Archive for March, 2011

Yes, it’s true. Walking back from Subway (not the NY subway, Jarrod’s Subway) on 45th St. during a lunch break between workshops, Chris Rock, who’s now appearing on Broadway,  walked by us and we were embarrassingly starstruck.



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Breathing life into your cutlines

Breathing Life into your Cutlines, with Kevin Kline from Berry College.

This session dealt with cutlines, which was very helpful for me, since I’m the one who typically writes them.
Some of the things we went over were:

-don’t repeat information from the headline, the deck, or the lead

-looking at a picture without a cutline is like watching TV with the sound turned off and without close captions

-good cutline can continue the story and fill in the details which are not apparent in the picture

-write cutlines as if they are a mini-news story. Address the what, who, when, where, why, and how.

-include small details that aren’t obvious (include details from the photo that might be overlooked by a casual reader – this can make it more interesting for a second look).

-include taste, smell, and touch – round out a caption with sensual details

-use a quote whenever possible – a direct quote from the subject (this was new to me)

-editorializing: don’t make conclusions about what the subject is thinking or feeling – let the reader decide

-avoid stating the obvious

-always identify the main people in the photo

-interview people about what is being depicted

– in the first line, use present tense. This will create a sense of immediacy and impact. Use second tense for the second sentence.

-use directions, “above” or “above left”

-get the details about what happened before and after the photo was taken

-parts of a cutline:

1.) the lead in: one or two words that are capitalized and/or in bold

2.) 1 st sentence: who, what, where (in present tense)

3.) 2nd sentence: why, how (background information in past tense)

-use strong visual and specific nouns

-use lively verbs

-don’t begin with the names, typically

-don’t do the same thing over and over: don’t be formulaic

-don’t pad the cutline to fill space

-don’t direct address – no talking to the photo (the photo shows…)

-6 deadly sins of writing cutlines:

1.) starting with the name

2.) “picture here”

3.) someone “looks on”

4.) including the words: appear to, seems to

5.) “poses for/ smiles for,” or any reference to posing or smiling

6.) “works hard / works diligently,” this shows opinion


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Wringing the bad habits out of your eager but inexperience staff, with Tom Pierce from the St. Petersburg Times.

This session dealt with the “wrongs” of reporting and writing

You need to deal with the reporting first:

-too few sources

-wrong sources

-making it hard for sources to contact you

-sloppy interviewing

-not recognizing news values, reader interests, manipulation by sources

-procrastinating on assignments and writing

-not getting enough information, background, quotes (reporters should have more information then what goes into the article)

-not getting sources’ phone numbers for checkback

-not appreciating “contacts”

-making promises you can’t keep

In writing:

-not staying objective (editorializing)

-being inaccurate

-using bad grammar

-not attributing almost everything

-weak leads

-awkward quotes

-paragraphs that are too long

-stories that are too short

-stories that are not in AP style

-committing “word fat”


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For Chicken Salad II: Extreme Makeover, again with Michael Koretzky (above), we redesigned and edited stories on the front page.

Some of the things we went over in regards to design were:

-Clipart: doesn’t communicate anything to the viewer (but can be used in some instances, effectively)

-If you can edit stories, why can’t you edit photos? You can and should by cropping.

-You can have a playful headline as long as there is something below with substances

-Don’t put lists in stories

-Tell it like it is: don’t editorialize, even if it’s positive

-Write loosely, then tighten up. If reporters write more loosely in their own voice, then its easy to tighten up. However, if they write tight, then editing to read more smoothly puts the editor’s voice in it, not the reporter’s.

-No photoshop effects on text (i.e. backdrops)

-If leads have a lot of proper words, then it’s not telling the reader anything. For the lead, just sum it up

-In a lead, don’t start with the process, start with the result

-Stories about people trump stories about the process

-For teasers on the front page, use pictures of people not things

-Don’t blow off student profiles, blow them up!

-If you have to run a certain picture, run them big (pertains more to boring photos)

-If a story doesn’t have good art, don’t force art on it.

