Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting Started, or Ignore Your Notes

Sailing Analogies for Interviewing Techniques

Who are you as an interviewer?

The wind I face represents my natural disposition as an interviewer, in this case timidity. To get the information I want, I need to interview more aggressively. That is, I "sail" into the wind, forcing myself to be as direct as possible - which is never going to be straight ahead.


 The wind behind me represents my natural disposition as an interviewer, in this case combative assertiveness. To get the information I want, sometimes I need to interview less aggressively. That is, I "sail" with the wind - without piling on too much sail. Sometimes one needs to slow down.


Or just jump in the water and go for it, clumsily but persistently. Dog paddlers can get there, too.

(But be careful about trying to persuade through analogy as I have just done.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Assignment for Friday 2.24.17 - Reaching Out to Profile Subject

The assignment is simple: Ask someone to serve as your subject and corroborate the request. The best way to ask for an interview is usually face to face, though a phone call followed by an email is fine if your potential subject is not someone you rub up against every day.

You will satisfy this assignment through an email to your subject asking for an interview which you copy to me. Of course, if you ask your subject face to face and he/she agrees, the email you copy to me will consist of thanks to your subject for agreeing and confirmation of when your interview will take place.

Employ the GOSS model in your interview. (Some people call this the GOSSY model, the Y standing for all the times in your interview that you ask Why.)


O=obstacles to achieving those goals

S=solutions to overcoming those obstacles

S=first step in implementing the solutions

The point of your interview is understanding how your subject came to USF and how your subject sees her/his future at this fine institution. Was getting a job here a specific goal or one of many possible satisfying outcomes? What is your subject's most important goal now that she is teaching here?

You will collect basic biographical information, but you will be alert to how that information plugs into the GOSS model.

Finally, I want you to ask what your subject makes of the current labor troubles at USF. (We will talk about this in more detail in class.) I'm guessing the outcome of the faculty vote on the recent contract offer from the university will influence your subject's goals, both personal and professional. This will be true even if your subject is not a faculty member because I heard at a recent union meeting that faculty salary increases are tied to that of other campus unions, which was explained to me as meaning that our actions could result in other employees getting bigger - or smaller - raises.

Addendum: You may want to ask several people for interviews. Since there will be a penalty for late stories, you want to make sure you have *somebody* to interview. You also want to have a fallback position if your first choice agrees, schedules the interview close to deadline and then blows you off.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Some Thoughts in Your News Conference Stories

1)Jacobs presents the problems at the jail in this order:

 a) crumbling walls
 b) overcrowding
 c) 17 escapes caused - by implication – by previous two problems
d) jail food
e) rape of juveniles, which he called “the worst part”

I liked it when you changed the order in which you presented these. Some of you put food last, which I liked because it is not related to the state of the actual building. Jacobs said he was quitting because he couldn’t get a new jail. Food is a complaint that would not be resolved by a new building. I also liked it if you put the rape problem higher – since Jacobs suggested it was the “worst” problem and I also liked it if you put escapes higher since arguably that’s something that would immediately affect the community. Even if you don’t care about how “jailbirds” are treated, you care if they are back on the street.

Bottom line: I liked it when you used news judgment to change the order in which Jacobs presented his complaints.

2)Jacobs final comment that “As of 8 p.m. tonight you won’t have my butt to kick around anymore. San Francisco here I come” was tricky because your deadline came before 8 p.m., and it wasn’t clear if Jacobs meant he would officially resign at that time or if that’s when he was leaving town. Remember that he said he was announcing his resignation, which is not quite the same as specifying that he had already done it. Some of you used his final comment as a kicker, without trying to explain it. That was fine. Some of you ignored it, which was acceptable since the news is the resignation.

3)Yes, Jacobs’ theatrical excess was a trap. I didn’t want you to spend too many words on his behavior and not on what he said. But neither did I want you to ignore his bellowing, cigar-throwing and wall-pounding.

4) Usually I want you to bury the “when” in your lead. But in this case, I can imagine leading with “Less than two hours ago….”

5) That Bronze star. It’s actually irrelevant, but I didn’t mind your mentioning it near the end of the story. The Juanita rumor. Oh no. It’s unconfirmed, and irrelevant given what we know at this moment. Therefore, its ethically dubious to include it. Moreover, it’s potentially libelous, something we will talk about in more detail soon. If it turns out to be false, it could result in a libel suit the newspaper might lose.

6) Big big point. The thing we learn during the press conference – the news – is that Jacobs is resigning as sheriff. That’s the news, and I wanted it in the first 100 words.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some Thoughts on Your Shoplifting Stories

1) Did he do it or not? I created the fact set, and I don’t know, or at least I can’t be certain based on the facts I created. The only eyewitness to the actual theft is the security guard, and it is possible that, as he tried to follow the shoplifter out of the store, he lost sight of the actual thief and started running at Timothy Milan, panicking him into fleeing, and to fighting back when a stranger grabbed him. The fact the cops have not located the sweaters that the guard says were taken is consistent with that scenario.

