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Personal reflection

Second week of our personal topic:  On Monday I got a dozen books from the Richmond library on my first essay topic (‘Happiness’), plus learnt how to access their scientific magazines data-base. Yay! There is nothing I like better than a question I don’t know the answer to, a pile of literature and the quest for some sort of understanding! However I can see that this could take a month or so of research and in the meantime I’m not doing any writing. That’s probably not important - but as I’m not used to doing the ‘personal writing side’ of the essays I could benefit with some practice on that.

 I think the best thing to do is to use old essays (for which I’ve done the research), do some personal writing to fit the topic and submit these to forums, while I am doing the research on my current essay.

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Personal reflection

First week of our personal topic: I put in the proposal and synopsis BUT then went into a blue funk and froze up – not able to do any work. I struggled for most of the week, and then realized I was repeating my old bad habits – bullying myself to achieve goals. So I relaxed and decided to only do what I am interested in doing. Wow! That did the trick – 3 essays immediately sprang to mind, and I whipped down the Nelson library and got out 4 books on the first one (‘Happiness’). Spent the rest of the week (happily) reading.

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Saturday 4/8/12I spent last week on Jury Service. (Oh dear - I feel quite depressed!) Phoned Michael this am – Cliff’s comments on draft last Monday = needs lightening up (as we had identified). Michael has been working away on this during week, and will email next draft to me (final due this Monday.)

Sunday evening 5/8/2012 - M shortened it to less than 2000 words and changed the opening  paragraph. That’s fine with me. Hasn’t been lightened up much (if any) – but I’m not full of vim, or confident I can do any better! Edited a few errors (punctuation and some words e.g. used ‘regular’ in twice in one sentence) and fired into forum. Emailed M to let him know been posted with only those minor changes.

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Diary Work experience – feature article for Wild Tomato ‘The history of Nelson Cathedral’

(1)      Tues 17/7/2012 - Given work experience assignment in lecture. Ist meeting with Michael to  arrange research trip tomorrow. Christine got 3 books out of NMIT library and went to NCC library (closed for renovations.)

(2) Wed. 18/8/2012 – Michael and I went to Cathedral and took notes from display boards. Then to museum and took notes from film and looked at photos in their printed archives (good!) Found out how to get photo’s of the Cathedral (Megan Wells 547 8544) for commercial purposes. Christine read NIT books/ typed up research notes (emailed to Michael) and phoned Cathedral office (closed)

(3)Thurs 19/7/2012– phoned Nelson cathedral – got interview with Yvonne at 11am Tuesday morning (Will pick up Michael at 10.30)

4)      Monday  23/7 afternoon – trawled internet and wrote up notes from there

5)      Tues 24/7/12 – Michael and I went to Cathedral – interviewed Yvonne and Allen. Christine typed up research notes and emailed to M. Michael to cut and paste them into order for the article. Will meet him tomorrow to finalise structure for first draft/ organize how we going to write it.

6)      Wed. 25/7 – met Michael – he on a roll! Well into first draft (700 words). Discussed how to progress the article: he happy to finish his work on first draft (may need my contrib. on opening and closing paragraphs) then will email it to me tonight. I’ll edit it, return to him, then back and forward to get it as good as we can before need to submit 5pm Friday.

7)      Thurs 26/7/12. Got Michaels draft 1300 words / emailed Yvonne to find out more info about the ringing of the bells.

8)      Friday 27/7/12 Bulked out (2000 words) and edited the draft and returned to Michael, with suggested opening and closing paragraphs. Suggestion we both need to try and make the article a bit bouncier, or at least make sure it flows smoothly with no stiff English. (Emailed Cathedral again to check some facts > emailed M to amend draft.) M to edit as he pleases & put draft into forum by 5pm tonight. M. emailed- put in as is with some grammar corrections

 

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Analysis of two feature articles from The Nelson Mail Monday June 11, 2012, using the following criteria (derived from the Non-fiction lectures):

FEATURE ARTICLES:

1.      Length: Are often longer articles than the ‘breaking-now’ news reports

2.      Types: follow-up features, coming event, instant (e.g. death of a star), human interest, personality profile

3.      Topics: it is usually best if it’s on something that interests the writer. (‘If it doesn’t interest you: it will show!’) BUT are not opinion pieces from the writer – keep yourself out of it.

