Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unsolicited Articles = Fail

I get a lot of pitches, resumes and requests for more information. As I mentioned yesterday it is pretty jarring to get pitches full of emoticons, even if I’ve had a previous work relationship woth the person. Roughly once a week an unsolicited article arrives in my inbox with permission from the writer to use the article as I see fit. This causes problems for a number of reasons.

First. If you are a writer trying to make a living from the journalism profession why are you sending complete articles to a publication unsolicited. That’s selling yourself short. Basically, saying well no one will pay me to write so I’ll just send along my work for free and hope someone is so desperate for content they will post it. This probably does happen, but hold yourself in higher esteem and don’t offer your content for free without first testing the waters.

Second. As an editor, I have no idea who you are, where you found this information, what your background is. As a responsible editor I am not going to take an article that showed up and post it to my site. There are standards that I uphold; standards that are even more stringent for those I do not know.

Third. A lot of publications will not print something word for word that has been printed in another publication. If you are sending this article to more than one publication there can be serious repercussions to that. What if two of the publications decided to print the article and then the editor sees the article reprinted elsewhere and decides not to do business with you again.

Keep pitching, you can even pre-write articles and mention in the pitch that you have an article nearly ready to go on the topic. But don’t send the whole thing to an editor without testing the waters first.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Work-Appropriate E-mails

This week I got two e-mails from writers that made me cringe and, more importantly, made me put off responding for a day or two. The e-mails were rife with smiley faces and emoticons - something highly unprofessional.

When sending an e-mail to a business contact, even when you know them well or have been in contact for months, its important to keep the professional framework. Excessive use of exclamation marks, missing punctuation, emoticons and trendy abbreviations might be acceptable when writing your family and friends. It is not acceptable to send these to business contacts who you are trying to form a serious business relationship with. The content of the e-mail doesn't need to be altered just keep it 'grown-up'.

For instance there is a big difference between the two paragraphs below:

I just got off the phone with ABC Celebrity!!!! ;) She was SOOO great 2 talk 2 and has tons of ideas about the TV industry and other celebs. I'll write up my notes and put 2gether an article by Thur. :) The readers are going to love it, SRSLY!! :8

I just got off the phone with ABC Celebrity. She was so great to talk to and has tons of ideas about the TV industry and other celebrities. I'll write up my notes and put together an article by Thursday. The readers are going to love it, seriously.

Which would you prefer to read? Which would you want to give another writing assignment to?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Journalism Power Shift is Underway

Those of us who are freelancers and social media addicts know the one thing imperative to getting into and surviving in this business is building a personal brand. Is it going to happen overnight? No, of course not. Will you spend months working on it and still have little to show for it, quiet possibly. But like every idea it needs to start somewhere.

According to the State of the Media Report for 2009, which is put out by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, there is a power shift going on. The power is moving from institutions to individuals. The report states: “Through search, email, blogs, social media and more, consumers are gravitating to the work of individual writers and voices, and away somewhat from institutional brand. Journalists who have left legacy news organizations are attracting funding to create their own websites... It would be a mistake to overstate the movement at this point. But for a few journalists at least, there are signs of a new prospect: individual journalists, funded by a mix of sources, offering expert coverage to many places.”

With this in mind, we all need to spend a little time daily thinking about how we can grow our personal brand. What little thing can we do daily or what larger things can we try weekly? For each person it will be a different answer but no less important. What are you going to do?

I'm personally going to work on more frequent blog updates as well as more interaction with my fellow freelancers in the blogging community.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How-To Pick a Place to Work From

While I wouldn't say I'm a freelancing expert, in the last several years I have become an expert at picking places to work from. Of course may freelancers have a home office that they created and are disciplined enough to work out of there year-round. I created an attic office but it's way too hot to work from in the summer months which has forced me to weigh my other options.

Here's what you need to consider when picking a place to write and file from:

  • Internet availability. Any place that makes you pay for the 'privelege' is just silly today. Not sure the free hotspots in your area? Google it. Many cities have listings of the best WiFi spots. And of course Panera, Kaldi's, Barnes&Noble, McDonalds all offer free WiFi. Also increasingly outdoor parks have access. Bryant Park in New York used to be a favorite of mine.
  • A generous amount of outlets. If you are working from the same place all day you are going to need to plug your computer in. (Unless you have a stellar, long-lasting battery.) Scope out the place to see how many outlets there are. This will vary from location to location.
  • Atmosphere. Is the place conducive to working? The McDonalds play area during the lunchtime rush is not going to help you pen that article.
  • Sales associates. This is crucial. Are the employees welcoming and yet able to give you your space? For example: I stopped going to one location a couple months ago after one of the employees began thinking it was her job to talk to me at least 30 minutes each day I set up shop there. She was sweet, but that didn't help my work get done.
  • Smell. Weird, right? Well some places smell pretty bad - or worse you smell bad after you've been there a long time. If you are going for an all-day spot try to stay away from places that have food fryers as that grease just infiltrates the air and as a result your pores, clothing, hair, etc...
  • Surrounding area. Since you'll likely need to get up, stretch your legs, order some food, visit the bathroom, it's important to trust the part of town you're working in - at least this is important if you don't feel like packing and unpacking your things everytime you need to get up and move around a little.
  • Parking. Some places make it very easy to park and stay all day. Other places you may need to pay a meter, which is fine for a short stay but running out with quarters every two hours can become a little overwhelming especially when the ideas are really flowing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

You Think English is Easy?

