August 31, 2007

Pew Trust and News Preferences

The Pew Charitable Trust regularly looks at media issues.

The Trust issued the latest in its regular reports on news preferences of the American people.

See the report here:

Sources for story ideas

The Census Bureau does more than just it's Constitutional requirement of counting heads.

It regularly puts out data related to holidays that are useful to journalists looking for story ideas.

Here is their release on Halloween.

The observance of Halloween, which dates back to Celtic rituals thousands of years ago, has long been associated with images of witches, ghosts, devils and hobgoblins.

In the United States, the first official citywide Halloween celebration occurred in Anoka, Minn., in 1921. Over the years, Halloween customs and rituals have changed dramatically.

Today, many of the young and young at heart take a more light-spirited approach. They don scary disguises or ones that may bring on smiles when they go door to door for treats, or attend or host a Halloween party.

"Trick or Treat!"
36.1 million
The estimated number of potential trick-or-treaters in 2006 -- children 5 to 13 – across the United States, down 45,000 from 2005. Of course, many other children -- older than 13, and younger than 5 -- also go trick-or-treating.

109.6 million
Number of occupied housing units across the nation in 2006 -- all potential stops for trick-or-treaters.

Percentage of households who consider their neighborhood safe. In addition, 78 percent said they were not afraid to walk alone at night.
(Source: Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States, 2003,at <>
Jack-O’-Lanterns and Pumpkin Pies
1 billion pounds
Total production of major pumpkin-producing states in 2006. Illinois led the country by producing 492 million pounds of the vined orange gourd.

Pumpkin patches in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania also provided lots of pumpkins: Each state produced at least 100 million pounds. The value of all pumpkins produced by major pumpkin-producing states was $101 million.
Where to Spend Halloween?

Some places around the country that may put you in the Halloween mood are:

Transylvania County, N.C. (29,780 residents).

Tombstone, Ariz. (population 1,571).

Pumpkin Center, N.C. (population 2,228); and Pumpkin Bend, Ark.
(population 307). <>

Cape Fear in New Hanover County, N.C.; and Cape Fear in Chatham County, N.C. (the townships have populations of 15,711 and 1,170, respectively).

Skull Creek, Neb. (population 281).
Candy and Costumes

Number of U.S. manufacturing establishments that produced chocolate and cocoa products in 2005, employing 38,718 people and shipping $13.6 billion worth of goods. California led the nation in the number of chocolate and cocoa manufacturing establishments, with 128, followed by Pennsylvania, with 121. <> and <> (2005 Value of Product Shipments)

Number of U.S. establishments that manufactured nonchocolate confectionary products in 2005. These establishments employed 21,389 people and shipped $7.6 billion worth of goods that year. California also led the nation in this category, with 73 establishments.
<> and <> (2005 Value of Product Shipments)

26 pounds
Per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2006; it is believed a large portion is consumed around Halloween.

Number of costume rental and formal wear establishments across the nation in 2005.

August 29, 2007

Are male journalists really that geeky?

Okay, time to lighten up.

We all know that Google Ads are designed to bring in money for blog operators in a cheap and easy manner. Google places the ads based on the content of the blog. So, for example, a blog on deep-sea fishing will get ads for boat charters, resorts, and fishing equipment.

Imagine my surprise while reading Online Journalism Review among the ads for services to search and review articles was one for "Sexy Singles." The blurb for the ad said visitors can see dozens of sexy and naked women.

Because these ads change with with every page view it is difficult to see the ad again. But it really was there. (Note the screen shot on the right.)

So I now wonder: Are male online journalists so tightly connected with geeks that even the Google software thinks they have to resort to sites like "Sexy Singles" to see a naked woman?

What are the ethics of online journalism?

From Online Journalism Review, Annenberg School of Communication, USC.

These principles help separate the good writers and publishers from the frauds and con artists online.
by Robert Niles

The ethics of online journalism are, ultimately, no different than the ethics of journalism. The Society of Professional Journalists has articulated a comprehensive policy of journalism ethics that can help guide any consciencious online writer.
That said, here are some basic qualities that any good online writer ought content ought to demonstrate:

No plagiarism

By now, you've likely discovered that writing is hard work. You certainly don't want someone else swiping your effort and presenting it as his or her own.

So don't steal others' work.

Such theft is plagiarism. It includes not just cutting and pasting whole articles, but copying photos, graphics, video and even large text excerpts from others and putting them on your web page as well.

If you want to reference something on another website, link it instead.

If you are concerned that the page you're linking to will disappear, give your readers the name of the publication that published the page, its date of publication and a short summary of its content. Just like news reporters used to reference other content before the Web. (“In a Sept. 20 report, the Wall Street Journal reported....").

When in doubt, do both. There's no such thing as too much supporting information.

Disclose, disclose, disclose

Tell your readers how you got your information, and what factors influenced your decision to publish it. If you have a personal or professional connection to people or groups you're writing about, describe it. Your readers deserve to know what has influenced the way you reported or wrote a story.

Don't hide whom you work for, or where the money to support your site comes from. If your site runs advertising, label the ads as such. Let readers know if you are making money off links elsewhere on your site, as well.

No gifts or money for coverage

One common way journalists avoid conflicts of interest is by refusing gifts or money from sources they cover. Writers who accept gifts, payments or honoraria from the people or groups they cover open themselves up to charges that their work is a paid advertisement for those sources. Or, at the very least, that those writers are too "close" to these sources to cover them honestly. You can avoid controversy by politely declining such offers.

