Chapter 1 – Writing for Digital Media
- Generate a writing sample of 750 to 1,000 words, which will provide enough of your writing to identify or make manifest strengths and weaknesses. The choice of subject is entirely yours, but here are some suggestions:
- your first vivid memory of writing;
- your best (or worst) experience with writing;
- a short travelogue about somewhere you have recently visited;
- a richly detailed description of your “brush with the stars”;
- an opinion piece on some question or issue of the day.
Whatever you choose to write about, include in your presentation:
- a headline that distills or summarizes;
- identification of your audience(s);
- a one- or two-sentence abstract, which will help you to begin thinking about layers of meaning;
- a list of key words a search engine might use to find this writing piece online, which will help you to begin thinking about search engine optimization;
- a tweet of 140 characters or less to drive interactors to your story.
Once the writing pieces are finished, students can pair up for a writer’s workshop. This exercise can be extremely valuable from both perspectives, that of being critiqued and that of (gently) critiquing. Some might be nervous or uncomfortable critiquing a classmate’s work, especially early in a course, but don’t fret. Just be civil and constructive, and demonstrate that you have or are (quickly) developing a thick skin. Writing improvement demands a great deal of constructive criticism and, therefore, an increasingly tough skin and short memory. And we all need an editor.
Workshop partners should have at their disposal a writing handbook. Which writer’s handbook does not matter; they cover the same general topics. Each student should use the handbook to analyze his or her own writing and that of his or her workshop partner(s).
Length: also in the area of 1,000 words, but this target is admittedly arbitrary. Feel free to establish a conversation about the writing, which can be used to ask clarifying questions. It’s also recommended that workshop partners exchange multiple versions of the writing samples.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Write a short poem using (mostly) clichés in order to play with words and to experiment with making the tired and stale become new and fresh.
- Take something you’ve already written, a piece that is at least 750 words or so. Reverse-outline the piece. In other words, create an outline of the writing by reading through it and identifying main points or thoughts, sub-points, etc. After you have your outline, look for opportunities to create a better architecture. Delete redundancies. Once you are pleased with the revised architecture, go back into the piece and make your changes.
- Write a poem using only Twitter. In other words, you have only 140 characters with which to work. Here’s a tip: Haiku might be the poetic form best suited to this activity.
- With a group of classmates or friends, collaborate to write a mystery, one tweet at a time. Do this by having each succeeding tweeter extend the narrative.
Chapter 2 – Editing for Digital Media: Strategies
- This chapter’s assignment has two parts. First, revise your Chapter 1 writing sample based on the feedback and help you receive from your workshop partner(s) and the instructor. Feel free to continue dialoging with your workshop partner(s) and/or the instructor during this revision process. Second, begin formatting the piece for online readership. The purpose here is merely to get started, so do not worry about how sophisticated your formatting is or about the limits of your knowledge of HTML or CSS.
- Generate a map using any web-based mapmaking software, such as Google Maps (maps.google.com/) or Map Builder (mapbuilder.net/). Use your local zip code. The map you will build will show site visitors where in the city there are wifi hotspots for wireless Internet access. So, first research where those hotspots are, then plot the location data on your map. Label the map “Wireless Access Points in YOUR CITY NAME,” then publish the map to any blog or webpage. If wifi information isn’t available, try instead plotting your area’s coffee shops, for example, or emergency medical services.
- Create an infographic: There are many free and low-cost tools online with which to create infographics. In this exercise, you will take freely available census data found at census.gov to create a simple graphic. Here’s how:
- Go to census.gov. Off the top-line navigation, choose “Data.” Next, choose “QuickFacts.” Use the graphical map to select your state. From the second-layer navigation line, choose or click “More STATE data sets.” Next, from “Population Estimates,” select “Estimates for all counties” (Excel). This will give you an Excel spreadsheet that you can download and pull from to make an infographic.
- Next, go to infogr.am. You will have to register, but the service is free. Of the options, choose “New Infographic.” From the Excel spreadsheet at census.gov, select three years’ worth of data for the counties you wish to highlight. Copy and paste into your new infographic. Experiment with the labels and with getting the rows and columns to align correctly with the data from which you are pulling.
- Experiment further by adding a map, a photo, or even a video.
- Editing and layering: First, find a long (3,000 words or more) feature online. (If you need a suggestion, try Esquire’s article, “The man who killed bin Laden is screwed”: esquire.com/features/man-who-shot-osama-bin-laden-0313.) Second, re-make and edit the feature article into something more conducive for digital presentation. Use the guidelines discussed in this chapter to facilitate scanning and to make the piece interactive. More specifically:
- Look for elements or key words to hyperlink. Be sure to indicate what you would link to, what would happen when clicked (a new tab, a new browser window, etc.), and why that’s the best decision.
