Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

2007 in review

In Awesomeness, College Goals, Uncategorized on December 31, 2007 at 10:54 pm

This was an awesome year for me. I think I did a good job of kicking off my career BEFORE I graduated. Here’s what I accomplished:

Online presence:
I wrote articles and columns for Mookychick.
I converted my Myspace into a writer’s Myspace.
I started logging onto Facebook again.
I joined LinkedIn.
I started my own blog, which spawned another, a writing gig for 451 Press and a contributing gig for Sticks of Fire.
I have multimedia projects up on TBO.
I built my first Web site, from templates (I’m going to change it into a writer’s Web site this semester).
I uploaded video onto YouTube and used them in blogs.
I learned some basic HTML.

I finished an internship at Creative Loafing.
I started and finished an internship at Tampa Bay Illustrated.
I wrote book reviews and interned for The Tampa Tribune.

I took a magazine feature writing course, a blog and column course, a public affairs writing course that focused on public documents, and a course that gave me more clips from The Trib. I also registered and will be attending a graduate level course before I get my bachelor’s degree.

Creative writing:
I submitted short stories and features to magazines and proudly displayed the rejection letters.
I finished the first draft of my first novel.

What I wish I had done:
I wish I’d saved more money, and I wish I’d figured out a way to travel abroad. I doubt I’ll be able to go on the Ireland trip, but I can always hope. I’d like to go to Chicago for the alt-writing internship.


Freelance writer office hours

In College Goals on December 30, 2007 at 11:50 pm

I’m a big fan of the blog Editor on the Verge, and I took Yoni Greenbaum’s post about office hours to heart. I held my first public office hours meetup today.

The office hours concept is for local reporters, but since I’m unaffiliated and starting my career, I decided it would be a good idea to take baby steps to starting my own routine. I think it’s a great idea, even though only one person showed up for my office hours.

Right now, I’m searching for a location people will want to meet me at. I started at a Panera Bread close to my home; next week I plan to be at a location in Downtown Tampa, where more people might be likely to come. As soon as I find a location that works, I’ll settle there permanently.

Here are my own tips for freelancers considering starting their own office hours (I took the general template from Greenbaum’s tips).

1. Pick a location.
A location close to a population center is best, but know where your potential subjects are comfortable if you tend to write about a specific topic. I.e. don’t pick a country diner if you write about suburban moms, and don’t pick the basement of a Baptist church if you write about the LGBT community.

2. Select a time.
Once again, know the people you want to talk to. Don’t schedule during regular business hours if you want to talk to office workers, and don’t schedule during dinner time if you want to talk to stay-at-home moms.

3. Tell people.
Tell your family. Tell your friends. Post bulletins on Myspace and notes on Facebook. Why not tell the people you network with on LinkedIn and in chatrooms. Leave comments on blogs and posts in your own blogs with your location. However, don’t expect many takers, especially early on. Just go with the flow, you can only do so much.

4. Bring supplies.
Bring a notebook, pens, and a tape recorder. Greenbaum says to bring copies of your newspaper, but if you’re a freelancer, you don’t have a paper, so what to do? Why not bring writing samples? Something to let people know you’re serious about this writing thing and give them an idea of what can you do. Make a lot of copies and hand them out, but don’t expect to get them back. And, have your own cards printed out with your name, the title you want to go by, your company name (if you have one), your cell number, your email address, and your social networking info. I brought a paper to read while I was waiting for people to arrive.

5. Either be consistent or make sure people know in advance where you’ll be.
Freelancers don’t have the same constraints professional reporters have. We don’t have beats, and we don’t have anyone telling us what to write. Since I’m searching for a place where people will come to talk to me, I can’t be consistent yet. It’s like marketing; I’m looking for feedback right now. A set place might not be the best thing, depending on what you’re focusing on. Just make sure to let people know where to find you a few weeks to a few days in advance.

Greenbaum makes the point that many reporters show signs of agoraphobia and like to hole themselves up in the newsroom. I’ve seen the same problem with journalism students who say they are desperately trying to jumpstart their careers. They say they’re serious, but they don’t write, they don’t care about trivial things like spelling or grammar (I was horrified when a classmate sent in a draft of our group project filled with horrible writing; it had my name on it, too!!!) and don’t make a point of getting out into the world and looking for stories.

