Monday, February 29, 2016

Class on 2/29/16

After the current events and grammar quizzes, we began class by discussing chapter 15 of the textbook, Public Relations. We talked about PR writing in comparison to news writing. Some key points from the discussion were:

  • PR writing can be more subjective, but must be credible 
  • Find balance between omitting opinions but still having style and character in writing
  • PR is about projecting a certain message/image rather than simply spreading information
  • PR involves having a significant audience in mind, as well as a specific goal
Professor Piacente then handed out a supplement to the textbook reading which discussed what PR is and what PR isn't. He made the point that, as a PR practitioner, you are ultimately answering to the client.

Professor Piacente then brought up the newer concept of brand journalism, which is essentially a social media-based idea that cuts out the reporter as a middle-man. 

We then received a press release formatting sheet. As we went over it, Professor Piacente identified a few key things about press releases.
  • "For immediate release" (on the sheet) is the embargo of the press release
  • The difference between a headline and a title/label is that a headline has an active verb; it should be short (less than a sentence) and snappy
  •  The lead in a press release does not need an attribution because you are the source
  • Continue to use AP style in press releases because it is important to speak the same language as the journalists who are using your information
  • You are the company, so make it look good
Then we wrote our first press release on Glamour, Inc. Professor Piacente also noted that while you don't (shouldn't) include negative information about the client in a press release, a smart PR rep would be prepared with an answer or comment to the negative information at at press conference.

After the break, we began discussing our reactions to "The father of my country was a slave" by Jeff Blount. Professor Piacente surprised us all by bringing in Blount himself to discuss the Post article and his writing process with us. Some key points from the discussion with Blount were:
  • The Post article was written as a cathartic piece for him
  • Wanted to show that he is not blind to the lost history of slaves who built our country and show the pride he has for them
  • Before writing this article (or any piece), he carries the subject around with him for awhile, brainstorming ideas when he can, ultimately finding his main point
  • The Post wanted to make certain word choice changes, but he refused because he didn't want a journalistic tone to the article
  • Knew the possible outcomes of publishing the article, also knew everyone would be reading it
  • New story coming out on RG3, writing for new African American History Museum
  • "People who can write are the stars."   
Homework for 3/14:
  • Find 3 stories/instances where there is a violation of the Code of Ethics 
    • include the headline and explanation of why/what it violates the code
  • Next current events quiz will cover 3/7 - 3/14
  • *optional* Consider using old fact sheets to practice writing full stories (not graded)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Class on 2/22/16

We began class by going over leads. Professor Piacente brought up the point that when writing leads we must "stress the unusual."

We then went over the satirical piece, "9 Easy Steps to Longer Sentences." Remember to cut out unnecessary words such as unhelpful adverbs, and write in the simplest and easiest terms to understand.

Next, we had an open-book quiz on the AP Style guide. We received the answers in class - you can reference them easily when going over AP Style.

The second half of class focused on our guest speaker, Taylor Shapiro. Taylor is a writer for the Washington Post who focuses on education stories. Taylor talked with us about many things including:
- His start as a journalist while as a student at Virginia Tech - wrote extensively about the mass shooting on campus.
- Becoming a "copy guy" at the Washington Post, and then writing obituaries including that of the man who invented Doritos (ashes to ashes, crunch to crunch)
- His experiences with the Hannah Graham case
- Disproving the Rolling Stone campus rape article

Taylor's key points included:
- Journalists are successful if they are "about relationships - being a good and nice person"
- Staying connected with your sources.

Please remember that your homework includes:
- Studying for the grammar quiz next week (Go over what we learned in the grammar lecture)
- Read Chapter 15 on public relations, starting on page 279
- Write a full story on #8 on the handout due by 5:00 P.M. on Wednesday (Ralph Palomino story)
*** Remember when writing your story, focus on the unusual.

Have a great week everyone!