Most major news organizations do allow their writers to accept free admission to events for the purpose of writing a feature or review. But most of those organizations bar their writers from "junkets," where groups provide free travel and hotel rooms in addition to attendance at their event.

Many companies also send items such as books and DVDs to writers who review them. Items of significant value ought to be returned after the review. Less expensive items, such as books, can be donated to a local school or charity.

If you are writing about your employer, obviously you are accepting money from it. But let your readers know that. Identify yourself as an employee, even if you are writing anonymously, so people know enough about your background that they can make their own judgment about your credibility.

As writers should not accept money from sources, they also should not ask for it. If your site runs ads, do not solicit people or groups you cover to buy ads or sponsorships on your site. Find someone else handle your ad sales.

Check it out, then tell the truth

Just because someone else said it, this statement does not make it true. Reward your readers with accurate information that stands up to scrutiny from other writers. Check out your information before you print it.

Find facts, not just others' opinions, to support your comments. Start with sites such as our guide to reporting to learn how to find real data, not someone else's spin. Make sure that what you are writing isn't merely repeating some urban myth, either.

If you are writing about someone else, call or e-mail them for a comment before you publish. If your subject has a blog, link to it. That link will notify the subject that you've written about them, and will allow your readers to click-through and read the subject's side of the story.

If you want to write satire or spoofs, fine. But make sure your audience knows that what you are writing is not literal truth. Tricking readers won't help you develop the respect, credibility or loyal audience that truthful writers enjoy and rely upon.

Be honest

In summary, be honest with your readers and transparent about your work. If people wonder for a moment about your honesty or your motives, you've lost credibility with them. Don't let them do that. Answer those questions even before readers ask.

And most important is to never utilise your power of press for personal gains or simply annoying someone.

The future of investigative (and regular) journalism

I saw this cartoon today and it reminded me of a discussion I had several years ago with undergraduates at AU.

I had mentioned that to understand what it really means to dig and dig some more for a story, the students should read "All the President's Men." One student actually asked if the book was based on the movie!

I was taken aback that a journalism student would ask such a question but then I recalled that many in our business often refer to the movie as one of the best movies about journalism. (I later found out the student was in the public relations track and was taking a journalism class to help his writing.)

I agree with that assessment. It is one of the best portrayals of our profession to the popular market. However, for future journalists -- electronic, cyber, or print -- reading, reading and more reading are still key. (Just ask my students. They hear how important reading is in every class.)

I think we do our students a disfavor by not pushing them to read.

So far I have been impressed with most of my students. Several are dedicated readers of many forms of literature. They see how noun and verbs are arranged and rearranged to make a dramatic story. Still, it is useful to remind our charges that reading is vital to good writing.

August 27, 2007

Do your homework and write better stories

Posted, Aug. 8, 2007
Updated, Aug. 8, 2007

Ready to Write the Big One

By Roy Peter Clark (more by author)
Senior Scholar, Poynter Institute

I began my career as a writing coach at the St. Petersburg Times back in 1977. It was the second year of existence for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the football team, clad in creamsickly orange, lost all 14 games in 1976, and their first twelve in 1977. I would joke with the sports writers: "Well, have you written your big lead yet? You gotta be ready, man. These guys are going to win some day."

That memory crossed my mind as I watched the cameras flash and the fireworks splash across the sky after Barry Bonds hit his famous home run. I wondered how sports writers would meet the moment.

One measure of great athletes is how well they perform in the big games. The same could be said of great journalists. The most memorable work stands at the conjunction of creative talent and amazing circumstance. How well does the reporter write on deadline when challenged by a monumental event?

Such an event was the playoff baseball game in 1951 when the New York Giants defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant. Bobby Thomson's home run in the ninth inning became the legendary "shot heard round the world." Thomson entered the pantheon of sports legends, while pitcher Ralph Branca became a symbol of bad luck and futility.

Sitting in the press box at the Polo Grounds that day was Red Smith. He had already been covering great sporting events since the 1920s and once pleaded guilty to editor Stanley Woodward's indictment that he was "Godding up those ballplayers." To be sure, there is a bit of hero worship in Smith's classic column, titled "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff," but who could blame Smith for his enthusiasm? Here was a game with two New York teams, a pennant on the line, in the bottom of the ninth, with the world tuned in. Smith begins:

"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."

And here is his famous kicker about the unlucky pitcher who gave up the famous home run: "Ralph Branca turned and started for the clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen."

That column is reprinted in my book "America's Best Newspaper Writing" as a true classic. But here is something important to remember: Before Smith wrote his famous column, he was writing a different one, one in which the Dodgers, not the Giants, win the pennant. The Bums from Brooklyn had gone into that last inning with a two-run lead, so, with deadline looming, who could doubt that Smith had crafted the top of his column with a Brooklyn win in mind?

One of my favorite sports writing anecdotes comes out of the 1989 Tour de France, when American Greg LeMond won the world's most famous bicycle race. Sports Illustrated described how LeMond, in one last desperate sprint, took the prize by seconds from the favored French cyclist. At the finish line, French reporters threw down their notebooks in disgust. While many saw this as an act of Gaulish nationalism, journalists understood that these hacks had already written their stories — "French rider wins!" — and would now have to write another.