For anyone out there who is actually serious about writing for a living, keeping office hours out in the midst of real people is a good start.

The nuances of editing a blog

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2007 at 12:52 am

There’s a large discussion going out there on exactly how much writers should edit their blogs, if at all. There’s also a marked difference between a personal blog and a journalistic or opinion blog meant to be read by more than just the author and her/his friends.

At a speaking engagement Lucas Grindley had in one of my Jclasses, he brought up the point that blogs shouldn’t be edited, and (this is especially important) old posts should never be deleted. It’s all part of having an open and lively discussion, even if we make mistakes.

This was a foreign concept to me. I was under the impression that as editors of our own work, we should edit and correct the wrong information we put out there. I’m used to reading personal blogs full of bitching and moaning, where the authors delete posts at will and block people from accessing their blogs because of flared tempers and immaturity. Then, I realized that I’m a journalist-blogger. I have a set of ethics to live by (and, to create in this new medium).

Here is how I edit:

1. I never delete a post, even if I think it is horrible, it puts out an opinion that I have second thoughts about sharing or it receives less than positive attention.

2. Because I want to see the finished product as it’s being published, I post a blog before I make my final edits. Then, I go through with a fine-toothed comb and clean up the grammar, spelling, HTML, etc.

3. Any mistakes left after 24 hours will remain on the blog forever.

4. Any mistakes I or someone else catches are fixed using strike-throughs. I also use strike-throughs when I want to be a sarcastic smart-ass, because I have become somewhat versed in the world of Teh Interweb.

5. I give link-credit where link-credit is due, and I will strive to be better about link-crediting photos I use that aren’t mine (this is something I have been neglecting).

6. I don’t screen comments. I post everything; I’m not sure how my comments’ spam filters work, so if someone has a hard time posting comments, I’m sorry. It’s not me.

I’m pretty new to this whole thing, but I think it’s exciting.

More on opinion in news

In College Goals, Tampa on December 28, 2007 at 5:02 am

Steve Boriss wrote an interesting blog post about sports writers and how they’re being hired for large sums. All the while, news reporters are a dime a dozen and struggling to find and keep jobs.

Here’s the thing. News reporters write bland copy and have the flavor beaten out of their writing before their careers begin. How many people remember the poetic prose of a hard news story? Not many. News stories are all “he said, she said, the report stated.” The more interesting “the horror-stricken crowd watched as the young man fell to his death” is changed to “the crowd watched as the young man fell to his death” because horror-stricken is a sign of the reporter’s “bias.” (Okay, this is an extreme case, but journalism teachers and editors are quick to strip copy of all language that may show a reporter’s opinion.)

That’s one of the main reasons I’m looking at the alt-press for the beginning of my future career. They let the reporter’s opinion slide into a piece if it adds flavor. I’ve read stories in Creative Loafing about topics ranging from white power to raw milk where the writer added their own feelings into their work, which didn’t suffer for it. I read Creative Loafing every week, because it’s interesting and gives me a new perspective on my city. This is what journalism is supposed to do, show people what’s going on, so they can be better citizens.

There is another aspect I like about alt-journalism: writers are usually given the freedom to immerse themselves in their stories. Alex Pickett (who helped connect me with my first internship at Creative Loafing; we met at a party) is a great example. Every week, he finds another aspect of life in the Tampa Bay area and delves into it, writing stories that provide an insight into the inner workings of the city.

Very few reporters at daily, traditional papers get the chance to study their subjects at a deep level. Instead, they pop out stories on deadline a few times a week; the exception to the rule is the newspaper columnist (although, the St. Pete Times does a good job at sending reporters out to explore their stories every once in a while). Howard Troxler comes to mind; when I was in either middle school or high school, I read a column he wrote about bulldogs. When other columnists were vilifying the dogs, he turned the issue around in his head and came up with a compelling reason for people to look at the creatures in a new light.

I’m not saying reporters shouldn’t have deadlines and should pick at a story until just a carcass and a fat paycheck are left.