- Break the article up into text “chunks.” Do this by adding subheads and even sub-subheads, by looking for places to convert text into lists, and by restricting each paragraph to one idea.
- Look for content to pull out and make its own entity, like a “how-to” box or “best of” list. This shortens the main story and helps the reader more readily use what’s pulled out of the main.
- Finally, brainstorm suggestions on how to improve the content even further to make it a more useful digital experience. For example, propose producing a video to accompany the text. Perhaps a Flash presentation or interactive graphics. Be specific, detailing the content for any of these, spelling out exactly what should be developed and how it would be experienced online.
- Your newspaper is doing a story on the registrar of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Find that person’s name and confirm the name and its spelling. Corroborate by finding a second source verifying the information.
- You are doing a story celebrating the establishment of the First Amendment. What is the exact wording of that amendment? List your source and corroborate by finding a second credible source with the same exact wording.
- You are doing a story on a new airline servicing the international airport in Atlanta, GA. The airline will be based out of the international concourse of that airport. What is the proper name of the airport? Which of its concourses is the one devoted to international flights? Identify your source and corroborate.
- The blog you write and edit for is working on a feature on alternative weeklies. You need to find and confirm the name of the editor-in-chief of the Metro Pulse in Knoxville, TN. Corroborate what you find with a second source.
- According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, what is the most common violent crime in the state of Georgia, and is it rising or falling?
- What is the most recent population figure for Floyd County, GA? How does this figure compare to the total for the year 2000? How does it care for the data for Floyd County, IA?
- Your blog is doing a story on Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction. You need to confirm the 1995 recipient of that award and the name of that author’s book.
- You are editing a financials story for Bloomberg News. You need to know how many employees are working for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises. Be careful, there are several companies and divisions with the name “Coca-Cola.” Find out the name of the company’s highest-ranking female executive (name and title). What were the company’s most recent annual total revenues (called “operating revenues”) for the most recent fiscal year? (Note: the fiscal and calendar years are not always the same.) How much was the company’s profit (or loss) for that year? Be careful with how you present the answers. Often they are reported with thousands assumed (US$000s), meaning that you have to add three zeroes to correctly answer the question. Provide your source(s) for your answers and rely only on credible sources, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission or Lexis Nexis Academic Universe database.
- According to court documents, what did the U.S. Supreme Court decide in the case Hosty v. Carter, No. 05–377, 546 U.S. 1169; 126 S. Ct. 1330? This is a kind of a trick question, so be careful to get precisely what action (if any) the Supreme Court took. Make sure you understand your own answer. Do not rely on news accounts.
- How do modest amounts of coffee intake affect a person’s risk of renal cancer, according to the International Journal of Cancer (published November 15, 2007, vol 121, no 10: 2246–2253)? The article, “Intakes of coffee, tea, milk, soda and juice and renal cell cancer in a pooled analysis of 13 prospective studies,” was co-authored by about 28 people (J. E. Lee et al.). Make sure your answer is in layman’s terms.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Read the same story on a desktop computer and a tablet device of some kind. How different were the two reading experiences? What might explain those differences?
- Go through a handful of news websites. How do they handle corrections? Are these corrections easy to find? Does the site even mention corrections? Think through a policy for your campus newspaper’s website. How should the site amend or correct articles, and how should the site alert readers to the changes?
Chapter 3 – Writing for Digital Media II: Tools and Techniques
- Develop and complete the content piece you detailed in assignments 1 and 2. Develop and present the piece for online readership by using the techniques and tools we’ve discussed so far. Do not merely post a large block of text or cut-and-paste from Word. This assignment asks you to apply what you have been learning. Be sure to spend plenty of time editing, including fact checking, spell checking, and editing for grammar, punctuation, and organization.
Length: About 750 words.
- Pick a site or app and examine it to learn as much as you can about its audience. Access its FAQs, perhaps its “About Us” page. Identify the site or app type (news, entertainment, reference, etc.); the kinds of content available there; the demographics of the people who visit the site or subscribe to the app (ages, education, etc.); the interests or needs catered to by the content; the kinds of feedback, comments, and user interaction the site encourages and receives. From this information, write up a user profile for this site or app.
- Find three examples online of poor headlines and provide their solutions. In other words, fix the headlines. Be sure to include the source for each bad headline, including that source’s URL, where applicable. Example:
Headline: Chubby Babies in Breast Cancer Link
Problem: Awkward. Possibly offensive (“chubby”). No verb.
Solution: Infant Size Linked to Cancer Risk
Source: CNN.com, January 17, 2017
- Find at least one article online that you think could be improved by deploying lists, either unordered or ordered. Submit the “before” version and your edited “after” version of the article, or edited part of the article.