I got this as a forward, which, I will be honest, I usually delete without a glance. But this one caught my attention and I thought it was worth posting for all you word-people.

It's one of the most difficult languages to learn! Can you read these right the first time?

01) The bandage was wound around the wound.

02) The farm was used to produce produce.

03) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

04) We must polish the Polish furniture.

05) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

06) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

07) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

08) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

09) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indixes? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

Sometimes I think all the=2 0English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital, ship by truck and send cargo by ship, have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill-in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't Buick rhyme with quick?

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this .

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is UP

It's easy to understand UP , meaning toward the sky or toward the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the
secretary to write UP a report ?

We call UP our friends. We use something to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers, and clean UP the kitchen. W e lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car .. At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work U P an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special .

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP . We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP , you may wind UP with a hundred or more.
When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP . When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP .
When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP ..
When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP .

We could go on, but I'll wrap it UP , for now my time is UP , so: Time to shut UP !

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Standard Etiquette for Sharing Content

Last night on #editorchat (via Twitter) we discussed content sharing. Of course the discussion was particularly relevant this week after the Washington Post/Gawker debacle. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, I think most journalists in the industry would agree there needs to be some kind of standard for content sharing.

But setting down a list of rules that must be followed is not likely to be productive. Bloggers, who usually pride themselves in there ability to write without the confines of an editor screening their work, aren’t likely to follow some established rule book.

I suggest instead standards of etiquette. And just like some people don’t feel the need to use a napkin or refuse to rip their role into smaller bit-sized pieces, not everyone will follow these standards, but is most writers and editors did the situation would be much improved.

The standards of etiquette:

  • Any content taken from another source must be attributed to that source. (even if its only a paragraph or minor fact.)
  • If the entire story is basically a re-write of another person’s work that needs to be indicated up front. The last sentence in the first paragraph is the perfect place to insert the publication or author’s name.
  • While it is ideal to list both the original writer’s name as well as the publication, that isn’t likely to happen. For newspapers the publication should be listed, for blogs the author should be indicated (unless it is a widely known blog).
  • Somewhere in the article should be a link to the original article and it should not be hidden away in a smaller font after the last paragraph.
  • For non-media companies utilizing an article in a report or internal company note, the media source needs to be contacted and permission must be granted to distribute the article.
  • The publication taking someone else’s article needs to do its own fact checking on the article, realizing that no one is infallible and therefore a certain amount of research needs to be put into a piece, even if it just a quick rewrite.
[I had something like this happen just a few weeks ago. Thanks to an editing error, my first paragraph contained confusing information about the location of the property. Another publication picked up the article, rewrote it and then contacted me to find out what the actual location was. A simple google search or call to the company would have clarified but the writer ignored those normal paths and sent me several e-mails to make sure everything was clarified.]
  • It is irresponsible to use the phrase ‘according to reports’ unless in fact several publications have reported on this topic. Otherwise if one publication breaks news that pub needs to be referenced and the story linked to; this is the case even after several publication have rewritten that first pubs report.
  • Any publication that picks up full articles from another publication and runs it without a rewrite should indicate both the name of the original publication as well as the writer’s name.
  • It is the editor’s role to ensure standards of content sharing etiquette are adhered to. These should be clearly defined from the get-go.
Thoughts on this? What else should be included in this standard of etiquette?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Writing a Blog is a lot like Training for a Marathon

As I'm sitting at my desk today weighing my options for how to spend my afternoon, I realized something potentially profound - or at least to me. Writing a blog is a lot like training for a marathon. How so?

1. It takes discipline. You can't just willy-nilly decide to run when you feel like it. The same with a blog. You can't write on the days you are in a super writing mode with lots of ideas flowing.

2. It's got to be a daily focus. That doesn't mean you write or run every day. But on the off days you should be gearing up for the days you are going to be working on your skill. For writing on off days you should be brainstorming new topics to write about, new angles to take, guest bloggers you want to grab. And on the off running days you need to be cross training with weights or going for a slow relaxing bike ride.

3. Help is needed along the way. When I first started marathon training I figured you just ran a little more every day until it was the big marathon day. But there is so much more to it than that. You need to read about good stretching techniques and learn which powerbars will give you the extra energy you need on the long runs. For blogging you need to be reading others posts, and articles constantly gathering information and fodder for your own use.

4. It's always easier with others around. I didn't want to run with my dad, who is also training for the marathon, but when he suggested it the last time I was home I agreed. I dreaded the basic 5 miles we were going to do thinking either he'd leave me in the dust or I'd leave him. But it turned out that we went at a pace that was between our two strides and managed all 5 miles without a single cramp. Blogging with encouragement, like the May blogathon, is so much easier because you know you have a group around you struggling to meet the same goal.

5. Some days it's a pain in the butt. Today, for instance, it is nearly 90* with 100% humidity here. A run even once around the block is a daunting task, but if I'm really serious about the marathon I'm going to run despite the heat. Blogging today is equally non-exciting since I've been at my computer for more than 7 hours already. But to keep the followers interested and to keep my craft sharp I'm writing.