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Archives: August 2013

4 Musts for Doing Quality Online Local News

Given the corporate turmoil and massive cuts playing out before us at AOL’s Patch, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what went wrong with the local news provider. They had the bodies, tools and platform to do good local journalism, but their model became unsustainable.

I’ve been working for an all-digital local news startup for the better part of a year, and these are a few of the essentials I think must be in place for success on the Web, on the local level. Of course, these notions are based on my own personal experience. Feel free to respond either in favor or against any of my propositions.

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Is It Ever OK to Use the Exclamation Point?

With the passing of Elmore Leonard this week, his “Ten Rules of Writing” circled the internet. Maybe you came across it, too,  on Buzzfeed or some other site using the meme to memorialize him.

As journalists we don’t deal in fiction, but writing is part of the craft and we shouldalways be fine-tuning. I think most of us would be wise to consider his as we write more content online that isn’t attached to hard news. 

Take rule No. 5, about keeping your exclamation points in check. Personally, I’ve always avoided these like the plague, but on social media and even professional communication, I see them popping up more often. It’s always awkward when a senior editor at a respectable publication closes with one or, gasp!, two. If you’re excited about something, use your words. 

Then again, there are some of his rules that beg to broken in journalism. Like rule No.10, about leaving out the parts that readers want to skip. That’s sort of our job, to fill in the blanks. If you find yourself with too much prologue (rule No. 2) or a good ‘character’ that can’t fit into the main story (rule No. 8), that’s a chance to expand the story with more media — a video, an interactive map, whatever you can think of. Your editor may love you for it. 

One rule interests me as a journalist. Does it ever make sense to quote people in regional dialect or patois? And is it ethical? 

What are some of your favorite rules for writing? Can you defend the exclamation point? 

Image c/o

Baby Steps: A Starter Guide to Encrypting Your Email

If you aren’t thinking about privacy or ‘magical immunity juice’ these days, you should be. And you should be encrypting your emails. Not the letters home or weekend plans (although that might be useful, too), but the important stuff. Professionally, that means your communication with sources. Knowing how to encrypt your correspondence means being serious about what you do.

Don’t think so? Listen to this segment from NPR’s On the Media about how Glenn Greenwald almost didn’t get to talk to Edward Snowden because he couldn’t be bothered with security details. You want to be a rockstar? Get technical. 

There are lots of resources out there to get you started, but you should commence with this handy how-to by Alan Henry over at Lifehacker. Don’t get bogged down by all the acronyms — PGP, GPG, WTF? — just download the plug-ins and get started.  I asked him a few questions via email this week to help explain some of the kinks I was running into as a lay(wo)man. 

Some things to remember:  Read more

How to Take the Perfect Photo or Video

photo videoMuch like “proficiency in Microsoft Word,” writing alone isn’t going to cut it anymore in the Internet era; successful journalists need real technical chops — starting with quality picture-taking.  And no, that doesn’t mean buying a $3,000 camera.

If anything is to be taken away from the time the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff, it’s that journos can work with what they’ve got.

In the latest Mediabistro feature, media pros share their tips for taking a good picture or video:

1. Pay Attention to Lighting
“Lighting is everything,” says Charlie Castleman, in-house videographer for esd & associates, a full-service marketing and PR firm based in San Antonio, Texas. As a general rule, if you’re having trouble seeing the subject’s face while you’re shooting, the viewer definitely won’t be able to, either. That said, lighting isn’t as difficult as it seems and, says Castleman, “You don’t have to be an expert cinematographer that spends three hours [on] lighting.”

For more on wielding a camera like a pro, read 6 Tips to Help You Take the Perfect Perfect Photo or Video.

Sherry Yuan

The full version of this article is exclusively available to Mediabistro AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, register now for as little as $55 a year for access to hundreds of articles like this one, discounts on Mediabistro seminars and workshops, and all sorts of other bonuses.

Why Journalists Should Be Hosting Sponsored Events

With a fresh school year ramping up, I’ve noticed several news publications beginning to big-time promote the special events they’re heading up this fall.

It seems like more of these kinds of gatherings keep popping up, or maybe it’s that they were there before and are now being Tweeted and Facebooked about more often.

For each organization, it’s a bit different. The Texas Tribune Festival packs tons of experts in the online paper’s coverage areas — energy, health care, public education, etc. — along with political big-wigs like Texas Sen. Wendy Davis and First Lady Anita Perry into a weekend of discussion about all things political in the Lone Star State. Only a couple of years old, the Festival is a huge deal in Austin and beyond. And the Trib’s Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, who has become something of a poster child for raising big cash for online news, plays an important role in the weekend, helping to moderate discussion and serve as a reminder to guests why they’re all there – because of the Texas Tribune’s reporting and how it has proved itself in the world of Web journalism.

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