- Rewrite the headline for your Chapter 1 writing sample with this chapter informing your work. Write subheads and insert where appropriate. Add lists where appropriate. Begin thinking about graphical and multimedia content that might be developed to create a layered experience.
To practice writing to specification, write three different headlines for the following story fragment. Make the first headline eight words and the second six words. For the third headline, provide both a headline and a subhead: a headline of about six words and a subhead of about eight words. Separate the head and the subhead with a colon (for example, “Dodgers edge Braves: Dickey’s 3-hitter wasted as Atlanta bats remain silent”).
The story fragment:
ACWORTH, Ga.—An Acworth man turned himself in to police Sunday night after robbing a Motel 6 here and later attempting to mug a second victim on North Main Street.
Howard E. Smithton, 54, a resident of the Gazebo Park apartments on Old Cowan Street in Acworth, entered the Motel 6, also on Cowan, at 8:50 p.m. Sunday night and demanded money.
The clerk on duty, who said he knew Smithton, withheld his name for fear of his safety. He said he refused to give Smithton any money. A struggle ensued. Smithton overpowered the clerk, forced him to open the cash register and left with an undisclosed amount of cash, according to the clerk. Smithton then attempted a second burglary approximately one hour later on the 4800 block of North Main.
Smithton demanded that the victim, 59-year-old Bob Wilson, a member of Acworth’s board of aldermen, give Smithton his wallet. Wilson said he refused and began beating Smithton over the head with a walking stick, which chased Smithton away.
Smithton later turned himself in at Acworth police headquarters on Industrial Drive at approximately 10:30 p.m. He is being held on a $10,000 bond at the Acworth City Jail, according to Michael Rose, Acworth’s sheriff.
The money from the Motel 6 has been returned, Rose said.
- For the story in the previous activity, write a tweet promoting readership and directing traffic. Also for this exercise, sketch out a public relations response on behalf of Motel 6, including a news release and at least some preliminary thoughts about how to tweak SEO to minimize the damage from this story.
- Developing a rich media, layered multimedia project would take at least a semester. For this exercise, take a hot issue or broad topic, such as “The Path to Brexit,” and storyboard just such a project.
- What elements would you include?
- How would you facilitate intuitive navigation?
- What kinds of source documents and data would you want to incorporate?
- How would you utilize photography?
- What kinds of information graphics would you develop?
- How would you facilitate crowdsourcing? Audio? Video?
- What questions remain unanswered?
Web Exclusive Activities
- Take a look at the top trending YouTube (http://youtube.com) videos. After viewing several, develop a short list the qualities these videos share. Can you identify reasons why they are the most viewed, beyond celebrity star power? Which of these reasons might be good guidelines for producing and publishing web videos?
- Take anything you’ve written longer than, say, 350 words. Go to http://Wordle.net and create a “wordle” (or “word cloud”) for that written piece. What surprises does the wordle present?
- Another method of determining or choosing search-optimized terms is to visit Google Trends (http://www.google.com/trends/). Enter some key words to gather data on their use by Google searchers over time, and to discover related topics and queries.
Chapter 4 – Editing for Digital Media II: Voice and Visual Style
- Imagine that you have been commissioned to choose or create a typeface for a 2017 update and adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Emma. Alexander McCall Smith re-wrote the classic Austen novel as part of a larger effort to revise and refresh Austen’s many classics. It’s your job to choose the typeface for the new book’s cover. Your choice should communicate both classicism and modernity. Include with your choice a few paragraphs explaining and justifying your selection. Why did you choose that typeface rather than another? Present the title “Emma” in the typeface you choose, so we can see it, as well as an A-to-Z, 0-9 snapshot of your typeface choice. This is an exercise that uses typeface to dial into voice and even tone.
- You are running for mayor of your city. Choose a typeface for your political campaign signage, bumper stickers, website, and app. The typeface needs to reflect the essence of what you represent and, if elected, what values you will adhere to as mayor of your community. Thus, it needs to communicate, if only implicitly, your core values and probably connote energy, relevance, and vitality, as well. Include your campaign tagline in the typeface you choose, and include a couple of paragraphs about why that’s THE typeface for you as candidate. This also will help you to dial into your distinctive voice.
- Choose a website you visit regularly, one where you read a lot of the content. Imagine that you have been hired as the site’s new editor-in-chief. Make specific recommendations to improve the presentation of content on the site, integrating and referencing the chapter as much as possible.
- Is the voice effective?
- Is the tone appropriate?
- What elements or features promote use of the site?
- How are graphics and visuals incorporated, and do they encourage or discourage use?
- How do they do this?
- How much thought was given to navigation throughout the site?
- Are the elements—graphical, navigational, and metaphorical—consistently applied throughout the site?
- Is the tone or rhythm of the site consistent throughout?
- Do these dimensions match the audience(s) for the site?