Writing Tool #42 encourages writers to do their homework well in advance: "Prepare yourself for the expected and unexpected."

As an example, I use this lead by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times after Justin Gatlin won the 2004 Olympic gold in the 100-meter dash:

His first track event was the 100-meter hydrants, a Brooklyn kid running down Quentin Street leaping over every fire plug in his path.

His second track event was the 100-meter spokes, the kid racing in tennis shoes against his friends riding bicycles.

A dozen years later, on a still Mediterranean night far from home, the restless boy on the block became the fastest man in the world.

Plaschke could not have written this great deadline lead without doing his homework — hours of research in anticipation of who might win the race.

Another great deadline writer, David Von Drehle of The Washington Post, describes how, under the most intense pressure, he falls back on the basics, thinks about what happened, why it matters, and how he can turn it into a story. He must do enough advance work to answer these three questions:

1. What's the point?
2. Why is this story being told?
3. What does it say about life, about the world, about the times we live in?

Let's apply these questions to the home run hit last night by Barry Bonds, the blast that gave him the record for most home runs in a career.

1. What's the point? After a build-up of weeks and months, a controversial athlete, widely suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, broke one of the sporting world's most cherished records.

2. Why is this story being told? Because it just happened; because it involves a great but controversial athlete; because baseball is still an important part of American history and culture.

3. What does it say about the times we live in? That Americans don't like a cheater, unless he plays for their team; that we live in a competitive culture filled with shortcuts to excellence; that race still plays an important role in how we judge people and their achievements (I'm thinking of the comparisons between Bonds and Mark McGwire, and between Bonds and Hank Aaron).

Now let's see how some of America's current sports writers performed in the clutch:
  • "Don't believe everything you read. They say that about movie stars, politicians, advertisements, and now they can say it about the record books of baseball, where the all-time home run leader, as of Tuesday night — and for the foreseeable future — reads: Barry Lamar Bonds." Read story >>
By Mitch Albom, The Detroit Free Press

  • "Twenty-one years ago, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a skinny, cocky lead-off hitter from Arizona State, a second-generation major-leaguer who had grown up at the knees of the legendary Willie Mays, connected on a pitch from Craig McMurtry.
It was the first big-league home run for Barry Bonds, and there was nothing tainted about the celebration when he crossed home plate, a 21-year-old man with a future that sparkled." Read story >>

By Phil Rogers, The Chicago Tribune

  • "The Baseball Writers Association of America has a rule against cheering in the press box, an unnecessary prohibition if ever there was one, at least as far as the membership is concerned.
If they served up Ted Williams' deep-frozen noggin for the ceremonial first pitch of the World Series, these guys would yawn.

So when Barry Bonds, the most reviled player of his generation, broke Hank Aaron's all-time home record Tuesday night, it's safe to say no cheers had to be muffled along press row."
Read story >>

By Kevin Hench, Fox Sports

  • "He didn't hit them out with a syringe. Say what you will about Barry Bonds and his chemically enhanced assault on the home run record, but keep in mind the cream and the clear and whatever other performance-enhancing drugs he might have used were not some kind of magic potions. He's not at 756 home runs, and counting, just because he found the right pharmacy." Read story >>
By Phil Taylor, Sports Illustrated

  • "Seven fifty-five, the most cherished number in baseball if not all of American sports, lived a good, long, noble life. Spawned from the powerful bat of an aging slugger named Hank Aaron on July 20, 1976, it grew in stature over the years, surviving the occasional challenge and ruling over the record book even as other, lesser records fell. But on a cool Tuesday night near the shores of San Francisco Bay, 755 finally perished at the hands of a relentless, controversial invader from the west named Barry Lamar Bonds. Seven fifty-five is gone. Behold, 756." Read story >>
By Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post

  • "There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Barry Bonds.

Is he the greatest home run hitter of all time? All who cherish this game will have to search their hearts and answer that question in their own way. But the number is not open to debate, dispute, praise or scorn. The major-league record is 756, and Bonds owns it." Read story >>

Henry Schulman, The San Francisco Chronicle

Not all these stories are equal, of course, but it�s good to see these writers working hard to match their prose to the occasion.

I end with the story of a famous foreign correspondent and novelist, Laurence Stallings, who was assigned in 1925 to cover a big college football game between Pennsylvania and Illinois. The star of the day was Red Grange. Known as the Galloping Ghost, Grange dazzled the crowd with 363 yards of total offense, leading the Illini to a 24-2 upset victory over Penn.

The famous journalist and author was awestruck. Red Smith wrote that Stallings "clutched at his haircut" as he paced up and down the pressbox. How could anyone cover this event? "It's too big," he said, "I can't write it" — this coming from a man who had once covered World War I.

Someone should have quoted Shakespeare to him: "The readiness is all."
Copyright © 1995-2007 The Poynter Institute

August 26, 2007

The future, present and importance of journalism

Steve Klein sent this over for your consideration. Pay close attention to the last two paragraphs. This is why serious journalism is important.


Read All About It

by Steve Coll August 13, 2007

When there’s big news, the main story on the Wall Street Journal’s front page usually starts with a short, ringing sentence, such as the one that appeared last Wednesday: “A century of Bancroft-family ownership at Dow Jones & Co. is over.” On the left side of the page that day was another signature motif: an in-depth reconstruction of how Rupert Murdoch had triumphed in his four-month campaign to buy the company and the newspaper it owned—the Journal, one of the best papers in the world. The story was gang-tackled by six reporters and came furnished with the Journal’s mandatory scenes of business titans with murky motives negotiating in restaurants. The writers referred to their own company’s chief executive as Murdoch’s “dance partner,” and noted, on the front page, the possibility of a “big payday” for the boss following the sale.

