Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Notes from reporting and writing webinar

Today we had webinar with Tom Huang, Assistant Managing Editor for Sunday and Enterprise at The Dallas Morning News and Ethics and Diversity Fellow at The Poynter Institute. Tom talked about reporting and writing scenes.

Here are some bullet points.

·    Scenes are the building blocks of dramatic storytelling
·    A story is a string of pearls, think of it as a sequence of dramatic scenes
·    Scenes involve strong characters, action and dialogue
·    Think about turning points, moments of discovery. Bring protagonist face to face with a dilemma. Know what the complication or main obstacle is

To read more, go here

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A heady device

If done well, devices such as repeated (but varied) references to a particular thing in a story can make a piece of writing stronger.

I thought Bill Landauer did that in his story on people who were hoping to see Vice President Joe Biden in York. Bill kept referring to Biden's head/hair as, in a way, a symbol of what people were hoping to see. The reference starts in the the third graf -- "Now they all waited for the white haired dome in the black car to zip past ..." -- and reappeared a couple times:

Inside, behind tinted windows, white hair flashed.
The rear door opened and the coiffed white mop bobbed into daylight.
Then, to the back of Biden's head, "We voted for you!"
I thought by using one of Biden's most notable physical characteristics, Bill captured what it's like to try to catch a glimpse of someone famous in a crowd.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This piece could have been dry; it's anything but

This story, by Lauren Boyer about the Occupy York meeting last night, is one of the best-written news stories I've seen in our paper recently.

The writing -- from the lede through to the end -- is lively and original. It sounds like Lauren is talking directly to you, and you alone, the way good writing should sound.

But, importantly, the story doesn't bury the news (it's in the second graf) and never fails to deliver the news of the night: that the group is here, that it after discussion it settled on a name and that it decided what its first public effort would be. Excellent work.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Notes from Jan Winburn webinar

Hey folks, just wanted to share a post I did on our Writing Successful Profiles webinar with Jan Winburn. If you were unable to attend, Jan had a lot of great things to say. Jan is senior editor for enterprise at She edited Lisa Pollak’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story “The Umpire’s Sons” and was named a Times-Mirror Journalist of the Year in 1997 for improving writing at The Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cliche-writing results are in, and the winner is ...

Will Hanlon.

Congrats, Will. Your $25 Rutter's gift card will be in your hands shortly.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on what you learned by doing this contest. I think we often use cliches because they come to us automatically (they're cliches, of course they do) and we don't push ourselves to come up with something better. Everyone who did this contest pushed themselves to come up with the most cliches they could -- and if you take that energy and put it toward replacing cliches with fresh phrasing, you're a better writer.

The judge was Skip Wood, formerly a reporter at USAToday for more than a decade who covered the NFL and other major sports. Skip and I have been friends since the day I walked in to the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News-Record's newsroom and he welcomed me to the sports staff there. He later worked for several years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch before going to USAToday. He now works at in Washington, D.C., doing stories and a morning e-mail alert designed to set up the day for Washingtonians. He's on Twitter.

 We've spent the past couple of decades talking about anything and everything journalism, including amazingly good writing and insufferably bad writing. And he's one of the most entertaining writers I've known. So he has a keen eye for this kind of stuff.

I asked him to judge this based on who did the best job trying to write poorly, since that was the point. So if he's complimenting you on writing cliche-filled tripe, well, take it as the compliment it's meant to be. (One note on judging in case you were wondering: Some of you had headlines, some of you didn't; I asked him not to add or subtract for hed/no hed.)

Click 'Cliche writing contest' on the left rail to read everyone's entries. 

Here are Skip's comments:
These people are good. I mean bad. 
Here’s my take from each one, in alphabetical order:
--Buffy Andrews: Loved the fake name, first of all. ‘Buffy.’* Too funny. The clich├ęs slayed. One after another after another after another after another.
--Joan Concilio: Just really, really bad. Loved “that aforementioned rain.”
--Will Hanlon: Smart. Just smart.  Not only that, but FAIRFAX COUNTY --
--John Hilton: Second graph nails it. Shot? What shot?
--Tom Joyce: I mean, you gotta love, “Bertha Muckenbaugh.”
--Bill Landauer: This was Gene Weingarten funny.
--Andrea Lazarus: The more you read it, the more you get it.
--Susan Martin: This is one of those stories you see sometimes when, oh, I don’t know. . . you’re reading a middle-school newspaper.
--Erin McCracken: “. . .strapped on his fishing gear.”
--Stephanie Reighart: Please. Just read the last sentence from the second graph.
Winner? Hanlon.
I liked it because it was written in the manner of a wordsmith who really thinks he’s a wordsmith when, actually, he doesn’t know anything about being a wordsmith. 

*This was Skip being his humorous self. I asked him about it and he said, "I was 99.99 percent sure 'Buffy' was, in fact, her real name."

What don't you know?

I had a great editing-for-voice conversation with another editor here this morning, and it reinforced my belief that every time I have a conversation about writing or editing like that, I learn more than the person I'm talking with.

It was a great reminder to try to know everything you can about what you're doing; understand that you'll never know everything; and work hard to know what you don't know ... and then learn those things, and figure out how to use them.