, I made that pitch at least 20 times. Only one person told me she was too busy to talk with me. The others, along with the people I met through referrals, not only gave generously of their time and ideas, they invariably suggested someone else I should meet—and offered to introduce me.

    So don’t be afraid to ask.

    Just get a job. When I left the Inquirer, I was almost 50 and had spent my entire career with two companies. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but PR was not on my list. After five months of looking without success, though, I realized that I was being really picky—looking for the perfect job I could ride into retirement.

    That’s when I realized I should just get a job. If it didn’t work out, I’d have to look for another one—but I’d be working from a better starting point:

    It’s easier to find a job when you’re employed than when you have to explain to someone why you’re not.

    That’s when I considered business communications, or PR—but not just any PR.

    Try to honor your values. Two factors convinced me to take the communications job I was offered at Independence Blue Cross. First, one of my closest friends had worked there for almost 10 years and believed in the company. I trusted his values.

    The second was that working in one of the major sectors in America’s health care debate appealed to the part of me that wants to do work that matters. It seemed to me that my ability to invest myself fully in the new work would be enhanced if I believed in its value. And that proved to be right.

    So think: What are the values you want a new job to embody? Can you balance them with your need to find work that helps you fulfill the responsibilities in your life?

    Talk with everyone—and anyone. In the beginning, I believed that my challenge was simple: I needed a job, and I, Butch Ward, needed to find it. But as time went on, I realized that success might occur because I stayed open to letting a job find me. That realization led me to share my story with many more people in my life.

    Other parents on the soccer field. A friend at church. Relatives.

    Some offered ideas. Some offered words of support. And some asked questions or offered opinions that helped me to broaden my search or challenge my assumptions (about jobs in PR, for example).

    As a group, they helped me wrestle with the questions that guided my search:

    • What jobs was I qualified to do?
    • What kinds of work could interest me and address my passions?
    • Who could help me answer these questions?

    Nourish your life. Without a doubt, the best part about being out of work for a long time was the opportunity to participate more fully in the other aspects of my life. I saw all of my daughter’s high school soccer games. I saw more of my wife and our friends. I tackled some projects at home. Truth is, I had needed to pay more attention to these areas while I was employed, and my hiatus from work helped me recommit to doing better with work-life balance in the future.

    But for the time being, the non-work part of my life helped carry me through a period of my life when I needed to feel valued and productive.

    Eventually, my search led to a networking meeting with a man at Independence Blue Cross who was about to retire—and told me I should apply for his job. He introduced me to his boss, and within a few weeks, I accepted an offer. (My friend at IBC stayed out of the process, so as not to prejudice it. That was his way of saying he believed in me.)

    If you are one of those journalists who find yourself out of work, I hope at least two things buoy you during your search: a belief in yourself, and the belief that others have in you. I also hope that you make at least one more discovery: people want to help you. Some may not have a job to offer, but they might have ideas, or questions, or support.

    They want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

    And believe this: All will be well. Read more

    Tools:
    1 Comment

    Thursday, Jan. 08, 2015

    jesuischarlie250

    Satire’s conflicting kinship with journalism

    jesuischarlie300So 12 are dead in Paris, with more injured. Their crime is an association with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which ridicules popes, politicians, prophets and Islamic extremists. It comes down to this. The magazine was eager to publish words and images that fanatics hated. Symbols were met with bullets.

    The pen is mightier than the sword, we say, but is it mightier than the automatic rifle, the rocket launcher, the Molotov cocktail, the dirty bomb in a terrorist’s briefcase? Should journalists and satirists work in bunkers?

    Journalism is a dangerous business, requiring physical and moral courage. Just look at what has happened to our war correspondents this past year. The events in Paris have demonstrated that satire is as powerful as journalism – and just as dangerous.

    There are forms of satire contained in journalism, such as political cartoons and humor columns. Some forms of satire clothe themselves in the trappings of journalism, such as the Colbert Report, the Daily Show, and The Onion.

    But journalism and satire are, in many ways, opposites. Good journalism has many boundaries; satire few. Good journalism practices proportionality and decorum; satire spits on them. Good journalism appeals to reason; satire tweaks the funny bone or socks the solar plexus.