4.      Timely features: e.g. are often seasonal: e.g. summer/winter sports, changes in fashion, garden etc. Or ‘hot’ topics.

5.      Aim for reader interest: Human interest stories (love hate – basic themes). ‘Names make news’. Reaction (+/-) is good!

6.      Idea = subject coupled with an angle: What angle will you take? Get quotes.

7.      Sources: Need quotes! (Gravitas imp. e.g. eyewitness or police.) Usually need research too.

USE THE USUAL COPY-WRITING TECHNIQUES:

1.      ‘Attention-grabbing’ headline: actually may not be yours to do –is often supplied, or altered, by editor.

2.      Logical order –beginning, middle and end

3.      Go straight to heart of story in opening paragraph, then fill in the details. Further paragraphs in descending order of importance .

4.      I.e. have the guts of the matter in the opening paragraph, then entice the browser to read further (did he die or not?)

5.      Remember the editor will cut from the bottom up, so try to have everything essential in before your closing paragraph.

6.      Keep the writing crisp. SIMPLE & SHORT words, sentences and paragraphs. Write in active voice, and use strong verbs. Beware of adverbs (e.g. say he raced, rather than he ran quickly) and don’t use too many adjectives. Don’t swap tenses in the middle of the story.

7.      Include details of nature, time and location of event if relevant.

8.      Have photographs if possible: ‘People like people.’

Page 3 – Evans rose above illness to lead her ‘charmed and blessed life’

This is a long follow-up article to the previous edition’s short news report which had announced her death.  It is a biographical article that concentrates on the quality of her life and her contributions to the community. The first paragraph is a concise sentence that encapsulates the whole theme of the article. The circumstances of her illness and death come next, then her personality, lifelong illness, and joyous art. Her work on behalf of the Suter Gallery and in other areas is fully acknowledged. It ends with the happy memory of her ‘grinning from ear to ear’ over the drawings for the proposed new gallery. It has many quotes from friends and colleagues that illustrate her life. It is long, but the writing is crisp, and includes photos of Jane Evans and two of her paintings. The article is a fitting tribute to an important Nelsonian.

Page 6 – Mackenzie Basin dark-sky reserve

This is not a human interest, ‘death of a star’ type story as above, and it is given less space. There are no photos, but the writing mostly follows the rules above. I wish the first paragraph had included the 3 words ‘International Dark-Sky Association’, as I had to go hunting to find the name of the ‘global astronomical body’. I also found the article jumped around a bit – it didn’t always feel it was following a logical progression. (E.g. the second paragraph belongs to the matters discussed in the second half of the article.) There are good quotes from dignitaries such as an international expert, the Chairwoman of the ‘Starlight Foundation’ pressure group, and a local government official. This rather dry article is tucked into an inside page, and perhaps I’m being uncharitable here: but it doesn’t give me the feeling that a top-dog reporter had worked hard on it.

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Analysis of three news reports from The Nelson Mail Tuesday June 12, 2012, using the following criteria:

1.      What’s ‘news’?’News is anything new (including a new slant or development).

2.      Are not opinion pieces from the writer – they must keep their self out of it.

3.      Sources: Need quotes! (Gravitas imp. e.g. eyewitness or police.)

4.       Usually need research as well.

5.      It’s an inverted pyramid:

·        Interesting headline

·        First sentence should contain the main point. Make it short & snappy. Grip the reader.

·        Further paragraphs in descending order of importance

6.      Crisp writing – short words, sentences, and paragraphs. Beware adjectives and adverbs.

7.      Include details of nature, time and location of event if relevant.

8.      Photograph if possible: ‘People like people.’

So let’s look at three news reports:

1.      Page 5 – Lotto-winning couple go back to work is the headline. Grabs your attention and it’s certainly new news – the couple didn’t find out they’d won until two days ago. The first sentence (first paragraph) contains an interesting fact – they watched the draw without realizing they had won. They aren’t revealing their names, but the reporter got lots of quotes from the husband and also the manager of the outlet that sold the ticket. The story is just about them finding out they’d won and their dazed reaction. The last paragraph describes the big winners the outlet has sold in other Lotto draws. (This is of interest to many.) The words, sentences and paragraphs are very short. There are no photographs as the couple is remaining anonymous. A punchy ‘people like people’ type of report.