-Emily Foster

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Communication in the 2016 Iowa Caucus ... By Lauren Beeslee

During my time in Iowa during the 2016 caucuses, I witnessed the media and politicians use various communications tactics. For example, advertisements purchased by Super-PACs dominated TV commercial breaks that presented candidates in both a positive and negative light. These advertisements stretched from TVs in inner city Des Moines to small-town Iowa.
The most prominent development in communications in this election was the development of a new app by Microsoft for the Democratic Party. The app was used by all the precincts to record their results, and automatically tabulated the statewide result. This was useful to party officials as well as the media. 
I spoke to a Sky News Arabia correspondent who was reporting in downtown Des Moines, who was using the app as part of his broadcast. He said he was able to broadcast live while using a split screen with the app, showing viewers real time results as the app automatically tabulated them. Particularly in the complicated mathematics of the caucuses, this app made it much easier for reporters to translate the meaning of the results to viewers.
Communication in campaigns took a very specific road in the last few days before the caucus. Instead of spreading the word about policy ideas and plans, the Hillary Clinton campaign focused simply on reminding people the time and place of their caucus. This was unlike the TV advertisements that had been running for months prior. It made the campaign communication strategy seem mellow, almost.
It seemed like the Clinton campaign rallies attempted to give off a very down to earth vibe by taking place in high school sports gyms and on college campuses. It avoided an instant spectacle due to the generally basic setup. During a rally on Sunday in a high school in Des Moines, Clinton walked freely with a microphone on a small stage that had no podium, and instead simply had two stools to perch on if necessary. In accordance with the casual strategy, they did not end up using the stools.
Caucuses are assumed to be very interactive experiences, but I was surprised by the lack of communication in the process. Once people were registered and in candidate or “undecided” groups, the precinct captains of each candidate read their statements before the first vote count. These speeches were an important part of showing off the policies of the candidates, but most voters had already made their mind up and were not swayed at this time. 
Similarly, once realignment occurred, people from both candidate groups attempted to persuade the undecided or other unviable groups. Therefore, they did not focus on the voters that were already in a candidate group, but possibly could have been swayed. However, I heard that this communication did occur in very close precincts where there was one voter between the two candidates.

Notes from Class 8th February

Announcement about event: February 24th at 6:15 SOC will be showing clips from the movie spotlight and the former Boston Globe Editor will be there. The event should go on for around an hour with food provided.

Sarah Baker, our writing assistant for this class, came to introduce herself and talk about what exactly she can help us with. Her office is on the basement level of McKinley, Room 19.

We reviewed some lessons from the Joy Baker Assignment:
  • Ensure that emotion does not come through on provoking stories.
  •  Make sure to prioritize the 5 W’s and do not start your lead with attribution.
    •   For example: “who”: a name is not greatly important unless it is a celebrity.
  • “Missing the lead:” when the reader does not get the full story.
  •  Repeating information – do not explain the quote.
  •  Always use names of the days to avoid confusion.
  •  Leads must answer questions not cause them.
  • Do not include irrelevant things such as the occupation of someone in a regular every-day job.
  • If you can explain why you put it in, it is a acceptable to do so.
  • Only ever use information on the fact sheet.
  • When stating information, it is not the fact that something happened (such as an autopsy) but what actually happened in it (for example what the autopsy said).
  • AP style note: If you start a sentence with a numeral spell it out.
  • Leads only ever 1 sentence, around 25 words.

An example of an ideal lead from the Joy Baker story:

“A 10-day-old baby (who) died (what) Monday (when) after her mother left her in a car in frigid temperatures to go gamble at a local casino (why) according to D.C. Police (where and attribution).”
We then read an article about teaching journalism and analyzed the main take-away from the piece.

Criteria of what makes something news (news values):
  •          Unusual
  •          Conflict
  •          Immediacy
  •          Impact
  •          Prominence
  •          Proximity

The more news value a story has the more likely it is to make the front page.

We watched a movie called The Shipping News based on a book by Annie Proux in which Kevin Spacey stars as a journalist with many problems, one being that he is a bad writer. One tip he gets in the clip we saw was “Find the center of your story, the beating heart of it.” He also indicated the power of using active verbs, particularly in head lines.