    Yet journalists have a huge stake in satire. Satirists stake out the territory within which all creative humans can exercise their arts. The First Amendment, it has been often said, would not be necessary to protect common speech. We have it to protect extreme, unpopular, even dangerous forms of expression. That right to free expression is not absolute, of course. It comes with responsibilities, one of which is to consider the consequences of publication.

    You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, unless that theater is on fire. The creators of Charlie Hebdo yelled against fanaticism at the top of their lungs.

    Nelson Poynter, creator of the Poynter Institute and former owner of the St. Petersburg Times, would not hire an editorial cartoonist. His argument was this: the editorial writer would work hard to craft an argument to make a subtle point. Behind that writer was the cartoonist, wielding a hammer. Mr. Poynter was right, I believe, in drawing a sharp distinction between journalism and satire, but he was wrong in one important sense.

    Responsible journalism and responsible satire (if that is not an oxymoron) can share the same, or at least a harmonic, mission and purpose. Both forms stay alert to what is happening in the world. Both should attend to the abuse of power and the threats to the public good, whether they come from criminal elements, corporations, bureaucracies, celebrities, or governments. Journalists fulfill their mission with the accumulation and verification of evidence. Satirists use some of that same evidence but apply the strategies of irony, hyperbole, parody, inversion, juxtaposition, and caricature, making the corrupt a target of ridicule.

    Nazi filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl used some of the most sophisticated cinematic strategies of her time to create “Triumph of the Will,” the ultimate deification of Hitler and the Third Reich. Charlie Chaplin saw that film and imagined his own parody in “The Great Dictator,” a devastating deflation of Nazi mythology, and one of the most popular movies of its time leading up to World War II. In hindsight, Chaplin wrote in his autobiography that he would never have made the movie, in which he plays a Jewish barber, if he had known about the concentration camps, what we now call the Holocaust. He would not have wanted to inadvertently enflame murderers to further violence.

    Even a superficial study of the history of satire – begin with Wikipedia – reveals it to be an ancient form, well-established in Greek and Roman literature, and seen as potentially dangerous from the beginning. Plato himself blamed the death of Socrates, at least in part, on the ridicule heaped upon old Soc by Aristophanes in the play Clouds.

    What could be more outrageous than Jonathan Swift in 1729 offering anonymously “A Modest Proposal” that poverty in Ireland could be solved by selling the oversupply of Irish babies as food for the upper class Brits: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

    Of course there were those who read Swift and thought his proposal was serious – and barbarous – an encouragement of cannibalism. This reveals one of the problems of satire. The capacity to understand irony, one of the essential strategies of satire, includes the ability to embrace a message and realize that it means something different – even the opposite – of what it delivers on the literal level.

    Swift and most other satirists exist in a tradition that allows them to color outside the lines. A stock character in Shakespeare was the “licensed Fool,” the court jester, one of the only figures who could speak truth to power. That license came with danger. If the King didn’t laugh his head off at your impertinence, he might decide to have yours cut off. In cultures where satirists do their best work – like America, Great Britain, and France – there exists a social contract where writers and artists can walk along a ledge with a safety rope around their ankles.

    Fanatics have changed that equation. Religious leaders put a death sentence on Salman Rushdie. Countries that publish the work of Danish cartoonists see their embassies threatened. Churches of the infidels are attacked, lives lost. And now an editorial meeting is interrupted by hooded assassins.

    Are we prepared wage violent war to protect the work of cartoonists and satirists? At some point, the answer has to be yes. That said, I cannot help but remember Chaplin’s statement that he would not have created his Hitler satire if he knew about the concentration camps. I want to see the movie “The Interview” as soon as I can to wave the flag of free speech against the digital terrorists who hacked SONY. But do I think it was a good idea to create a film in which American characters are sent to assassinate the living president of an actual country? My answer is no.

    One of the advantages of satire is the power of the veil, the ability of artists such as Swift or Huxley or Orwell to create worlds that seem brave and new, but are really our native lands in disguise. There is no battling the killers in Paris, or those who celebrate their crimes, with words and images. They and their kind must be brought to justice. We grieve with the dead as brothers and sisters of the image and the word.

