About Stephanie Schorow

Stephanie Schorow is an writer, reporter, author and educator. Currently she teaches professional writing at Regis College in Weston, Mass. She began working as a professional journalist immediately after graduating from Northwestern University. She has worked for newspapers in Illinois, Missouri, Utah and Massachusetts. She moved to Boston in 1989 to work as a newswoman for the Associated Press, the world’s largest newsgathering operation, where she covered such events as the Charles Stuart murder case. She was hired at the Boston Herald in 1993 as the Assistant Lifestyles Editor and spent the next 12 years writing news and feature stories and editing arts and feature copy. She has covered general features, cultural trends and health and science issues and conducted numerous interviews with beginning and establishing book authors. She wrote a weekly column on Internet issues. She was often part of the team that covered news, including the crash of the Columbia shuttle and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. In 2005, she launched a freelance writing/public relations business. She has written for The Boston Globe, the Globe magazine, the Harvard Gazette, the news office of MIT, the NFPA Journal, the Chicago Blues Guide, Bark, Lifescript.com, Edible Boston, and numerous other publications. Her jobs have also included being assistant director of public relations and editorial services at Bunker Hill Community College and working in the news office of MIT. She has taught freelance writing and feature writing at Emerson College and Cambridge Center for Adult Education. She has appeared as an expert in documentaries on the Cocoanut Grove Fire, the Great Boston Fire of 1872 and the Brink’s robbery of 1950. Publications include: Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits, 2012, Union Park Press; With co-author Beverly Ford, The Boston Mob Guide: Hit Men, Hoodlums & Hideouts, 2011, History Press; East of Boston: Notes from the Harbor Islands, 2008, second edition, 2013, History Press; The Crime of the Century: How the Brink's Robbers Stole Millions and the Hearts of Boston, 2008, Commonwealth Editions; The Cocoanut Grove Fire, New England Remembers series, 2004, Commonwealth Editions; Boston on Fire: A History of Fires and Firefighting in Boston, 2003, paperback, 2006, Commonwealth Editions; Editor, Boston’s Fire Trail: A Walk Through the City’s Fire and Firefighting History, 2007, History Press

What is Good Writing Worth?

writer-605764_1280Recently, I shared a story about the perils of freelancing with my EN501: Advanced Professional Writing Students: A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist by Nate Thayer.  What I wanted them to look at was not only Nate’s account of how he was asked to write a story “for exposure” by the Atlantic, but also the comments made after he posted on his blog. The story is old now, but the questions remain: What are we willing to pay for quality writing in this digital world?

My students then did a “free write” exercise in which they were asked to answer the question posted at the top of this post. Their answers were very thoughtful and I share them here:

B.J. Brown: Writing is a craft

I consider myself a willing, if modest supporter of the writing I consume. I pay for two newspaper subscriptions, for both print and online access. While I seldom buy books for myself, I often give books as gifts. I will pay in the neighborhood of $30 for a hardcover book, and I shop at independent booksellers whenever I can. I rely on my town library for my own reading; I support the library through my taxes and an annual donation. I also make an annual membership contribution to my local NPR station, which I consider another source of good writing. On the other hand, I don’t pay for the half-dozen podcasts I listen to regularly. I wonder if I’d check The Writer’s Almanac now and then if I had to pay 99 cents for a poem, even though I appreciate the introduction to writers I’d never have otherwise heard of.

Writing is a craft, even an art, and I believe artists and artisans should be paid for their work. Should writers calculate and charge an hourly living wage? Should they put their work out for auction? The first seems impossible and the second too subjective and fickle. I can’t imagine an alternative to the free market, but I do think that writers and artists should benefit more from the sale of their work than market middlemen. I also believe that good writing and art are public goods that merit public support. At the least, access through public libraries and museums, and teaching the arts through public education, should be generously funded.

library-150367_1280Shelagh Dolan: Supporting writers by buying books

I must admit that I get my news on the Internet for free. Twitter is my local, national and global news sources. However, the reporters delivering this news deserve compensation from their organizations(and the organizations deserve compensation from advertisements? Is that how it works?). I have purchased full albums from musical artists I really admire but I have also downloaded songs for free, justifying it to myself by saying that Justin Timberlake has already made enough money without my help. As for personal spending on writing, I’m a sucker for writing as an art form – short stories, novels, poetry, etc. I will spend money to support writers and own copies of their work. The last time I went into a Barnes & Nobel just to browse, I accidentally walked out with three paperbacks (The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling) and a receipt for about $65. I am aware that libraries exist but I enjoy filling my shelves with books that I can keep, write in and revise whenever I want. To me that is money well spent.

