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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

This Hospital Might Just Save Journalism

Posted by southwrite on July 7, 2014

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

Everyone knows that journalism is in trouble. Newspapers are on life support and there are few occupations chancier than being a reporter. Not many media companies have figured out how to make money off the news and actually pay writers at the same time.

Yet, a growing number of people of people in the profession are saying that one good answer might be found on the campus of Mercer University in the Middle Georgia City of Macon. Here the Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) is taking a “hospital” approach to training journalists and in the process is reviving professional journalism.

The 186-year-old Macon daily, The Telegraph, and Georgia Public Broadcasting have co-located to a new mixed use development on the Mercer campus. Students from the journalism program are now working side by side reporters leaning by doing a good bit of the legwork for newspaper and public radio reports. It’s a lot more than just fetching coffee.

These students are producing real journalism. Mercer junior Jane Hammond did an early  story for National Public Radio on the Atlanta’s Braves move to  Cobb County and another on the Mercer basketball team’s upset of Duke. She also did a four minute feature on concussions in youth football.

“I’m fairly confidence that this is the only one like in the nation that has a public broadcaster and a (professional) newspaper in a school,” explains Tim Regan-Porter, the Center’s director. “There’s nothing else like this in which we’re integrating the professionals into the curriculum. It’s a first as far as we can determine.”

Journalism schools have long offered internship at media outlets. I spent three months at a weekly in Barnesville, Ga while at the University of Georgia’s journalism school. None have ever put students this close to real newsrooms enabled this much mentoring by editors and reporters.

The idea for the journalism center originated with the Macon Telegraph’s former publisher George McCanless. The energy and enthusiasm that he saw among the students he met at UGA was in sharp contrast to the generally pessimistic feelings of professional journalists. Why not move the newspaper out of its aging and cavernous building and onto the campus so that his reporters could experience some of that passion?

Back in Macon, he called up Mercer’s entrepreneurial-minded president Bill Underwood. He liked the idea and suggested they include a public broadcaster in the mix as well. And, to make it happen the two approached the Knight Foundation about providing funding.

The Knight Foundation also liked the notion – to the tune of $4.6 million. (Macon’s Peyton Anderson Foundation kicked in another $1 million.) They also informed journalism school deans and presidents of the universities “saying that if you want foundation money you need to start exploring these types of models. Teaching hospitals is the way you need to be thinking about it. Think less about academic credentials and start leveraging professionals to teach,” he adds.

“Bill Underwood went to Knight and made the pitch that of all the professional schools, medicine does the best job of training professionals because they have teaching hospitals,” explains Regan-Porter. “They’re actually serving the community and you have mentoring going on in a very real direct way. And they not only tend to the best educational services and professional services, but they also tend to provide the best hospital services for their area, because the doctors are staying up to speed with the latest medical technologies. That’s what we want to do for journalism.”

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Macon Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Telegraph moved its news room operations to the new building in Mercer Village, a mixed-use development in Macon’s College Hill Corridor, near the University’s historic campus, about six months ago. A new student residence hall sits just across the street from the building on a street that includes a variety of restaurants and shops. The original plan was to house the entire company here, but funding fell short. Georgia Public Media occupied another section of the building. More recently the Center acquired its own television station.

Getting professionals involved in the training of student journalists has been one area in which the program has been particularly successful. Regan-Porter came to the Collaborative Center after co-founding of Paste Magazine, one of the nation’s leading Music/Film/Culture publications and a direct competitor to Rolling Stone. He declined offers from bigger and more prestigious institutions both because of the program and the opportunity to live in the hip and historic College Hill neighbor that surrounds Mercer.

Reporters come into the classroom as guest lecturers and also work in the school’s writing lab critiquing student articles. That’s been particularly important as students enroll in the ongoing Practicum class that requires them to do published work. The process is good for students – they get professional mentoring – and for reporters – they get some help with their own work.

So where is the program going from here? Regan-Porter’s answer reflects just how different this effort is compared to the typical academic approach.

“We’re still figuring it out,” he admits. “We’re making changes every year and we will continue to do that – which is unique for academia. They don’t exactly like changes every year, but we’re very free rein. We have a lot of flexibility.”

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I Need a Job, so I Want to be a Corporate Writer

Posted by southwrite on June 11, 2014

Corporate Buildings

I once thought of myself as purely a journalist. I saw my entire writing career as taking place within newspapers and magazines. It was real journalism. It was making a difference. It was also old media and it was obviously dying a slow death.

 

My writing career began to shift in a different direction a few years ago and the decline (and even disappearance of many publications) has only accelerated that change.