    Their lives are a testament to the power and dangers of free expression – which can come with such a terrible cost. Read more

    Tools:
    5 Comments

    Tuesday, Jan. 06, 2015

    Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 3.19.58 PM

    AP Stylebook, parenting edition: ‘It’s baby-sit, baby-sitting, baby-sat and baby sitter.’

    On Tuesday, the Associated Press’ monthly style chat focused on parenting with Leanne Italie. As you’ll see from the collection of tweets below, we quickly move through the stages of life, from baby sitter to teens to elder care in three tweets. Enjoy.


    Sad stock photo baby.

    Sad stock photo baby.

    Previously: AP Stylebook: Holiday eating edition

    It’s ‘Bah! Humbug!’ and other holiday style advice from the AP Read more

    Tools:
    0 Comments
    debris225

    5 Tips for staying safe in conflict zones

    A young Kurdish YPG fighter runs past sniper fire in the contested zone in Kobani, Syria. The role of freelancers, who make a living by selling individual stories to multiple outlets, has expanded across conflict zones in recent years with the spread of technology and social media. While some are cautious and well-trained, others take major risks in hopes of getting a picture or story that no one else has, and thus is more valuable. And they often lack the institutional support staff writers receive if they get into trouble in a conflict zone.  (AP Photo/Jake, Simkin)

    A young Kurdish YPG fighter runs past sniper fire in the contested zone in Kobani, Syria. The role of freelancers, who make a living by selling individual stories to multiple outlets, has expanded across conflict zones in recent years. While some are cautious and well-trained, others take major risks in hopes of getting a picture or story that no one else has. (AP Photo/Jake, Simkin)

    The world isn’t getting any safer for members of the media: According to Reporters Without Borders’ annual “roundup of violence against journalists” 66 were killed, 119 kidnapped, and 853 arrested in 2014.

    At the same time, difficult and dangerous stories still need telling, and there will always be those drawn to covering conflicts. The big players’ budgets are shrinking but the ways in which information is spread have become more mobile and immediate. In turn, anyone who uses social media now has access to a near-global audience. As a result, the work of outside sources is increasingly used to satisfy our expectation for news in an instant. All of which means it has never been easier for inexperienced, poorly supported newbies to give risky reporting a go.

    Conflict novices are OK; Every hard-bitten war correspondent has a “first time I got shot at” story – right? All roads to veteran status start with an initial frontline foray. But unprepared, poorly supported first-timers are not OK.

    So for starters, read the following five tips to staying safe on a high-risk job.

    • Don’t go: Obvious, right? What better way to stay safe from the dangers of high-risk reporting than avoiding it in the first place? It’s an extremely effective method for the maintenance of mind, body and soul. Am I joking? Maybe a little. But there’s a serious side to this and that’s to ensure you properly consider whether this type of work is actually what you want to do. Conflict coverage can look enticing through the prism of a well-crafted report. In reality, it’s often dirty, distressing and dispiriting work. Ask yourself why you’re interested. Then consider the potential impact on those closest to you. If you do all that and still feel up for it then great, read on.
    • Train early, train right and keep on training: If you’ve never had hostile environment training, then you’re not as prepared as you should be to work in a hostile environment. Fact: Even if you were born and raised in a war zone, or consider yourself the hardest scribbler in town, this training is a must-do. It’s a poor soul who believes they already know everything about anything. It’s a dangerous colleague who thinks they already know it all about high-risk working. Get on a course as a priority. Embrace and enjoy the chance to learn amongst peers. If you already have some experience, then welcome the opportunity to pass that on and enhance the learning of others. Last, but most importantly, get medical skills. A significant part of such courses is training in basic trauma medicine. It’s life-saving stuff, and if you want to work in dangerous places you owe it to your colleagues to know this. So Hostile Environment First Aid Training (HEFAT) is a must. Do one, practice the skills, build knowledge and experience, refresh it all every three years maximum, and ensure you’re properly prepared. Speaking of being properly prepared.
    • Prepare with the right equipment: Doing high-risk work requires specialist safety kit. I’m talking body armor, head and eye protection, gas masks, medical equipment and survival gear. Know what you need and don’t leave home without it. What you take specifically will depend on the type of coverage and potential threats. But make sure you’ve done that assessment properly and have what’s required to cover all eventualities. Then ensure you’ve kit enough for any drivers or fixers you use, too. People often forget that last point. Generally because they haven’t bothered with tip number four.
    • Have a plan that works and a plan for when it doesn’t: We’re talking about work that may put your life in danger. I’d say that warrants putting some effort into a decent plan. So think about your deployment in detail before you rush out the door. How will you travel? Where will you stay? What are your alternative options? What kit do you need? What contacts do you have? What contacts should you have? What are the threats? What can you do to counter those threats? If you’ve been there before, has anything changed? If so, what is the impact? Do you have access to the latest information? The list could go on, but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at. Plan and plan well. Then, once you’ve got a good plan, think what you’ll do when it all falls apart. Because things rarely go as intended in the world of high-risk coverage. Which brings us to the next tip.
    • Get help of the reliable and trusted kind: High-risk coverage is a team sport. It’s not for the wannabe loner-hero types. They eventually end up in trouble with no one to call, and their story ends there. You need support to stay in dangerous places and ensure you can safely return. So deploy as part of a team. Just as importantly, have someone sitting somewhere safe, who knows your plan, and knows what to do if it fails: A person to oversee your progress, be a point of contact for regular updates, and who will raise the red flag if suddenly those check-ins stop coming.

