Archive | October 2013

Kevin Coffey visits Creighton feature writing class

From the moment Kevin Coffey walked through the door, he gave off the air of a writer and reviewer. His “I heart New York” t-shirt and converse and jeans combo made him out as someone who mashes trends and classics. As music review for The Omaha World Herald, Coffey is constantly filling reviews, previews, and stories about music from every genre imaginable. His Bon Jovi interview last week generated almost as much interest on his “Rocky Candy” music blog as his post about a band brawling with security at the Austin music festival South-By-Southwest last year. He said he tries to update his blog as constantly as possible, posting even a few paragraphs about each of the 200 to 300 music shows he goes to each year. He teaches aspiring journalists, like myself, that a journalist has to be jack-of-all-trades constantly honing his skills.

Coffey began at the World Herald as an online editor and recently began working as the music writer on staff. He stands as an example of the flexibility one must have to be in the profession. Coffey admits that as a Journalism and Creative Writing major who plays some guitar, he is no expert in music. However, he figures that after seeing so many shows, reading so many reviews and interviewing so many musicians, he has an ear and eye for what people may enjoy. His experience shows that journalists have to be able to become knowledgeable in something and make sense of it for readers. He also exemplifies to young journalists the importance of research before and after interviews and writing.

As a young writer, what I can most implement from Coffey’s advice is to be researching new stories well-ahead of interviews and deadlines. He also stresses organization, which he admits he lacks. Keeping a list of upcoming events and writing deadlines is practical advice. I also like how he is constantly updating his blog, keeping readers abreast of newest music news. I think I could do the same with my twitter account.

 

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Setting the Scene

Laurie Hertzel in her talk on crafting scenes in feature writing lists six  tips for creating scenes in narrative articles. I found myself drawn to two of Hertzel’s tips in particular. She suggests that writers should move their stories backwards and forwards through time. Often, a scene progresses chronologically from beginning to middle to end. Hertzel challenges aspiring writers to play with this chronological order, as long as one does not loss the reader. Including flashbacks or glimpses of the present can give context to the scene. Hertzel also advises writers to learn how to end scenes. I am a long-winded writer, and so I sometimes drag out the scene with too many details. Learning how to end the scene while making the reader want to read more would make my stories more readable.

While Hertzel presents some new tips for crafting scenes, she also reaffirms some of the styling that I am already implementing in my writing. She mentions transitioning from scene to summary.

Here’s an example from my profile “The Balancing Act:”

He teaches by example, stepping gracefully up onto the line in one movement. Like a tightrope walker, he carefully places one barefoot in front of the other and spreads his outstretched hands to his sides to steady himself. Seven months after buying a slack line, Sandi crosses the entire length of the line in twenty steps.

“There’s no secret,” Sandi said smiling. “Just pure practice.”

Sandi’s life is a lot like his slacklining: a balancing act between classes and his job as a Resident Advisor; his life here and his life back home in Bolivia; staying on his current life trajectory and discovering his deeper purpose in life.

Hertzel also suggests writers vary the pace of the story.

Here’s an example of this from “The Balancing Act:”

[This ends the article after a large section about Nico’s search for purpose on a backpacking trip in Patagonia this summer.]

And as we stood talking before the slack line, Nico affirmed his sister’s description.

When a girl fell off the slack line, Nico was quick to ask if she was OK.

After all, Nico is still learning to balance himself.

And he’ll keep practicing his balancing act on Friday afternoons, even when it snows.

“Just wear your boots,” he said.

Though many of Hertzel’s tips are implementable, I do not understand the idea of writing with a camera angle. I feel that if one writes from this angle they will only capture what they see from their perspective. Writers should use others’ perspectives as well to set the scene.

Reviews

Mark Jenkins of NPR reviewed the new film about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which debuted this past weekend. Overall, the review is very effective. The review is of Goldilocks length – it’s just right. Jenkins also includes details from the movie to interest readers but does not give away too much from the film. He also uses well-known pop culture and film references to better explain the movie. His lede gets right to the his point, so a reader who had only a moment to glance at the review would get the jest of Jenkins’s point. The review also gives background about Assange and WikiLeaks and provides suggests some pre-movie education on the film topic. It would help readers if the author included a rating system, so readers could quickly decide whether or not to see the film. Jenkins could have also included links at the end of the review directing readers to informative news stories about Assange and WikiLeaks. From Jenkins’s review, I learned that when writing a review, one must walk a fine line between engaging descriptions and glossy fluff. One should also include additional resources, such as links to other articles, that could help readers better understand the film.

NPR Music’s Oliver Wang reviews the newly released album The Poets of Rhythm Anthology: 1992-2003 by The Poets of Rhythm, a young retro-soul group from Germany. For those like me who are uninformed of the retro-soul music movement, Wang gives a brief history of the genre and explains the prominence of the band in the movement. To give readers a better idea of the band’s music, Wang compares the Poets of Rhythm to other bands and muscians, who may be more well-known to readers. He also includes a sample of the band’s music, which gives readers the best representation of the band’s sound. The review does not include links to where one can buy the album, which would make it easier for readers. Nonetheless, aspiring reviewers should take note of the why the review is written. Like news articles, reviews should be written so that anyone–familiar with the band or not–can read and understand them.