2.      Page 18 – Tasman ‘thrilled’ to sign speedster Heem says the headline. The first paragraph is one sentence long and tells us the Tasman Rugby Union has signed the former Northland player. There are 5 paragraphs describing his career, and including a finishing quote from the ‘thrilled’ Tasman CEO. Each paragraph is only 1-3 sentences long and is easy to read. Photo of Heem playing is provided.

3.      Page 11 – Feijoa shortage pushes up price. This headline is followed by the opening paragraph (one sentence again) that snappily gives the reader the essential information. There are lots of quotes from, and a photo of, the Chairman of the top of the south Future Fruit growers co-operative. Again short paragraphs - only one or two sentences long. And after quite a lot of rather gloomy facts about the current state of the industry, it ends with a hopeful quote from the interviewee.

All these news reports are topical, short in length, and have crisp writing e.g. few adjectives and adverbs. They are well written articles, fulfilling all of the requirements listed above.

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Wildsmith, B. (2006) Jungle Party. London: Egmont.

Waldron, J.L. (1997) Angel Pig & the Hidden Christmas. New York: Dutton Children’s Books

Both of these books are for Kindergarten level readers, 3-5 years of age.The illustrations are in color.  Both have drawings rather than photographs, which couldn’t be used for these ‘talking animal’ stories. There is little text and large print, the first book being the simpler of the two (3 rather than 4 lines per page). The second book uses rhyme (quatrains aabb). There is a lot of repetition of action and phrases in the first, simpler book. Animals, animals, animals!

Mitton, T. (2003) Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight. London: Orchard Books

This book is for the earlier part of the 7-10 year old age range. The font size and quatrain structure (a b a b rhyme) is similar to the second book above, but there is more writing on each page – two stanzas or dialogue balloons. The pictures are mostly black and white (weaning off color pictures). It’s an adventure book full of challenges. It uses humor and rhyming verse. It is not yet a chapter book.

Norrington, L. (2011) Brigid Lucy wants a pet. Prahran, Aust.: Little Hare Books, Egmont.

This book is for the earlier part of the 10-14 year age range. It still has ‘medium-sized’ print and some pictures, but it is a thicker, longer book, with denser narrative. The child is the hero – and sometimes smarter than Mum and Dad. Humor is still important. It is a chapter book and the story is quite complex.

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I went to the Nelson library before doing the Writing in Context children’s fiction assignment, as I needed to find out what ages read what type of books. (My own children are long grown up, but not yet producing grandchildren for me.) The children’s fiction is organized into the following age groups:

Babies:

·        Start with ‘Board books’ – bright simple colors and few words.

·         These merge into the toddler books below.

Kindergarten 3-5 years:

·        COLOR illustrations

·        Little text and large print

·        Rhyme

·        Repetition of words

·        Words and picture on same page must match up

·        Animals

7-10 years:

·        Print is ‘medium-sized’ and ‘medium’ no. of words (between that for 3-5 year olds and 10-14 year olds)

·        Chapter books

·        Pictures mostly black and white (weaning off pictures process and cheaper to print as well)

·        Light horror/challenges

·        Humor esp boys

·        ‘Yuck’ stuff

·        Mystery and adventure

·        Fantasy

·        Diaries popular now

·        Note: some amazing stereotyping – pink fairy wings for girls (however is some tom-boy stuff) and ‘Horrible Henry’ for boys.

·        Both girls and boys both like being smarter than Mum and Dad

10-14 years ‘Senior Fiction’:

·        Few pictures (occasionally in some books e.g. ‘Diary of a wimpy Kid.’)

·        Thicker, longer denser narrative

·        Font size smaller

·        Complex stories

·        Children that age still the heroes

·        ‘Graphic novels’ (separate genre) still popular- Asterix, Tin-Tin, Sherlock Holmes

·        ‘My Story’ series of diaries hugely popular – Victorian workhouse, Titanic, (loosely historical topics)

·        Harry Potter/ Brian Selznick series (Black and white illustrations)

Young Adults:

·        Major theme is GLOOM. ‘Dystopian’ theme.

·        Lots of DARK covers (even a wholly black one – a book called ‘Pure’- seen!)