Homework for next week 15th February:
  •          Read two articles by the Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro and prepare 2 questions
  •          Write a lead for the Samuel Pickney story and bring it to class printed.
  •          Review the AP Style guide
  •         Read the Washington Post for a news quiz (Tip: If you are having trouble remembering the stories, make a list of headlines daily and review them before class.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Part 2 of February 1st class

February 1, 2016 Part 2--After the break

After the break we went over additional grammatical errors. Among the list was:

  1. wordiness
    1. filler words, circumlocutions, and long words
  2. Redundancies
    1. examples: "advanced planning" or "close proximity"
  3. Coordinating conjunctions
    1. FANBOYS trick
  4. Colons vs. Semicolons
    1. colons introduce lists: items in a series, explanations, or quotations.
    2. semicolons separate things -- e.g. two independent clauses without a conjunction, or items in a list already containing commas.
Additionally, we reviewed tips for practical proofreading. Carol made various suggestions including:
  • take a break and then come back to review
  • confirm all facts, figures, and proper names
  • don't multitask
  • use spell check but depend on the dictionary
  • read your writing aloud
  • print out and proof a hard copy
  • know your weaknesses
  • ask for help
For any questions on the usage of commas, refer to the comma worksheet we were given in class. 

Final tips for grammar from Carol included to be sure you know your purpose, and know your point. Carol also said that a long sentence is not necessarily wordy like a short sentence is not necessarily concise. If you can remove words from the sentence and maintain the meaning, then do it. 

As a reminder, read the Washington post Metro, Style, Sportts, and the front page each day.
The homework due next week is to
  • Revisit the Joy Baker story and submit by 5pm Wednesday.
  • Read chapters 5 and 7 and complete exercises on page 12: 1.13, 1.14, 1-5 and exercise 4.1 on page 63 which can be done in the book. 
  • Reread Stephen King's "On Writing" that was distributed during class.
Have a great week! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Notes from Part 1 of Class on February 1

In class tonight we had a guest co-lecturer, Professor Piacente's colleague, Carol Buckland.  Carol studied political science as an undergrad and received a masters in international relations with an emphasis on international communication. She spent the majority of her career at CNN focusing on American politics and special events. At CNN she was the Senior Editorial Editor for Larry King Live.  She is now working at the Communications Center. She specializes in writing and says writing has always been her skill.  She said, "If you can write, you can write your own ticket." After the brief introduction, the class went over the fire story we wrote last class.

Takeaways from the the fire story

1. Passive vs. Active - write in active voice... "I've attached the story" instead of "Attached is the story."

2. Over-explaining is a default setting for people, writers who over-explain run the risk of condescension, most readers can infer certain details.

3. Include a transition between quotes - it can be confusing for the reader to have back to back quotes.

4.  The preferred verb for attribution is "said" not "stated" or any other attributive word.

5.  Use quotes exactly.

6.  Unnecessary speculation - ending a story is hard, but don't put yourself in the story.

7.  Don't forget the -30- at the end of a story to indicate the editor has reached the end.

8. The 2nd and subsequent paragraphs are to be no more than 2 sentences or 1 thought.

The class then went over problems with grammar and indicated some of their largest concerns with grammar.  We watched a video with Weird Al, which included some of the most common and annoying grammatical issues.

Carol and professor then went over the most common grammatical errors and offered advice to ask for the style guide for the organization we are working for.  If there is no style guide, use the most conservative style of writing as possible.

These errors included:

  • Subject must agree with the verb - the most common error is a singular verb with a  plural noun
  • Active vs passive - active is preferred. With active, the subject is performing an action and with passive the subject is the recipient.  We all had a good time vs a good time was had by all. 
  • Simplify writing!! (we then worked on simplifying our writing) 
  • Parallel structures 
  • Lists after colons - makes easier for reader to follow writing, if not, break down sentences
  • Lay vs Lie - lay = to be put down - lie = to recline/stretch
  • Dangling modifiers - words/clauses that add description - modifier should be close to what it is modifying 
  • Most importantly, read out loud and trust your instincts 
  • Transitions are like glue, use them. Newspapers with space limits may not use as much, but they give little flag posts when people are reading 
Joy Baker Story Notes
- Who/What/When/Attribution from official source are the most important and should be in the lead 
- The story is now DUE WEDNESDAY AT 5PM --> Professor will edit them with tracking changes and send them back before next class
- Reminder to read paper and check emails everyday

 Other Homework for Monday 
- Read Chapters 5-7, Page 12 1.13 on Brevity, 1.14, 1-5 & pg 63 4.1 - can do in workbooks