Category Archives: Prompts

Final Reflection: 16 Things I Learned in J202

My semester-long battle with J202 is coming to a close. At this point, in the midst of a final project in which I am responsible for overseeing and editing every bit of content that will appear on our project website, I am not nostalgic at all (in fact, I may feel some elation mixed with a just touch of stress). However, I know that by this time next week, I’ll be feeling a bit blue about the end of J202.

So in my final reflection on this beast of a class, I’d like to highlight 16 things I learned throughout the 16 weeks of this semester in J202.

1. Check your facts:┬áNo, seriously, CHECK EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR FACTS. I don’t care how sure you are that 14 train cars were carrying anhydrous ammonia in the Stoughton crash. Double- and triple-check numbers, name spellings, locations, ages and anything you are sending to the presses. Fact checking: Just do it.

2. Banish the Oxford comma from your work: Breaking up is hard to do. As a dual journalism and English major, this was the hardest severance I ever had to experience in the world of writing. I’m still reeling from the agony I experienced when leaving behind my beloved Oxford comma, but in the end, my grade in the six-credit J202 (and my general future as a journalist) had to come first.

3. Live and breathe AP Style: Even if you hate having to call Wisconsin “Wis.” in print (I do), you must obey the AP Stylebook. It is your Bible, your Quran, your Holy Book. Always keep it handy in case of copy editing emergencies.

4. Pay attention to deadlines: I may say this as I write this blog post the day before it’s due, but I really do mean it. Deadlines are everything in the professional world of journalism. Get things in on time, even when it feels impossible. It’ll feel much better to see your byline the next day and know that you did a job well done.

5. There are Chihuahuas and Great Danes: My mom always used to tell me this whenever I would compare my appearance to that of another girl. The same goes for talents, skills and specialties. Some people have a killer eye for design (not me) while others are better suited for writing (me). Embrace what you’re good at and do the best you can do in your weaker areas.

6. Be gracious and kind to interview subjects: The people we write about are doing us a huge favor by giving us a story to tell. Be sure to let them know how much you value their time and thank them endlessly. If they’d like to see the piece they’re featured in once it’s complete, send it to them! Most people love getting things written about them. It makes them feel special.

7. Writer’s block happens: And it happens more often than we’d like it to. Sometimes the only thing we can do to get our ideas flowing is to step away from our work or turn to something else for a few minutes. This is okay and necessary.

8. Pictures are important:┬áHundreds of words written by the best writer in the world will not portray as much as a single photograph. As hard as that is to acknowledge for a wordy person like myself, pictures are a powerful medium for storytelling. Stories are usually made better by photographs, so don’t be afraid to include both words and pictures.

9. …But that doesn’t mean you can write poorly: Audiences expect journalists to be good writers, and they should. After all, this is what we’re trained to do. Ask a mentor or a friend to read your work and offer you suggestions to improve your writing. Everyone has something they can work on.

10. Ask good questions and follow-ups: This was a hard one for me to learn. But if you aren’t getting the kind of responses you need for your story, why are you conducting an interview? It is so, so important that your questions elicit good responses. To do this, the questions you ask must be clear, concise and well-worded. If you don’t get a good answer on the first try, go in for the follow-up (basically, rephrase your original question, it usually works wonders).

11. Cover topics that interest you: I know this isn’t always an option in the real world, but if you can, follow and cover stories that interest you so that work doesn’t feel so much like work. Journalism is such a broad field that there is something for everyone, whether it be sports, fashion or mindless celebrity gossip.

12. Share your work: After you’ve finished a piece you slaved over, you will probably want to get some positive feedback on it. Posting links to your stories online gives you instant access to compliments, even if they are only from your mom and your best friend. Beware: Posting links to your stories could potentially lead to an onslaught of trolls and haters. It’s something you have to get used to, because that’s just part of the online business.

13. Use a thesaurus: You probably reuse the same words and phrases over and over without even realizing it. Thesauruses are a huge help in breaking this habit.

14. Structure your story in a way that makes sense: I understood the general structure of straight news stories and feature pieces before taking J202, but I learned that there are many more ways to arrange a story that might go against tradition. Infographics are one of my favorite new story types, and I’m really glad I learned how to make them.

15. Learn the ropes of basic software: iMove, InDesign and Audacity may seem confusing at first, but they (and programs like them) are essential to the journalism industry. Having these programs in your toolkit will be extremely helpful when you enter the real world.

16. Be proud of your profession: How many times has someone come up to you and asked you what career path you plan to follow in the “dying field” of journalism? Too many, I bet. Don’t shrink away from questions like that. Instead, be proud of what you’ve chosen to do in life. While some people are stuck in cubicles, working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and waiting for their next vacation, you are out in the world capturing life as it happens and telling people’s stories. What job could possibly be more awesome than that?

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Inspiring Communicator: Mike Russo of the Star Tribune

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While I’ve always had the sort of vague, intuitive notion that my future career would involve writing, I was never pushed towards a particular career or field. Of course, this was before I started watching hockey.

When I was a freshman in high school, I became obsessed with the Minnesota Wild. I’m not using the term “obsessed” lightly here, either. No, I was watching games, buying jerseys and shirts, begging my parents to let me go to 8:00 games on school nights, watching too many YouTube videos of the team online, that sort of thing. Think of the insanity of Justin Bieber fans… and then apply it to hockey. That was me.

