Monday, January 30, 2012

Matriculate Monday

Did you matriculate with me in The Vocabula Review's 45 quizzes last week? Have you recovered yet? If you're working on the quiz-a-week plan, it's time for quiz number two. It's rated "easy." Let's see what we think:

Share your results in the comments below...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is everything dead, except communication?


Can you tell I'm fed up with doomsday headlines? For heaven's sake folks, newspapers are dead, Google+ is dead, e-mail marketing is dead, Facebook's barely breathing or maybe it's just sold its soul in anticipation of a going-out-with-style IPO. Oh, and today's teens are never going to learn how to talk to each other, thanks to that damn texting fad.

Communication isn't dead, folks. A hundred years ago (or so) when I was in J-school (when we still called it J-school, and OSU's J-school was still accredited) I was taught that breaking through "the clutter" and making sure your message was carefully targeted and repeated (nine times - seriously, that's what my notes say) was the only way to communicate because we suffered from such ungodly information overload.

That was before Al Gore invented the internet. When, if you said something off-mic, but the mic was really on, it probably took, like, three days for the story to make the rounds.

Journalism is changing, like everything else, and communication isn't dead. Those who give up on communicating, however, will die. To be clear, please know that I'm talking about businesses, not people.

Decide what your message is. Figure out who needs to hear it. And share your news. Then repeat it. Nine times.

The tools have changed, but good communication really hasn't gone up in smoke.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Handy Journalism Toolbox

Thank you @JournToolBox for this DIY Freedom of Information Act letter template.

Carl Hiaasen talks to CJR

Hoot, Scat, Flush, Team Rodent (How Disney Devours the World), Skinny Dip, Nature Girl, Paradise Screwed. Need further introduction, dear readers? Carl Hiassen started with The Miami Herald when he was 23 years old. Three decades and about a dozen books (and three movies) later, he still writes for the paper because:

"I've always felt fortunate and privileged, first of all, to write for a newspaper I grew up reading - learned to read on, actually - and secondly, to live in the place I grew up, where my roots are, and to have a platform for expressing my opinion. ... To walk away from the column would be to walk away from the fight."- Carl Hiaasen in Columbia Journalism Review

Be still, my heart.

In case that doesn't fully expose my J-school geekiness, I'll go on. The Q&A with Hiassen was just one of the articles I savored in the January/February issue of CJR. I'll admit I should have stopped reading  the next article, The Times and the Jews, to look up invidious (you too?) but I was too engrossed in that article by Neil A. Lewis. I would have looked it up when I finished the magazine, but by then The Algorithm Method had given me a headache, thanks to its too-lucid description of the frustrating ways in which measuring reading material in clicks and visits changes the course of the writing of said material. Sigh. You'll have to subscribe to read the whole thing. Which, of course, I highly recommend.*

*Subscribing. Not the headache.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ohio's Best Journalism: the SPJ Awards

This isn't news; the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Awards I'm referring to were presented last year. This is love letter, to SPJ and all the journalists that are, really and truly, professionals.

Each year when it's time to renew my SPJ membership, I have some qualms. They're fueled by feelings of inadequacy. Oh, on paper, I look pretty good. I have a journalism degree in my hip pocket, 20+ years of professional writing experience and clips a-plenty. But dare I stand shoulder to shoulder with REAL JOURNALISTS? When was the last time I made some muckety–muck quake because of one of my investigative reports? (sigh - never) And the last time I sweated a daily deadline in a newsroom? (same answer - repeat sigh.) 

I renew anyway. The real journalists who produce Ohio's Best Journalism, according to Ohio SPJ, deserve my support. Plus, I get to sit back and read their winning pieces, and bask in the glow of their excellent work. 

Links to a few samples of the most recently winning work are below. A complete list can be found here

The winners' circle wasn't full of just the usual suspects, by the way. Columbus CEO picked up three awards, Angie's List was honored for its consumer reporting, and the capital's entertainment publication, The Other Paper, garnered investigative honors for Lyndsey Teter's Tarmac Transgressions. (No wonder John Kasich doesn't like pesky newspaper reporters - he's surrounded. Thank goodness.)

