Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Best of Blogs 3

Here’s my third installment of Best of Blogs.

The first blog I covered is "Political Punch", written by Jack Tapper, ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent in the network’s Washington bureau. In the blog, Tapper covers politics as well as popular culture, which I think is an interesting mix.

The blog is a mix of feature stories, news reports and broadcast news reports by Tapper himself. At first, I was going to commend Tapper for his exceptional reporting because there are several stories posted each day on the blog but then I noticed the blog posts are not just written by him; he is a huge part of the blog but I think the other contributors should receive more credit. Still, I very much enjoyed this blog, especially the video about Obama’s White House Easter Egg Roll, one of the latest posts.

The blog is very organized, the layout isn’t confusing at all; the blog is organized in two columns, the left detailing Tapper’s background and a list of recent postings and monthly archives and the right, the blog posts themselves.

The second blog I covered is “On Politics" by USA Today newspaper. This blog features breaking news from Capitol Hill, state politics and many other topics. I like the blog and its great use of white space. The stories are much more in-depth and often deal with what’s going on within individual states, but it’s a great tool to use if you are interested in learning as much as you can about state politics.

The blog, besides being organized neatly, also lists every category imaginable as a sidebar; abortion, other blogs, campaign memos, immigration, etc.

The third blog is my freebie, which I enjoy writing about the most (thanks Professor Thelen!). Since I will be interning this summer in New York City, I chose to write about a blog titled “I'm an Intern in NY", written by Andy McDonald, a former intern in NYC. I was interested in what he had to say; I loved reading the blog, it was humorous at times and brutally honest. He shared ten humorous tips for people who would like to live in NYC; the most striking tip was “Don’t Come to New York City.”

Over all, I enjoyed the blog very much. I would have liked to see more photos however and perhaps an update, because the last post was written in 2005. The writer’s profile says he is now 26 years old so I would like to see what he’s up to now.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best of Blogs 2

The following blogs I came across through my endless maze of mouse clicking. Here are the chosen three of my second installment of Best of Blogs.

The Gradebook
First, I love the title; it fuels bits and pieces of the previously-held anxiety I had about my past teachers’ grade books; I viewed them as small ill-intentioned notebooks that held the recording of every single move I made. It’s no wonder then that when I came across “The Gradebook” blog by St. Petersburg Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek and the rest of the Times education reporting team, I had my suspicions.

The blog turned out to be very informative and helpful. It provides up-to-date information about the latest education trends, fads and news in the Tampa Bay area. The blog digs deep into current issues going on within Tampa Bay area schools.

I appreciate the blog’s many sidebars that lead to other education-related blogs, Tampa Bay Area school districts. The blog also provides “The Gradebook” bloggers’ contact information readers have any questions or concerns. Also, the blog’s layout is clean, organized and uses white space effectively.

Just by reading the first few blog posts, I learned a lot about what’s going in the Florida education system, which is always important to know.

CNN Political Ticker
The second blog I looked into is “CNN Political Ticker.” This blog covers the latest political news from CNN’s Best Political Team with 24/7 campaign coverage.

The blog is a mix of hard news with feature stories. The first blog that drew my attention was a story about President Obama giving Queen Elizabeth II a video iPod at Buckingham Palace. I didn’t expect this kind of story from CNN or a political blog, but there it was. What’s even more surprising is that the blog post itself elicited 158 comments by readers when I first read it- probably more now.

Overall, it was an interesting blog to read, both informative and fun. It was also very clean and organized, with sidebars listing different news categories and other news headlines.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s Blog
The third blog I chose was the most interesting to me. “Dealing with Alzheimer’s blog” is written by 46-year-old Kris Bakowski, who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s diseases so I have a personal connection to it. I know firsthand the heartbreak caused by seeing your loved one slip away and no longer recognize you.

I found Bawkoski’s blog to be very inspiring; she writes new posts every few days and details her involvement and support in Alzheimer’s-related research and philanthropic work.

I admire her courage and initiative in recording her life this way; millions of people are able to take a glimpse into Alzheimer’s disease through the eyes of a patient. It is sad to think about what her condition will be like in a few years but it is comforting that she seems to be full of life- I can see that clearly through her blogs. Kudos to her.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bob Ross' Visit: "It's frightening to him"

Bob Ross has a pet peeve- he made it clear during his recent visit to my Critical Writing class.

“It bothers me that so many people get their news from one publication,” he said. “That’s frightening to me.”

