Archive for the ‘Writing for the Media’ category

Text Language

July 9, 2008

There was a very interesting article on Book Square not that long ago arguing that, contrary to the popular belief, text messaging and the abbreviations that come with it are nothing new and are not making the big waves that critics and pessimists would have you believe. It’s a long article, but there are several very interesting points it mentions.

First, it lays out the criticism.

Texters are “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.” and that “it is “bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk … Linguistically it’s all pig’s ear … it masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Texting is penmanship for illiterates.”

Then it refutes it, by showing the foundation our abbreviations and shortcuts actually reach back, in some cases, hundreds of years.

It even gives examples of text message poetry, including the winners of T-mobile’s text poetry contest.

One topic the article doesn’t broach, although it does mention it briefly is text etiquette. While abbreviations and txt msg short cuts have been around for a long time and are unlikely to bring an end to English as we know it, young professionals still have to be careful.

To emphasize this point, I’m going to recount a story Lindsey Pollak shared with my college graduating class when she came to our Backpack to Briefcase event last fall.

She says that she had been sending back and forth emails with a male colleague; they were close enough to be friendly, but was very upset when he sent here an email with the abbreviation “lol.” She knew what the abbreviation meant, because she signed her emails to family members that way, and she wasn’t sure how to react to this from a colleague. It was obviously inappropriate.

The problem here is that while Lindsey used “lol” to mean “lots of love,” her colleague was using it to mean “laugh out loud.” There are no real standards when it comes to these types of abbreviations; young professionals in particular need to be careful – you wouldn’t want that great contact you made at a conference last month thinking you were in love with him, when really you were just appreciating his joke.

So, although text abbreviations are not new, nor are they destroying the language, we do still need to be careful how often we abbreviate and in what context.

Freelance Books

May 1, 2008

I’ve spent the last semester doing an independent study, creating articles that I’m pitching to magazines and hope to get published. Below are some of the books I’ve found helpful, and a short description of each of the books.

Books I’ve come back to again and again:

Get A Freelance Life, by Margit Feury Ragland, and endorsed by, with a forward by Media Bistro founder Laurel Touby.

This is probably one of my favorite books on freelancing. It discusses all the major questions a freelancer faces, and provides simple, understandable answers. The final section of the book is how to deal with the business end of being a freelancer – something many people forget IS part of being self-employed. It has all sorts of helpful lists, including a list of websites freelancers can use, a section on contracts, what to do, what NOT to do … it covers everything from how to write your first pitch to how to negotiate the best kind of contracts. I’ve read it cover to cover, and have pages highlighted, dog-eared, and have post-it tabs sticking out the top. I highly recommend this one.

Starting Your Career As a Freelance Writer, by Moira Anderson Allen

This book has a tone that is a little more formal. However, it is also a great source for information. It deals with some of the inner questions we writers ask ourselves, those things we are too embarrassed to ask others, and those technical questions we need to know but don’t want to ask. It breaks down types of articles, and gives tips on how to generate new ideas when you think you’re dry. It talks about how to find a unique slant. Again, we have how to write a query letter. This book has a much more detailed contracts section (detailed, in that it’s much longer) and even goes into doing your taxes. It’s a good book to pick up if your already writing freelance, and you want to expand or become better at it. It’s a little less about just starting out, but I found it helpful and informative (and I’m just starting out). Again, a good book.

The Renegade Writer, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

This was a book I was really excited to buy, but that disappointed me. It’s written by two successful women writers, but it’s a bit too chatty for my tastes. I still haven’t managed to finish it. The books about, as the title suggests, how to be different and stand out in ways that will help you succeed. It gives a lot of examples and tells the stories of many different people who have followed it and succeeded – but it works a little too hard to sell itself.

The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner

This book is from an editors point of view, and she discusses writing and writers. It’s much more a story style, without much how-to. I’m somewhere in the middle of this book – it’s not something you can’t put down, but it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I find it interesting because I’m trying to go into editing. Witty, and interesting, but not a must-have.

Woe is I, by Patricia T. O’Conner

The self-proclaimed “grammarphobe’s guide,” this book is the best grammar text book I have ever read. I highly recommend it, and I have insisted several of my friends buy it, and bought a copy for my brother who is a science/math person, starting college in the fall. It is a friendly and fun guide to grammar. I never thought grammar could be interesting until this book – I’m being repetitive but I hope it’s getting the point across. If you have any doubts look at the “contents” page. With chapters entitled, “Yours Truly: The Possessives and the Possessed,” “They Beg to Disagree: Putting Verbs in Their Place,” “Comma Sutra: The Joy of Punctuation,” and others, you can understand my enthusiasm. I had to buy this for a class, and ended up absolutely loving it.

Getting the Words Right, by Theodore A. Rees Cheney

I haven’t read this yet, but it’s the next thing on my reading list. Its 39 ways to improve your writing, and it looks to be chock full of interesting tips and tidbits. I’m looking forward to diving in!

I try not to get political but….

April 25, 2008

I know this isn’t a political blog, but I wrote an op-ed piece for my Journalism class and thought I’d post it up here and see if it got any reactions.

Hilary Clinton took shots at Barak Obama for his comments at a closed San Francisco fundraiser, where he said he couldn’t blame small town, economically distressed voters who “cling to” guns and religion, then went out and tried to show her sympathies for those controversial subjects herself.

