The Power of the Press

NON-FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.

Ironically, in today's market place successful nonfiction has to be unbelievable, while successful fiction must be believable.
- Jerry B Jenkins

Words are a lens to focus one's mind.
Any Rand

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.
- Clarence Budkington Kelland

Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.
- Rudyard Kipling

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
- Mary Heaton Vorse

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry.  Writers are like dancers, like athletes.  Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
- Jane Yolen

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.  Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors.  Every stroke you put down you have to go with.  Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.
- Joan Didion

In fiction, when you paint yourself into a corner, you can write a pair of suction cups into the bottoms of your shoes and walk up the wall and out the skylight and see the sun breaking through the clouds.  In nonfiction, you don't have that luxury.
- Tim Robbins

The Power of the Press

Don’t Let it Go to Your Head

By Linda Sherwood

This article is a follow-up to “How to be a (shiver) reporter.” The dead air greeted me across the phone lines. The person on the other end had hung up seconds after I’d uttered the words, “This is Linda Sherwood, I’m a reporter.” I hadn’t even had time to finish my sentence.

Instantly a cold chill went through my body. No! I screamed to myself. I’m not one of those reporters. I quickly hit the redial and as soon as the phone picked up I blurted out what I wanted. It worked. The woman on the other end answered my questions and I felt redeemed. The incident reminded me of what I try to do as a reporter for a small weekly newspaper.

The story behind the click began with a car accident. A head-on collision that sent three children to the hospital in critical condition and killed their parents. The phone call was to the driver of the other vehicle, an elderly man. I didn’t want to know any of the gory details. My newspaper didn’t even print a photo of the accident. It would just hurt too many people in the community for the sake of a cheap thrill by a few. I had called to find out how the man was doing. He had been released from the hospital, but no one could tell me his condition.

Reporting the news is different than other types of freelance writing. You are the agenda maker for your community. You decide what issues to cover. You decide what is newsworthy and what isn’t newsworthy. As a reporter, it is important to keep in mind that you have power. By taking the time to research, write and print a story, you are giving credibility to the issue. You are promoting the issue even if you provide both sides.

When you determine what is newsworthy, you are going to encounter people who will try to persuade you its not newsworthy. Face it, lawyers are probably the only profession that people like less than reporters. People would rather sweep their dirt under the rug than print it in the paper. The mere fact you are covering an issue can change the outcome. It happens all of the time. The words you choose and the facts you include influence your readers and the ultimate outcome.

When you make a phone call in search of information on a story you normally get one of two types of responses. The first is someone eager to have their story told and who gives you all sorts of good information and quotes. The second type of response is someone who doesn’t want the story covered. Who would rather let this be put out with yesterday’s trash. You have to coax and persuade. Sometimes it helps to let people know why you are calling.

The advantage of newspaper reporting is you have time to gather the facts and present accurate information. The downside is you don’t reach as many people as other media like television. When a school district had an upcoming election to build a new school, I wrote several articles over several months covering the issues involved. On the day of the election, the local news station aired a story on the election. In the story, the reporter summarized the election by stating a failure to pass the proposal would result in the school district closing its doors.

By the next broadcast, the television station corrected its mistake. It was too late for many voters, however. The proposal passed, but people were unhappy. They felt they had been mislead and the vote should be redone. They didn’t remember it was the reporter who made the false statement. They remembered who had been interviewed, the school’s superintendent.

After the election, I called the superintendent for comments on the reporter’s mistake. When I called, he suggested I not do a story on it. It was over. He would rather not have an article on it. I persisted. I tried to change his mind so he would cooperate with me. I mentioned the letters to the editor we had already received on the matter. He relented and I interviewed him. The next week, he called me back to thank me. My story had cleared up exactly what had happened.

When you interview people, rather than look for the scoop of the decade, look for accuracy. Take detailed notes. Ask the obvious because it just might not be as obvious as you think. Don’t assume you understand the issue. Tell them what you think you understand and see if you’re right. Let them correct you before it goes into print. By the time it’s printed, its too late. You can correct it with the next issue or the next broadcast, but the damage is done.

The damage can go beyond that story. It effects your credibility. It may be the deciding factor on whether or not someone talks to you again. Do your homework. Make sure you are reporting facts with substance and not assumptions. It will make your sources happier and will make life easier on you the next time you call them as a source.

