4.05.2012

Extra! Extra! - writercize #175 #AtoZChallenge

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Even as newspapers shrink and succumb to technology, alongside paperbacks and compact discs, there is a place for quality journalism.

A journalist has the responsibility to withold opinion and expose and convey truth in every story. Fact should be the basis for measuring a quality story.

While a columnist or an editorial writer can opine or suppose, a journalist should work diligently to expose all sides of a story and refrain from telling the reader which one is "right."

What makes a good story? Simple. Comprehensive, accurate reporting, and a solid structure.

I freelance for a local weekly in the South Bay of LA where I cover local government. While some think city council meetings are drab, I find their banter and their give and take and fascinating. To tell the story and convey the mood, I build the skeleton with my words and fill it in with quotes, the real muscle. By the end, if I have done my job, it should read more like an exhilarating tennis match than corporate minutes.

I also write occasionally for an online news source called Technorati. I do not conduct interviews, and very rarely include quotes. (Hey - it's not a paying gig!) It is more of an exercise in aggregating information from press releases and surveys and news sources. I always try to approach it from an angle that other journalists may not have taken, ask myself what would make the story particularly interesting amid 5000 others floating around the internet.

Online journalism is short and to the point, and provides a good challenge to find ways to stand out. Fair warning to those who depend exclusively on online news sources for information: I have found that online stories can spread like wildfire without truth, so I would challenge any online journalist or reader to spend the extra time to verify the source before passing it along. 

If you want to try it, be prepared for minimal compensation, at least in the beginning, and try to make yourself stand out by acting as a voice of truth. Online journalists, unlike newspaper journalists, are often encouraged to voice an opinion, because it draws readership and therefore advertising dollars.

For magazines, news is rarely new, so a journalist needs to find various sources to present a brand new angle on a topic, perhaps drawing multiple concepts together. A magazine writer gets more words to play with, and depending on the topic may be able to insert opinion presented as thesis.

Whatever your preferred method of reading or writing the news, journalism is most certainly not dead, and anyone who knows how to write a concise story has the chance to report the news.

writercize: Set aside your creative writing chops, and tackle the nonfiction world. Write a brief news item about a current event.

This may be local news, celebrity news, pop culture, political, international, business, product, whatever interests you. Just be sure to present it in a straight-forward, non-biased way, and link back to your source if applicable.

Leave your news item as a comment and be sure to let me know the link to your blog so I can come visit you too!

Click "read more" to read an online news piece about the Benefits of Blogging Challenges (with a special interview with founder Arlee Bird) that was published on Technorati online news in February. 

---Note that I did opine in the article by encouraging people to participate in blogging challenges, which would not be a statement to make as a journalist in a newspaper.---
writercizer sample response:

(Originally published on Technorati at: http://technorati.com/social-media/article/benefits-of-blogging-challenges/)

The Benefits of Blogging Challenges
by Alana Garrigues

In the years since its inception, the blogosphere has managed to transition from its unfortunate reputation of amateur, grammatically-challenged, narcissistic diary-keeping to a place where writers, chefs, business owners, agents, illustrators, photographers, videographers and creative minds of every type rush to share their expertise. Blogs are chock full of knowledge, personal insight and the camaraderie of built-in support systems, and there are plenty of published professionals to go around.

There are four key components that lead to blogging success:
  • quality content
  • frequent updates
  • blog exposure
  • direct interaction with readers

If any one of these components is missing, the blogger is unlikely to maintain the connections and momentum necessary to garner success. While the onus of quality lies entirely on the blogger, the other three components can easily be satisfied by participation in blog challenges.

What is a blog challenge? 

