Demise denied

The rumors of the death of journalism have been highly exaggerated.

That much was clear from the workshops I attended Friday and Saturday, April 25-26, for the regional chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, held at BU.  New forms, new approaches and, most of all, new blood in the form of  enthusiastic journalism students infused the conference. I left feeling better about the future of newsgathering and publishing.

slidefromconferenceWhile  Regis MAPW is not a journalism program, per se, the tenets of basic journalism – clear writing, fairness, spark – serves writers of all stripes.  I found the workshops I attended very helpful – even when I had some disagreements with the positions by the presenters. Nothing stimulates me more than a good heated discussion! Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media talked about how journalists can be more activist… not necessary by taking a political stance but by researching and presenting possible solutions to the issues they cover.  Another workshop, on specialized journalism, underscored what we are doing in the MAPW , that is, helping writers get basic skills and then exposing them to specialized writing – in business, health, science and technology.  I intend to reach out to the moderator, Philip J. Hilts, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, who made some excellent points. (Fair warning to Dr. Hilts.)

Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman did a great job with a workshop on Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age. Great, because other participants (including me) continued to interrupt him with questions and comments. Nothing like a good serving of journalistic ethics to wind up a conference. Using graphic photos (in some cases) Smith pushed the group to consider what they would “publish” on Twitter or online or in print. Are standards different?

IMG_3465.1A glorious interlude was provided by a performance by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, a paean to old technology. Is there a more evocative sound than the rattle of old machines? I don’t miss those days, actually, but this orchestra shows just how creative you can be. I recommend their a riff on a classic: “The Future Will Be Typewritten,” with spoken  bits that rapped about the foibles of the computer keyboard.

See a snippet of the performance here, shot with my phone.

The two keynote speakers,  Carole Simpson, former ABC News Anchor, professor at Emerson University, and Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here & Now, tackles similar themes. Both emphasized the personal battles they fought to establish themselves as professionals in a hitherto white man’s business. The audience was quite mixed, male and female, and I wondered how the “you go, girl” theme resonated with the guys. To me, it it appears that flames of past hurts seem to burn hot still, even in two successful women with nothing left to prove.

The take-away point  for all sexes and ages: “Believe in yourself.” A tired phrase, to be sure, but there’s something to be said for sticking to your own vision. You don’t always succeed. In fact, I would argue that you fail more than you succeed and there’s no guarantee you will win in the end. Yet, if you hone your vision and realize that there are multiple paths to lead you there, then follow the twists and turns and keep going.


Thanks to all who came to our info session on Saturday

A number of interested candidates came to the info session on Saturday, representing a wide range of interests and backgrounds. This diversity will make for a very good program, so I was very encouraged by the turnout.

Later today I will blog on the Society for Professional Journalists conference I attended, which raised some intriguing, if troubling, issues.


All The Info You Want: Sat. 4/26 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

This Saturday morning (4/26)  I will be available to talk to potential MAPW students during the college’s Graduate Program information session. Check out the Regis College campus — the event is in the main building, College Hall. There are rumors of coffee served. So spread the word. That afternoon,  I will attend the April conference of the local chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.


More Proof Technology is Out To Get Us … Maybe

HAL7-e1370317928395-541x401Here are two stories that warn about the impact and/or dangers of new media technology.

For educators: How to teach the digital generation how to have a conversation that is not via machine.

For parents. The seven dangerous apps that every parent needs to know about.

I was a bit surprised to see Snapchat on this list.

I don’t necessarily agree with these articles, but there are some interesting points raised.  And no, technology is not out to get us. At least, not yet.


Six words. Seventeen syllables. 140 characters. Six seconds.

brevityLet’s start  by noting that the brevity imposed by the 140 characters for Twitter or the six seconds for Vine videos is not a new phenomenon in the dynamics of writing or communications. Brevity, after all, has been “the soul of wit” since Polonius uttered the phrase in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” centuries ago. Poets and ink-stained wretches have long sought to pare down a thought down to its essence, the silver trickle of a stream fed by an ocean. The irony of Polonius’ remark is that he himself was a windbag who could no more be brief than Hamlet could be decisive.

There may be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the new generation’s short attention span but brevity has always been a scribbler’s Holy Grail.

William Faulkner admitted he could not get the hang of it, famously saying, “I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”

Fellow journalists will often say it’s easier to “write longer than shorter.”  My writing students often don’t believe that at first; after a few assignments in which they struggle to not exceed their allotted word count, they understand. 

Compared to some other forms of writing, Twitter is long form. The six-word novel (or short story) is a favorite exercise in writing workshops. Attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the classic six-word novel is: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”   More modern classics include: Longed for him. Got him. Shit. Margaret Atwood; Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth. Vernor Vinge; It cost too much, staying human. Bruce Sterling; Found true love. Married someone else, Dave Eggers. Read more here and here. Also on Twitter and Facebook.

