Friday, September 26, 2014

A Night with Post Reporter T. Rees Shapiro

A Look Inside the Hannah Graham Story
By Wallis Ann Neff 

We greeted and chit-chatted with our guest speaker for a brief minute and then continued to ask about his background, where he got his start, and what he's doing currently in Charlottesville, Va. Rees has been the Post's primary reporter on the story about missing UVA student Hannah Graham. He spoke to us live via Skype from a Starbucks.

Quick facts:

  • He is 27, young for the field.
  • Enjoys talking to students
  • He did not major in journalism- he was an english major
  • Did not want to be a journalist
  • Grew up in Va. just outside D.C. He went to Virginia Tech, liked creative writing the best, working at jimmy johns, late night, at about 8:30 roommate woke him up. Told him to “Fuck off," not realizing the tragic VTech campus shootings had begun. April 16th 2007, started with the school newspaper, new to journalism, “Aren’t you going to cover this?” took advantage of being a student (got in touch with people)
    • BIG BREAK: got a contact through Facebook, randomly called a man who directed him through a friend - she was there. “All I remember was my professor’s head exploding."
  • Continued as as an editor through the school newspaper, got a job at the Washington Post, Copy Aide, very low position, wrote obituaries for 18 months,
  • Doritos creator was his favorite obit
  • Was promoted to write about kindergarten and education. called it "circle of life"

After we talked to him about his background, more questions. One of the first was about his experiences and time in Charlottesville. In the midst of the chaos that is the Hannah Graham story, he's been able to talk with friends, as well as her parents. Graham was reported missing by police on Sept. 14th, at 7:30.
Shapiro's first position on the story was that maybe she was she’s hiding out, or laying low. Stress getting to her, college issues. He used basic facts for a short story. He's also spoken to people who knew her, softball coach, band instructor, and they both have reported her being a good student and a pretty normal girl. He recalled a candlelight vigil on Thursday, which was as he put it, moving.

After his account, Professor Piacente opened it up to questions from the class.

Dani- reading the articles, more troubled less balanced. How do you navigate between concern and balanced view in readership.

Taylor Shapiro- since I am young, one thing I can emphasize that I am obsessed with accuracy and fairness. People don’t trust you when you’re not fair. We approached the story with interviews, we talked to the police. Talked to both sides. Racially charged.

Wallis- have you noticed any racial tension with the Hannah Graham case?
TS- Racially charged, we’ve heard this story before- since the 1940s, skeptical about it being a black person charged. UVA, middle of virginia, middle of town has a statue of Robert E Lee. Tenor of conversation if it were anywhere else, tension.

Prof- When I search Missing Persons, young women who have been missing for a while, with cultural names. Would you be there if she were black?
TS- Relecia Rudd, missing for more than a year. WaPo crushed the story, girl lived next to a methadone clinic. Story was on lock. We would be there because it’s a story

Dani- Favorite Obit?
TS -sometimes you get lucky, and it doesn't happen all the time. Best Obit ever- have you ever heard of Doritos? Arch West, he was the guy who invented Doritos. Aren't obits dead and sad? No, it’s how you look at it. You need to put a fun spin. No one cares about Arch West, but we care about chips.

Zach- What is your opinion on the oxford comma?
TS- You think I would know what the oxford comma is? I don’t give a shit, I do what looks right.

Emma-This is every parents worse nightmare- we are supposed to put in the twist in our leads- whats the most grabbing detail
TS- The most grabbing detail comes from the talk with the parents on sunday- the first version is before the press conference, one published during, one specifically for the print, where I talked to the parents. We got this exclusive interview with the parents, lets lead with whats new to our readers. Yes you want the most useful, not always the most interesting. Advice- 99% of the time twitter is useless. Inaccuracies, idiots spewing idiotness on the internet. I need to get in touch with people, or need to find issues. I look to confirm it myself. My job is to get interviews, if I’m tweeting all the time I’m not working and doing real reporting

Liz- So how much authority or autonomy do you have in choosing a story to cover?
TS- Two answers, how much autonomy- boss says go to here, I go to there and write about whatever I want, I get the first swat- and they can tell me no,
Who decides if this a  big story- the readers. Good Idea about what this means, I ask my editor about how many page views I get (av. 20,000) Now I’m getting 3 million page views about this story.

He ended with a thumbs up, and a good night.

9/25 Class notes from Emma Griswold:

1. Current Events Quiz
2. White House Security Discussion
-Man armed with knife jumped fence, sprinted across the yard and into the White House
3. Hannah Graham Discussion
            -Reporters need to be careful and objective
            -Reporters need ins among police/investigators
            -Also consider calling the school, friends, or other sources
            -Matthews arrested; found camping on a beach in Texas
4. Shapiro’s Article: “Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare”
            -Shapiro might sympathize; quotes Matthews as “a gentle giant”
            -To find more information on Matthews, go to: social media, classmates, city gov., family, etc.
            -Matthews’ pastor was extremely surprised
            **Why is there so much attention? Racial bias?**
5. Lessons for Journalistic Practices
            -“Off the record” is a press tradition
                        àThere are no set rule
                        àTry to negotiate if an individual says “off the record” [why?]
                        àQuestion their reasons
                        àRemain credible by respecting their wishes
                        àBUT, in the end the choice is yours
            -Everyday people are “citizen journalists” due to smart phones
6. Main Points from Rhami Edits
            -Mention the most interesting part: the racial slur
            -Context: who is Ali Rhami?
            -DON’T USE OBVIOUS QUOTES: “His parents have been informed…”
            -Watch out for “Magic Bat”: “He was hit by a bat from behind.”
            -Always use Attribution in lead
            -D.C. Police not police: it’s police without the title
-Cut superfluous words
7. Shapiro Skype Conference [Wallis took Notes]

            -Email Wallis one “take-away” from Shapiro Conference
            -Story due Sunday the 28th @ 5pm [DON’T BE LATE]
            -Choose a story to defend due by next class
            -CH 9, 10, & 14

Friday, September 19, 2014

Class Notes - September 18, 2014

Setting the tone:  Surrender by Cheap Trick.  I'd make up some class significance for the song, but I'm up against a deadline.