In all, the Journal’s coverage of the sale was a kind of prideful and impressive demonstration to Murdoch of the values, the talents, and the daring of the editors and reporters he will now have on his payroll. The subliminal question that the coverage seemed to ask was, Will Murdoch destroy the Journal? Will he undermine the paper’s values and call that “investment”?

Many journalists, including some in the Journal’s newsroom, assume that Murdoch’s victory will lead eventually to the paper’s diminishment. In a sense, Murdoch has said as much. He favors what he calls “popular journalism.” He has mentioned that he finds long stories about complicated subjects to be rather trying. At his numerous other properties (which include the Post, the London Times, and the Fox network), he has no record of funding the relentless, risk-taking investigative reporting in which the Journal has specialized.

There can be little doubt that a Murdoch-owned Journal will be different, and that some of the changes will amount to loss. Murdoch has voiced skepticism, for example, about the Journal’s peculiar front-page feature stories known as “A-heds.” In this hyperlinked era of multimedia, the A-hed is an almost atavistic institution that relies upon wit and originality but offers no pressing connection to the news of the day. This was the headline stack on one classic: Listening to Prozac: ‘Bow Wow! I Really Love the Mailman!’ Some Are Pushing the Drug To Treat Pet Ailments; Scientologists Are Yelping

It would not be entirely fair to blame Murdoch for the prospective vanishing of such compositions, though—and perhaps, since they sometimes concern drug-addled animals, he will change his view.

Nor can it be considered a surprise that Murdoch succeeded in his quest to buy the Journal. At seventy-six, he is apparently still juiced by the adrenaline that flows from empire creation. He prepared his bid skillfully; he offered a high price in cash for a troubled company; and he had no competitors. The newspapers that Murdoch publishes and the television networks that he operates may be coarse, lacking in public-minded ambition, and craven about their owner’s political and business interests. None of this, however, disqualifies him from throwing money around as he pleases in a democratic marketplace.

The more regrettable aspect of the deal involves the sellers, the Bancroft family. The same civic marketplace that granted permission to Murdoch demanded responsibility from them. Over time, the Bancrofts failed their newspaper—not so much because they sold out as because they did not prevent the conditions that made Murdoch’s offer irrefutable. Their values may have been the right ones, but as a collective they lost focus, lacked vigor, and, in the end, could not resist the blandishments of a cunning suitor.

A decade ago, four American families regarded themselves, correctly, as guardians of public trusts, because they controlled independent newspapers, situated in America’s most influential cities, that were vital to the national discourse. They were the Sulzbergers, who control the Times; the Grahams, who control the Washington Post; the Chandlers, who controlled the Los Angeles Times; and the Bancrofts. Within their separate ranks, the families faced a common challenge: as generations passed and ownership became dispersed among siblings and cousins, it grew harder to act decisively. The Sulzbergers and the Grahams handled the problem by empowering a single leader; the Chandlers did the same for a time, but then fell apart; the Bancrofts never addressed it.

Defiant statements about civic duty issued by members of the Bancroft family during the struggle with Murdoch have made it plain that some of them had a rich awareness of their public role, and were prepared to make financial sacrifices to preserve the company’s independence. But the Bancrofts failed because they proved incompetent in the sphere that belonged to them as owners. This involved the adaptation of their inherited newspaper business model to support deep and independent reporting in the digital age.

The urgency of this mission has been clear since at least the mid-nineteen-nineties. As newspaper circulation fell, computing and telecommunications merged, and the Internet arrived with all the subtlety of a supernova. The business readers and the financial-market participants crucial to Dow Jones lived and worked at the forefront of these changes. Yet for years the Bancrofts coddled a chief executive at Dow Jones, Peter R. Kann, who, although he was a likable man and a talented journalist, could not find a winning strategic path.

As the Bancrofts dozed and Kann floundered, Michael Bloomberg erected a skyscraper of a company on Dow Jones’s front lawn. He did this by pioneering the use of new technologies to profitably speed up and deliver business information. Dow Jones might have recovered from any number of mistakes, but it could not overcome its failure to dominate the profitable sale of electronic financial data. This ultimately laid the company bare for Murdoch, a master of technological change. Crawford Hill, a member of the Bancroft family who works as a biology teacher, summed up this background acutely in an e-mail to others in the family, reported last week by the Journal: “We are actually now paying the price for our passivity over the past twenty-five years.”

No railroad family could forestall the automobile, and no newspaper family can prevent the eventual end of newspapers in their old, accustomed form. Reporting without fear or favor arose from newspapers but is not inherently tied to them or even to the search for a well-turned sentence. Most of what matters about the coming media age is already being decided outside of traditional newsrooms, on YouTube and countless other Web sites, or in the advertising agencies that calibrate Google search results with the mouse-clicking habits of young consumers. Perhaps Google or its ilk will find it profitable or desirable to fund independent, expert foreign correspondence; or to support investigations of corporate and government power; or to train the sort of journalists who feel free to call out their employers’ pay packages on the proverbial front page, although there are no signs of this yet. Or perhaps the Sulzbergers and the Grahams can adapt their public trusts successfully to the new technologies. And even if their efforts fail to become profitable these families might still preserve their newsrooms’ independence by converting them into nonprofit foundations, similar to what the Poynter family did with the St. Petersburg Times, in Florida.

