Archive | November 2013

A Reflection on the Semester in Feature Writing

After 13 weeks, I learned two important lessons from my feature writing class. First, writing is an art. There are many stories out there; however, it is good writing, good storytelling to share those stories. Good writing begins with the right approach and angle to the story. To discover this perfect angle, a writer has to do a lot of background research. Half the challenge to good writing is finding a good story idea. The secret to good writing is research. However, stories are like onions: they have many layers. Writing may peel away one layer, but multimedia components, such as videos, blogs and podcasts, can expose another layer. This semester, I learned that a good story is well-researched and written, but a great story is well-researched, written and includes a multimedia component, which adds to the story.

What I enjoyed most about the class is that “Feature Writing” is a misnomer for the class. True, Feature Writing entailed a lot of writing; however, the class also included a multimedia component. I liked the incorporation of new iPads into the curriculum. I think it shows that the journalism department at Creighton University is up to date with the journalism field. Journalism is increasingly moving towards a digital format. Introducing students to new technology, such as the iPad, prepares graduates of the program for the field they’re about to enter. I also enjoyed the small class size, which allowed for more attention from the teacher. The blog posts also were a favorite of mine as they helped me to develop my writing skills.

The biggest challenge in this class was the amount of work outside of class, which was understandable. Before this class, many of my classes for my biology major involved work inside the classroom. It was difficult to schedule time around classes, work and other activities to interview, film or shoot for the class. If anything, the class taught me to be more organized and opened my eyes to the versatility required by the profession.

If you could go back and do something differently, I would ask for more in-class instruction on the use of multimedia. I understand that the iPads were a new addition to the class; nonetheless, I think students should have a better understanding of the technology before they are asked to use it.

Lastly, what I took from the class was a greater appreciation of the work it takes to write a feature article. Through that greater appreciation, I learned that I love to writing and I hope to continue to write in the future.

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Feature Writing Ethics

Ethics are  important to journalism, just as they are important to other professions. Having ethical standards ensures that journalists perform their duties to the fullest. Journalists are charged to disseminate truthful and unbiased information to the greater public. If journalists do not adhere to facts and the public loses faith in journalists, then the body of unbiased and truthful news becomes limited and biased and inaccurate information becomes the trusted source. Ethics also give journalism legitimacy as a profession. People respect journalism as a profession because of its ethical standards.

Journalists adhere to a number of ethical standards. As writers, journalists must respect and recognize intellectual property. Plagiarism is not tolerated any more in news media than in college. Journalists must also walk a fine line when getting information for stories. As their appearance increases, anonymous sources are becoming a big journalism ethics topic. In certain circumstances, anonymity is acceptable; however, anonymous sources make it hard for readers to trust the information.  Journalists must also consider when a line is crossed when gathering information about tragedies or disasters.  Oftentimes, following disasters and tragedies, reporters flood the affected area, looking for the latest breaking news and interviews. Examples of this include the school shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook. The parents of the victims did not need to give interviews and photographs during their grief process. Reporters and photographers need to respect the families of the victims, while still covering the tragedy.

How To Articles

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I read a “How To” article. Matter of fact, I don’t know if I ever have read an instructional article. Most of the articles I read are informational and hard news. And if there are any articles I read that are instructional, they are opinion pieces, which tell me how I should think about this or that; rather than, how I should build, create or find something step-by-step.

After a quick search on the Internet, I found millions and millions of “How To” articles by do-it-yourself-ers and blogging hobbyists. There is even a website—called Wikihow—that is  one-stop shopping for many of your instructional needs. That’s got to be an app for that as well. However, searching “how to articles” does not turn up any articles from professional papers or magazines. Instead, I narrowed my search to instructions on how to enroll in health care programs in the new Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges. Since the launch date of Oct. 1, the online insurance exchange has experienced many technical problems, which has left people unable to enroll in new programs. CNNMoney provides an outline of how the enrollment process should work. Steps are not numerically listed, but it’s in order from beginning to end. The article includes contact information for assistance. Most importantly, the article tries to explain these insurance exchanges to the six in 10 Americans who are not aware of the exchanges, according to CNNMoney. To improve this article, they could discuss who does and does not apply for federal subsidies and include a direct link to the online insurance exchange.