Nicole Jean Turner: Willing to pay what I hope to earn someday 

What I would pay and what I hope to be paid for good writing are two different prices, which make me sit here and ponder why I feel this way. I suppose, if I can more means, I would be willing to pay what I expect to earn for/from good writing, but because of my tiny paychecks and negative student loan balance, currently I won’t pay much for good writing by choice. For example, The New Yorker. Even though I wanted to subscribe for a while now, I didn’t subscribe until recently when I found a link online to subscribe for free through a contest portal. The most I’ve ever spent on a book that wasn’t for school (I can’t think of a specific instance) but I think from $25 to $30 sounds about right. There are times I do go out of my way, such as collecting from eBay copies of old magazines that had short stories in them that I wanted. There is one book – Rage, by Richard Bachman – that I’m willing to spend a couple hundred on if I can find a copy. (Granted, I know I can buy a copy on eBay for $400 but I really don’t’ want to spend more than $200 on a book that won’t even get money to the author because it’s out of print.) But for the most part, I won’t pay for good writing if I can find a way not to, simply because I can’t afford it. If I had money, though, I’d be more than happy to buy more literary magazine subscriptions, etc.

Anne Peacher: Not easy to figure out fair compensation 4379144635_cef5cb5114_o

Of course, good writing has monetary value. I believe the hours put forth in creating, researching, copy editing, and publishing must be compensated. But it’s not always easy to determine what that compensation should be. Enlightening nonfiction and fiction clearly is clearly worth more, especially when I compare it with the poor quality of the erroneous or sloppily written work online.  I do believe the market demand determines so much of what we are willing to pay. For example, I was willing to buy Chris Bojhilian’s book on tape because I had a long car ride in front of me the next day with no Bluetooth connection. His audio book as entertainment for me in the car alone was priceless. I am willing to pay more for books, magazines, and news that I know will be quality work. I keep an online subscription to the Boston Globe and the New York Times because I find them the most credible. I grab magazines and journals more as entertainment for travel or when I have extra time in a waiting room. I believe having some price on these words keeps them more reliable and demands a better standard of creativity, prose and research.

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The Devil’s Dictionary – Updated

imagesThe Devil’s Dictionary – Re-imagined by EN314 and EN514  Students at Regis College

As part of our study of rhetoric, students in EN314/EN514: The Art of Argument have examined a number of forms of satire –probably one of the chief forms of discourse in today’s snark-driven media. We looked into the past, in particular, the work of Ambrose Bierce and his popular  Devil’s Dictionary. Bierce used his dictionary to poke savage fun at the foibles of his era. Example:

VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

I asked the students to use this technique to satirizes today’s Internet culture. Here’s what they came up with:

evil-google-big-620x349

One interpretation of Google

Google

A search engine that produces desired results and today’s valedictorians.

Submitted by Shannon Simonelli

Where you search automatically to find an answer when you don’t have one.

Submitted by Melissa Lopez

Give you information so you don’t have to bother your Facebook friends with your easily answered questions.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Slowly taking over our lives … and that is fine.

evil-facebook-dangerSubmitted by Maggie McCarty

Facebook

A virtual memory book of visited places, accomplishments, and life milestones viewable by everyone you’ve ever known, even that one guy from Spanish class who copied your homework in the 10th grade. Also a reliable resource for feeling left out of parties, and getting daily updates on an ex’s new life without you.

Submitted by Nicole Jean Turner

A website where you can voice your deepest beliefs and be validated by those who agree and unfriended by those who don’t.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Snapshot

All fun and games until someone screen saves.

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

A way to make people think you’re cool through sharing photos of the drugs you just bought, that will then destroy the photographic evidence immediately following the crime. Hopefully. Not guaranteed.

Submitted by Nicole Jean Turner

Where you send pictures to anyone and everyone without really having to look good. Where you post a story so people think your life is actually interesting.

Submitted by Melissa Lopez

Tinder

All the fun of dating without those pesky emotional connections.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Meeting sketchy has never been easier.

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

evil-twitter-bird-with-hornsTwitter

140 characters might be too many characters. #thoughtsthatshouldremaininyourhead

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

A means to feel important by pretending people actually read about how your day is going.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Texting

A way to talk without saying anything.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

One of the drawbacks of modernity. An action that is increasingly leading to mediocre and incomprehensible writing. A form of communication that has entirely substituted both personal and “over-the-phone” interaction.