Through my Wild obsession, I discovered the genius of a writer that covers the team for the Trib (the Minnesotan name for its local paper, the Star Tribune). His name is Mike Russo, and I someday hope to have even a fraction of his awesomeness.

Russo began his “pro” career covering the NHL’s Florida Panthers before coming to Minnesota to cover the Wild. His style is smart, witty and sharp. His articles are easy to read and to the point, but they are still incredibly well-written and interesting. He’s won a slew of writing awards, and he even covered the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

There are two things that I especially admire about Russo. One is that he has a powerful social media presence. It’s like social media was made for his kind of style. On Twitter, he rarely uses all 140 characters when tweeting about games, yet he still manages to say a lot. He interacts with his audience and frequently answers fan questions through Twitter Q&As and online chats.

Another element of Russo’s writing style that I find impressive is his honesty and frankness. Though he covers the Minnesota Wild, he does not feel the need to promote them or hold back his opinion when the team is playing poorly. He will openly call out players when they are having bad games, but he is respectful with interviews in the locker room after a tough loss. He somehow finds a way to balance criticism with praise to maintain an unbiased view of the team. Most importantly, he doesn’t act like a fan, even though covering a team for as long as he has covered the Wild would convert anyone.

Russo has inspired me to follow the path of sports journalism. In my senior year of high school during my mentorship with Kevin Gorg, a reporter for Fox Sports North, I was lucky enough to shadow Russo for a night. His job is totally frantic and fast-paced, and it looks just like what I want my future job to be. Now, in college, I’ve started covering the Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team for The Daily Cardinal in hopes that someday I will land a job like Russo’s.

And none of it would’ve happened had I not developed an obsession.

The Big Day On a Budget

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Six months ago, I started dating a boy in the Naval ROTC program here on campus. Before that, I was mostly clueless about military customs and traditions. Imagine my excitement when he asked me to my first military ball. I couldn’t wait to pick out my shoes, my jewelry, and most importantly, my dress. Now, six months later, this boy is my boyfriend. Although I’m still looking forward to the Navy balls to come, I have started to think about how much all of them are going to cost. How convenient would it be to have a website dedicated to dress exchanges?

Then I thought about all the dresses sitting in my closet. I have two homecoming dresses from my freshman and junior year of high school. I have one very expensive prom dress. And now, after the upcoming Navy ball, I will have two dresses that I can’t wear to future Navy balls. What a waste! Formal dresses are exorbitantly expensive, and we rarely wear them twice. It would be nice to get old dresses off of your hands and pay less for new ones.

If I had the resources, I would make a formal dress exchange website.

It would be called The Big Day, and it would primarily host dress exchanges. Anyone who registers with their PayPal account could buy, sell, or exchange dresses. The website would be split into sections by event: Wedding (with wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses), Prom, Homecoming, Military, and Work Formal. There would be a separate section for accessories: Jewelry, Shoes, and Purses. The site would function much like Etsy.com, where members can classify their items and “display” them in their own shop. Members would be able to buy and sell with confidence and know exactly what they are getting.

And the best part? Since the dresses would be used, the costs would be lessened.

A website like this would have appeal across a variety of age groups. This site would appeal to high school girls searching for the perfect prom dress, brides trying to save for their honeymoons, and professionals looking for a dress for a formal work event. Because of its wide appeal, it could probably generate a decent amount of advertising revenue. The site could even offer coupons for participating salons for hair styling, makeup, and mani/pedis. The more that I think about this idea, the more it strikes me as both a thrifty website and a revenue generator.

Maybe someday my dream will come to fruition. Until then, I’ll keep it in mind as I drive from dress shop to dress shop, looking for my next Navy ball dress.

And That’s the Way It Was

The days of Walter Cronkite and by-the-books journalism are long gone. Replacing them are outlets filling a 24-hour news hole with opinions and heresay, a growing sensationalism among even the most reputable sources, and rapidly evolving technology that is changing the way the news is delivered. Additionally, the job market in journalism has become dismal, which worries poor journalism majors like me. What’s wrong with the news is that even amidst so many changes that could potentially better journalism, readership and viewership have declined. It is much simpler to scroll through a Twitter feed to get the news than to consciously seek out information.

As a reader and viewer, I wish the news contained equal amounts of both domestic and foreign stories while still putting the most important news events first. American news coverage is notably different from coverage around the world in that it focuses heavily on domestic events and lets foreign news fall to the wayside. In a perfect world, American news organizations like ABC, NBC, and CNN would resemble the BBC. The BBC covers important domestic and worldwide events and holds itself to high ethical standards, which cuts down on mistakes and bias. In addition to being more balanced, I wish the news was simply happier. Almost everyone I know complains about how turning the news on at night is depressing because of how many sad stories lead broadcasts. If the news could somehow deliver a mix of happy and sad stories, I would be more willing to watch it.

If I ran a news organization, I would have my journalists and employees continually revisit the organization’s code of ethics so that the work produced would reflect our high standards. I would invest heavily in our multimedia and social media departments because the biggest growth in news and in revenue would come from those areas. In my news organization, I would try to balance revenue generation with good journalism. However, if I ever had to choose between making a profit and creating quality news, I would definitely choose the latter.

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