Poetry can be both epic and microscopic. One of the most famous works by American poet William Carlos Williams was Tweet worthy with room to spare: “So much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/barrow/ glazed with rain/ water /beside the white/chickens.”

Haiku, the Japanese poetic device rendered in  English as a three-line, 17-syllable poem,  uses a few deft images like spare strokes of black ink, brushed with taunt precision. The form is abused, perhaps, by swooning writers, and has been seized upon by the parody minded. One of my front-page features in the Boston Herald was on the popularity of Spamku, or poetic tributes to canned meat. In 1996,  a couple of geek types created a Spamku archive on the new World Wide Web, collecting more than 4,300 stunningly snarky examples. Today, more than 19,000 have been collected. Back then, I marveled at the ingenuity of online writers, writing for the sheer sarcastic joy.  (A foretaste of what was to come. See, for example, the witty responses to the United Airways’ Twitter disaster.)

The six-second videos on Vine are visual representation of haiku or six-word stories. Some of the best ones were winners #6SecFilms competitio sponsored by to the Tribeca Film Festival. See how much is conveyed in a few deft images.

Note that many of these videos are not randomly captured events, like an epic fail on a trampoline or a goofy expression on a dog — like much of the content on YouTube.  These six-second videos were plotted out to the nanosecond. At least one tells an entire story.

So what does this mean for professional writers?  Certainly we must hone our ability to write and present information efficiently. We must practice creating narratives that quickly capture attention and quickly reward that attention. But efficiency does not preclude creativity. It just makes the job harder.  Polonius would explain that to you at length.


Polonius could talk the talk but not walk the walk.

One of the modules that I’m currently designing for the upcoming Multimedia, Social Media and Software course this summer will focus on KIS, or Keeping It Simple. We will try writing some six-word stories and creating some short videos. Not everything should be presented in a short form, to be sure. But sticking to the restrictions of a short form builds skills that will translate well when challenged with completing a long form.


Tool Time for the Digital Writer: How much is too much?

tools 1Every time I think I’m catching up on my digital literacy homework, something comes along to knock me to the back of the class. The latest is this link to an article on the PBS website about “digital tools every journalist should try.” It’s astonishing just how many tools/apps/toys are out there and how more are popping up every few weeks. I started to look through the ones on this list and immediately felt overwhelmed. How can I possible grasp and understand all these new tools?

So I had a brainstorm: why should I do all the work? Ahem, not that I’m not hard-working, but it would be much better to have students learn by doing rather than having me bloviating in front of the class. So, prospective students, be prepared. There will be a homework assignment around discovering a new media tool, exploring it and then presenting on it to the class. We learn by doing — but we also learn by teaching.

Here are a few of these tools that look intriguing. (The names seem to be designed to drive your spellchecker wild):




Thanks to Perry Hewitt, a Digital Strategist with Harvard,  for the link.

Do You Want to Make Money?

lisa_pw_for_web-8313The first class being offered by the MAPW will be how to make money. Money for good causes and worthy, organizations, that is. The hybrid class is  EN 505 Grant Writing, Fundraising and Appeals Writing,  which be offered beginning May 20 this summer.

Grant writing is a specialized skill that many writers overlook. But Grant Writing requires much of the same dexterity in wordsmithing found in articles, press releases and Web content. Very often, a grant requires a “narrative,” a story, if you will, with characters and plot. The characters are the individuals to be helped by the grant and the plot is how the money will be use to help them. There’s research, organization and attention to detail.

Regis College is extremely lucky to have Lisa Perry-Wood as the grant writing instructor. She is a principal in Clarity Consulting Partners, with more than  20 years of grant writing and fundraising experience. Her client list has included small and large non-profits, government agencies, public and charter schools, providing grants and fundraising work in education, the arts, science, human services, social justice and other areas. Lisa was the founding president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Grants Professionals Association.

She is also a certified yoga teacher/Ayurveda consultant, as well as a second-year seminary student. Lisa lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, with her wife of 10 years, Zoe, and their 14-year-old niece; she is also the parent of three adult children.

I’ve taken a workshop from Lisa and she is great at presenting complicated information in a succinct, lively manner. She will be teaching the course as a hybrid so student can attend one night a week at the Regis campus and do the additional course work on their own time.

If you are interested in working for a nonprofit — or are currently employed by one — grant writing is an excellent skill to master. If you are a freelance writer looking to enhance your skill set, grant writing can be another service you offer to your clients. If you are in the health field,  you will benefit by knowing how money is obtained for your institution’s initiatives or research projects. In fact, many salaries are paid in part through grants from federal agencies.


A copy of a flier that will be placed around the Regis campus

Please contact the MAPW department should you want more information.