Words have power. Words influence people. People interpret the same words differently. They bring their own prejudices and beliefs to the article as they read. My advice to beginning reporters, or even to the seasoned veteran, is to choose your words carefully. Words have power and if you misuse them they can haunt you.

Last but not least, I would advise you, no, I would beg you (on my knees, pleading here) don’t be one of those reporters. You make it too hard for the rest of us.

Linda Sherwood is a freelance writer and a reporter for two northern Michigan newspapers and a columnist for Moms Online’s new Teens and Money Center. Look for her first column there in January. Linda is at work on her first novel and a children’s book.

An Interview with Holly Ambrose

NON-FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.

Ironically, in today's market place successful nonfiction has to be unbelievable, while successful fiction must be believable.
- Jerry B Jenkins

Words are a lens to focus one's mind.
Any Rand

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.
- Clarence Budkington Kelland

Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.
- Rudyard Kipling

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
- Mary Heaton Vorse

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry.  Writers are like dancers, like athletes.  Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
- Jane Yolen

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.  Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors.  Every stroke you put down you have to go with.  Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.
- Joan Didion

In fiction, when you paint yourself into a corner, you can write a pair of suction cups into the bottoms of your shoes and walk up the wall and out the skylight and see the sun breaking through the clouds.  In nonfiction, you don't have that luxury.
- Tim Robbins

An Interview with Holly Ambrose

by Grady Hanrahan  

Non-Fiction Submissions

Holly Ambrose has a degree in journalism from Florida International University in North Miami. Her publishing career began with freelance articles, which she continues to write today. Holly worked previously as an editor for a children’s educational CD-ROM and had a stint as editor/writer of a quarterly magazine for a non-profit organization. She has been in the process of publishing a new magazine called EcoFlorida for nine months now.

Q: What are the main criteria for a “good” non-fiction submission?

First, writers have to convince me that they know what they’re writing about. Then, they also have to show professionalism in that they spell words correctly and write complete sentences that are easy to read. When I read an article, it’s important to find a flow – a thought organization that makes sense. For example, I (and readers) shouldn’t have to read the same thing in two different places in the article — that shows poor organization on the writer’s parts. Those are the basics.

If an article is assigned, it should follow the criteria the assigning editor wanted. If an article is on spec, it should speak to the readers of the intended audience and have an obvious slant.

Q: What do you dislike most about non-fiction submissions?

I don’t like to see spelling mistakes-everyone has a spell checker these days. If someone is too lazy or careless to use it, I wonder about the quality of the thoughts in the article. Grammar problems also turn me off –and I mean real problems, like style things or clumsy wording. There are a lot of people who want to write just to see their names in print or to express themselves, but who don’t take the time to learn how to use their tools — words.

Q: What are the qualities of a “good” non-fiction editor?

From working with editors who have edited my work, I can say that I have admired those who just came right out and told me how to correct what I’d written. That was how I learned to write. They didn’t try to spare my feelings, and I was glad because I know I don’t learn anything from someone telling me “That’s real nice; I liked it.”

I think a non-fiction editor should be interested in not only the subject he or she is editing, but also be interested in lots of other subjects. Even though many non-fiction articles are specialized, they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are touched upon, and the subjects themselves touch upon other subjects, even in minor, but significant, ways.

Q: What are your writing habits, if any?

Currently, I write some articles for my own publications as well as a freelance article now and then. I also like to speak to other writers and editors about the work they encounter, and strike up discussions about certain aspects of using language.

Q: What advice do you have for beginning non-fiction writers?

I would say to begin writing what you know about. There is a lot each one of us knows about. We know about the place we live or grew up in, what the micro-culture was like, what the climate was like, what our childhood and families were like. Right there, you could write dozens of essays. We also know about our line of work, whatever that may be, which could spark ideas for how-to articles. We know about our neighbors, friends and families, who all have various jobs and interests, and by interviewing them, we could write profiles and all of the non-fiction genres above. We know how we feel about issues and how we’ve struggled with various problems, which make good essays if well written. There is a lot we know, but because it’s so familiar to us, we don’t think it’s that important.

Then, I would say to learn the business end of writing. Writers need to learn how to market their work. Basically, when you think about it, writers are salespeople because they have to sell their work or ideas to get published. That’s not sacrificing art; that’s the way it goes today. No non-fiction article is written today because the piece is nice. It’s written because there’s a need, and a writer proved that he or she was the one who could fill that need, or first proved that there was a need that could and should be fulfilled. Writers can help themselves out by reading sales and marketing books and articles, because in effect, they are their own business.

