Game On: Sports Writing 101 — Wayne Coffey

January 22nd, 2009 by Collin Orcutt

Session 4

“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.

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Flash and Interactivity for Interactive Majors — Russell Chun

January 21st, 2009 by Kristen Watts

Russell Chun’s crash course in Flash was packed.  Chun is an educational media developer and the author of the Flash Visual Quick Pro Guides and the official Flash Classroom-in-a-Book guide.

Click here for his website.  

Here are some of the examples Chun showed the class of Flash on the web:

Picturing the Inauguration:  The Readers’ Album (

Inside 9/11 (

On Being (

And here are some of the links Chun shared to help students to get started.


Storytelling Sample Lesson

Introduction to Flash

Examples highlighting specific features:

Get ready to start making your own.

Spot News Photography — Jim Estrin

January 15th, 2009 by Kristen Watts

“Let’s go,” said Jim Estrin when news came of a passenger plane crashing into the Hudson River during his news photography class this afternoon.

Four students piled into Estrin’s car and headed down to the river.  

“We’re in the right place, but we’re an hour late,” said Estrin, when they arrived on the pier close to the Circle Line and it became clear that the plane had drifted south.

Still, it was an excellent opportunity to learn spot news photojournalism from one of the best.


  1. Get there as quickly as you can. 
  2. Ready your camera on the way.
  3. Get as close as you can.  Go into buildings to get closer or to get height, and use a telephoto lens.
  4. Act like you’re supposed to be there.
  5. Wear long underwear.
                       Jim Estrin, right, gives Rima Abdelkader tips             
                        Abdelkader, Estrin, and Igor Kossov                                     
                        Nick Loomis borrowed one of Estrin’s lenses for the shoot

Tomorrow’s session will include visits by several of Estrin’s colleagues at the Times.

News Photography — Jim Estrin

January 15th, 2009 by Kristen Watts

“What kind of typewriter did Hemingway use?” Jim Estrin, photographer at the New York Times for the last 20 years, asked his news photography class by way of an introduction this morning.

Nobody knew.  

“That’s because it doesn’t matter,” said Estrin.

Although his three-day photography workshop opened with the technical basics of photography, Estrin said that the less you’re thinking about the camera, the better.

“I’d rather see a mediocre photograph that makes me feel something than a perfect photograph that makes me feel nothing,” he said.

All the technical decisions, all the composition, is ultimately leading up to the moment – the human moment. 

Handy tips & links for mastering the basics (click for photos that demonstrate the tip):

  • Rule of Thirds: a method of composition.  Divide the frame mentally into thirds horizontally and vertically.  Place points of interest in the four intersections created by those thirds.
  • Layering the foreground and background 
  • Do not be afraid of shooting too much
  • Move around, change lenses, tight, wide, medium wide
  • Composition is ultimately the best way of seeing the subject.  Don’t forget that rules are made to be broken.
For portraits:
  • Just ask.  If you don’t ask them to do it, then you’ll never know if they would have done it or not.
  • Arrive early, look around at lighting, props, space
  • Put people at ease.  Make them trust you.
  • Click here for a series of recent portraits by Estrin.


And, here’s the Equipment Room-produced video on how to use the Canon Rebels, the school SLR cameras.

Students spent the afternoon shooting and reviewing a portrait assignment.  

                                    photograph by Heather Chin

Game On: Sports Writing 101 — Wayne Coffey

January 15th, 2009 by Collin Orcutt

Session 2

“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.

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Game On: Sports Writing 101 — Wayne Coffey

January 13th, 2009 by Collin Orcutt

Session 1

“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.

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Copy Editing Essentials — Jennifer Johnson Hicks

January 13th, 2009 by Kristen Watts

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.


By Kristen Joy Watts

Starting a News Venture — Joseph Kolb

January 13th, 2009 by Collin Orcutt

“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

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The Digital Journalist — Lisa Lambden & Michael Rosenblum

January 12th, 2009 by Kristen Watts

This morning, during Lisa Lambden and Michael Rosenblum’s crash course in digital journalism, they asked students to discard many of the broadcast conventions they’ve learned so far this year.

Strict instructions from Rosenblum included:

  • have interviewees look into the camera, not past it
  • no b-roll
  • no establishing shots

Rosenblum sent students out to shoot at least 15 minutes of video this afternoon that they will later edit down to a one-minute piece.  


  •  It’s unethical and inefficient to shoot a 60-minute interview, then only use 30 seconds.  Instead, tell the interviewee that you will only be using a clip and ask them for their best quote
  • Spend at least 20 minutes observing and mapping out shots on-location before getting out your camera
When students return this afternoon they will screen their footage in front of the class.
Here’s a link to Rosenblum’s blog.  

Covering Personal Finance — Amy Dunkin and Toddi Gutner

January 7th, 2009 by Kristen Watts

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 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.

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