Posts Tagged ‘ Media ’

Writing News: The Interview

2010.08.12
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HAVING LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY “DONE this in my sleep(1)” on occasion as ahem an award-winning reporter for the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Sonoma Sun (and freelancer for the Novato Advance, Petaluma Argus-Courier and The Bohemian) and being somewhat-to-greatly rankled by what passes for “news” these days outside of local outlets and the Daily Show, methinks it urgent to spread some of the skills needed to excel in The Game. Let’s start with the Interview.

The goal of the Interview is to extract information from someone who has it: whether they’re an eyewitness, a neighbor, a mayor, a relative, a senator or just a bunch of old guys reminiscing about Frank Sinatra in the backroom of an old Sonoma bar at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday. You will want to have the following:

– Tape recorder (smaller the better, and with a counter)
– Pad and pen(cil)
– Relevant and brief questions (what, when, where, how, maybe why, and — most importantly — “Anything else you want our readers/listeners to know? Anything I should have asked you, or that you’d wished I’d asked you?” This often yields the best quote of all.)

(Make sure that either tape or pad includes “the scene.” Include lots of color and context, body language, etc., but don’t go overboard at the expense of the nut-o’-story(2); include at least three relevant details. Some disdain tape recorders, but if you’re like me you’ll want people to tell you things in their own words — and you’ll want to quote them accurately. The counter’s for noting what point in the Interview contains The Quote.)

Two types of Interview there are: Field and Telephone.

Field Interviews are, by their nature, unpredictable; this is where your tape recorder is paramount. Identify yourself to the interviewee and give them a graceful way out: “I’m Clark Kent with the Daily Planet; mind if I ask you a few questions?” Keep as open and friendly a face as possible(3). If they consent, begin recording with something like, “This is Clark Kent of the Daily Planet on today’s date, and we’re speaking with …” Let the interviewee speak (and if necessary spell) name and title into the recorder; it both indicates consent and is a good way to break the ice.

If your interviewee is an emergency responder at the scene of something horrible, look for the guys in the white helmets (fire) or in a vehicle on the radio (police or also fire). Remember that while California Penal Code section 409.5d gives you legal access anywhere (your state or country may vary), you are a low priority to those trying to bring things under control. Keep your questions brief and to the point (that’s also a good general rule) and stay well out of the way (I usually back against a tree or something).

Interviewing witnesses and families can be dicey: some folks want to be in the newspaper and some don’t. Don’t push it; some may have a beef with the paper, or reporters in general, or be drunk, or indefinably weird in a way which makes you wish you’d studied finance. Be professional, as though you’re doing something serious (you are). Sometimes that can be contagious.

Interviewing someone who’s been traumatized by tragedy is invasive and, occasionally, necessary. Use extreme care. There is no other advice I can give you.

Other types of Field Interviews (e.g., press conferences, meeting interviewees at their office) are similar enough to the Telephone Interview as to make a good segue.

Telephone Interviews are easier in one way than Field Interviews, if you’re typing the conversation directly into your word-processor (typewriters, not so much). You’re limited in that you can’t see your interviewee’s eyes or body lingo, but if they’re not answering the phone you get to tell the secretary or voicemail “If I don’t hear from you by 2 p.m., I’ll have to write “Could not be reached by presstime.” (You’d be surprised how often this actually works, especially for those whose newsworthiness depends on public image.)

* * *

As nothing else comes to mind at present, I hope this helps those either curious about The Game or eager to play. As Edward R. Murrow said, “Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”(4)

———-

(1) Much to either the amazement or confirmed suspicions of my former editors, if they’re reading this.
(2) Picked this up from a former editor-in-chief, who referred to the summing-up paragraph of any story as the “nut graf.” Being a hick, I don’t know if that’s a universal term.
(3) On the other thumb, I used to work with a guy (also award-winning) whose favorite tools were gruffness and insouciance. Whatever works. It’s my nature to befriend people, so I go with that; also, I’ll come right out and say “Explain this to me so that I can see it the way you do.” It seems to me that a successful reporter should pretend to be the dumbest guy in the room — and pay close attention to the people trying to explain things.
(4) He also said “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful,” which is even more important. Your byline is your reputation — cherish it!