Best Healthcare Reporting, first place:
How Valuable is Your Child's Brain. Tom Groeschen of The Cincinnati Enquirer delves into new laws designed to protect young athletes from additional concussive injuries.

Best Investigative Reporting, first place:
A Raid at Fair Finance. Jim McKinnon, Cheryl Powell, Akron Beacon Journal. (Original article not available; read McKinnon's follow-up here.)

Best Consumer Reporting, second place:
Utility Choice: Company Promises Easy Cash. Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch.

Broadcast journalists are well-represented by SPJ, and many of the honored pieces can be heard on their respective stations' websites. (Like Vivian Goodman's Dana and Desiree, which took first place in Best Minority Issues Reporting for Goodman's employer, WKSU.)

Besides being impressed with the reporters' outstanding (and important) work, I like to support SPJ because I believe it's a highly professional organization, providing clues for new journalists who want to cover the system the right way, offering scholarships and contests for blossoming young people who will no doubt reveal things about our world that may not be pretty, but should be uncovered. 

Mired in my copywriting assignments and surrounded by the family commitments that I've allowed to push aside (some) career ambitions, I am not the "real journalist" I planned to become. But I'm thrilled to stand on the periphery, ever grateful those professionals are out there, doing their jobs. 

Write on.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Matriculate Monday

I love alliteration. As a copywriter, I'll never tire of two-fer Tuesday specials.  As a parent, I've certainly worn thin my children's patience (for lots of reasons, including) by wishing them a "Terrific Tuesday/Wonderful Wednesday/Thoughtful Thursday" before school each day. So now I'm coming after you, dear reader. Why not Matriculate Monday? I propose we spend the next 45 weeks learning with The Vocabula Review's quality quizes.

Who's with me?

We can gloat about or bemoan our results in the comments section.

Here goes:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

High School Essay Contest offers $1,000 prize

Why is it important that we have news media that are independent of the government? 

That's the topic for the Society of Professional Journalists' annual high school essay contest. Entries are due March 6. Rules can be found here. Inspiration and examples can be, everywhere. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Publishers offer solid advice at NY SCBWI Conference

I'll admit it: if you're attending the SCBWI Conference in New York next week, I'm dark-green with envy.

Now that my bias is clearly noted, I'm assuming there are oodles of (other) hopeful children's book authors who would love to be at the event, here's how to get a glimpse and pick up some practical advice from experts there: read along at the Official SCBWI Conference Blog.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm getting back to work. I only have to hear (read) that authors "should focus on writing the best book they can and getting it published" before I get the message.

Write on!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Favorite Writing Contest of 2012 (so far)

I rarely enter writing contests, but let's face it, winning is nice, isn't it?  (Thank you Charlie Sheen.)

If you're itching for a little competition, feeling smug - or just hopeful - there's a writing contest out there for you. Fan Story features several a day. I can't post this without a bit of advice, of course, which is: think hard before you fork over an entry fee. A couple of bucks here or there probably won't break you, but consider where the fees go and whether you want to contribute to the cause. You might feel comfortable sending money to an organization that offers scholarships, but on the other hand, want to think twice before  writing a check to a company that isn't listed with the BBB. Just sayin.'

The contest's terms are also worth a few moments' consideration. The Fish Publishing Co in Ireland hosts several contests each year, none of which have a limit on the number of times you can enter. At about $15 a shot, I guess it's worth the company's time to read what you send. On the other hand, what do those rules mean for your chances? Are you pitting your prose against that of the rest of the writing world, or playing the lottery?

Here's one I really like, and - good news - you're not too old for it: the 2012 Neuroscience for Kids contest is open to writers from Kindergarten to "adult." Different rules apply to different ages. Check it out. Run by Dr. Eric Chudler at the University of Washington's Bioengineering Department, and sponsored by Neuro4Kids,  it really is an interesting contest. Hurry, the deadline is February 1.

In fact, I like it so much it's my favorite contest of the year - so far.

It's hard to say what else might come along in 2012, but I'll admit it easily edged the National Peace Essay contest, for high school students, which I've touted in the past. Peace is still a worthwhile cause, and the competition a worthy exercise, though. That contest, too, has a February 1 deadline. So what are you waiting for?

Writers, start your pencils. And may the best words win!