“I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” -James Michener
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov (Quotes on board for today’s session)
The night prior, the class covered the John Jay vs. the College of Staten Island men’s basketball game. Some of the students found it interesting that the Staten Island coach, who lost by 22 points, looked and sounded completely drained during the press conference after the game, almost as though he played in the game himself.
“The best stuff often comes from the losing side,” Wayne Coffey said.
Coffey again stressed the necessity of observing as much as possible during the game and keeping your eye out for things that symbolize the action.
“You never know where the good little things will come from,” he said.
“A lot of times, the best material comes from the people who are least heard from.” Coffey said it could be the 10th man on the team or a trainer–people who do plenty of observing themselves.
“My most important piece of advice to tell you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts that people skip.” -Elmore Leonard (Quote on board for today’s session. “It really speaks to the essence of any piece of quality writing,” Coffey said)
“For me, what we do as journalists is all about reacting on the fly,” Coffey said. He was referring to the plane that crashed in the Hudson just hours prior, but it could just have easily been something sports related. He shared the story about the time he came into the office at the Daily News and was told that Magic Johnson had announced he had AIDS. Coffey’s editor told him that he would be writing the story.
“Everything, my whole professional life, got scrambled on spot,” he said.
“Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed.” -Red Smith (quote, written on the board at the start of the session, that Coffey keeps on the screen of his computer)
After a brief conversation, Coffey played an episode from a series released on Bravo a couple years ago called “Tabloid Wars.” The show traced some writers at the New York Daily News as they battled deadline and editorial decisions as well as the paper’s fierce competition with the New York Post (be sure to keep your eye out for a recognizable J School staff member). Featured in the show was then Daily News sports intern Ian Begley as he went out on his first deadline assignment: reporting a New York Liberty game at Madison Square Garden.
Once the episode was finished, Coffey led a surprise visitor into the room. From the screen to right before our eyes, Ian Begley walked through the door and took a seat at the front of the room.
Jennifer Johnson Hicks is an assistant news editor at the Wall Street Journal Online. At the end of the two-day copy editing workshop she led this week, she told students that she was willing to continue helping them to keep errors out of their work.
“No one ever takes me up on this stuff, but send me your copy.I would love to read it over for you,” Hicks said.
Hicks came to class armed with a series of exercises and quizzes designed to test and hone students’ copy editing abilities.
Here are some of the students’ favorite exercises:
Name that Face: Copy editors have to be able to catch incorrect captions. Can you name these public figures?
Headlines: Hicks said that writing a headline is one of the most difficult tasks in copy editing. Write a headline for this piece that is two lines of between 18 and 22 characters each including spaces. Compare your headline with those on Newseum.
Acronyms: Knowing what acronyms stand for is crucial to avoiding mistakes like “ATM machines.” What do these acronyms stand for?
Click here for more of the material Hicks covered in class.
“I know everybody’s dying to know whether they want to start their own business or not,” Joseph Kolb said. (bio here). With that, the seminar began.
The lay-out of the class: Kolb shared everything he did wrong when he started the Gallup Herald four years ago. Below are the tips, quotes, and slideshow breakdown from the three-hour session:
The proper ratio of ad-space to copy-space: 40% ads to copy space
“I got my MBA from the University of Hard Knocks.”
Activity-based vs. outcome-based goals: It’s important to have a goal to strive for (seven 500-word stories per week on my blog) rather than a general goal (“I want to have the nicest blog on the internet”)
Entrepreneurial spirit is more important now than ever, as now it is what separates those who keep their jobs from those who are getting laid off
“I think a lot of people are more concerned with what’s going on around the corner than with what’s going on around the world sometimes.” With this in mind, Kolb said he thought the successful new ventures would be those that combine the best of these two knowledge bases.
“Just because somebody’s your boss doesn’t mean they know everything.”
On starting a new news venture: there is no outsourcing of smaller tasks. Kolb said you’ll find that you have to take care of so much stuff it will be hard to find time to produce anything at first.
“If you’re going to do a website, you have to do video.”
“Starting your own news venture is scary.” More so, Kolb said, when you think you know what you’re doing, but you don’t. The way to combat that fear is to be open minded and allow yourself to laugh at your mistakes.
A question: If your venture is hyper-local, how do you generate enough hits to be profitable? Kolb’s response: although he doesn’t yet have a firm answer, he has a few ideas. One option is to make a trade agreement with local media outlets (give them free advertising if the display your site on their log-in page, for example).
On running a new venture: “You learn how to be a circus act where you’re juggling too many balls.”
After the jump: Joseph Kolb’s News Venture slideshow
Amy Dunkin and Toddi Gutner taught a workshop this morning on financial literacy and reporting.
Dunkin was BusinessWeek’s longtime personal finance editor and now works as director of special projects at the CUNY J-School. Gutner covered personal finance at Forbes and BusinessWeek and is currently a contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal and the Conference Board, an economics and business think tank.
They enlisted two guest speakers – also prolific business reporters – to share some of their financial reporting wisdom with the class.
Chris Farrell is economics correspondent for Marketplace and Marketplace Money, American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and personal finance programs, respectively. He is also contributing economics editor for BusinessWeek magazine.
Lewis Braham is a freelancer who has written personal finance stories primarily for BusinessWeek and the web site SmartMoney.com. He has also been published in Fortune and various investment newsletters. He holds an MFA in creative writing from CUNY’s Brooklyn College.
Here, Chris Farrell weighs in on personal finance. Video by Chris Clemens.
After the jump: Tips on how to write a great personal finance story.