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Newsroom tips from the ‘Professor’

05/04/2015
The University of Maine CMJ434 discusses the fine art of opinion writing. (Photo by Keith Uhlig)

The University of Maine CMJ434 class discusses the fine art of opinion writing.
(Photo by Keith Uhlig)

“Write a strong lead… We’ve gone over this all semester… You should all know what this is by now: A simple declarative sentence that delivers the news in a clever or interesting way and leads the reader into the story…”

I ended my University of Maine Opinion and Editorial Writing Class with a “Tips for New Journalists” cheat sheet last week. My weekly lecture on the importance of a well-written first sentence – or lead – came in at #2.

Some of them got it.

I taught 14 students in the Communication and Journalism Department this semester. We met three days a week on the fourth floor of Dunn Hall. The classroom boasted a long wood table designed for executive board meetings, an Internet-connected overhead projector and two windows that peaked out at the Stillwater River.

The class was really more of a writer’s workshop for the Internet age. First I established a class blog. Then students selected a favorite topic. They created their own blog and wrote like crazy about their topic for the next four months. I had blogs about the Dallas Cowboys, British football and Korean film.

An autistic student wrote about her challenges and triumphs; another student wrote about how his mother influenced his taste in movies.

It was all good stuff.

I did my best to help steer them toward strong, efficient writing. I wanted them to learn how to express their opinion in an easy-to-understand yet authoritative manner.

Do I sound like a professor?

I hope not.

I tried to give the students a look into the real world of a journalist. Instead of a professor, I served as an editor. We talked about story ideas, fine tuned writing skills and I slapped them with stiff penalties for missed deadlines – because in the real world, you can’t miss a deadline.

The class had three guest speakers – working journalist from New York, Washington D.C. and Bangor. Students organized a weekly presentation on a favorite opinion-based blogger and I introduced them to a wonderful little book filled with opinion writing secrets by Suzette Martinez Standring.

I’m not sure how many students actually read the book though.

But I do know most of the class did a great job with their blogs. The students showed me they are capable of strong, honest and important writing; they know how to meet deadlines and are willing work for improvement.

It gives me hope for the future of journalism.

Now if they just remember to spell names correctly.

That’s #1 on my “Tips for New Journalists.”

 

Tips for New Journalists

 

• Spell names correctly

• Write a strong lead

• Return phone calls and e-mails promptly

• Never write anything “as a joke.” It will get published.

• If someone threatens a lawsuit, tell your boss immediately

• Style question? Google your question followed by AP style

• You need multiple sources

• How much does it cost taxpayers?

   a) How much does it cost to buy?

   b) How much is her/her salary?

• I don’t care if you have a recorder, take notes

   a) Carry two pens at all times

• Come up with an idea for pictures/images

  a) Photographers are your friends

• Go to their game/meeting/fire/show/house

• Afflict the comfortable/comfort the afflicted

• There are at least two sides to every story

• Pat them on the back, kick them in the shins

• Weather is always a good ice breaker

 

 

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From → School

2 Comments
  1. This is really cool, Mark. Makes me want to give it a shake.

  2. Ferr permalink

    Just don’t pull a Homer and show up wearing a leather jacket with tweed elbow patches…

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