Ross, a well-known longtime movie critic, spoke a bit about everything; his opinion about society’s current short attention span, his favorite kind of film and his dislike for FOX.

His dislike for FOX News, which he said is really good at rhetoric, particularly stood out to me. He said so many people watch it and accept and don’t receive any other feedback.

I agree with him as far as selecting only one media outlet to rely on for all current news. It goes hand-in-hand with what the book “True Enough” discussed. Manjoo and Ross have helped me realize the importance of reading as many different news publications as you can. You can see the differences in coverage as well as be able to pick up different details in one story not included in the same story in another publication. As a reader, you must take the initiative and seek out news instead of relying on just one source.

Ross, who wrote for the Tampa Tribune for 21 years, was laid off in 2007. He spoke about the writing process for movies as well as the current status of movie critics.

Ross said being a movie critic is a position of a kind of false power.

“I could inflict my opinion,” he said. However, he added, it was more of a one-way communication.

I can understand where he is coming from. A movie critic tries to describe to readers how a particular movie was and their opinion of it- but opinions vary.

I enjoyed listening to Ross talk about his movie critic years. He spoke about “The Passion of the Christ,” the movie directed by Mel Gibson. Ross felt it was more of a horror film, gore and all. He received a lot of angry responses from that. Up until now I thought movie critics didn’t receive angry reader’s responses, not like political writers. I was wrong.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed Ross’ visit. He provided me with great insight into the movie critic business and taught me that there is a lot of good movie criticism online, not just the big guys like himself. I, along with other young writers, could develop into popular movie critics too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Walter Mears' Visit: Without Credibility, you have nothing

When I was younger, I used to wonder what the Associated Press was. I mean, I knew it wasn’t a person. I saw this mysterious AP as somewhat of a mystical creature- this omniscient force that reported on just about every national issue and made its way into just about every newspaper I opened.

Now that I’ve grown up, I know it’s a global news network- and it’s comprised of a lot of people.

And thanks to Walter Mears, seasoned AP journalist for over four decades, I learned a great deal more about it during his recent visit to our Critical Writing class.

Mears joined the AP in 1955, a year after graduating from college. Since then, he covered Congress, national politics and the White House. He won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1977 for his coverage of the 1976 presidential campaign and is also the author of Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning: A Reporter’s Story.

What I first noticed about Mears was the way he spoke. He spoke slowly, clearly and articulately. To me, he spoke like a tight news story.

Mears shared with us the history and evolution of the Associated Press as he witnessed it. He said most people, including many people in business, are unaware that AP is owned by a newspaper.

He said over the years, AP has changed. Rather than serving as a medium, it began doing a lot of its own reporting.

Something that most stuck with me was Mears’ discussion about journalists and their credibility.

“If you don’t have credibility you’ve got nothing,” he said. “You can say something till you’re blue in the face but no one will believe you.”

I completely agree.

When I write a story, I check my facts. Then double-check them.

Triple-check them.

I read the story again. And again.

If at least one part of a sentence is tainted with a bit of doubt in my head, I immediately call up my source and ask.

I then read it again. After constant layers of meticulous editing, the story is ready for submission.

And that, to me, is how you built credibility - every time. Credibility is invaluable.

Mears’ final point was the increasing importance of being entrepreneurial in today’s journalism field.

“We will have to utilize multiple tools that we are going to go sell to people,” he said. “It’s less likely that we will be working for a news organization than being a one bang man.”

This statement triggered somersaults within my stomach; I now recognize the severity of the state of journalism today. I can clearly see the enormous task that lies before me and other aspiring journalists to make a living out of our profession. In regards to what Mears stated, it takes hard work, resourcefulness and the ability to constantly stay on our toes to be successful and entrepreneurial journalists.

I’m ready for it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Best of Blogs

I stepped into this a bit hesitantly. I was used to reading my peers’ blogs every week but I wasn’t sure how to critique policy blogs- and a blog of my choosing?

After much scouring, here’s who made the cut:

The first blog I ventured into is the Bay Buzz: Political News of Tampa Bay. It’s a blog that offers the latest news on Tampa Bay politics by staff writers at the St. Petersburg Times.

At first, I noticed its appearance. The blog looks very similar to that of the “Breaking News” section of the website; short blurbs of information, the headlines are colored in green, and readers can comment on the pieces. I noticed however, that this is much more informal writing. I mean, I know that’s what blogs are (full of candidness and randomness) but I guess I found it a bit jolting to read the informal writing from staff writers and not columnists.