On the other hand, the kid may be guilty, so be careful about how you phrase things and what you do with the official statement about those missing sweaters. I can support those of you who put that reference at the end as a kind of implied question mark. I can support those of you who ignored it. Both approaches will be defensible if, on the morning your story is published, video emerges – from passersby or from in-store cameras – that makes clear Milan’s guilt or his innocence.

Probably a bigger problem has to do with leads in which you said something like, “According to police, a USF student shoplifted two sweaters…,” or some variant of that. You might stick an “allegedly” in there. Or you might say, “A Macy’s security guard told police that….” This is the seductive beauty of newswriting, of finding a way to say things that is accurate not just in detail but also in implication. By the way, here are some thoughts from a veteran reporter on the use of “alleged” and “allegedly.”

Seeking to avoid prejudging the facts in a crime and to protect the rights of the accused, reporters sometimes overuse “alleged” and “allegedly.” If it is clear that someone has been robbed at gunpoint, it’s not necessary to describe it as an alleged robbery or the victim as an alleged victim. This practice insultingly casts doubt on the honesty of the victim and protects no one. An accused perpetrator is one whose guilt is not yet established, so it is redundant to speak of an “alleged accused.” If the perpetrator has not yet been identified, it’s pointless to speak of the search for an “alleged perpetrator.”

2) For certain stories, I am going to stringently enforce the hundred-word rule. Given that rule, in this case you **must** tell me early on that the DA’s office says no one will be charged with anything. (Of course, you need to source it so you’re good if the DA changes his mind.) And that means that even earlier than the DA’s decision, you must give some detail on how Milan died. Died. That’s the word some of you used without elaboration, leaving the reader to wonder if he had a heart attack or an asthma attack or tripped and hit his head. You have multiple sources, from cops to hospital to coroner, to justify saying that he was choked to death. Softening it to “died after being placed in a headlock” is all right, too. That said, you don’t need to get into the autopsy’s technical language too high in the story. Save that for after the hundred-word line.

3) Editorializing and opinionating! You don’t need to call it a tragedy, a word that means different things to different people. Provide the details, and let your readers arrive at their own judgments. (Disclaimer: Some first-rate journalists disagree with me. They like the word!) Now let’s take a look at a couple lively grafs from one of your stories.

According to SFPD Lt. Mason Monroe, no sweaters were recovered after the young man was pronounced dead. However, despite a lack of evidence that Milan was, in fact, hiding sweaters in his pant legs, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office released a statement today stating that they would not recommend charging anyone involved with a crime at this time because it “seemed to be a case of excusable homicide.”
It is unknown if Daugherty’s involvement in the case will affect his position as a clarinetist with the San Francisco Chamber Ensemble. The two other bystanders remain unidentified and their involvement in Timothy’s death remains unclear at this time. 

Notice my cuts. First cut: No sweaters were recovered. Period. Not before he died and not after. Second cut: Now you seem to be directly challenging the police investigation. Several reasons exist for not doing this, not the least of which is video may emerge that makes you look foolish and “not objective.” (Later on we will talk about how slippery that word is.) Third cut: I’d say the better question is how Daugherty feels about having killed someone. But don’t speculate. Call him and ask and, if he responds, that’s another story. Same thing for wondering about how his employer will feel about his new notoriety. Don’t waste words speculating. I don’t think I’d spend words on the two mystery bystanders, though I didn’t cut it. They are potential witnesses to how the chase began. The involvement comment? The police account seems pretty clear to me. They chased, but they ran slower than Daugherty, and there are better things to spend words on.

I am not saying we never speculate in a story. If we did not have the DA quote, we could reasonably say no word yet on anyone being charged in the death. That thought would obviously be in everyone’s mind, and readers would want to be reassured that you, the reporter, recognized the importance of determining so important a fact. One assumes in that case the story would actually contain something like, “The District Attorney’s office has not yet responded to questions (or has not commented) about whether….” because a good reporter would have made that phone call, even if it’s five minutes to deadline.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Little Red So Far

Thinking about Little Red Cap and lead writing:

There are four 'who's' in this story - LRC, granny, the huntsman and the wolf. It's hard to imagine a lead that didn't include all four, which most of you did. The obvious choice for first "who" is LRC. You might also lead with the huntsman since his is the decisive action. Leading with granny? Not likely since her victimhood is clearly subordinate to LRC. None of your leads begin with the wolf. Such a lead might read something like:

 A wolf was killed yesterday after eating alive a young woman and her grandmother. A huntsman saved their lives by cutting the wolf open.

