Make Every Word Count

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These are slides for a workshop for the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M.

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Make Every Word Count

  1. 1. Steve Buttry Marin Independent Journal August 28, 2013
  2. 2. Read more about it stevebuttry.wordpress.com @stevebuttry slideshare.net/stevebuttry sbuttry@digitalfirstmedia.com #everywordcounts
  3. 3. We’ll discuss:  Planning to write tight  Writing leads  Writing tight  Rewriting
  4. 4. Plan to write tight  Discuss scope, focus w/ editor  Consider reader (ask)  Make stories useful  Break story up (video, sidebar, chart, etc.)
  5. 5. Keep a sharp focus  What’s the story about? (6 words)  Write a headline  3 words: subject, verb, object  Tell someone about the story  Summarize story in a tweet
  6. 6. Find your focus  Tweet as you report  What surprised you?  Where’s the emotion?  Most important W?  Best story element?  Write first draft w/ heart
  7. 7. SEO can help focus  What would you type in Google if you had questions this story would answer?  Can you write a good lead around the search term?
  8. 8. The key to writing …
  9. 9. Watch for the suitcase lead After spending Wednesday morning at a prestigious think tank discussing a report about what could happen in the aftermath of a catastrophic terrorist attack on Congress, then taking nearly two hours at the White House presenting the report to Vice President Dick Cheney, University of Miami president Donna Shalala addressed the issue capturing the attention of thousands across the nation – conference realignment in college sports. (66 words, Miami Herald)
  10. 10. Watch for the suitcase lead Jerry Falwell, 73, a Southern Baptist preacher who as founder and president of the Moral Majority presided over a marriage of Christian beliefs and conservative political values – a bond that bore prodigious fruit for the Republican Party during the past quarter-century – died May 15 of congestive heart failure after he was found unconscious in his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (65 words, Washington Post)
  11. 11. Challenge suitcase leads I was privileged to participate today in the symposium Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age at the Paley Center for Media in New York, presented by the Poynter Institute and craigconnects. (31 words)
  12. 12. Challenge suitcase leads The Novato Police Department has been awarded a traffic safety grant from the California Department of Public Health for $8,000 to conduct education and enforcement operations in hopes of reducing injuries and crashes involving pedestrians. (35 words)
  13. 13. Challenge suitcase leads The county of Marin and three Marin municipalities are attempting to meet a state housing mandate by the end of January in order to collect $2.3 million in state grant money. (31 words)
  14. 14. Challenge suitcase leads Just weeks after it was smeared with grease, the rainbow flag flying outside the Community Church of Mill Valley was stolen and its metal holder vandalized, prompting police to investigate. (30 words)
  15. 15. Challenge suitcase leads Three months after its installation, a public art piece called a "cigarette eater meter" has collected 50,000 cigarette butts and in turn raised money for a local nonprofit. (28 words)
  16. 16. Challenge the suitcase lead A $47.6 million operating budget for fiscal 2013-14, up 1.5 percent from last year's $46.9 million, has been approved by College of Marin trustees.
  17. 17. Challenge the suitcase lead Residents of the Strawberry Recreation District Zone 4 gave their approval to a pair of measures that will keep a waterway to the bay clear of silt for years to come. (31 words)
  18. 18. Lighten the load Residents of the Strawberry Recreation District Zone 4 gave their approval to a pair of measures that will keep a waterway to the bay clear of silt for years to come. (31 words)
  19. 19. Try a carry-on bag Residents of the Strawberry Recreation District Zone 4 approved two measures that will keep a waterway to the bay clear of silt. (22 words, down from 31)
  20. 20. Challenge the suitcase lead A $47.6 million operating budget for fiscal 2013-14, up 1.5 percent from last year's $46.9 million, has been approved by College of Marin trustees.
  21. 21. Subtract numbers A $47.6 million operating budget for fiscal 2013-14, up 1.5 percent from last year's $46.9 million, has been approved by College of Marin trustees.