Drum roll please…..I found a typo!! And I’m damn proud of myself- but a little disappointed.

Below is the headline where I noticed the typo:
“Candidates lining up for Hillsborough commisison races”

I know these are blogs and more informal, but come on, writers should always double-check and triple-check their spelling. And I know blogs are quick, but they should still be given the time to go over at least once more before they’re submitted. Overall I enjoyed the blog- it had interesting headlines such as “Gibbons shaking trees in Tallahassee” and it listed the different categories under the blog on a sidebar, which is very convenient for readers.

The second blog I read is the Thinking Out Loud blog, which contains postings from The Tampa Tribune’s Editorial Board and from local community columnists.

With this blog, I personally liked the headlines of each blog post- they were intriguing and drew my attention greatly. Also, like many blogs, I appreciate the ability that readers have to post comments on each blog. I also liked that the blogs varied in topics, but they mostly all center around events and current news in the Tampa Bay Area. Also, what’s helpful is the fact that on a sidebar is a listing of all the contributors and their e-mail address, just in case readers would like to contact them themselves instead of having to dig around or call the Tribune.

I am not computer-savvy. I’m currently struggling advanced programs such as PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, etc. I do, however, appreciate technology and for the wonders it does. So I cam across my third blog, Gizmodo.com. And it is hilarious. It is packed with funny blogs highlighting and poking fun at the latest quirky news associated with technology. The blog is also full of funny images that accompany many of the blogs, some edited with speaking bubbles alongside them. I really enjoyed this blog, hopefully I can learn something from it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Martin Fennelly’s Visit: The great stuff in this business is “people stuff”

I’ve never had a healthy relationship with sports. My parents never placed me in such activities- only swimming lessons. Then, I almost drowned during a lesson and never returned.

Now, not only do I not know how to swim, but my eyes glaze over whenever someone attempts to engage me in a conversation about sports.

I’m just not that into it.

You can only imagine how my vision slightly blurred when I heard Martin Fennelly, sports columnist for The Tampa Tribune, was coming to speak to my Critical Writing class.

It’s nothing against him- I just don’t like sports. Nor did I believe I would understand what his columns were about, never having read one.

His visit isn’t what I expected.

Fennelly drew from his great well of experience and shared his stories with us about column writing and his profession.

The sports columnist, who has written for The Tampa Tribune for a long time, touched upon his different experiences writing several columns and his ways of thinking behind his writing.

Fennelly said when he’s formulating a story, he thinks about what would jump out at the reader. I can identify with this writing technique; I also think hard about what is it that I’m trying to say and which angle would jump out at readers. As a columnist, you want to keep your readers engaged.

Through his columns, Fennelly said it always fun to take people to task. He said he wrote a column recently ripping a coach for not being a “people-person.”

It was about Jim Leavitt, the USF’s head football coach.

This story was interesting. What peaked my interest even more is how passionate Fennelly is. He missed an exit arguing with Leavitt. Actually, two.

And he described Leavitt as a “turd-ball.”

“It got very heated, and that’s part of the job,” Fennelly said. “I get to say whatever I want.”

With that said, the columnist profession becomes increasingly appetizing to me.

Fennelly added that he doesn’t dislike Leavitt, however.

“I basically call him a bully,” he said.

Fennelly was friendly and you can tell when he spoke about his column writing, it was from the heart. He loves what he does.

Perhaps the most heartfelt moment was when he spoke about how he first became interested in writing.

His father died when he was 13 years old and after that, Fennelly immediately withdrew in his own head. He filled notebook after notebook of his thoughts.

In high school, he said it was easy to get lost. He began writing for a literary satire publication at school and loved it.

That’s where it all began for Fennelly.

During his discussion, there was some emphasis on “stuff.”

“The great stuff in this business is people stuff,” he said. “Educating and bringing stuff to a level that people can understand.”

And that’s partly what it’s all about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Howard Troxler's Visit: Be worthy of readers' time

I believe I can speak for the rest of my Critical Writing class when I describe Howard Troxler’s recent visit unlike any other that we have experienced.

Troxler, a metro columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, writes about local and state issues. His columns appear Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Times’ Metro and Tampa sections.

His enthusiasm for column writing and what he does for a living shone through as he moved swiftly around the room, speaking rapidly about his memorable columns and providing us with his professional insight.