The tenets and the traditions of unfettered journalism are marrow in our constitutional system. The Journal matters most of all because it has been a rare American incubator of the values and the skills necessary to carry out independent reporting, and because the newspaper has continually demonstrated through its stories how the First Amendment is supposed to work. Rupert Murdoch’s vanquishing of the Bancrofts reminds us that even small outposts of besieged values are worth fighting for if the alternative may be their extinction.

August 23, 2007

Says v. Said -- The Battle Continues

Chip Scanlan at the Poynter Institute has another gem of an article on word usage.

For my bread and butter writing in commodities and for features the "says" format works and is appropriate. For straight news stories: I have to go with "said." (So this ought to be fun this semester while I teach Writing Across Media and Feature Writing.)

What's your take on this?


Here is the link to the column: You might want to consider linking this for your students.

And here is the colum itself.

PoynteronlineChip On Your Shoulder
Says vs. Said.

Hi, Chip, We have an inquiry from a coworker who uses "says'' in stories. It drives me up the wall, cuz I was taught that it's "said" all the time, unless it's a very specific situation, like a totally fluffy feature story. So I'm wondering what the rule is.

All the best.
Sebastian MoragaCashmere Valley (Wash.) Record

Ah, the says vs. said debate continues, pitting present vs. past tense verbs of attribution, also known as dialogue tags.

My take: feature writers, myself included, often choose "says" over "said."

The first, we believe, gets us closer to the goal set by the late John Gardner, novelist and writing teacher: to convey dramatic action, as in a scene, that creates a "vivid continuous dream" and keeps a reader reading, especially when the story represents a narrative reconstruction of events.

When I wrote a "day in the life" story about a blind child, present tense underscored the story's conceit, that readers were watching the action unfold before their eyes. (As you'll see, I didn't remain faithful to present tense. More on that later.)

Some editors and other critics abhor its familiarity, considering it the kind of overindulgence that feature writers revel in.

They argue for the second choice, stressing that stories, wherever they appear in a newspaper, occur by temporal default in the past, and thus call for the verb tense that conveys summary narrative. The first shows, the second tells. Perhaps that's why "said" won the battle when I wrote this news feature for The Providence Journal. (Excerpts of these two articles are available here.)

Bottom line: It depends -- on your intent, your paper's style, your editor's preference and how those verbs of attribution sound on the page.

The debate over says vs. said is less contentious in broadcast writing. "Use present tense, but don't belabor it," writes Laurie Lattimore on JPROF, University of Tennessee professor Jim Stovall's Web site on teaching journalism. "Not every story must sound as if it just happened moments before the newscast."

Anticipating a "That's a big help," I decided to find out where editors and writers I admire come down on the says vs. said debate.

I started with Mary Lynn Plageman, managing editor for features at The Columbus Dispatch. (I recently led online writing workshops at the paper.)

I don't mind the use of the present-tense "says," but, as you noted, it can be overused.

Maybe more important: It strikes me as a pitfall of sorts for some writers, because they inevitably fail to sustain it. (In such cases, "said" creeps into the storytelling/scene-setting somewhere in the middle of the piece.) (Note from Chip: You'll notice that happened in the Jed Barton story.) Used well -- and I've seen strong writers use it well -- I like what it does for immediacy in a well-done feature/newsfeature.

"Said" will always work and is perfectly functional, but I would never say never to "says." Tense -- like punctuation, word choice, paragraphing and any number of other things -- is a writing tool that writers should be allowed to pull from the toolbox. ...

Next I turned to Chris Wienandt, business news copy chief at the Dallas Morning News and president of the American Society of Copy Editors.

I'm not hard-core about this. If a feature writer wants to use "says," that's OK by me -- if he or she uses it consistently. I'm really not even bothered if one story goes one way and another goes the other. Maybe I'm getting old.

As far as news writing is concerned, I'm a little less flexible. "Said" works best for quotations, both direct and indirect. "Says," in my book, should be reserved for a sentiment that the subject expresses as a generality (this is by definition a little hard to pin down): "Ms. Smith says training your dog is a hefty responsibility." But that's not a situation you run into all that often.

Which brings me to forms of attribution other than "say." Practically any other word used for that purpose -- continue, note, explain, insist -- drains attention away from the quote. I'm particularly bothered by "add," not least because that's usually not what the person it's applied to is doing. ...

Third on my list was Jan Winburn, special projects editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who has edited Pulitzer- and ASNE Award-winning narratives.

In a feature story, particularly one in which a reporter is writing in scenes and describing the actions and thoughts of a character (as opposed to quoting a source), I think any technique that helps keep the reader immersed in the moment is useful. And I think the present tense is one strong method for doing that. So "says" would be applicable, as would present tense throughout. It makes the use of active verbs come easily. And active verbs are the muscles of good writing.

I heard a writer recently say that she was taught that "says" made a story sound less newsy. Softer and perhaps not as important.

It seems like a chicken-and-egg debate to me. Doesn't "said" just sound more newsworthy because we've long preferred its use in news stories? Would our news stories sound more immediate if we sometimes used says?