What I’m really saying is that all stories, even hard news stories, are features. Unfortunately, most journalists don’t hit the mark when it comes to making otherwise compelling stories into a product consumers are passionate about reading. Until reporters and editors become passionate about providing a quality product to their audience (the most important factor in the equation) and not about killing bias (opinion) and controlling the news, newspapers are going to continue to suffer.

Werewolf boy and the importance of headlines

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2007 at 3:45 am

Once again, I’ve been sucked into reading a news piece, courtesy of a Daily Mail headline. Nestled in between “Four United fans jailed for Roma violence,” and “Alive: Father and three children lost in blizzard spent three days huddled in freezing ditch” was the gem “‘Werewolf boy’- who snarls and bites- on the run from police after escaping Moscow clinic“.

The article states that there are many feral children roaming around the Russian countryside who, once abandoned, have been raised by various wild animals. I remember finding this topic intriguing when I was in high school; there were a few TV documentaries and books I devoured about feral children. Unfortunately, I’ve become out of touch with the subject. I’d like to think America is quite lacking in feral children who have been raised by animals. It would be interesting to form an anthropological study on feral people; from what I remember, they usually don’t reintegrate into their initial societies.

Alternative press opportunity

In Tampa on December 27, 2007 at 1:55 am

Thanks to last week’s copy of Creative Loafing, I found an alternative journalism fellowship I plan to apply to. It offers a $3,000 stipend, plus travel to Chicago and room/board expenses. With that, I could continue to pay off my current rent for those two months plus live for a few months in a city I’ve only been to thanks to the air route between Florida and Michigan.

With the spread of Creative Loafing and the decline of traditional papers, working at an alt-weekly is presenting itself to be an intriguing option. I have a feeling niche papers like Loafing are going to grow in the next few years while traditional papers that are cutting local coverage and focusing on AP and wire reports are going to feel the squeeze even more.

Plus, alt-weeklies hire innovative, young journalists while I’ve seen a few papers in my region depend too much on journalists who are quickly becoming dinosaurs in an online world.

And, speaking of young journalists, one of the best writers to come out of USF’s Jschool just had an interesting article published in the St. Pete Times, where she works as an editorial assistant. The Times is one of the few papers I read that seems to be zooming into the future quite nicely.

Does anyone outside of the Tampa area care about the restaurant she writes about? Probably not, but this is the kind of story I look for in the paper. Most people I know get international and breaking news from the web and count on papers to offer local news that relates to their neighborhoods.

Holy hip-hop article

In Hannukwanzmas on December 23, 2007 at 3:54 pm

My newest article was published in The Tampa Tribune. It’s about the impact the holy hip-hop trend is having on modern urban seekers of enlightenment.

I’m going to be with my family for the next few days, so in advance, I’d like to wish everyone out there a Happy Hannukwanzmas.

Awards abound

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2007 at 12:29 pm

I received a viral award for my other blog, so I passed it on.

My header

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2007 at 3:20 am

In honor of an my newest article (coming out in The Tampa Tribune on Saturday) I changed my layout and header. The picture is of graffiti at Crossover Community Church in Tampa, FL.

Graffiti at Crossover Community Church

Graffiti has always fascinated me. It’s in-your-face guerrilla art, often showing off bright colors and an urban sensibility.

Web Urbanist often has articles about all sorts of urban art. The newest WU article is about abandoned buildings in America; every time I read the site, I realize I have a lot to explore in my own back yard.

Web Urbanist abandoned building

So, is graffiti a modern scourge or an art form unto itself?

Good news

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2007 at 12:45 am

Between yesterday and today, I’ve found two articles that eased my troubled mind a bit.

And, because Feministing and I are often on the same page, they posted about both articles, saving me the time of trying to track them down in linkable article form.

From BBC News: the Saudi woman who faced jail time and 200 lashes after reporting a gang rape she suffered was pardoned by the Saudi king. Even though she was the victim, she was accompanied by a man who was neither her husband nor a male relative, which is a punishable offense in The Kingdom.

And, from The Washington Post, states are finally catching on that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. This topic has been on my kvetch list for a very, very long time. I think schools and communities should offer extensive sex education courses that include some sort of assertiveness and self-esteem training. Public school sex-ed didn’t tell me the things I needed to know, and my mother had “the talk” with me years too late (when I was somewhere between 16 and 18).