© Grady Hanrahan 1999

 

How To Write Your Own Press Releases

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

How To Write Your Own Press Releases

by Megan Potter

Beamsville, ON, Dec. 21 1999 – Writing press releases is a relatively easy way to make money, once you get all the essentials down. Anyone can write press releases in their spare time as a means to supplement their creative income. All that they need is a little bit of marketing and practice. Writing Corner wants to be sure you know everything there is to know about writing press releases.

Content for a release is not like that for articles or other business materials. That is because releases are not intended to inform the general public or attract the consumer but instead to attract the attention of the press and the content should reflect that. Be sure that your P.R. is covering a newsworthy issue or event (release of a product, company, etc.), and that you include all the important facts and statistics in the release. Double check for accuracy!

The opening paragraph of a release, much like any other writing, needs to have a hook. Make sure your first 10 or so words grab the attention of the reader, or else you won’t have a reader. Keep the first paragraph short and snappy. Make sure the questions who, what, where, when and why are all answered in a quick sentence or two. And always be sure to mention the news before the newsmaker.

The body is where the details will be introduced. It is here that I would explain in depth the 5 answers. It is also here that I will expand on the facts and add any additional information. But remember, much like a query, a press release needs to be short and tight; the intention is to get the reporter interested in seeking more information. There are two key things to keep in mind when writing up your content. First, keep the flowery language to a minimum. Press releases should be short on adjectives and description and high on facts (note the repetition on this word). Second, make sure what you are saying is appropriate for the audience you have chosen to direct it to. As you write it ask yourself if the reader, and his readers, will be able to relate to the information.

Speaking of audience, check that you are directing the release to the appropriate editor or reporter. And most important make sure you have spelt his or her name properly. Remember, the press release is to make the reporter’s job of gathering information as easy as possible. Write out the content so that it hands the information over clearly and won’t require too much clarification and be sure to tell them why this information is right for them and their readers.

The technical aspects of the layout are equally as important as the content itself. Take note that we have laid this article out in a way so that you can use it as a template for your own press releases. Though you will find our length here to probably be longer than you would normally use. E-mail releases should only run several paragraphs, and definitely not more than a “page”. While press releases that are being distributed by mail or fax can run over a page (8.5″ x 11″ ) but never more than two. It should be noted that email is the preferred method of distribution.

The release opens with the FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE under the letterhead, and always in all caps. The contact information should come directly underneath. Contact information includes the name and position of the person who is most informed on the subject, the company name, the phone number (be sure to include a day and evening number), the fax number, the address, the URL and the email address. Again the reason for the inordinate amount of contact information is to make the reporter’s job easier. So include everything you can.

The next thing on the release is the headline. The headline should be to the point, and yet be catchy enough to peak the reader’s interest. Remember that this is news not fiction, so don’t go overboard on the creative end. Like a title, the headline should have each word capitalized, except the little words like a and is, it is also the only part of the press release that should be in bold font. Once you have the headline in you are finally at the text line. But first be sure to include the dateline. That is, put the city and state the release is being sent from and the date it is being mailed, followed by two hyphens (–) and then you can start on the text.

The pages should be set to have one inch margins all the way around, and that is the only indentation your text will receive. Business correspondences of any kind never have tabs at the opening of paragraphs. Paragraph length will vary, of course, but try and keep them short because it is important that the paragraph on the bottom of one page does not run over to the top of the next. Each page should be complete unto itself. You will note that when you end a page of a continuing release you put – more – centered on the bottom line. The second page should have an abbreviated form of the headline (in bold) and page 2 in brackets on the top line. The first part of page two will be a new paragraph and so should be laid out as such. When you reach the very end of the release you place ### on the bottom line.

Once the text is finished there are just a few finishing touches. These are called the recap, where you cover all the essential information. First you will recap the contact information, not all of it just the name and number(s) and maybe email. Then you will recap the product, company, or other news bit with a brief summary of what the news is. Finally, you should end with one, very short, paragraph of the companies history (if the news isn’t a company release). You will be finished. It’s a lot to remember but once you get on a roll they are relatively simply to do, and an essential part of business. All you have to do is learn how to market yourself to local and online businesses and you should be able to make a decent supplemental income.

Press release writing is easy, and doesn’t take too much time, but best of all it can be profitable. Print out this article and keep it on had to use as a template for p.r. layout.

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