There are three primary types of blog challenges that I see:

One Day Blog Hops - a group of bloggers sign up on a "linky list" and agree to post about a particular topic on a designated day and visit fellow blog hoppers.
  • Pro: quick, minimally invasive, topic inspires post
  • Con: may not develop long-lasting relationships
Hosted Competitions - the host posts a competition on any topic, such as flash fiction or poetry, and awards winner(s) a blog badge or prize, frequent promotions via Twitter
  • Pro: Twitter exposure, potential prize-winning, traffic increase to host's page, good writing practice
  • Con: can be time-consuming for host to maintain (and expensive if paid prizes), does not significantly increase traffic to competitors' blogs
  • Examples: #5MinuteFiction, #MenageMonday, #WeekendWritercize
Sustained Challenges (generally lasting a month) - challenges that encourage a group of bloggers to post a certain number of times in a month, or write a certain number of words. 
  • Pro: long-lasting relationships, large pool of participants, increased blog content, may improve quality of writing due to regular practice, themed challenges offer inspiration
  • Con: large time commitment, participants may lose support and momentum midway without a theme (i.e. 30 posts in 30 days may not be enough to inspire content)
  • Examples: A to Z Challenge, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month every November), NaNoRevMo (National Novel Revision Month)
Participants in blog challenges naturally boost the number of posts and generally notice a marked increase in traffic. If the quality is there, that increase is sustained in the long-term and the blogger gains followers, which can translate to potential friends, contacts and buyers in the "real world." A to Z Challenge founder Arlee Bird 
To get a better idea of the benefits of blog challenges, I turned to Arlee Bird, host of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and asked him a few questions. A to Z is a month-long blogging challenge that takes place every April where bloggers post 26 entries inspired by the letters A through Z.  (Responses are edited for length.)

 


How did you come up with the idea of the A to Z Challenge? AB: In the first few days of 2010, I hit 100 followers. I had seen others giving away prizes when they reached milestone number of followers, so being the show-minded person that I am I decided to perform some sort of blogging stunt to celebrate. In five days I had nearly 100 enthusiastic participants. Most of them finished, loved it and an annual event was born.

What do you think makes the A to Z Challenge unique and successful compared to other blogging challenges? AB: For one thing, the duration - one month of blogging is exciting. The community that has developed from it is tightly knit and very active. The challenge itself is relatively simple; it's creative, but one of the most endearing things about the challenge are the bonds it creates. It's more than just an anonymous blog hop; its an amazingly intense experience of creativity, personal endurance and bonding with others.

How do you view your role as blog challenge host? AB: Organize - set up the A to Z blog and make sure content appears regularly. Promote the event and those related to the event. Address questions and concerns people may have. Comment as much as I can, while keeping what I hope is decent content on my own blogs.

What is the biggest challenge for you hosting? The biggest reward?
AB: The biggest challenge is finding time for commenting, promoting and blogging. That's where a team of co-hosts helps. This year's team is awesome. The biggest reward is seeing that the challenge gives so many people enjoyment and productivity.
 2012 marks the third year of the challenge. In 2011, Bird expected 300 participants and ended up with over 1300. He hopes to meet or exceed that number; co-host and author Alex J. Cavanaugh believes the number may jump to 5000. Co-hosts will regularly check on all sign-ups to ensure there is no spam or inactive blog on the list.

Sign-ups last January 30 through April 3, and the team of 13 co-hosts have already been preparing for the challenge for four months. One advantage to A to Z is that bloggers can come from any background; unlike NaNoWriMo, participants may include chefs and crafters in addition to writers.

Bird spends approximately eight hours per day devoted to the challenge during the month of April, and much time organizing during the six months leading up to the challenge. He now has well over 1000 followers on his blog, and is generally revered in the blogging community as a leader. Bird is working on the transition from business manager to professional writer and blogger.

There don't appear to be academic surveys yet to quantify the benefits of blog challenges, but anecdotal evidence show that if a blogger is willing to put time and effort into blogging challenges, the reward in terms of accountability, professionalism, relationships and personal fulfillment can be great.

So if you want to maximize your blog's success, challenge yourself to participate in a hop, competition or sustained challenge today!