Last, but certainly not least, I turned to one of my favorite writers, Ken Fuson of the Des Moines Register. He relied on present tense in his ASNE Award-winning series, "A Stage in Their Lives," a six-part serial narrative for The Sun in Baltimore, edited by Jan Winburn, that chronicled a high school production of "West Side Story."

I've never understood why it drives some people crazy to use "says," but it certainly does. We had an editor here a long time ago that basically banned it.

To me, the issue is immediacy. "Says" sounds like it's being spoken right now, in real time. "Said" sounds like it was said in the past. Like it's already happened.

If you're doing a narrative, or even a daily feature in which you want the reader to have a sense of being there, as the action is taking place, I think you want to use "says." For example:

She kicks the ball.
"Great job," her coach says.

That sounds like you're watching the scene. Compare that to:

She kicks the ball.
"Great job," her coach said.

That breaks the spell, it seems to me. You're no longer watching something as it happens. You're watching something that has already happened. That makes it harder, in my view, to get "swept away" in the story.

Thanks for asking, Sebastian. Thanks for answering, Mary Lynn, Chris, Jan and Ken.

August 20, 2007

NED offers student internship

Media Center Fall Intern
Organization: National Endowment for Democracy
Location: United States (Washington, DC)
Contact Information: Shannon Maguire
Phone: 202-378-9532

The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) seeks an intern for the fall semester. The NED is a private, bipartisan, nonprofit organization which strengthens democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. The Center, a recently established NED initiative, focuses on strengthening the support of free and independent media worldwide. Among other activities, the Center supports an Advisory Council and working groups on media assistance issues, as well as drafting reports on topics relevant to media development.

The internship, which is unpaid, is open to current graduate and undergraduate students. The duties include researching international organizations and topics on media assistance, helping with Center correspondence and assisting with arranging meetings and events at the Center. Applicants must be proficient computer users and possess strong oral and written communication skills. Applicants should have an interest in journalism, communications, international relations, development and democracy work.
Please e-mail a cover letter and resume to the Center coordinator, Shannon Maguire, at

August 14, 2007

Oops! Why copy editor are important

Below is a short piece from China Digital Times.

What is significant here is that by not paying attention to what they stole from another news service, China Daily changed 18 years of Chinese government policy about the Tiananmen
Square massacre.

My guess is that some editors at China Daily are about to "transferred" to jobs making Mattel toys in some state-run facility. Could be worse. The editors could end up "donating" their organs for transplants.



China Daily Messed Up Copy-and-Paste Job

Posted by Xiao Qiang
2007-08-13, 07:17 PM

This is not the first time China Daily online editors copy-and-paste other's article. But this one is certainly more noticeable than others.

From EastSouthWestNorth blog:
At 20:31 on August 8, 2007, the online edition of China Daily posted an article titled: "China invites the world to Olympics" on its website.

The following sentence appeared: "Security was tight around Tiananmen Square, where troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 with huge loss of life, as crowds gathered for the celebrations.".

This came about because someone did a copy-and-paste job from Reuters' Nick Mulvenney (dated 19:54 on the same evening) without checking the content.


August 13, 2007

Back to school data from the Census Bureau

If your students are looking for a different angle to stories about education, they can stop by the Census Bureau. Here is a listing of their summer releases of data.


Back to School: 2007-2008

Summertime is winding down, and summer vacations are coming to an end. It's back-to-school time! It's a time that many children eagerly anticipate -- catching up with old friends, making new ones and settling into a new daily routine. Parents and children alike are scanning the newspapers and Web sites looking for upcoming sales to shop for a multitude of school supplies and the latest clothing fads and essentials. This edition of Facts for Features highlights the many statistics associated with the return to classrooms by our nation's students and teachers.

Back-to-School Shopping
$7.1 billion

The amount of money spent at family clothing stores in August 2006. Only in November and December -- the holiday shopping season -- were sales significantly higher. Similarly, sales at bookstores in August 2006 totaled
$2.1 billion, an amount approached in 2006 only by sales in January and December. <>

For back-to-school shopping, choices of retail establishments abound: In 2005, there were 24,659 family clothing stores, 6,305 children and infants clothing stores, 26,416 shoe stores, 9,501 office supplies and stationery stores, 23,195 sporting goods stores, 11,077 bookstores and 9,589 department stores. <>

75.8 million

The number of children and adults enrolled in school throughout the country in October 2005 -- from nursery school to college. That amounts to aboutone-fourth of the U.S. population 3 and older. <>

Pre-K through 12

Percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school in October 2005. <>

Percentage of children enrolled in kindergarten who attended all day, as of October 2005. <>

55.8 million
The projected number of students to be enrolled in the nation's elementary and high schools (grades K-12) this fall. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Projected percentage of elementary and high school students enrolled in
private schools this fall. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Percentage of elementary and high school students who were minorities, as of October 2005. <>

Percentage of elementary and high school students with at least one foreign-born parent in October 2005. <>

Percentage of children 12 to 17 who participated in sports as of 2003, which was the most popular extracurricular activity. About one-third of children this age participated in club activities and 29 percent in
lessons. Lessons include those taken after school or on the weekend in subjects like music, dance, language, computers or religion. <>

Percentage of children 12 to 17 who were enrolled in school and academically "on-track " (i.e., enrolled in school at or above the grade level for peers their age) as of 2003. <>

Percentage of children 12 to 17 who were in a special class for gifted students or did advanced work in any subject, such as honors and advanced placement classes, as of 2003. <>

Percentage of children 12 to 17 who had ever attended or been enrolled in first grade or higher and had changed schools at some point as of 2003. <>

10.5 million
Number of school-age children (5 to 17) who speak a language other than English at home, about one in five in this age group. Most of them (7.5 million) speak Spanish at home. (Source: 2005 American Community Survey)

30.1 million
Average number of children participating each month in the national school lunch program in 2006.
(Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

10 billion
The nation's total apple production, in pounds, in 2006. The chances are good that the apples your children present to their teachers or enjoy for lunch were grown in Washington state, which accounted for more than half of the nation's total production.