Here is a categorical checklist of site dimensions to critique:
- page layouts (balance/contrast/unity);
- tone and voice;
- writing quality;
- site organization.
Length of your critique: approximately 750-1,000 words.
This next assignment is also presented as an activity in this chapter. Create an interactive FAQ help page for some entity (publication, company, or organization), preferably one with which you have some connection. Your frequently asked questions section should anticipate common problems and questions that users, customers, or clients might have about that publication, organization, or company.
The primary objective in this assignment is to think for your audience(s) and anticipate their questions and needs. It is the process that is most important, not the final product. So, don’t spend too much time on the design or layout or aesthetics of the list. As the chapter described, this assignment is also useful in determining or deciding the appropriate voice for the entity, or for you writing for that entity. Before working on your list, go online and read some FAQ lists for organizations similar to that for which you are writing.
Using a grid-based layout, deconstruct a favorite website or app by laying out on the grid its major elements. One way to learn good design is to reverse-engineer examples of good designs.
[Insert Figure 4.13 here]
A layout grid
You don’t have to deconstruct an entire site or app, just a representative page or two, including perhaps a sectional front page. In choosing a mobile app, a search of “best-selling mobile apps” would reveal some good possibilities. Apple charts top-selling apps across multiple categories at www.apple.com/itunes/charts/.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Read through the findings from The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack data specific to tablets such as the iPad and Kindle (http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/visual-voice/191875/new-poynter-eyetrack-research-reveals-how-people-read-news-on-tablets/). What surprises you about these findings? Based on these findings, how should writing for these tablets differ from content for other media, particularly websites?
- Find a news article online that would benefit from the addition of an information graphic, like a chart or graph. Write up instructions for the creation of this additional, visual layer of information, being careful to what data you want presented, what timeframe you want covered, and any other features or dimensions of that element that will help the reader better understand the story.
Chapter 5 – Establishing and Communicating Credibility in Digital Spaces
- Visit the PewResearchCenter’s subsite for journalism and the news (journalism.org/). Use the vast research resources here to craft an executive memo describing how your news organization or public relations firm – real or imagined – will respond to what is a credibility crisis for digital information sources. Fake news, gossip, and hacking are spreading confusion. How will your organization establish, communicate, and maintain credibility to your interactors and publics? Anchor your strategy in the research. Length: About 1,000 words.
- Further format your writing sample you created in Chapter 1 and refined in Chapter 2 with some basic HTML coding. Blogging software can be very helpful in this exercise, particularly because most offer an HTML or Code view, which will show you all of the code generated to create the web presentation. Use this chapter to inform your formatting. You will need to know or experiment with some HTML, or have some familiarity with a web authoring software package like Dreamweaver or Mozilla, both of which offer CSS support. Both Blogger.com and WordPress also accept HTML coding, provided you first select the “Edit HTML” or “Code” view, rather than “Compose” or “Visual”. If you use the shortcut buttons in your blog software, be sure to inspect or view the code to learn something of how the formatting is added. In addition, the W3Schools webpage, w3schools.com/tags, provides tutorials and allows you to experiment with coding, including tags.
- Your news team is preparing a multimedia series on race relations in your local community. As a thought piece, brainstorm which media you will use to tell different parts of the story. Outline what you will do with, for example, video, information graphics, text, still photos, Flash animation, and locator maps. Include a section on how you will integrate this content with social media – how you will maximize its share-ability or virality. Length: About 1,000 words.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Visit any website of some size and depth. Go through several of its pages, looking only for missing page titles and missing image alt tags. How many of these pages lack “last updated” or publish dates? Discuss how this erodes the credibility of the website.
- Visit your favorite news site, one that allows moderated discussion as a part of its coverage. Read a news story or two, then read through the comments to the story. What do you learn from this reader “community
Chapter 6 – Knowing and (Ethically) Serving Your Audience
Identify a publication, company, or organization for or about which you will create online content. This entity can be real or imagined, corporate or non-profit, local or national or international: Outside Magazine, The New York Times, Coin Collector’s Digest, Coca-Cola, Habitat for Humanity, International Association of Business Communicators, the Miami Dolphins. The entity you choose should be a publication or organization with which you have or want to have some connection or affiliation, one with which you are already familiar. It can be the one for which you already work or want to work in the future.
Prepare a two-page summary of the audience needs for the publication or organization for which you will be writing and editing content. Do some research. Your summary should include:
- Audience profile. Who will be reading the content?
- Purpose of publication. Is it for entertainment, for news, for something else?
- Frequency of publication. Is it a monthly magazine? A mobile site updated on the hour?
- The competition. What are the sites and publications competing for the same audience?
- Style issues. Will you maintain the current style guide of the publication or organization, or is there need for a new one?