Described as franchised by Mr. Thelen, Troxler sipped quietly from his water bottle at first. He didn’t sit still for long.

As a newspaper columnist, Troxler explained that his main job is to be worthy of readers’ time. A column varies in its tone.

“It can be angry, sarcastic, bitter, but in some way, worth the readers’ time,” he said.

A column’s subject matter could be presented in any of these ways, however, as Troxler explained, it’s important to find the best way in which to explain the matter. I can understand his point; for any given column, you want readers to challenge their previous mindset about the subject at hand and be able to see your point of view. Your message will really hit home if it’s expressed in the best way.

He described the characteristics of a column: Clear- crystal clear. Absolutely accessible. Have the reader hooked in a short time.

Grip the reader in the column’s very beginning.

“I’m desperate for them to stay,” he said. “Kind of a panicky kind of thing.”

Troxler added that a columnist has to bring the readers’ in, acknowledge their fear, or anger, and then you’ve got to convince them.

Troxler spoke about his past columns. As he described each one, something triggered inside him and his words sped up in a passionate fury. Once again, he moved swiftly around the room. He scratched his peppered head. He hit a nearby desk with his balled fist.

Everyone’s eyes followed him as he spoke.

Everyone listened.

Troxler said that most of the time, a column should be based on some new information or some gathering of information, beyond just the writer sitting around being clever.

“It can’t just be you sitting around, spewing about the world,” he said. I agree with this; columnists shouldn't merely express their opinion- research must be conducted so that they can express an informed opinion.

Troxler spoke a bit about blogging as well.

He had a blog which drew in thousands of views and much traffic. He even conducted interactive chats with his blog readers. As Troxler got more involved with blogging, however, he noticed the quality of his print columns began to decline.

In my opinion, Troxler seems to have much freedom at work, unlike other writers.

“I’m probably the only communist in the news section who pretty much has license to write my opinion,” he said.

What a sweet career.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tim Nickens' Visit: The purpose is to provoke thought

As we move swiftly through the semester, I feel I have learned a great deal about editorials.

However, there’s still much to learn.

Tim Nickens, the Editor of Editorials at The St. Petersburg Times, came in recently to my Critical Writing class to speak to us about the art of editorial writing, its purpose and the characteristics of a good editorial.

According to Nickens, The St. Petersburg Times has always been a traditionally liberal paper, but through time, the tone has changed. He added that the style of the editorials has changed, but the fundamental values have not. The Times is for abortion rights, against the death penalty, for the good environment and a vigorous and strong education system. Only the tone and the manner through which the editorials are expressed have changed, Nickens said.

I find that interesting. It is as if a newspaper is a person, with ideals and certain beliefs. And stands strongly by them, no matter what others think.

I once had this perception of editorial writers as walking encyclopedias, with so much knowledge about a broad range of topics that it almost spilled out of them as they walked. I once thought they were capable of conjuring up perfectly-crafted, intellectually stimulating editorials with great ease.

I didn’t think they ever had trouble. It was their job- and it was a piece of cake.

How ignorant of me.

The perception that I once held of editorial writers was not the correct one. Sure, editorial writers are very knowledgeable, but just like everyone else; they don’t know everything about everything.

This is why editorials require research. Numbers. Statistics.

Nickens mentioned that it is more difficult to attract an audience to international issues than national issues. This makes perfect sense. It’s sad to say, but many people are unaware of what’s going on within our country. How likely would it be, then, that they know, or be affected by, international issues? Not very. Unless they are from that respective country that is being discussed.

Nickens had quite a bit to say on the subject.

“It is a bit harder to but it’s also the area where you have the least influence. We’re not going to persuade Israel to have a ceasefire,” he said. “We probably write less international editorials than national editorials because we can have more influence about state and national issues.”

That’s the purpose of editorials, Nickens reminded us. To provoke and stimulate thought.

“At the most basic, you’re trying to get somebody to do something- you’re trying to provoke an action or response by someone,” he said.

Sometimes, editorials are aimed at one person, he added.

I wonder if I will ever write an editorial directed at one person. Who would that be, I wonder?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rosemary's Visit: Editorials Help Illuminate

Before this class, I never read editorials.

Never thought about them.

Now, not only am I expected to read and write them, but since the beginning of this course, I’ve felt challenged as a journalist like I never had before. Everything I have been taught until now, the “do’s and don’ts” of responsible reporting, seem to have gone out the window.