18 million
The projected number of students enrolled in the nation's colleges and universities this fall. This is up from 12.8 million 20 years ago. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Percentage of all college students 25 and older in October 2005; 56 percent of these older students attended school part time. <>

Percentage of undergraduates enrolled in four-year colleges in October 2005. Of those enrolled in such schools, 81 percent attended full time. <>

Percentage of 18- and 19-year-olds enrolled in college in 2005.

Percentage of undergraduates who were women in October 2005. Among graduate students, the corresponding
percentage was even higher: 59 percent. <>

Learning and Earning

Percentage of high school students who were employed as of October 2005. <>

Percentage of full-time college students who were employed as of October 2005. <>

How Many Schools?

Number of public elementary and secondary schools in 2003-04. The corresponding number of private elementary and secondary schools was 28,384. <>, Tables 228 and 252.

Number of institutions of higher learning that granted college degrees in 2005. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

1.1 million
Number of students who were home-schooled in 2003. That was 2 percent of all students 5 to 17.
<>, Table 227.

The number of public charter schools nationwide in 2004-05. These schools, granted a charter exempting them from selected state and local rules and regulations, enrolled 887,000 students. (Source: Upcoming Statistical
Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Teachers and Other School Personnel

6.8 million
Number of teachers in the United States in 2006. Some 2.7 million teach at the elementary and middle school level. The remainder include those teaching at the postsecondary, secondary and preschool and kindergarten
levels. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Average annual salary of public elementary and secondary school teachers in Connecticut as of the 2003-2004 school year -- the highest of any state. Teachers in South Dakota received the lowest pay -- $33,200. The national average was $46,800. High school principals earned $86,938 annually in 2004-05. <>, Tables 240 and 241

Average hourly wage for the nation’s school bus drivers in 2004-05. Custodians earned $12.61, while cafeteria workers made $10.33. <>, Table 241

14.2 million
Number of computers available for classroom use in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools as of the 2005-2006 school year. That works out to one computer for every four students. <>, Table 248

Percentage of public schools with Internet access as of fall 2003. <>, Table 246

83% and 43%
Percentage of children 3 to 17 using a computer and the Internet, respectively, at school as of fall 2003. <>

Among children 3 to 17 accessing the Internet in fall 2003, whether at home, school or elsewhere, the percentage who used it to complete school assignments. This was the most common reason for children to use the Internet. <>

Among children 3 to 17 using a computer at home in fall 2003, the percentage who used it to complete school assignments. This was the second most common home computer use for children, behind playing games. <>

The Rising Cost of College

Average tuition, room and board (for in-state students) at the nation’s four-year public colleges and universities for an entire academic year (2005-06). That is more than double the corresponding figure in 1990. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Average tuition, room and board at the nation’s four-year private colleges and universities for one academic year (2005-06). That also is more than double the corresponding 1990 figure. (Source: Upcoming Statistical
Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Average amount of aid received by full-time college students in 2001-02. More than half of college students receive some form of financial aid from outside their families to help pay for their education. <>

The Rewards of Staying in School

Average annual 2005 earnings of workers 18 and older with an advanced degree. This compares with $54,689 a year for those with bachelor’s degrees, $29,448 for those with a high school diploma only and $19,915 for those without a high school diploma. <>

Average starting salary offered to bachelor’s degree candidates in petroleum engineering in 2006, among the highest of any field of study. At the other end of the spectrum were those majoring in the humanities; they
were offered an average of $31,183. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

3.3 million
Projected number of high school diplomas that will be awarded in the 2007-08 school year. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

3 million
Number of college degrees expected to be conferred in the 2007-08 school year. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008)

Government Spending on Public Education

The per-pupil expenditure on public elementary and secondary education nationally in 2005. New York ($14,119) spent the most among states or state equivalents, followed by New Jersey ($13,800), the District of Columbia ($12,979), Vermont ($11,835) and Connecticut ($11,572). Utah ($5,257) spent the least per student, followed by Arizona ($6,261), Idaho ($6,283), Mississippi ($6,575) and Oklahoma ($6,613). <>

Among households with a child in the local public school, the percentage who expressed dissatisfaction with the schools in 2003. Fifteen percent of these households said they would prefer a different school for their child.

August 12, 2007

Tweaks -- Revised and revisited

A few years ago a number of journalists up and down the East Coast put together a daily collection of quotes on writing called TWEAKS. It was run out of Penn State and was always a joy to read.

Turns out I saved just about all those e-mails. (Let's hear it for sloppy e-mail management!)