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Free Metaphor: “Lower North American”

2010.07.26
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0. CONCISION AND PRECISION ARE ESSENTIAL components of the modern metaphor. What your end-user metaphorager is looking for is light in the mouth and easy on the fingers, especially when describing social groups — you want something tight enough to express the point but loose enough to avoid looking like a stereotyping (and -typical) fool.

1. The challenge is greater when describing cultures within a geographical area. Specifically, what to conversationally call those of us residing between Mexico and Canada? “Americans” leaves out residents of those countries, as well as everyone south until the Patagonians (who, despite their patient excellence for crafting outdoor gear, are sticklers for self-affiliative accuracy). Likewise “USAtians,” which makes us sound like some exotic water dog; “USAers,” which is either a cheerleading squad or a reality-show; “Yankees,” which I object to as a diehard Red Sox fan; and “United States citizens,” whose formal appeal is outweighed by its clunkiness.

2. Therefore, I suggest “Lower North American.” It’s got a nice cadence (“LOWuh NORthuh MEruh Can”), easy informality and even compresses to a txtable “LNA” (which so far as I can see will only confuse us with amplifiers, shy nucleotides and members of the new Let’s Not Ask public-ignorance campaign).

So, friends, next time you’re stuck for a self-descriptive metaphor for hepcats, expats and diplomats, reach for smooth, satisfying Lower North America. Remember: Lower North America. It’s where we are now.

(Link here: http://metaphorager.net/lna)

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Bad, Bad News

2010.06.09
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YES, THAT WAS MY EMAIL which KQED’s Michael Krasny read during his second hour this morning, which program concerned the effect of bad news on man-in-the-street audients. The show is worth a listen — archive available at http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201006091000. (I riffed on the concomitant effect of bad news on the reporters who witness it.)

Many listeners discussed the heartbreak of our instant-everywhere media and the dangers of being desensitized by a flood of horrible real images about which one can do nothing or too damn little. Some said they’ve switched off radios and TV sets and canceled newspapers; some severely curtail their media intake to the non-visual or (more often) The Daily Show. One woman addressed the desensitization issue thus: When she sees the faces and names of American soldiers killed most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan (A”H, PBUT and rest in peace), she “goes into a little prayer for them” — she tries to connect her inner spark-of-what-some-call-God to theirs, to their lives and those surrounding them, and to the hole left by what was formerly their presence.

She says that helps. I believe her.

One of the most difficult aspects of living a “religious” or “spiritual” life is reconciling the universal amazingness of God with the frustrative pettiness of some humans. (“Monotheism isn’t for wimps,” as my old buddy Sputnik sometimes said.) It’s the sort of thing which worried Job, at least until God said, “That’s just the way it is.” It worries me too; these days I’m finding it difficult to keep from turning my eyes away from the horror. (Granted, I’m sort of dealing with a lot right now.) But this morning I discovered that not only am I not the only one who feels that way — I’m not alone in thinking that’s unacceptable. I don’t want to be ignorant of what’s going on in the world; I don’t want to be paralyzed by the knowledge either.

Maybe the answer, an answer, or anyway what my tool-using Mr. Fixit primate brain will substitute, isn’t to switch off but to find something you can do something about. Wherever you live, someone needs help — find them and offer it! (In Sonoma Valley, you can do that through FISH, or friendsinsonomahelping.org; if you don’t have something similar near you, start one. )

Even if we can’t directly affect what enrages us, we can channel that rage to productive ends. It may be hard work — but isn’t anything better than paralysis?