Giselle Rodriguez

A form of communication implemented by possessors of cellular telephones, whereby a message can be conveyed to a person without the benefit of face-to-face contact with the proposed recipient. An advantage to texting is the ability to answer at one’s own leisure, usually to decipher the meaning behind the message, in order to answer in a logical fashion. As such, texting stands in as a method of confrontational avoidance towards an unsavory situation, such as the ever-frequent “break up” scenario between couples. Unfortunately, in addition to the aforementioned statements, texting is the “grammar annihilator,” tempting those to give in to incorrect, yet apparently-efficient/Devils-Dictionary-Ambrose-Bierceproductive processes towards conveying a message, much to the ire and angst of “grammar sticklers,” who actually take the time to write out, piece by piece, as if they are under scrutiny.

Submitted by Gerard A. Buckley

A bit of bragging

phonebowlTwo of my students had pieces published in the Weston Town Crier.  One thing I want to add is that these stories were part of a class assignment in which students pitched and selected stories; they were then randomly assigned a story. Maura Murphy had suggested the Playing Santa article while Kristyn Gondola came up with the “phone in the bowl” idea. The final stories, created after a group edit and some tinkering by the instructor, were submitted for publication; two were selected.

Here’s a write-up as taken from the Regis President’s Notes newsletter:

“Just before Christmas, two Regis grad students had opinion pieces published in the Weston Town Crier. MAPW student Tara Holt “interviewed” Santa here on December 23: Nicole Jean Turner, also a student in the MAPW program, argued for cell phone silence during Christmas gatherings here: Congrats to Tara and Nicole for getting published and to their instructor, Stephanie Schorow, for inspiring them to do so!”

Thanks to EVERYONE in the class who made this exercise work. All the students in EN 500 deserve credit for this. Also a shout-out to Mike Wyner, editor at the Town Crier, who agreed to consider the submitted stories.

Major Changes for 2015

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” A saying attributed to John Lennon. That applies to the MAPW, this blog and my life. The Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Regis College will be transitioned from a stand-alone program in the English Department to a track in the graduate Communication Department. In the future, students interested in this area will receive a master’s degree in Communication with a focus on professional writing. This transition begins now and will be completed by Aug. 31, 2015.

My own plans are uncertain. My contract is up as of Aug. 31, and it is unclear if I will continue as faculty at Regis College. One thing IS certain. I’m taking this blog with me! Until Aug. 31, this blog will be devoted to aspects of professional writing at Regis College; after that I will be reformatting it to reflect my own continuing efforts in professional writing.

In the meantime, this blog will continue to be a tool and workspace for students of professional writing. My thanks go out to all those in the professional writing world — my former colleagues, current colleagues, and friends — who have been so generous with their time in supporting this program. Now,  I will be making new plans.

Teaching Social Media

Steph_Rol_Model[1]In the EN504 Multimedia and Social Media class, we did a “critical thinking” exercise; this was in lieu of an exam. As per my custom, I’m posting the material here. How would you answer these questions:

Here’s the set up:

You have been hired for this job: Web Writer for Anywhere Community College, (ACC) which has about 6,000 students, many of them adult learners and immigrants. The school offers associate degrees in business, accounting, computer programming, history, English, political science and communications as well as advanced degrees in nursing and health administration. This is a commuter school, so there are no dorms on campus and the school draws from the Greater Boston area. Most of the students work full or part time in addition to going to school and many live with family members.  (If you have trouble picturing this, see www.BHCC.mass.edu)

As background, here’s the job description. This is based on two real ads:

Under the direction of the Executive Director, the Web Writer will write, edit, design, create content, and update the College’s website and social media pages. In addition, this individual will work closely with academic and administrative departments in the creation and updating of content for a variety of marketing projects that reflect the College’s mission and brand positioning. The ideal candidate is a self-starter, independent thinker, has excellent communication skills and constantly strives for excellence. Working with  the College’s Digital Content Strategist, the Web Writer increases engagement with key audiences by developing web, social media and multimedia (e.g. podcast) content that is optimized for desktop, tablet and smartphone

ACC has a recently re-designed web site, and many of the departments have their own Facebook pages. Twitter is only used for emergencies and school closings.

The Dean has given you a mandate. You must create a report that will:

  1. Decide what to do about Facebook. You have to decide if all the Facebook college pages should be eliminated and one all-purpose Facebook page established. You will have to lay out the pros and con for the dean.
  2. You will also have to advise him about Twitter. Obviously the college has to do more with this, but what?
  3. The Dean has asked you about Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest, Vine. Your report would have to make suggestions here.