- Information challenges. What does the audience need to know, or what information does the organization need to broadcast? Do any special obstacles stand in the way of communicating that information quickly and clearly?
- Your response to the information challenges. How will you overcome any barriers and get your content out there?
If you have access to database providers such as Hoover’s, Lexis Nexis, or Bloomberg, run some searches on competitors who serve the same audiences as those you seek. Learn what you can from what these competitors have experienced and are doing.
Secondly, detail the online content you will create for your organization or publication. What you write and develop is up to you, so you have the flexibility to do what makes sense and to write what can best serve you where you are now—in school, on the job, or on the job hunt. Possibilities for this assignment include:
- a news story or series of news stories;
- a feature story;
- criticism, such as restaurant review, play or movie review, book review;
- an interactive press release;
- a how-to feature.
These are just a few of the possibilities. Keep your publication’s audience first and foremost in your mind. Identify the topic or angle of your proposed piece, making sure the topic is relevant and timely. This is a story or piece you will actually write, develop, and produce. You will gather the information, do the reporting, conduct the interviews, see the play—whatever is necessary to produce the copy.
- Develop a half-dozen style entries for how your organization will present numerals in various contexts. Choose from entries covering ages, dates, times, fractions and decimals, units of measure, money and currency, percentages and ratios, phone numbers, stock quotes, and sports scores. The Cubs beat the Indians 8-7 to win the Series? Or eight to seven? Or 8-to-7? It’s your call.
- Divide up into groups and have each group begin drafting a code of ethics for your hypothetical organization. Think about the kinds of ethical questions and dilemmas that might come up and provide an ethical road map for navigating competing values or interests, such as timeliness and accuracy.
- If your group hypothesized being a journalistic organization, use the ethical code drafted above to discuss and come up with decisions about what to do in these difficult journalistic scenarios:
- You discover that police have seized toxic chemicals from a group of young Syrian refugees living in town and are questioning them on suspicion of planning to drop the chemicals into the local water supply. The group’s lawyer pleads with you to write nothing, saying that the matter will be cleared up and that publicity would exacerbate anti-refugee, anti-immigrant prejudices and make it impossible for them to remain in the community. Do you write about it? Write a justification for your decision based on your code of ethics.
- You find that police have a new suspect in a high-profile local murder case and are interrogating him. An anonymous source inside law enforcement gives you a copy of the suspect’s police file. The suspect’s wife contacts you to beg you not to go public with the information in the file, saying the coverage would traumatize their three children and prevent her husband from receiving a fair trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Do you break the story? Write a justification for your decision based on your code of ethics.
- You learn that a local high school girls’ lacrosse coach has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct and previously left two schools under similar accusations. The school system superintendent seems willing to simply allow the coach to move again before the next school year. You contact the coach, who says he is in fact leaving the area and pleads with you not to pursue the story. He seems to imply that if the story broke, he might kill himself to avoid the shame. What do you do? Write a justification for your decision based on your code of ethics.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Visit a particularly contentious online discussion board, like those dedicated to sports or politics. Lurk in the conversation to see what that board’s moderators do when discussion turns nasty. Do they step in? How do they restore civility? How do they turn the discussion back to the issues or questions?
Chapter 7 – Blogito Ergo Sum
- Live blog an event, a trip, a conference, or a meeting. Take your readers there. Use several brief posts to give your readers an account of that event. Hyperlink where appropriate. There is no minimum or maximum for the number of posts. Follow the guidelines detailed in this chapter.
- Find a handful of blogs on a subject of your choosing. Read them over some extended period of time to get a sense of how each of the bloggers “covers” or writes about the subject you chose. To find the blogs, you could use Google’s blog search (www.google.com/blogsearch) ; Alltop, a blog directory (alltop.com); or Technorati (http://technorati.com/), a blog search and ranking site. Write up a review of 750 words or so describing the strengths and weaknesses of the four or five blogs you chose. Be sure to discuss:
- voice and writing style;
- transparency and disclosure;
- social media integration.
- Think about your career aspirations, your research interests (senior project, papers for your classes), and your political/religious/philosophical inclinations and interests:
- Search for news/commentary blogs (not social, personal journal blogs) that line up with one or more of your interests or pursuits. To find the blogs, you could use Alltop, a blog directory (http://alltop.com), Technorati (http://technorati.com/), or, of course, Google.
- Identify three blogs you might actually read on a regular basis. This assumes a few things: quality and style of writing, currency, presentation, point of view, just to name a few.
- Prepare a tip sheet for the rest of the class that will look something like this (one entry per blog, three blogs/entries for the assignment):
Blog name or title: TalkingPointsMemo
Author: Josh Marshall
Brief description: Left-leaning political commentary with an impressive record for accuracy and for beating the media elites on breaking stories. Widely read and commented on, this blog is among the very best nationally at what it does, which is why it was among the first blogs to sell advertising and make a nice little career out of blogging for its author.