  22. 22. Subtract numbers College of Marin trustees have approved a 1.5 percent increase for this year’s budget.
  23. 23. Ways to lighten the load  Make just one point  Look for words, phrases that can wait  Change comma to period  Eliminate parenthetical phrases  Explanation can wait  Subtract numbers  Can attribution wait?
  24. 24. Consider a g-string lead Three months after its installation, a public art piece called a "cigarette eater meter" has collected 50,000 cigarette butts and in turn raised money for a local nonprofit. (28 words)
  25. 25. Try a g-string lead The "cigarette eater meter" is filling up with butts. (9 words)
  26. 26. G-string lead can be serious Jennifer’s tiny heart gave up. But no one else would.
  27. 27. G-string lead can be serious Forty seconds, five lives.
  28. 28. Issues with g-string leads  Keywords in leads help with SEO. Can you write g-string lead w/ keyword?  If not, be sure web headline uses keywords (head is more important).  G-string lead on great story can increase social sharing.
  29. 29. Try a simple sentence
  30. 30. Try a simple sentence In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
  31. 31. Try a simple sentence A wildfire burned about 2 acres and damaged an outbuilding Tuesday in western Novato.
  32. 32. Try a simple sentence Perhaps no one has done as much for hats as Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
  33. 33. Try a simple sentence A 22-year-old Marin City man who allegedly stabbed his mother to death last weekend was released from the hospital Tuesday and taken to Marin County Jail.
  34. 34. Strong from the Start A rule and a guideline: The rule: If your lead is over 30 words, explain to your editor why it’s so good that it needs to be that long. The guideline: If your lead won’t fit in a tweet, try rewriting.
  35. 35. Sometimes a long lead works When the crime was committed, when four girls lay blasted to death in the shattered basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bobby Frank Cherry was young and strong and confident that his world, one of white robes and closed minds, would turn forever. (Rick Bragg, 44 words)
  36. 36. Perfect use of a long lead Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
  37. 37. Perfect use of a long lead Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B. (Douglas Martin, NY Times)
  38. 38. Challenge the simple lead
  39. 39. Challenge the simple lead First of all, God made everything.
  40. 40. Rewrite with your head  Read aloud  Know your weaknesses  Challenge verbs  Challenge imprecise words  Consider attribution  Challenge phrases
  41. 41. Rewrite with your head  Challenge inflated words  Challenge quotes  Watch for echo quotes  Redundant words, facts  Say what is, not what isn’t  What’s the story about?
  42. 42. Challenge vague phrases There's no time for rest on the front lines of wildfires burning across California as 81 Marin firefighters join 9,300 others in pitched battles involving a dozen blazes.
  43. 43. There are better leads There is no weaker verb in the English language than the verb “to be” – is, was, are, etc. There’s no vaguer word than “there” when you’re not pointing. There are few weaker ways to start your story. There are few “there are” leads that don’t get tighter and stronger when you challenge them.
  44. 44. Challenge vague phrases Marin firefighters worked 50 hours straight battling wildfires burning across California.
  45. 45. Give it up It is one of the weakest ways you can start a story. It has a pronoun with no antecedent. It has the weakest verb in the English language. It seems some writers can’t resist it. It’s used way too much. It is a lead that starts with “it is,” “it’s” or simply “it.”
  46. 46. Don’t rewrite by arbitrary rules If you write a lead this good, leave the “it was” alone:
  47. 47. Don’t rewrite by arbitrary rules If you write a lead this good, leave the “it was” alone: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
  48. 48. Don’t rewrite by arbitrary rules If you write a passage this good, leave the “there is” alone:
  49. 49. Don’t rewrite by arbitrary rules Don’t rewrite by arbitrary rules. If you write a passage this good, leave the “there is” alone: There is no joy in Mudville.
  50. 50. Your turn Rewrite a lead or tighten a story
  51. 51. Make Every Word Count The right word makes all the difference.

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