Here are a couple of gem,s from just a quick review of the hundreds of offerings:

  • I would say to a student, "You have to love the language. You've got to read, because if you don't read, you can't write, because you don't know anything to write about." Any kid who tells me, "I'm studying journalism" and then tells me "I don't have time to read the newspaper before I go to class every morning" is somebody I don't figure is going to be much of a journalist. You have to get the facts about what's going on in your life, in your town, your nation, around you and that is my priority.
    -- Carl Rowan
  • Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, sink your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tag line.
    -- Paul O'Neil
  • Be clear. This is the first and greatest commandment. In a large sense, nothing else matters. For clarity embraceth all things; the clear thought to begin with, the right words for conveying that thought, the orderly arrangement of the words. It is a fine thing, now and then, to be colorful, to be vivid, to be bold. First be clear.
    -- James J. Kilpatrick

August 8, 2007

Mining the Census Bureau

I'm getting a person from the Census Bureau to come to my feature writing class to show my students how to mine the Bureau's databases.

In the mean time, here is a link to the Bureau's Newsroom section:

Go to the Tip Sheets and Facts for Features sections for some really great material that could help your students get interesting items for their stories.


August 7, 2007

Fall Internships Available

These internships are from the Foreign Policy Association web site.

Media Center Intern
Organization: National Endowment for Democracy
Location: United States (Washington, DC)
Contact Information: Shannon Maguire

Description: The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) seeks an intern for the fall semester. The NED is a private, bipartisan, nonprofit organization which strengthens democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. The Center, a recently established NED initiative, focuses on strengthening the support of free and independent media worldwide. Among other activities, the Center supports an Advisory Council and working groups on media assistance issues, as well as drafting reports on topics relevant to media development.

Qualification: The internship, which is unpaid, is open to current graduate and undergraduate students. The duties include researching international organizations and topics on media assistance, helping with Center correspondence and assisting with arranging meetings and events at the Center. Applicants must be proficient computer users and possess strong oral and written communication skills. Applicants should have an interest in journalism, communications, international relations, development and democracy work.

Please e-mail a cover letter and resume with "CIMA Intern" in the Subject line to the Center coordinator, Shannon Maguire, at


International Communication Intern
Organization: American Red Cross
Compensation: unpaid
Contact Information: Eric Porterfield

Description: We are looking for an un-paid intern who is looking for hands-on work experience to further their career in communications, public relations or journalism and become an integral part of our team. Specifically, this intern will work on a photo exhibit and other materials for the 3 Year Anniversary of the December 2004 tsunami. We are looking for an intern who can make a minimum 3 month commitment to working at least 3 days a week for a minimum of 20 hours per week, due to training time required in a complex field of work.
Key Responsibilities include: Planning Photo exhibition for 3 Year Anniversary of the tsunami, preparing written materials for posting online or pitching media, assisting with preparing and editing presentation materials, knowledge of the Word and Excel to create and update documents, and performing other general office administrative duties.


• Students of Communication, journalism, public relations
• Writing requirements: proven skills in journalism, public relations or other related writing, writing samples requested (a press release and/or news story)
• Editing skills required (AP Style preferred)
• International relief or development education is a plus
• Creating or maintaining reports using Excel
• Experience with Microsoft Word and Outlook helpful
• Must be flexible and willing to handle multiple projects simultaneously
• Some support work required, as our professional staff also handle support work since we are a

If you would like to be considered for this position, please submit a cover letter, including dates and duration of your internship if accepted, and resume to:

Eric Porterfield 2025 E Street, NW 8th Floor Washington, DC 20006

*prefer applications to be sent via e-mail


While this has nothing to do with journalism or communications, given the diversity of students in our classes I thought this might be of interest to some of your students.

Fall Internship

Organization: US-Saudi Business Council
Location: United States (Washington, DC)
Contact Information: Nicole Sanglier
Fax: 202-638-2894

Description: The U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council (USSABC) is a non-profit organization committed to fostering, developing and expanding the strategic business alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia by promoting trade, investment and sustainable economic development. Incorporated in the U.S. in 1993, it maintains offices in Washington, D.C. and Riyadh. The Council's staff works with member companies and trade and investment organizations in both countries to identify and facilitate the development of trade opportunities and joint venture projects. Internships are available on a full or part-time basis with a minimum of 15-20 hours a week. The dates of internships correspond to the fall, spring, and, summer academic semesters.

Although internships are unpaid, we offer a small stipend to cover commuting costs.
We are currently looking for motivated, self-starting interns for the Fall Semester, September to December.

Ideal candidates will be in pursuit of a B.A. or M.A. in international relations, political science, economics, or a related field; possess excellent oral and written communication skills; and be able to multi-task. Although applicants are not expected to have specialized expertise in Saudi Arabia, Middle East experience is a plus.

The responsibilities of the intern will include (but are not limited to) responding to information requests, assisting staff in all facets of event preparation, and preparing written reports and other communication on business and economic issues for press releases, newsletters and all other publications.

Internship applications are accepted on a rolling basis. If you would like to be considered for a position, please submit a cover letter, including dates and duration of your internship if accepted, and resume to: Nicole Sanglier 1401 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 720 Washington, DC 20005 Fax: 202-638-2894. Email:

August 6, 2007

Metaphors we may face

In feature writing students are encouraged to find interesting ways to describe the commonplace. Here are some examples of attempts at metaphors by American high school students.
We may all shudder with disbelief at the end.

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room temperature Canadian beef.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.
18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.