Why I like this blog: I like to follow politics, and I like the behind-the-scenes perspective that this blog consistently offers. As a blog with a very particular point of view, it offers me a complement to more mainstream media accounts of inside-the-beltway politics and happenings within the major political parties. The Daily Show and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight are fun, and they actually do a good job providing insights into the faults and flaws of the powerbrokers, but they are mostly for fun, for entertainment. Marshall consistently puts meat on bones served up by these satiric news shows. As fellow blogger, Chris Nolan, writes of Marshall’s posts, they do exactly what on-line web journalism is meant to do: Challenge the other guy to go one better, keeping the competition honest.
- Plan a series of three blog posts on a topic or cause dear to you. Think through how the blog posts can develop your points and themes from the first to the third. Consider what action steps you hope your readers might take as a response to what you will write. Write the three posts, publish the first, and build audience for that post using your various social media platforms and accounts.
Chapter 8 – Journalism in a Digital Age
Develop the online content you outlined and prepared for in Chapter 6. For this news story or press release or feature, you should report, source, write, edit, and post it online, then share it with whatever social media you are familiar. This article must have or rely upon at least three human sources, people you ideally spoke with face-to-face or, as a fallback, on the telephone. But know that this is a bare bones minimum. The more reporting you do, the better the story will be. Seek timeliness; ask yourself why the story needs to be done NOW. The story should also demonstrate impact or consequence.
Do not procrastinate. Do not wait to begin identifying sources, generating sequences of questions to ask those sources and, most importantly, to begin attempting to contact those sources. Procrastination results in sloppy, harried work, and with scarce time you risk being unable to contact sources. Build in time for callbacks, for failure to reach people. Sources are best reached early in the morning and just after 5 p.m., or after most people are gone and the phones are relatively quiet. (Do not use email for your interviews, but only to arrange interviews and for follow-up questions and fact-checking.)
Think about the journalism you’ve read. Have you ever seen a note like this? “This journalism is not as good as it could have been because I couldn’t reach some important sources. They were out of town. I just missed them. They were really busy. Sorry.” No, you haven’t. Don’t wait, and develop contingency plans.
Beware of conflicts of interest, making sure to avoid using friends, family members, and business associates as sources. Avoid stories that could materially affect those companies and entities with which you are affiliated.
Post with the story the questions you asked your sources, a list of the facts you checked and verified, and a list of the sources you attempted to contact (not merely those you were able to include in your story). Also identify your intended audience(s).
As you are completing this assignment, think about what might be added to your main story for publication online, including multimedia and interactive features. Because online you would have all the space you would need, consider the range of added features that could be developed, including fact boxes, an FAQ list, a video extra, interview notes and transcripts, maps, charts, a glossary, a slideshow, animated graphic, a poll, related stories and opinion, and perhaps an area where readers could contribute reactions, story ideas, photos, and comments. No need to do any of these things, but consider what might make a strong story package online.
Look also for publication opportunities. For non-journalists, if you need guidance getting started, Poynter offers a good source through its “NewsU.” Look for Hot Courses on its left panel (www.newsu.org).
The five basic journalism questions:
- WHO is involved in what you’re covering?
- WHAT are they doing—and accomplishing?
- WHERE are they doing it?
- WHY are they doing it in the first place?
- HOW do they make it happen?
You can also consult the appendix to this book: “The Core Values of Digital Journalism.”
- In this hypothetical, you propose doing a story on a local sportswear shop owner’s quest to run in the Boston Marathon. He has just qualified to participate in this year’s running. For this activity, generate a list of questions for your sit-down interview, organizing them in terms of priority, clustering them by topic, and sequencing them to ensure you get as much of the information you need as you can. Also begin thinking about sidebars, multimedia, and features you could produce to create a more winsome digital package, such as an interactive route of the marathon run, a short biographical sidebar box on the shop owner, etc.
- You are working on a story on a dorm fire on your campus. You begin seeing photos of the fire while it is still raging, from presumably residents of the affected dorm, on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. One in particular you believe best captures the situation, and you would like to run it online, tweet it out, and otherwise include it in your campus news site’s ongoing coverage. Apply a discipline of verification. What will you want to know about that photo before you run it? Outline how you will verify the validity of the photo and detail the information you will need to collect.
Create a Storify “story” about a current news topic of your choice. Storify (storify.com) is a social storytelling platform that lets you bring together media from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Storify stories begin with a headline and summary. Next, start typing text in your story by clicking anywhere in the white space. Write a summary of your news topic of about 150 words, which will focus your Storify. By combining information and media already published on your topic, you will be creating an informational package to expand your coverage.