    So there you have it. Five tips we can sum up in just three words. Preparation. Planning. Support.

    Toby Woodbridge is a media safety specialist with Bloomberg News. Previously employed by the BBC, he has extensive experience supporting Media, Energy and NGO organizations in high risk locations worldwide. Read more

    Tools:
    0 Comments

    Monday, Jan. 05, 2015

    scott250

    Stuart Scott was a master codeswitcher and we’re all better for it

    ESPN commentator Stuart Scott, 2013 (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

    ESPN commentator Stuart Scott, 2013 (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

    Stuart Scott, the ESPN anchor, is gone, dead of cancer at the age of 49.  He leaves behind a splendid legacy in sports journalism, one that has shaped me as a fan, a writer, and an American.  Scott was a master of what is called “code switching,” that quality of language that that enables us to change the way we talk and write to satisfy the needs of multiple audiences.

    Scott could be as rigorous as a scholar on commencement day, talking about life, sports, race, or his battle with cancer.  That power of Standard English was gained through his upbringing, his education at the University of North Carolina, and his professional aspirations to become a journalist and an anchor.  His predecessors at the networks, including ESPN, were primarily white and male and spoke in the Generalized American dialect we associate with Cronkite and Brokaw.

    Often, African Americans are accused by their peers of “talking White” and by racists as being “uppity.” Adherence to formal modes of speech can be interpreted as a betrayal or denial of race. Even a president of the United States is not immune from such criticism.

    Stuart Scott, more than any other journalist I can think of, changed the rules of the game.  In tune with youth culture, the language of black athletes, the rhythms of hip hop music and speech, Scott revolutionized how sports anchors could talk on the air.

    His catch phrases came from a different place than the traditional “that ball is going, going, gone.”  Among his most well known are:

    • “Boo-Yah!”
    • “Hollah”
    • “As cool as the other side of the pillow”
    • “He must be the bus driver cuz he was takin’ him to school”
    • “Just call him buttah cause he’s on a roll.”
    • “You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get the heck outta here”
    • “He treats him like a dog. Sit. Stay.”
    • In the voice of a Southern preacher: “And the Lord said you got to rise Up!”

    The speaker of those phrases could also stand before a large live and television audience and say:  “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

    I’ve learned since his passing that Scott was the target of strong criticism, by both whites and blacks because of his use of Black Vernacular and his allusions to hip-hop culture.  To his credit, he never abandoned his authentic voice, a quality to which all writers strive.

    Stuart Scott should be considered a hero of American speech, in all its colorful variety, and a role model for young people of all backgrounds, but especially for young African American men. His life story suggests these lessons:  Learn the power of your own experience and language – your own true self.  Learn that because you live in a society of many voices, that the more of them you can master, the more listeners you can reach, the more influential and relevant you will become.