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Jon Stewart Slams Glenn Beck Idol

2010.05.21
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THE DEMISE OF THE HEADLINE-WRITER’S art (according to a recent article fed through both Slashdot and The Daily Beast) dictates an appeal to search engine optimization (SEO) instead of readers — something that snags on Google instead of anticipatory imagination. Thus, the perfect SEO headline for anything would be the above, as it’s (quoting from memory since I can’t find the original article, alas) “guaranteed to bring in thousands of page hits.” (I added “Idol” just to tweak the numbers, in my own special pundit Beltway Comedy Central Lady Gaga Obama porn Mafia Wars Stephen Colbert Go USA way.)

So there we go. I’ll post an update in 24 hours (hmm… better make it 36) and see how many Fabulous Prizes and Destination Sunsets we’ve won. (So to speak. Heh heh heh.)

UPDATE: JSSGBI+10 minutes: THIS is CREEPY. As in OMG!!! creepy. I no sooner post this when, touched by curiosity, I Google “Jon Stewart Slams Glenn Beck.” And:

The mind-blowing evidence of Google's unholy grasp on the world's electronic tentacles.

Fig. 1.

NUMBER FIVE??? IN N*I*N*E M*I*N*U*T*E*S?!?!?!?!? That’s actually pretty cool…

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5Thoughts: 21st Century SciFiFlix

2010.04.26
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FROM SOMEONE WHO WAS 15 when the first Star Wars premiered, and has recently been introducing the wife to the pre-1977 fruits of sfnal cinema:

1.) Though splashier, CGI doesn’t provide half the sense of wonder these days as models. “You mean somebody built that? With their hands? WOW.”

2.) Those films have aged least which most successfully combine visceral message with kitbashed production values. (When’s the last time you saw Silent Running, Soylent Green or even Dark Star?)

3. WHAT’S with all the DAMN VAMPIRES? Robots are less pretentious and, unless they’re C3PO, can be just as scary.

4. As we move into the 21st century — my generation’s cultural event horizon; remember wondering whether 1984 would resemble 1984?) — I’m beginning to understand the truth that the past is an inaccessible country. Once upon a time, there was an unanticipatable future to look toward; today, our dreams more resemble the tools we use to construct them. (Which isn’t bad; after all, we’re still dreaming, and doing so with greater togetherness. And yet I miss the hand-drawn days, free of ironic self-commentary, when men were men and “derivative” was still “seminal.”)

5. I’ve finally gotten over not having a jetpack. And a transfer booth. But foregoing a 100-mile-up HoJo lunch: not so much. (And whatever happened to Space Food Sticks?!?)

HoJo, per 2001: A space odyssey

Howard Johnson, c. 2001

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Invasion of the Sound Creatures

2009.06.03
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TITANIC THINGS ARE LURCHING ABOUT your neighborhood with awful speed and clumsiness — and by the time you finish reading this, you’ll hear them too.

I speak not of the consequences attending long-term medication, nor of some Lovecraftian horror rolling beneath the surface of reality, nor the start of Sonoma‘s tourist season. I speak of the ubiquitous and near-subsonic “swooshhhhhhh-BOOM” which has shouldered aside fanfares and instrumental flourishes in the modern mediasphere.

You’ve heard it. You must have. It can’t be escaped. As the product appears, a bassy “swoooshhhhhhh” as of Cyclopean wings circles the soundscape followed by a deep rumbling “BOOM.” Sometimes it’s just the “BOOM.” Or several in sequence, like an undead Godzilla tipsily shambling toward the theater/iPod/living room.

Or you might not have noticed it during the past terrible ten years; you might have been unwittingly seduced by the infrasonic siren’s call. Seduced into thinking that the product is brilliant. Brilliant enough to swallow every last box-office dollar and make you beg to give it even more.

But no. I am foolish. These … Things won’t bear revelation. They don’t want us to notice, those huge swooshhhing BOOMS with the BOOM and the BOOM and the BOOM and the have a beer commercial. Forget me. In fact, forget you even clicked here.

But don’t forget to listen.