Everyone has a story to tell

What did you do this morning? You maybe rolled out of bed after hitting the snooze on your alarm three times. You maybe took a shower and dressed. Then you made breakfast or skipped breakfast because you were late to work or had to get the kids to school on time–or both. Why did you have to hit the snooze on your alarm three times? What did you wear to work or school? Where were you off to in such a hurry? Or do you normally not eat breakfast? These are but a few questions that arise about our daily morning routines. The answers to these questions are as diverse as we are. Someone may be hitting the snooze on his alarm clock for the third time because he is a doctor or a policeman or a flight controller who works the night shift.  A woman may skip breakfast every morning because she bakes delicious pastries in her bakery fresh at the crack of dawn. Or a man skips breakfast because he receives his food through a tube and he couldn’t be late for his training session for the marathon he is participating in next month. I believe everyone has a story to tell. You just have to ask the right questions. Answers to the most benign questions can lead to interesting feature stories.

However, this is easier said than done as a journalist. We as journalists often find it easy to tell others’ personal stories; it is our job after all. But when the attention is focused on us, we often shy away from the spotlight. I don’t often tell people my story about weight and self image, at least not until I’ve known them for a while. I don’t want to come across as preachy or religiously healthy—both of which I’m not. Whenever I share my story, I hope people think about the effect weight and self-image has on young adults. I don’t share my story for praise or congratulations. I share it as one of a million of stories told and untold that are part of the obesity epidemic and bullying narrative. I hope to spark internal and external discussions about obesity and bullying and to encourage others to share their stories. No story is boring. Everyone has a story to tell.

Matthew Hansen does column writing right

I am a fan of Matthew Hansen’s column in the Omaha World Herald. He always writes in a way that brings his reader into the story. His stories, especially the human interest pieces, are always captivating. As a columnist in Omaha, Neb., he localizes his stories and writes about people, places and things in America’s biggest small town. In his latest column, he tells the story of the Millard North cheerleaders at a Friday night football game. However, this is no ordinary cheering squad. The squad includes girls who aren’t usually cheerleaders, who are classified as “special needs.” To better tell this heartwarming story, Hansen uses short, quick sentences to separate big paragraphs and to help the story flow. He also maintains a theme of cheering–cheering on the football team as much as the new cheerleaders–throughout the story.  Of course, Hansen, being a great reporter, does the footwork reporting to give background to explain how the “Sparkle Girls” practiced and practiced for that night’s game. Though he did not focus on a lot of the tips from Oon Yeah, he really didn’t need to. The story was more of a human interest piece than an opinion piece. He didn’t need to be critical or refer to nonexistent opposing viewpoints. No solution was needed; the story was praising a solution to timeless teenage cliches. Under the Millard North football lights, Hansen showed yet again why he writes a syndicated column.

Video Project

Overall, I think the experience highlighted the necessity of the iPad Mini as a new tool for Journalists. I could imagine a journalist writing the draw of houses on Halloween creating a video on his iPad, with interviews and clips from inside the haunted house. With his handy iMovie add, he could edit a video in a matter of minutes to bundle with his story. A tease to the multimedia in the printed article would bring people to the newspaper’s website, which editors and publishers like to hear. Besides having a catalog of video editing apps, the iPad Mini also has video-enhancing accessorizes like a microphone and tripod, which raise the quality of the video. Good video is only a touch away with the iPad Mini.

What I enjoyed most about shooting and editing video on the iPad mini was the cohesion of those two processes in one device. Of course, a journalist can film or shoot stills on his iPhone or DSLR, but he cannot easily edit his stills or videos out in the field. With the ease of several swipes and taps, a reporter can edit and file a story and a video quickly, even while the story is still developing. However one trouble with iPad operation should be warned.