18 comments:

  1. great post! will definitely be back to read more!

    best,
    MOV

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  2. I was with you right up until you mentioned 'concise'. I'm not very good at that (It's killing me keeping my A to Z posts short :-)).

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    1. Hahaha. Concise may all be relative, right? The nice thing about papers is knowing the target word count to work that concise into! ;)

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  3. Alana. this is a wonderful blog and I feel totally guilty about not writing a news comment.

    Shall return to do it at the weekend when I am not so tired--middle of the night here and for some reason I could not get my blog to post--kept losing it.

    I wish more journalists would heed your advice as in many cases, standards have slipped and even fallen.

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    1. Thank you Anne. Please do not feel guilt for not participating. I appreciate the comment and just hope that you're feeling inspired to do the writercize at some point! There are always new and different ones to choose from over here, so even if you miss one, hopefully another will pop up that interests you.

      I agree about the standards, and was just emailing with a blogging friend about a journalist who confused all the facts on a story about her, despite having emails and documents laid out with accurate information right at her fingertips. Maybe it is the tight deadlines. I hope that in general it is not apathy or an intentional act of dishonesty ... but regardless of the reason, it is disappointing to see poor journalism.

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  4. The straight news story seems to be an endangered species. Every article is an opinion piece, and increasingly they are uninformed opinions at that.

    {ami}
    http://sundrysumthins.wordpress.com/

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  5. A wonderful post filled with excellent advice! Thank you for the info.

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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  7. Hey Alana, you know I was a journalist, so I'm excited to see you writing about journalism and writing as a journalist. But, I can't be bothered writing a story at the moment. I am interested in your thoughts on blogging, though. Your interview with Arlee Bird is quite interesting. I can't decide how I feel about blogging. Of course, I love writing and I am happy to blog as a way to keep a record of our lives as well as a way to communicate my thoughts about various issues. I do hope that having a blog about being a mom with clinical depression might even help other people. I follow several blogs. But I can't seem to sustain some of the games being a true Mommy Blogger would entail. I know I'm missing out because of that--I could build traffic, make more friends, perhaps even make something of myself as a writer... I'm hoping it's not one of those things that only happens during a certain window of life as a blogger. Maybe one day, when I feel ready to invest more in the blogosphere I can get "serious" about blogging? Or did I already miss my shot? I admire your tenacity in the whole thing--I remember talking with you about this at the park one day and here you are doing it so well! :)

    olainaafterschool.blogspot.com

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    1. Aw, thanks for the compliment. Yes, we had a long talk about it in the park! It doesn't seem so long ago and then I see pictures of E and realize that it was!

      I don't think that you have missed a window by a long shot. I keep my blog up and have made some excellent connections, but I am not putting near the time or effort that major players in the blogging world are... Arlee is a powerhouse! As with everything, i see opportunities in life as very fluid, and one day when E is bigger, perhaps you will find the motivation to throw yourself into blogging, or maybe it will be something else! I know whatever it is, you will be successful and know the time is right to take that next step ... Be it in writing or blogging or parenting or advocacy or whatever else may come your way!

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  8. Love your take on the A-Z. Very unique and informative!I admire your ability to refrain from printing your own thoughts. Great way to view the City Council meetings.... could use someone like you here in New Brunswick!!

    Patricia, Sugar & Spice & All Things ? Nice

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    1. Thanks so much for the compliment Patricia! I do honestly love the opportunity to view the City
      Council meetings and feel even more connected to what is happening in the local community!

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  9. Wow, that was really good! Educational too:) Though its not a career for me, its interesting to note what I should write about! I can't write a story or anything right now, I'm brain-drained:( Looking forward to seeing more of your posts!

    Stopping by via the A-Z Challenge,

    Victoria from Always a Booklover

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    1. Thanks Victoria! Brain drain is one common side effect of A to Z! ;)
      Thanks for the visit and best of luck with the challenge!

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