    I remember coming to work one day and saying something I had heard from Scott the night before.  It may have been a version of “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game,” mind you this was a while ago. When I used it, at a faculty meeting as I recall, it elicited both laughs and raised eyebrows, and, I think, that brief moment of street credibility I was hoping for.  Old white people can look foolish appropriating the language and behaviors of the young and the hip, but there is much to be gained by showing that you’re paying attention.

    It would be a worthy research project for a professor to study the language of ESPN before and after the arrival of Stuart Scott.  That language is now quicker, more colorful, more inclusive, roomier, more willing to riff.  A rich and soulful diversity of language is the order of the day.  As someone who wants to live inside the English language, in all its splendor and mystery, I take Stuart Scott at his word.

     

      Read more

    Tools:
    2 Comments
    Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 3.03.36 PM

    3 big lies that public speakers tell and why journalists should care

    Professional microphone

    Three lies told over and over again by public speakers of all kinds – including me — are:

    1. “You can interrupt me at any time.”
    2. “I want this to be a conversation.”
    3. “There will be plenty of time at the end for questions.”

    What follows typically is 30 or 60 or 90 minutes of nonstop bloviation, leavened only by predictable PowerPoint slides, usually dense with text that encourage even more talking. Why?  Because the speaker wants to “get through the material.” But don’t worry. “There will be plenty of time for questions at the end.”  Pants on fire.

    This critique, I believe, is increasingly important to journalists. There is much to learn these days about our evolving enterprise. There is a greater need than ever for training, but fewer resources and less time than ever to provide it. Any journalist with special knowledge, and these days that includes many journalists in their twenties and thirties, will be asked to present that knowledge from brown-bag lunches to major conferences.

    Is there any journalist who has not yet been invited to join a panel discussion?

    There’s an oxymoron for you: PANEL DISCUSSION. A more accurate name for this experience is a “serial presentation.”  Typically three speakers will not only use their allotted time for ponderous proclamations, but exceed it. So as not to short-sheet any of the speakers, that promised time for questions and discussion shrinks to nothing. I’ve witness 90-minute sessions where the three speakers never addressed each other (or even responded to their comments) and where there was time for only one question at the end.

    Sitting through these is torture to me, like a four-hour flight in the back of a crowded airplane.

    So are there any antidotes to the poison of the endless presentation?

    Yes. Here are some of them.

    1. Play something on the piano. I know that’s cheating, but it works for me.  It turns out that planning and plotting interludes of any kind ventilates a presentation and refreshes the listener.
    2. Don’t wait until the end for questions and discussions. If you have an hour presentation and have three big points to make, stop after each point to give time for the audience to respond.
    3. Ask the audience a question. Then perform an unnatural act: LISTEN.
    4. At least once during your session, ask you audience to DO something: read a passage and mark it up; discuss a quick case study with a neighbor; write something from a prompt. Build in time to debrief these exercises.
    5. When you go on a car trip, don’t carry five suitcases to the curb when your trunk only has room for three.  All of us over-prepare for classes and presentations, especially rookies.  How can I possibly fill the hour? new speakers wonder. Then, at the half-hour mark, they realize that have just covered one topic and they have four to go. Rather than jettison the less-important examples, they speed up and cram them in.
    6. One more pet peeve: When someone does ask you a question, don’t bother saying “That’s a great question.”  It has become a cliché.  If every question is a great question, then no question is a great question.

    If you know you are going to be presentational, don’t lie to the audience about participation. But you’d better deliver the goods. TED talks provide popular examples. But such talks are governed by rules and expectations: they are 18 minutes long, there will be no interruptions for questions, if you want to ask a question or argue, grab the speaker later.

    I have enough experience as a public speaker to know that some people enjoy what I bring to the room and learn from it. But I have to say that some of my most memorable moments occurred when I gave up control of my agenda. Recently, I was leading a writing workshop, and the forty people in the room were engaged in a short writing exercise, when one writer had a seizure. We cleared the room, called security and 911, and he turned out to be fine. Just as we returned and began writing again, a tall woman burst into the room, showing off her new engagement ring.  Everyone wanted to hug her, of course. I said it out loud:  that this had turned into quite a writing exercise, not what I had planned, but a great reminder that the best plans do go astray. And when they do, some of the best, most memorable moments of learning can occur.

    Now, are there any questions? Read more

    Tools:
    9 Comments

    Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.


    Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive: