Friday, March 29, 2013

What can you say in 300 words?

Sometimes, you can say an awful lot.

Case-in-point: Brady Dennis, former night cops reporter for the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times (which is now known as the Tampa Times).

Dennis, who is now with the Washington Post, decided he wanted to highlight some people who never found their way into the newspaper. So he and photographer Chris Zuppa began a monthly series called “300 Words,” in which they set out to tell the stories of toll booth operators, dads in jail, rodeo clowns and others. The series won national acclaim.
In a 2006 interview, Dennis said he wanted to take on the project because “I believe that each person not only has a story to tell, but that each person has a story that matters. I’ve always felt humbled in the presence of everyday, ‘ordinary’ people who are willing to share their lives with us.”

Later in the same interview, he discussed how the series – specifically the rigid word limit – made him a better journalist (read on after the jump):

“300 Words” made me a better reporter by forcing me to rely almost primarily on observation. Notice that most pieces contain almost no quotes. I didn’t interview people as much as I simply shut my mouth and watched and listened. We don’t do that enough.
 It also made me a more economical writer. With only 300 words to spare, each one had to matter. I've tried to apply that rule to the other stories I do, even the long ones. The idea is to cut away the fat and leave only the muscle. As my editor, Neville Green, repeated again and again: "Less is more." It's true for most stories we write.
Dennis’ series is proof positive that you don’t need pages and pages of copy to tell a beautiful story. He wasn’t writing to win awards or attract fans (although he did both). He simply wanted to paint pictures of fleeting moments, and all the sights, sounds and emotions that went with them. These moments surround us every day. They are stories that most of us can relate to at some level. Good storytellers like Dennis recognize the universal nature of those moments, and put them in perspective for us.

All of the stories in the series are very good. Two of my favorites are “One hour at a time” and “After the sky fell.” Those two articles are not “feel good” stories, as are some other stories in the series. So check out a few of the articles (they are all very quick reads). Which ones spoke to you the loudest? Why? What techniques did the writers use to put readers into these scenes? What can we as writers learn from them?

For some reason, the Times has taken down the “splash page” that used to have links to all the installments in this series. However, I was able to recover several of them through Google – enough to give you a sense of what the series was like. These are the headlines – the hyperlinks should take you to the stories.

One hour at a time

After the sky fell

One minute and 123 dollars

Beautiful noise

The accordion man

Looking for a laugh

The man in the mirror

The end is the beginning

For the first time

City dreams

A cross for Carlos

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Scientists Seek to Bring Back Extinct Species

Stanford Professor Hank Greely, recently spoke to a New York Times reporter about the advent of bringing extinct species back to life. Scientists around the world are trying to use new DNA technology to bring back extinct species, such as the wooly mammoth, the saber tooth tiger and the passenger pigeon. The article talks about innovations in DNA science and the different theories surrounding the successfulness of this process. Scientists note that it could be many years before we see the results of these endeavors, and there are ethical, moral and legal issues surrounding the nature of this type of science. 

This article caught my attention because of the nature of this controversial subject. The article does a good job drawing from many different sources and reporting the essential conversation points around bringing a species back into existence. Additionally, I like the use of the media to listen to Greely speak in depth about the subject. Even though we have seen many stories in the past about emerging science that does not come to fruition, I still think that this type of article stands a good purpose. Do you think this is newsworthy? Moreover, I appreciate science and new technology, but I disagree with the actions of the scientists trying to attempt this endeavor. How do you feel about the concept of bringing species back into existence? Did the author throughly cover all the legal, moral and ethical issues?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pittsburgh Teen Charged With Assault in Officer Shoot-off

18 year old Dante Bonner of Pittsburgh, PA has been charged with assault after shooting a police officer early Sunday morning. After a somewhat unclear turn of events with Bonner, his friends and the police officers, it resulted in Officer Christopher Ketris sustaining a leg injury. Ketris and his partners are currently being paid on administrative leave until the incident is further investigated. 

This article is informative and detailed, which is good since it is discussing a crime. However I do have a few issues with how it was written. Specifically, (because it has been throughly discussed in class ) inverted style pyramid writing. The author laid out facts in a disorderly manner. The first two paragraphs discuss what happened, with the most important content. After that the current condition of the shot officer is stated. Then, the past criminal history of Bonner is explained, despite it not being relevant to this shooting (especially because it is an open case). Quotes from any type of source as also lacking.

Do you think this article is too descriptive? Would a shorter, more straight to the point piece have been easier to read?

Obama's Energy Security Trust

President Obama proposed a plan to divert $200 million dollars annually for a decade from federal oil and gas royalties to fund research on alternative vehicles powered by electricity, bio fuel and natural gas. This idea stemmed from the fact that Obama couldn't get any climate change legislative to pass through the Congress and now he is attempting smaller projects that can change United States's energy track.

I think this alternative energy plan is small step forward on United States's long journey to energy sustainability. I'm glad to read that Obama is finding alternatives to addressing our energy dependence other than attempting to get legislation through the Congress. This article has good quotes from the president and gives specifics on what Obama has planned for the funding. Does anyone think that investing in alternative energy for transportation is a good idea or should the federal government invest their money elsewhere?         

Ohio High School Football Players Found Guilty

In Steubenville, Ohio, two teen football players were found guilty for raping a a drunken 16 year old girl at a party last August. The football players, ages 16 and 17 were said to have attacked the girl at the party late that summer night. The boys allegedly first raped the girl in the backseat of their moving car and then once again in the basement of a house. The case shocked the Steubenville community and definitely raised questions about the influence of the football team in the community. The girl testified that she was heavily under the influence that night and even suspected being drugged. Photos later surfaced that showed the girl with the football players in a picture taken from the night of the party. Some people from the party testified in the players' favor saying and some testified against them.

I feel like this is a well-written article and is very relevant in journalism right now. This story has been all over the news recently and FOX News broke the verdict this morning. It was an easy read and contained a lot of background facts relevant to the case. How did you all like the article? And based on the facts from the case, do you think there was sufficient evidence to incriminate the two teens in the trial?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conclave to elect new pope set to begin

"The Cardinal Angelo Sodano calls for love, unity and cooperation with the next pontiff." They pray for guidance in choosing the next pope during a pre-conclave Mass. There are 115 cardinals and they will choose the next spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Cardinals don't really have to vote on Tuesday but probably will, a Vatican spokesman says. I think this article is interesting even though it doesn't really have anything to do with me. I am more of a visual person and the photography that goes along with the story is a tremendous help to the tell the story visually. I just think that a tradition as old as the Pope is an interesting topic and thought it would be good to share with the class. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kelley Williams-Bolar’s Long, Winding Fight to Educate Her Daughters

Kelley Williams-Bolar’s Long, Winding Fight to Educate Her Daughters

Before this class I was guilty of not being the most informed person on current events based off of newspapers. I usually paid attention more to television news stations such as MSNBC or CNN, or would find out about recent news by word-of-mouth. Over this past spring break while working I was catching up with my favorite coworker who happens to be the Assistant Manager at my job and a mother of two relatively young kids. During our conversation we were discussing where her son and daughter were going to go to school next year. She brought up the story of Kelly Williams-Bolar, a woman who last year was brought on the national state for being indicted and sent to jail for nine days after illegally enrolling her daughters in a neighboring public school district.

This 42-year-old single mother from Akron, OH, who had never had trouble with the law prior to this, is currently serving two years on probation all for using her father's address to send her daughters to the Copley-Fairlawn School District instead of Akron Public Schools. In the article you will read what dangerous incidents and tough circumstances prompted the mother to use her father's address to begin with. You will also read how Copley-Fairlawn School District were able to find about about Williams-Bolar's falsified documents, what legal, political and social support she had during the incident and what life after her sentence has been like as she has now become a activist for school reform.

I thought this article was very well written and newsworthy. It's pretty extensive, but there was a lot of background to cover and questions to answer. This story and article stuck out to me because I personally thought she shouldn't have falsified on documents, but I understood why she did and thought actual criminal prosecution was extreme. I also believe it brought to light the school reform issue, which to me isn't discussed enough at times. So I pose the question: Do you think Kelly Williams-Bolar's story was newsworthy and did she receive the appropriate punishment for her actions?