On Saturday, Clinton shared childhood memories of shooting lessons her father gave her, and said at the Compassion forum that since she was a child, she’s felt the “enveloping” love of God and that, on many occasions, she’s felt the Holy Spirit has been with her as she took her “journey.” So while criticizing Obama for assertions that working class Americans turn to guns and religion, she then assumes that his statement is true when trying to appeal to those same working class Americans, by trying to show that she likes guns and religion.

Then, to top it off, after branding Obama an elitist, she stops at a local bar to down a shot of whiskey, hoist a beer and eat a slice of pizza – again to show how similar to hard working Americans she is. Does she really think voters will believe this is an everyday event for her? Hilary, after a lengthy debate about what she should take a shot of, went with Canadian Crown Royal. She does it so often she didn’t even know what she liked to have.

Who is really the elitist: The candidate who makes the statement about the people, or the candidate who thinks that taking those stereotyped views and appealing to them will make her more likable?

When we view Obama’s comments in context, as reported by the Huffington Post, he was actually talking about how small town voters have slipped through the cracks.

He said that “they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not,” Obama reportedly continued. “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

He was trying to say that he recognized there was a problem in these small towns and that he wanted to make things better for them. Hilary, by mocking his comments but trying to appeal to the same sentiments he is recognizing, seems to be saying it’s all going fine for these people – hey she’s just like them and it seems she’s doing well enough…

Finally, as Jon Stewart on the Daily Show said, what’s wrong with an elitist president? Shouldn’t the president be smarter then most Americans? If a candidate doesn’t think they know better then the rest of us, what are they doing running?

Americans have had an average Joe in the White House for too long. Bush is definitely not “elite” (though he may think himself to be). Don’t we want a change?

Advertising yourself: resume and cover letter

April 1, 2008

Reading my textbook for the class I’m taking on Writing for the Media this week I realized how much writing a cover letter is really advertising for yourself. We were doing a section on ads, and had to write copy platforms – for a advertising campaign.

When you’re looking for a job, that becomes your advertising campaign. You are advertising yourself – so you should keep in mind all the things that ‘sell’ you. Basically, you should create a copy platform for yourself.

Unless you’ve studied marketing, that probably doesn’t help you much. So heres the break down:

A copy platform is, according to our text book, “a way of getting ideas and information of an advertising situation down on paper and of organizing those ideas in such a way that effective advertising copy can be produced from them.”

It is putting down on paper:

  • The Ad subject (You)
  • The Ad problem (getting you a job)
  • The product characteristics (in a few short bullet points, your best selling points with facts and details included – what you have to offer in a much shorter version then your resume)
  •  Ad objective (getting you a job),
  • Market (types of places you’re applying)
  •  Competition (things other people that are applying don’t have or are unlikely to have that you do – you’re advantage),
  • A statement of benefit or appeal (the one or 2 TOP points, things you are offering a potential employer)
  • Creative theme (come up with your own slogan or maing selling point)
  • Supportive selling points (again, selling points but put in a way that can is short and precise)

The entire piece should still be less then a page. I’ve attached one I did for myself as an example. I think that doing one of these before going in for an interview would help set in your mind exactly what you want to convey to the potential employer. You want to make sure all this information comes across clearly in your cover letter and that it is part of your (much broader ) resume. Then, when you sit down for an interview, you can hit all your points and ‘sell yourself’ to your interviewer. It will make you come across as confident and organized and, if you do a good job, they will be ‘sold’ on your product – yourself.

Copy Platform

Our text book is : Writing for the Mass Media by James Glen Stovall

Other Relevant Posts:
How To Write a Resume
How To Write a Cover Letter 

Who Knew that About Paper?

March 17, 2008

This Thursday, March 6th, Janet McCarthy Grimm from Lindenmeyr,  came and spoke to my Book Production & Design class about paper.

She walked us through the process of making paper. When they start out with a tree they have two choices: ground wood paper  and ground wood free paper.

Ground wood paper includes lignin, which is the ingredient that, as paper gets older, causes paper to get brittle and turn yellow. Ground wood free paper, according to tests, may last 200-400 years. The other main difference between these two types of paper is that ground wood paper uses most of the tree. Ground wood free paper only uses about 50% of the tree, making it more expensive to make. Lignins are broken down chemically during the manufacturing process.

The other important thing to know about paper manufacturing is that hard wood and soft wood are not all mixed together – they each get added at different parts of the process.

For me, the most interesting part of what Janet said was how big of a market paper is for the US economy. Few other markets in the world offer as high a quality of paper as we do. Paper is a major exports. The problem is that few foreign manufacturers pay adequate attention to keeping hardwood and softwood separate. This results in a less dependable quality of paper.

Janet’s other major point  was about recycling. Ground wood free paper and ground wood paper aren’t separated out during the recycling process. This limits the quality of paper that can be made from recycled paper products. Newspapers, sticky notes, staples and cheap paper products are mixed in with paper that is ground wood free – meaning that the recycled paper is NOT ground wood free; it also mixes hardwood and softwood – again creating a lower quality paper.

The ‘best’ part is our government – companies don’t receive any benefits for recycling paper products not sold to consumers. So all those books that a publishing company has sitting in it’s warehouse, that it doesn’t sell … there is no encouragement for companies to recycle them.