Find at least six social media elements, but make sure each one is both credible and relevant. If your social media elements need explanation or clarification, write that in the space above them that Storify provides as part of its template. Storify lets you easily drag and drop media elements from social networks into a post to help tell your story. To get started, click on the Twitter icon on the right and then the magnifying glass icon to search.
- Find at least two visuals, video or images or both. Each visual must be directly relevant to your topic.
- Write two short paragraphs to help present the information about your news topic. The paragraphs should help connect the social media elements you have gathered.
- When you're finished with your story, click “publish” to make it visible on your Storify user page. Storify stories are embeddable, meaning you can also post them on other sites and platforms.
- If you don’t like your presentation, re-order any element by grabbing it and moving it around, or deleting it to make room for something else. Readers will see the latest version of what you've published.
For more help with this activity, see Kelly Fincham’s “how-to” on Storify: storify.com/kellyfincham/the-updated-guide-to-storify-for-journalists.
The website Reddit, which gets its name by adapting “read it,” advertises itself as the “Front page of the Internet.” (A case study on Reddit’s role in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings is in Chapter 8.) Registered users can add links and opinions in more than 60,000 categories (or “subReddits”) and make comments about what others have added. Comments determine whether a post gets a high ranking on Reddit’s main page.
Your assignment: Post your reporting project done for the previous chapter to Reddit:
- Register for an account at reddit.com.
- Decide on a page title and select a “subReddit” category for your reporting. You will want to browse the subReddit categories. SubReddits you might choose from include Advertising, Journalism, Public Relations, News, or Photojournalism. Subscribing to some subReddit categories will order or organize your homepage and cut down on the clutter.
- Add your story.
- Click the “subReddit” you selected to see your article. (Be patient: It can take several minutes.)
Once posted, you can use Reddit to monitor opinions about your work and see it move forward in the content. You could also integrate Reddit into a blog, website, or press release to show the number of comments received from other Reddit users. This takes time, of course, so the purpose of this assignment is simply to become acquainted with the Reddit interface and ecosystem. You might also generate attention by tweeting out a link to your article.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Visit HuffingtonPost.com, one of the online news world’s more popular aggregators. Spend some time with the site’s coverage to note how HuffPo presents aggregated content. Does it do a credible job giving credit where credit is due? What recommendations for change or improvement could you make? You might repeat this exercise for BuzzFeed.com.
- Imagine that you have just been tapped as the chief news aggregator for news about your area. From what sources will you collect or curate content? How will you present this content, and how will you credit sources?
- Use Twitter to do background research on a topic, story, or research question. Subscribe to relevant feeds. Use at least two Twitter search tools to find your sources.
- Track one breaking news story using your Twitter account by subscribing to a handful of news feeds. What strengths and weaknesses does this method of keeping up with the news offer? Drawbacks?
- Do some citizen journalism. Cover any event with a video camera, even the video camera in your smartphone. This could be a festival or fair, concert or show – the event itself doesn’t matter here. Do even some basic editing, then upload your video news spot to YouTube.
Chapter 9 – Public Relations in a Digital Age
- Live tweet an event, a trip, a conference, or a meeting. Create a hashtag for your coverage or take advantage of hashtags already being used. Hyperlink where appropriate. Use either a laptop or a smartphone, and experiment with a live tweeting app, such as CoverItLive. There is no minimum or maximum for the number of tweets.
- Develop a multi-pronged social media strategy to “End the ‘R’ Word.” Your objective is to create and promote a campaign to excise the word “retarded” from common vernacular. Your public relations team will collaborate with the Special Olympics to create compelling content and utilize social media. Map out a content strategy for articles, images, events, videos, and slideshows. Plot out how you will utilize Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, among other social media, to raise awareness. Think about enlisting celebrity tweeters and YouTubers, setting up narrowly focused blogs, and developing Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat events. How will you garner media attention and raise awareness of the damaging effects of using the word “retarded?”
- Develop an interactive press release for something newsworthy related to the women’s volleyball team or women’s soccer team on your college campus. Use the questions to guide your planning for this assignment. In addition, write a series of tweets to support the news release’s digital distribution.
- For the next big game or match for the team you chose for the previous activity, develop a fact sheet and a media advisory (or alert). Fact sheets are one-page backgrounders on the event formatted in an outline form. They are often included with a news release on the same subject. (The fact sheet for the PRSA: http://media.prsa.org/about+prsa/fact+sheet/). An alert is a summary of the “who, what, when, where, and why” of an event. Here’s the standard format for an alert:
What: The event name
Who: Who is sponsoring or holding the event
Why: The purpose of the event
When: Date, time
Where: Location of event, parking, etc.
Media Contact: Name, phone, email, website, Twitter handle, etc.