I only wish I could.

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Why Star Trek Worked — And Lord of the Rings Didn’t

2009.05.14
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THE ONLY THING THAT BUGGED me about the new Star Trek movie — and that only for the first 20 minutes — was that it didn’t look “retro” enough; as though Mr. Abrams’ idea of “early Star Trek” was taken from the first films rather than the original series.

That disappointment was much more fleeting than the one which still accompanies another mythical relandscaping, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Sure, he got a lot right — including the balrog issue — but like many fen I loudly objected to Jackson’s character-monkeying (e.g., the emasculation of Aragorn) and addition of narrative-twisting scenes neither in the book nor appropriate to it. Not because I’m a purist (even though I am); adapting a Beloved Work from text to image, or from older image to newer image, almost always requires sacrifices, edits, and rewrites. And if you’re lucky or good enough to be in such a position you’ll soon split the fan base along love-hate lines depending on whose vision you ruined.

But even though Abrams’ Star Trek employs a couple of revisionist touches in look (2000s sweaty for 1960s antiseptic) and continuity (the planet Vulcan turns out to have been destroyed by time-travelling Romulans before Kirk and Spock can go mano-a-lirpa in “Amok Time”), he didn’t mess with the characters. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty — they’re played by the next generation (puntended) of actors, but their essential Kirkness, Spockness, et al is intact.

And that contains a lesson for religiospiritual seekers of modern mind and purist bent. I can’t speak for members of other traditional religions who try to balance ancientry with innovation, but Jewish communal organizations have recently been floating a number of well-intentioned “repackaging” initiatives designed to make the old attractive to the new. As Jewish tradition is all about reinterpretation, we have something of a 3,000-year head start on the process. Yet many of these initiatives seem to assume that Judaism can’t speak for itself — that it has to be changed in order to suit 21st Century palates. But at what point, then, does it cease to “be” Judaism?

E. g.: Aragorn a la Jackson. By Tolkien, Aragorn knows exactly who he is: the last son of a line of noble kings trying to restore a united realm and win the hand of his love. By Jackson, he’s just another afraid-of-his-destiny Kevin Costnerism. That may play well in our no-heroes-without-ironic-flaws era. But it’s also inauthentic and dishonest, robbing both character and work of integrity and intended meaning.

An authentic Spock doesn’t need to be played by Leonard Nimoy, or even to have pointed ears — but he does need to struggle with his twin-world identities, just as many Jews do whether they live in the United States, Russia or Iran. Likewise, an authentic adaptation of anything must maintain the source’s integrity — instead of changing it beyond recognition by those who know and love it.

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Stephen3PO

2007.12.17
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Or should that be 'Stee-3PO?'The writers’ strike wears on, but our nerves don’t thanks to those daring and resourceful folks at Operation Facestrong. Long may it wave.

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“I Seen It Too!”

2007.12.16
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WAITING FOR THE GRATEFUL DEAD with Sputnik at the Shoreline, c. 1989ish, one of us began the following conversation:

“For example, that guy over there with the ‘I Climbed Lassen’ T-shirt.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he obviously wants everyone to think that he climbed Lassen. But ‘those who know do not speak,’ so…”

“So you’re saying he didn’t really climb Lassen?”

“I’m saying that whether he did or he didn’t, he wants everyone to think he did.”

“‘Ckin’ poser.”

“He might as well have a T-shirt saying ‘I Seen It Too.'”

“Yeah! Or a bumpersticker. That would pretty much cover everything experienceable.”

“Bumpersticker’s better. They’d be cheaper to print and we could sell more of ’em.”

“Sell ’em to who?”

“To people who didn’t actually see It, but wanted everyone to think they did for whatever reason, but if they had seen It, they wouldn’t need to tell everybody.”

“What if they had seen It, and just wanted in on the joke?”

“Mmm … let them get their own damn ‘stickers.”

“But they should buy them from us since we thought of it first!”

!

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