-Every rule can be broken and should, under the right circumstances.


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Way with Words: CRISP style for the journalist. Sunday, March 13.

C: Clarify (by crossing out/deletion)

-Cut out redundancies

-Cut out insults to the intelligence of the ideal reader (don’t include basic info that you’re ideal reader would already know, it’s insulting to his/her intelligence)

-Cut out irrelevancies

-Cut out references to yourself, generally

-Cut out violation of the “rule of opposite modifiers.” The rule of opposite modifiers is when you use an adjective that’s antonym doesn’t make sense. For example, don’t say “official police,” just say “police.” Because you can’t reasonably use the antonym of official because there are no unofficial police.

R: Replace (substitution)


-the vague and general with the vivid and specific (i.e. replace few with an actual number)

-the long word with the shorter (so long as the precise meaning is not lost): “Use the word use, instead of utilize the word utilize.”

-the uncommon with the common word.

-in most cases, the foreign borrowing with the basic English word (exceptions: deja vu, etc.)

I: Invigorate (activation)

-seek the action verb: replace forms of “to be”

-revise sentences to make the subject ACTORS and the verb ACTIONS

-strive for the kernel sentences (simple sentences) that proclaims a headline

-avoid nominalizations – structure that make good potential verbs to nouns

-transform passive voice structures into active voice

-make statements in the positive form: for example, he is not succeeding in math -> he is failing math. Basically, say what it is as opposed to what it isn’t.

S: Structure (arrangement of sentence parts)

-avoid the middle of long sentences for anything you wish to emphasize new information or important ideas

-strive for a variety of sentence structures

1.) short direct simple sentences for introduction, transitions, emphasis, conclusions, “punch line”

2.) Compound sentences for comparisons

3.) complex sentences to show hierarchies of thought

4.) compound-complex sentences to show interesting variety and development of more intricate or subtle thought

P: Poeticize (make the language more memorable)

-pay attention to the sound of the language as well as the sense of the words: pay attention to the music of your language as well as its meaning and message

-make use of rhetorical figures – tried and true “ways with words”

-use the theory of transformations to play with the possibilities of the sentences

-READ your sentences aloud for flow and rhythm

The first part – CRI – are used to gain the maximum meaning with the minimum number of words

And the second part – SP – is to gain the maximum effect with the minimum number of words

This workshop focused on doing a lot of the work upfront, with the writing, so the reader doesn’t have to, since you, as the writer, won’t be there to clarify.


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While we were in New York at the College Media Convention,  I received the following e-mail regarding the Society of Professional Journalists “Mark of Excellence Awards” for college newspapers in Region 10 (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska):

CONGRATULATIONS!  The following entries from the University of Portland have been selected to receive Region 10 Mark of Excellence Awards.  The actual place awarded will be announced at the awards ceremony next month:

Best All-Around Non-Daily Student Newspaper-4 Year College/University 

(everybody at The Beacon!)

The Beacon The Beacon, University of Portland
Breaking News Reporting-4 Year College/University 

(Caitlin Yilek’s Four Loko story)

The Beacon Four Loko says goodbye to caffeine
Breaking News Photography-4 Year College/University  

(Erica Ellingsen-Car fire photo, Feb 2010)

Bottom line:

The Beacon placed at least 3rd in those categories in that five-state competition.

Watch for final results April 8 or 9th.

-Nancy Copic

The Beacon Car fire remains a mystery

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Thanks to my good friend and former KGW colleague, Steve Frank,  digital producer for “In the Arena,” Eliot Spitzer’s show on CNN (Is he running for NYC mayor in 2013?), we received a lovely private tour of CNN’s New York studios. Though we posed (above) at Anderson Cooper’s anchor desk, he was not in the studio that night because  he was  in Japan covering the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis.

Most interesting to me personally: Steve’s search engine optimization tricks. He’s an SEO wizard!

It was also fun for the students to be in the control room during the broadcast. Adrenaline plus.

Nancy Copic, adviser to The Beacon

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