For each of these publicity tools, develop them for digital distribution and consumption, using hyperlinks, including in the contact information.
- Visit the online newsrooms of three major companies in an industry of your choosing. For example, if you chose airlines, you could visit the newsrooms for Delta, United, and American.
What emerges in a comparison of these sites in terms of best practices? Develop a list that could inform the development or improvement of your organization’s virtual pressroom.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Develop a social media strategy for generating awareness, comment, and community for your series of blog posts developed in Chapter 7, your reporting package or citizen journalism activity for Chapter 8, or your writing project from Chapter 1. How, specifically, should you utilize Facebook? Twitter? Other social media platforms and/or aggregators?
Chapter 10 – Navigating the Legal Landscape
- You operate and manage a website for which many of your writers include with their submissions graphics and images simply found and “borrowed” from the open web. You are charged with drafting a policy that will guide contributors as to what they can and cannot appropriate, basing your policy on the notion of fair use. Write that policy.
In this hypothetical, you are legal counsel to The PuffingtonHost.com, a news aggregator that faces a libel action. Advise the site as to how to avoid or win the libel action based on the following facts. On September 2, 2017, The PuffHo publishes a story with the following headline: “Six Killed in Pair of Wrecks.” The published story includes this paragraph:
Six people were killed Saturday night in a horrifying pair of alcohol-related crashes near Yankee Stadium after a sold-out baseball game. Five of the six victims had stopped to help after the first accident.
The accidents occurred on a congested street near the Stadium at about 11:45 p.m., roughly two hours after the Yankees’ victory over the Red Sox. The identities of the victims had not been released by early September 3. New York Police Sergeant Rocco T. Ruggiero said that a white Ford Explorer ran a stop sign and pulled onto East 161st Street. The Explorer was likely coming from the stadium and alcohol was a factor, Ruggiero said.
The Explorer struck a silver Toyota Prius in the intersection. The driver of the Explorer that ran the stop sign was killed. Other motorists and one person riding a bicycle stopped to help.
A green Chevy van heading east then slammed into the good Samaritans and into both the Explorer and the Prius. Ruggiero said that the third motorist was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and faces “more very serious charges.”
The driver was not seriously injured, and he was taken to a local hospital to be treated. Ruggiero identified that motorist as David Simmons, a 19-year-old Brooklyn College student from Queens, NY, whose address is a campus dormitory. Brooklyn College officials confirmed that Simmons is enrolled there as a student. They said he is a soccer player and the vice president of the campus chapter of SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving.
Five victims were pronounced dead at the scene; the sixth died, en route, to the hospital. Five of the six were males. Their ages were not released.
As authorities blocked off streets in the area, bodies lay on 161st Street covered with sheets. Robin Hubier was leaving her apartment on a bicycle when she saw the green van pass her. “I heard a sound and saw something, but that’s about all,” she said. As she pedaled closer, she saw that the van had hit people. “It’s a tragedy,” Hubier said. “All I can say is that it’s a damn tragedy. Whoever was driving the van was too much in a rush. I think people like that guy are just too stupid to know when it’s unsafe to drive.”
Simmons sues The PuffHo for libel per se, seeking US$5 million in damages. Simmons said the story was libelous because it falsely reported that he was guilty of drunk driving and that it falsely portrayed him as stupid. Simmons said he was not drunk and that he’s not stupid. He said he majors in inter-disciplinary studies at Brooklyn College.
In your advice to the site, provide counsel on the following concerns:
- What type of libel plaintiff is the court likely to make Simmons?
- What, then, will be the requisite standard of fault in this case?
- Will Simmons be able to prove the requisite standard fault?
- Are there other defenses PuffHo might consider?
In the second part of this assignment, rather than being published to PuffHo.com, the coverage is tweeted by a reporter at the scene, the police station, and the hospital. Ruggiero now is suing for libel because of the reporter’s live tweets. How might your counsel change?
This assignment is entirely fictitious; the names, places and events were invented to create the above hypothetical.
Web Exclusive Activities
- Spend some time at the Government Printing Office website (www.gpo.gov) perusing the kinds of information available there. Search the site using some key words relevant to either a story you’re working on or for a project for a class or for work. Catalog the information resources you turn up and how you might use them.
- Do some basic background research on Creative Commons copyright licenses by visiting www.creativecommons.org. After doing this research, think about the circumstances in which you would be willing to apply a Creative Commons license to your own work. What rights would you want to “reserve,” and how freely would you be willing to share your otherwise copyrighted “property?”
- Visit the website (and/or blog) for the Federal Communications Commission (https://www.fcc.gov) or the Federal Trade Commission (http://ftc.gov). Surf the sub-sections, including news & events, blog, initiatives, calls for comment, and proceedings and actions. Generate a half dozen or so story ideas to pursue.