And there’s something more:

ACC has established a new associate degree program in game design. This program will teach the basics of creating video, arcade, console and online games. The Dean is very pleased that the college has hired as program director Yuji Matsumoto, a game designer known for the popular “Zombie Death Jamboree” and “Troll Quest.” Matsumoto is a visionary who is now eager to teach. Currently there are about 10 students in the program. The dean wants you to use social media to reach out to more potential students. He thinks Matsumoto is a big draw and wants to leverage this. He also really wants to attract young women as well.

How would you start to plan out a social media strategy for this young program?

Think of the various tools that are out there: Blogs, Twitter, Linked-In, Vine videos, Facebook, Snap Chat, Instagram? Think about what might be your approach – that games are cool? That this is a growing sector where jobs can be found? How about Matsumoto? What could you do – what could he do – to promote the new program?

On Tuesday, Nov. 18, come in prepared to WRITE out some of your thoughts. You don’t have to do this ahead of time, unless you want to.

I will hand out a template of six questions for you to fill in. You can use the Internet, notes or such as needed.

You will do that – and then there will be a twist.

Here are resources that will help you think about a plan of action. If you are having trouble wrapping your head around this assignment, just read through these links to start.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2014/04/16/measuring-social-networking-success-more-than-just-likes/

http://mashable.com/2009/07/23/alumni-social-media/

http://mashable.com/2009/07/15/social-media-public-affairs/

http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/how-10-savvy-colleges-are-using-social-media

http://www.missouristate.edu/marcom/plan.htm

http://collegewebeditor.com/blog/index.php/archives/2011/02/09/lessons-learned-from-texas-am-university-social-media-scavenger-hunt/

http://tabtimes.com/news/media/2012/12/10/ucla-anderson-business-school-first-launch-magazine-app-ipad

http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/06/10/uc-berkeley-study-shows-affluence-dominates-the-social-web

To consider the Facebook question, look at these pages:

BHCC’s “official” Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/BHCCBoston

Other BHCC pages – does this dilute “the brand” as Sherry Paprocki would put it? Does this expand possibilities?

https://www.facebook.com/bunkerhill.behavioralsciences?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/pages/BHCC-Culinary-Arts-Dining-Room/479932108733053

https://www.facebook.com/itcareers.bhcc?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/groups/391478510051/

PART Two – THE TWIST

Matsumoto happens to look at the site: http://www.ratemyprofessor.com. There are various positive comments but one student, who has already graduated,  rants about what a poor teacher he is and how his games suck. The teacher is hurt and angered;  he thinks he knows who the student is and Tweets out  some sarcastic comments on  his personal Twitter feed about how stupid some students are.  Several students respond and create the hashtag  #MatsumotoMoron.  The School President becomes alarmed and turns to you for guidance. What do you suggest? Would you shut down any social media or use it in response. What would you tell Matsumoto?

See

http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-10-26/home/rate-my-professors-has-some-academics-up-in-arms/

The future of publishing

44880_guten_press_lgThe standoff between Amazon and Hachette seems to be over, according to this story in the New York Times. A dispute over pricing had ballooned into a fight about publishers versus the Evil Empire of Amazon – or, according to some writer friends of mine, the Evil Henchmen of Publishing versus the Forces of the Free Market.  Apparently all parties are satisfied with the result but  there may be more of this kind of battles ahead.

As a book author, I have been watching the changes in the market with apprehension and hope. When I first started writing books, I was amazed at the disparity between the compensation for  best-selling authors and upstarts published by small press. To my amazement, I found that companies like  Arcadia and History Press — to some degree — build their model on selling TO THEIR OWN AUTHORS who buy books at a low rate to resell to audiences in talks or tours. I received an advance from History Press for my first book with them — the company no longer does that!   I have also done books for advance and royalties AND a set fee. I have only praise for Union Park Press, which published my Drinking Boston book, a small but effective enterprise that knows how to promote books AND really supports its authors. As for my other publishers, the record is a bit more mixed.

Thus, I am more convinced that self publishing — for certain kinds of books — is a good option for the entrepreneurial minded, particularly in today’s wired world.

All these changes have me considering designing a course for the MAPW on “Publishing and Self-Branding.” Academically, the course would plum the history of publishing itself — starting with Gutenberg and looking at issue of copyright and production. Later classes would examine the process of the pitch to publishers and agents — how do you get attention for your project?  Lastly, the class would look at options in self publishing — what are the advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, the class would look at how all writers — even those destined for an agent and hefty contract — need to create their own “platform.” My plan is that the class practices building a blog/site  on Word Press or another free option to see how this works.

That’s the plan. What do you think?