Intro! Urban Outfitters

We began with a discussion of the "vintage" blood-stained Kent State sweatshirt that Urban Outfitters put on sale the other week.

UO apparently has a history of immoral/offensive strategic decisions designed to boost publicity (shirts glorifying eating disorders, mental disorders, etc.).  We discussed whether or not all publicity actually is good publicity, specifically when scandals like this are likely to alienate a large portion of the U.S. population.

Prof's take on this for his PR firm's blog:

We decided it was difficult to understand their motivation; hypothetically, actions like these would only shrink their market.  We considered that a defining trait of UO's target demographic (young teens?) could be that they just doesn't care about being sensitive about painful issues.


Prof. Piacente projected some of our leads from last class to review.

We went over some basic rules of comma usage ("Let's eat, Grandma!" "Let's eat Grandma!").

We were then assigned to write leads for one of three stories.  A few of our generation's heroes then volunteered to project their leads on the screen for the class to gently dismember.  Piacente shocked the class by suggesting use of the word "chatty" in a lead.  Apparently, leads can be cute, when appropriate.

Homework!  First guest speaker next week: Taylor Shapiro, with the Washington Post.  The assignment is to read two articles he’s written (he used to do obituaries, now covers VA schools) and to come up with two questions you will ask in class that you can’t find the answer to online, aka something that you need the person to answer the question (writing choices, etc.).  "Stump him."

We were also given two grammar worksheets to complete.

Peace out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Class 3 Notes

Discussed the article on American University Professor Pitts
            -Did the headline suggest a bias
            -Is not a personal opinion when it is a fact

Learned the concept of short and dramatic headlines
            -Active verbs make good headlines
            - Journalist Code of Ethics handout
            -Short summary of the news report
            -Grammar of headlines -> Use nouns and leave out words that are not necessary

Clip from The Shipping News
            -Further elaborated on how to create a eye catching headline
            - “It's finding the center of your story, the beating heart of it, that's what makes a            reporter. You have to start by making up some headlines. You know: short,           punchy, dramatic headlines. Now, have a look, what do you see?”
            - “Imminent Storm Threatens Village”
-  “Village Spared From Deadly Storm”

Went over homework

Wrote a news story based on information given in class:
            -Baby Dies of Heat Exhaustion While Mom Gambles.
-  Found the, who, what, when, where, and why of the story
            - Wrote a full report based off of the information given
-  Discussed leaving out our personal bias and/or feelings towards the issue
            - State the facts of the issue

Homework for Thursday:
            Chapters 3 and 4 (grammar)
            Create 5 headlines
            Describe your personal brand (Forbes article and handout)

            5 bullets to how you live your brand

Monday, September 8, 2014

Alex Beall: Class Writing Instructor

The writing coach for the WFC classes this semester is Alex Beall. She is part of the BA/MA program in journalism, and took Writing for Communication as an undergraduate. 

Alex is originally from Southern California, but moved to D.C. for undergraduate school at AU. During her four years as a print journalism major, she completed five different internships, including ones at PBS, WTOP and USA Today. 

She is now on the international journalism track in AU's graduate program while working part-time as a news assistant at WMAL Radio. In the future, she would like to tell feature stories using multi-platform story-telling; that is, writing while also using video, audio and photography. 

Alex will have office hours from 9 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays in Room 305, which is the round conference room on the the third floor of McKinley. Her email address is:

She can assist students seeking extra help with grammar, AP style rules or writing. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September 4, 2014 Class Notes

What a Way to Make a Living
     - About Shaarik Zafar, the State Department’s special representative to Muslims around the world.
     Informal, relatable, topical 
     Author establishes relatibility through informal tone, descriptions of person, emphasis on tough job description
“Bank shot”
     Drawn from interview, establishes relatibility through Americanization

Quoting Rule: if something unique is said, or if it’s said uniquely, quote it
It’s like sifting through coal dust; find the gold, find which is which

Neuman Story:
Golden quote: “Our folks are trained in this sort of thing” 

Preferred attribution: “said”
Others imply slight editorial 

Cloud Article:
Use of “insisted” 

Stephen King Story:
Do not use passive tense.
Make things easy on the reader, and the reader must be your main concern 
The adverb is not your friend.
     - The road to hell is paved with adverbs
     - Creates an uncertain author voice
     -  Do NOT use it in dialogue attribution:
               “Put it down!” she shouted.
               “Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
               Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.
               (Stronger sentences)


               “Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
               “Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
               “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously. 
              (Weaker sentences)


               “Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
               “Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
               “You damn tease!” Bill jerked out. 
               (Pulp fiction novels, do NOT use)

     - Do not let authorial fear of not being understood rule your writing.
     - “To write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” 

Homework for Next Thursday:

1. Create five observations about this semester. 
2. Read chapters 5-7 
3. On page 12, do exercise 1.13, Brevity, 1.14, Wordiness
4. pg. 63, exercises 1-5 
5. pg. 63, 4.1 (continues to pg 65) on AP Style