I have been formally introduced to the World of Editorial Writing. Since then, I’ve felt like a dizzy rat trying to clumsily maneuver its way through a maze. I wasn’t sure which steps to take first, nor was I sure which path(s) would lead me to my destination- which was and remains to be a “good editorial.” I was ignorant of the factors that make up a good editorial.

Luckily for me, Rosemary Goudreau, former editorial page editor for the Tampa Tribune, visited my Critical Writing class last week to share her insight and knowledge about editorial writing.

Goudreau, who graduated from the University of Florida, reported for the Tampa Tribune between 1977 and 1981. She also worked for The Orlando Sentinel and The Miami Herald. Goudreau was also the managing editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer before she rejoined the Tampa Tribune.

Goudreau described what makes a good editorial.

“It has something to say that moves people-internally- and moves people to want to take action,” she said.

Her statement helped me realize the great power and influence that editorial writing holds. I would love, by the end of the semester, to be able to write an editorial that will spur readers to action…or to at least seriously reconsider and challenge their own thoughts about the issue.

Goudreau also mentioned that a good editorial helped illuminate- it is not confined to just facts.

A good editorial, she went on, does not have the word “I” in it. This makes sense to me. Placing “I” within an editorial would seem as if the writer deems herself a know-it-all. We don’t want that. We want the readers to understand our point of view, because we have laid it out for them to comprehend where we are coming from.

Her voice, Goudreau explained, is the second voice.

“It has facts, it has energy, it has emotion,” she said.

These three factors are what helped me edit my first editorial. I wanted to inform with facts, write with energy and make readers feel emotion.

Goudreau reminded us of the importance of this class. It is to teach us how to communicate an opinion with clarity, precision. Also, to know how to communicate effectively- which she said, not many organizations know how to do.

For that, she is grateful of course. She said this gives her much hope that she will find much employment. If I were to ever write editorials full-time, I guess that’s a good thing for me too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chachere's Visit: Opinion's a whole new realm

Vickie Chachere, Tampa Tribune editorial writer, came to speak to us in class last Wednesday. She works for USF now; her job is “to tell USF’s story on whatever platform.” Any way she can, via radio shows, magazines, websites, TV stations that accept video, etc. Sounds like a pretty cool job, actually. I can only imagine the job to be somewhat of a race against time; to see how many stories you can get out there about USF within a certain period of time. Scouring through media websites, calling and emailing, scrambling, running here and there, meetings. Just the kind of adrenaline I seek in this field.

Chachere shared her insight and stories about different aspects of opinion writing. As far as relying on other media when writing an opinion piece, Chachere said it is dangerous. I can see where she is coming from but my initial impression of a well-written opinion piece was one that included reports and facts derived from newspaper sources and other articles. I do see her point though; who knows if the articles and sources a writer uses within his/her opinion piece contains flaws or misleading information? You never know.

Some more tips:
- Better blogs are going to have hyperlinks of original studies
- Try to get beyond a one-dimensional piece
- You can bring personal experiences into an editorial. Be careful though, can’t cross over into column writing. Personally, don’t get me started. I have a million stories, and if I begin to tell them with the pure intentions of an opinion piece, by the time I’m done, it will have turned into a personal commentary.

Two issues you DO NOT want to write about, according to Chachere; abortion and spanking. She said a bombardment of emails will ensue. I agree with the abortion topic; I saw great tension build up at some pro-life demonstration between the USF library and Cooper Hall last year……interesting. There was a group of pro-choice advocates standing right next to the pro-lifers, all standing with posters, their messages scribbled in thick multicolored markers. Abortion = Let’s disagree to disagree. Or more over; I don’t give a damn what you say, my opinion is the RIGHT way. It’s never an issue where opposite ends find common ground.

Chachere said the transition from being a reporter to an opinion writer was tough; it took her a good year or more to adjust. She began reporting in Florida in 1989. She covered local government, politics in Tallahassee, medicine, prisons.

Her reporting experience got her hired on an editorial board. Cachere added that once you get a spot on an editorial board, you don’t give it up. She needed stability so she jumped at the chance. It took her a while to get the “he said, she said” that is found in news reporting, out of her system.

She’s had to take the stance that she doesn’t agree with in an opinion piece. Which to me is insane. I wonder if at least one small crumb of her true opinion on the issue has crept up in a given piece.