Query Letter

Oct. 7, 2013

 

Josie Bungert, Editor-in-Chief

Department of Journalism, Media and Computing

The Creightonian

2500 California Plaza

Omaha, NE 68178

 

Dear Josie Bungert,

This summer, Nico Sandi left his home in Bolivia to backpack through the mountains and taiga of Patagonia at the southern tip of South America. During his month-long trip, Sandi took a break from his American college life and hitchhiked through the small, isolated villages at the edge of the world in search of clarity of purpose. Sandi is recognizable to many students as the lone male resident adviser in the Cortina Community, the Bolivian studying abroad for all four years and the avid slackliner who ties off his line on the Kiewit Fitness Center law sunny afternoons.

However, many do not realize that his life, like his slacklining, is a balancing act between classes and his job as a Resident Advisor; his life here and his life back home in Bolivia; staying on his current life trajectory and discovering his deeper purpose in life. He is a deep, reflective person who has an interesting perspective of Creighton and the greater nation. He has a close relationship with his older sister, Majo, who he followed to Creighton.

I would like to submit for consideration a 1,600-word profile of Nico Sandi for your Scene section. I interviewed Sandi while he was doing slacklining on the grass in front of the Kiewit Fitness Center. I also sat down with his older sister, Majo, and talked to a fellow resident advisor and friend, Carissa Hernandes. I have also made a photo slideshow to complement the story.

I was the Editor-in-Chief for The Roundup, my high school newspaper. Under my leadership, The Roundup won several layout and story awards as well as best overall print and online high school newspaper in Arizona. Before I became Editor-in-Chief, I was the News Editor for two years and wrote hard and soft news stories as well as profile and preview stories. My writing has also been recognized nationally by Quill and Scroll and the National Scholastic Press Association. I have already written this profile of Nico Sandi and can forward it to you at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Eric Villanueva

‘The Nation’s Poet’ shows what a good profile looks like and how it works

As Roy Peter Clark writes for the Poynter Institute, we should thank Rosalind Bentley for reminding readers and writers alike of what a good profile looks like and how it works. She writes an elegant, insightful profile of the U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bentley’s profile creates a big picture of the Trethewey’s life by stitching together a litany of narrative fragments from poet’s past. Bentley beautifully interweaves Trethewey’s poetry into the profile to give readers a feel for the poet’s voice as well as a window into her perspective on her life story.  What we read are two voices telling the story, but what we are hear is one voice on many different levels because Bentley allows Trethewey to tell her story through interviews and poetry. We also notice how Bentley goes against the profiling grain and tells the Trethewey’s story chronologically, including bolded dates before new sections. This chronological organization works for this story because Bentley then uses the present tense to narrate scenes from the past, transporting the reader into the story. Bentley also does a terrific job of including a savvy selection of details, which she gathers from shadowing Trethewey.

If I were to critique this story in anyway, I would say that Bentley could have used more sources. She uses many “sources” that are not people, such as Trethewey’s poetry and journal entries, to tell the story. However, as a reader, I am interested the perspective of her biological father, Eric Trethewey, on his daughter, the U.S. poet laureate and her struggles with her mother’s murder and her biracial identity. I think one should also talk to Trethewey’s brother, Joe. These interviews could add more levels to the story.

In writing my profile, I tried to incorporate many of the things that made Bentley’s profile successful. My subject, Nico Sandi, has a biracial background similar to Trethewey. His mother is Croatian and his father is Bolivian. During our interview, I asked how he experienced his biracial identity as well as how he experienced being caught between American and Bolivian cultures. I found he had a lot to say about his experiences. Like Trethewey, Sandi is an artist: he plays the bass and the drum and enjoys photography. Taking a lesson from Bentley, I included photos and music by Sandi in my photostory to give readers a feel for Sandi’s creative force and aspects of his life story.

The State of The (Arizona) Republic

The Arizona Republic, a daily newspaper in Phoenix, Ariz., brings delivers daily news and information to approximately 500,000 households and targeted advertising material to 1.275 million households in Maricopa and Pinal counties in Arizona each week, according to the Republic Media website. These counties encompass the city of Phoenix and many of its suburbs. The Arizona Republic is part of a conglomeration of print, television and online media sources in Arizona all under Gannett Company, Inc., which owns the national daily newspaper, USA Today. The advertising for paper, T.V. station and website are all managed by Republic Media. According to the Republic Media website, the media products reach more than 75 percent of residents ages 45 plus, which comprise more than 50 percent of the population of greater Phoenix. The media conglomeration also targets families, Hispanics, homeowners and those with incomes of more than $75,000. The television station and website expands their audience to the state and national levels.

Interestingly, the guidelines for submitting content to the paper are not easily found. A webpage entitled “Contacting The Arizona Republic” only addresses public submissions of content, which are generally not accepted for publication. However, the public is encouraged to e-mail news tips and story ideas to the paper. I think if one were to consider submitting content to the publication, they would have to be on staff or be contacted and contracted by the publication.

If I were to submit content to the paper, I would pitch two story ideas. One story is a feature on the Hotshot firefighters fighting forest fires all around the state of Arizona. I believe many readers would be interested to know how a wildfire is fought from a firsthand perspective. My other story idea is profile of the new Arizona Cardinals football coach. The Cardinals may not be a great football team, but there are many diehard fans in Arizona.