I would call that an acceptable lead, if not an obvious first choice, since the wolf is the engine of the story.  Let's use our wolf lead to explore the Art of the Lead.  A lead like this illustrates the nature of news writing. It does not include a number of colorful and interesting details, but it does not **contradict** those details. That is, this account may be bare bones, but it will prove consistent with any of those details if they are presented later in the story. For instance, a reader of our wolf lead might assume that the wolf was immediately killed by his being cut open and only by the act of cutting him open. Not so. Apparently being filled with stones at the instigation of Little Red Cap causes the wolf's death. A close reading of the first two sentences shows that the lead does not misrepresent the facts of the story as they emerge later on. Of course, we might choose to put more of those colorful details higher up, resulting in this lead:

A wolf was killed yesterday after eating alive a young woman and her grandmother and then falling asleep in the grandmother's cottage. According to authorities, a huntsman attracted by the wolf's snoring saved the lives of the women by cutting the wolf open with a pair of scissors. (48 words)

Little Red Cap, one of the victims, suggested filling the wolf's stomach with stones, which resulted in his death.

At this point, you might "go chronological": "Little Red Cap met the wolf earlier in the day...," fleshing the story out.

Now let's see how many words it takes you to include the key details.

1) A huntsman came to the rescue of a young girl and her grandmother when he heard unusual sounds coming from her house. Upon arriving at the scene, the huntsman discovered a wolf sleeping in the old woman’s bed. He cut open the animal finding not only the grandmother, but a young girl as well. (49 words)The girl, little red cap, was on her way to bring cake and wine to her grandmother, when she was led astray by a wolf in the woods. After the perpetrator had ditched the girl, he ran to the grandmothers house. Using a ruse, he was able to enter the home and swallow the woman whole. He then dressed up as the grandmother and waited for the young girl, swallowing her as well.

2) A huntsman stumbled across a wolf who had consumed a grandmother and granddaughter. He was passing the grandmother’s home when he heard loud snoring, prompting him to investigate further. The wolf was found asleep in the grandmother’s bed wearing her clothes and cap. The granddaughter was delivering a bottle of wine and piece of cake from the village to her grandmother in the woods, who was ill at the time. Acting quickly, the huntsman cut the wolf open, freeing the grandmother and granddaughter. (originally 83 words)They sustained no injuries. They filled the wolf with heavy stones, killing him immediately after a fall.

3) Little red cap was eaten by a wolf disguised as her grandmother while attempting to deliver a piece of cake and a bottle of wine to her cabin in the forest one day.(uh oh - no huntsman, no multiple consumption, no rescue)

4) (Villager) Little Red Cap, a young resident of the village, has been rescued by a huntsman from the stomach of a predatory wolf, police reports say. Her grandmother, who lives just thirty minutes outside of the village, was rescued as well. (passive voice - give the huntsman some love) The culprit has been pronounced dead at the scene. (originally 50 words) Cap had been on her way to her ill relative’s home with a care package when she was initially approached by the wolf, who then lured the child to a hedge of hazel bushes as a distraction. He then ran to devour elderly woman, and subsequently posed as her so as to lure the child to the cottage.

5) Little Red Cap was headed to her sick grandmother’s house the other day, when an evil wolf tricked her off the trail. Upon her arrival, Little Red Cap saw the wolf had eaten her grandmother. Soon after, she too was eaten. Thanks to a passing hunter, both Grandmother and Little Red Cap (specifics!) were rescued from the horrific event. (originally 58 words)

6) A sweet young girl named Little Red Cap was eaten by a wolf disguised as her grandmother, when trying to deliver wine and cake to her grandmother's cabin in the forest. (One more sentence, please)

7) Once upon a time, a little girl known as Little Red Cap was walking through the woods to deliver a piece of cake and a bottle of wine to her sick grandmother. In the woods she came across a fox who asked her where she was going and told her she should pick some flowers for her grandmother. While Little Red Cap picked her grandmother flowers, the wolf entered the grandmother’s house and ate her. When Little Red Cap finally arrived at her grandmother’s house, the wolf ate her too. Luckily, later that night when the wolf had fallen asleep, a huntsman suspiciously approached the scene and quickly understood what had happened. The huntsman cut open the wolf’s belly and out came the little girl and her grandmother. They then filled the wolf’s empty body with stones, which would eventually kill him. (142 words - this can be tightened up *a lot* but it is shorter than the original) The huntsman kept the wolf’s pelt and the grandmother was able to eat her cake and drink her wine in peace.

8) A wolf ate a little girl with a red cap in the woods one day by disguising himself as her grandmother, who he also ate due to his hunger. (Now give the  huntsman his sentence)

9) A good Samaritan huntsman saved a girl known as “Little Red Cape” and her grandmother after he cut them out of the stomach of a vicious wolf that had swallowed them both. The girl and her grandmother are unharmed, but the wolf has died after they? filled him up with rocks. (51 words - this is my favorite)

10) A young girl and her elderly grandmother were attacked by a wolf once upon a time, officials say. The girl, known to her village as “Little Red Cap”, was bringing errands to her ailing grandma a half hour into the woods when the assault began. The wolf approached Red Cap and succeeded in luring her off the road; he then proceeded to her grandmother’s house, where he consumed both grandmother and girl after donning the senior woman’s clothing. Both individuals are alive due to the work of a passing huntsman, who cut the women out of the wolf’s belly with scissors. The huntsman had reportedly been tracking the animal for a long time prior to this incident, and took the wolf’s pelt after killing him for his crime. (128 words - notice preliminary cuts)