 

Most of my work these days is for corporations – with some freelance journalism throw in for variety. I never really thought of myself as a corporate copywriter or aspired to be one, but these days that is where the work is to be found. As the traditional media has withered and shed writers, reporters, editors and even freelancers, the writing needs of companies and corporations of all types have increased.

 

Corporate copywriting is a large and growing market. We talk about the Fortune 1000 and the many smaller companies that make use of marketing and public relations materials. They need content producers because they are content factories.

 

Corporations need people who can write in many different mediums. That’s because their marketing and public relations departments produce many kinds of materials. These include not just the familiar press release, but white papers, feature articles for internal and external publications, case studies, video scripts, books such as corporate histories and executive biographies, ghost written articles for national and industries publications, technical manuals, employee newsletters, web content. Just about anything you can think of and probably quite a bit more.

 

The needs of corporate marketing and public relations are driven by the economy and another important factor. Downsizing has hit internal marketing departments just as it has every other part of the company. They’re producing the same amount of content, but with fewer people. The thinking is why keep content providers in the office when their work can be outsourced to freelancers at much lower cost and risk.

 

The secret to landing corporate clients – as with any job – is networking. You need to get to know corporate communicators so that they think of you when they have too much on their plate.

 

How to find them? First, think of what industry verticals interest you. Search the web to learn as much as possible about the company, their product, and their competition. Be selective in the companies you approach. If you’re active in the peace movement maybe a defense contractor wouldn’t be a good choice for you.

 

Pitch the marketing or media relations director with mailings including work samples that are relevant to their industry. This works best with those you have already made contact with in some other way. Email, but referrals and face to face contact is even better.

 

You can make contact by attending professional gathering and organizational meeting. Corporate communicators are usually members of organizations such as IABC, PRSA, and industry specific meetings. If you’re located in a major city the local chapter will usually have monthly meetings that you can attend as a guest. These organizations often have independent or freelance sections that can give you a base of operations for becoming involved in the organization.

 

There are other, less direct paths to corporate freelancing. Does the magazine you write for also have a custom publishing arm? Working for an outsourced company magazine gives you an opportunity to get to know the company.

 

Do you write for trade journals that publish articles by company executives? In most cases these articles are ghosted by someone else. Let the editor know you would like a referral to the company that placed the article. That helps both you and the editors by assuring them of a well written piece they can use.

 

Finally, the skills you’ve acquired pitching stories to newspapers and magazines can be quite useful in reaching out to potential corporate clients. In fact, all the skills you’ve honed as a freelancer will come in handy as you expand your client base in this direction.

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Reading to be a Better Writer

Posted by southwrite on June 5, 2014

Tree reading book

Like a lot of other freelancers, I get the question “how do you become a writer?” Since it usually comes from people who aren’t really serious about making writing their calling, I say “well, you write. Then you’re a writer.” And, of course, that’s true. You have to do it in order to be it. You more you write you better you become at it and the better writer you become.

I do a lot of writing –journalism and corporate copywriting – so I practice what I preach. [This blog is an addition – a test to see if I could keep up with daily posting without quitting.] Yet, there’s one thing I don’t do as much as I should and that’s reading.

Sure I read a lot. I read all the time in many different mediums, but mostly on computer and on line. Most of it is research with a little non-worked related material thrown in. I’m also trying to do more reading that improves my craft. The kind that makes me a better writer.

I’m reading more books on writing. Here good examples abound. One of my favorites is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Part autobiography and practical guide for aspiring writers, it’s filled with advice from a master of the craft. Whether you’re a fiction writer or not this is one book you should certainly read.

You should also check out guides aimed at specific aspects of freelancing. The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli. Another good book for both beginners and even veterans is The Well-Fed Writer – Updated Edition by Peter Bowerman. This book covers just about everything you can think of that you might need to know as a freelancer, but perhaps it’s greatest lesson is that Bowerman knows you have to approach writing as a business.

You can find a number of other good works on various aspects of freelance writing here.

There are general interest magazines devoted to writing – Writer’s Digest and The Writer. Either or both are worth subscribing to for the one or two articles in each issue that make subscribing worthwhile.

Along with the how-to books and articles, some of the best lessons you can get from reading come from other writers who are doing what you want to do. Read the work of writers you respect with an eye to how they structure their stories, set up scenes and present information. Break a story down and think about how the writer approached it. This is particularly helpful when you’re reading stories similar to ones that you yourself write.

You might think you don’t have time for this kind of reading, particularly if you’re busy doing a lot of your own. This is the time you most need to sharpen your skills and your mind with good information and most of all good writing.

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