·        Look like adult books in length and print size

·        2 good NZ books include ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Sacrifice’

·         ‘Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins also popular

Blogged 10/6/2012

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Analysis of 3 radio reports – from in-class exercises:

  1. No penalty for former All Black who hit child  

Newstalk ZB

·       A currently interesting topic– hitting children been made an offence under NZ law recently.

·        People (‘Stars’) catch public’s interest

·        Most important info all there in the first sentence:

The former All Black who hit his 11-year-old son with a belt has been convicted but had no penalty imposed.’

·        Punctuation is important:

-        The‘(not ‘A’ which introduces a story) used to show this is a continuation of a story.

-        No commas are used in the starting sentence before and after ‘who hit his 11-year-old son with a belt’ because that information is an integral part of the sentence. The sentence would make less sense without that phrase.

-        But in the second sentence ‘The man, who has permanent name suppression to protect the identity of the child, appeared in the…” the info between the commas is an extra (an aside) and the sentence would still convey its sense without the clause in the brackets.

·        The radio news is BRIEF – this report is only 168 words/seven sentences. Each sentence is condensed to the utmost to covey the information in easy, straight-forward English

2.    Israeli art-scammers told to leave country.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/6580254/Israeli-art-scammers-told-to-quit-country

We listened to this radio clip and practiced writing out the story in the 6 sentence format of the above report. It was hard! The main thing was to remember the inverted pyramid – get the important info in the first sentence, and roll logically down to the end – remembering if anything is going to be cut its liable be the last sentence or two.

It helped to organize the report along the format of: who (Richmond lady and scammers)/ what (suspected scam)/ where (door to door salesman Richmond and Stoke) / when (two weeks ago) /why (selling cheap Chinese artwork as expensive ‘one-offs’)/ then what happened (police actions).

Oh this was difficult! The degree of quick thinking required under the time pressure common in radio news-rooms made me admire those who do it for a job. (Not me!)

3.    Former top Murdoch executive arrested in hacking probe http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/mnr/mnr-20120314-0737-former_top_murdoch_executive_arrested_in_hacking_probe-048.mp3

This was studied in class as a link-in to an interview. In a radio newsroom the team leader assigns jobs to everyone. E.g. write a news story yourself (as above stories might be), or write an intro for an interview or story from elsewhere.

The intro here was very brief – 79 words / 3 sentences, then ‘well now we’ll cross to …’

The three sentences contained the whole story!

Listening to the radio report you could tell that the same voice that read the 3 sentences also put the questions to the distant reporter. The questions asked used the information in the introduction, and were OPEN-ENDED. The reporter being interviewed was invited to elaborate on these brief but pointed questions. A great example a report with the most info presented in the least time, in good colloquial English. Of course, the topic was current and involved big names in a scandal. Yum!

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How to write a media release that gets read

A good media release should be a good story, well told, leaving the journalists you’ve sent it to wanting more. So, let’s assume you’ve got a good story and you want it published. How do you tell it well?

1. Use the inverted pyramid writing style (Sum up the key message in the first paragraph. That’s how journalists write.)

·         ‘Nelson poet Rachel Bush will be giving her first performance since Bill Manhire launched her fourth book of poems ‘Nice Pretty Things and others’ in November last year.’  Yes – but is it all quite ‘key’? (I suppose it depends on whether you know Bill Manhire’s importance – which I suppose I should assume most people interested in poetry do.) It is also quite short (but OK). The second paragraph is really sparkly, and could be added to this one to perk it up.

·        Anne Harvey, a Nelson-based author and expert on life skills, is launching her first book, Sons to Men – A mother’s guide at Page and Blackmore this week. A former student of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Creative Writing Programme, she was delighted to put her writing skills and life coaching expertise together when she landed a publishing deal with Auckland-based international publisher Harper Collins, who commissioned her to write a book that offers a practical guide for mothers of adolescent sons.’ This is a bit long and clunky. It would be improved by a bit more punctuation e.g. cutting the last sentence into two.

·        I think the ‘Scriptwriting Studio at NMIT’ has the most interesting first paragraph. It started with an intriguing question, and the answer leads straight into the next paragraph.

2. Write further paragraphs of the media release in descending order of importance (The easiest way to edit a newspaper story or magazine article is to cut off the last few paragraphs, so put the main aspects of the story near the beginning.)

·        Rachel Bird’s PR has a logical descending order of importance (although musos may not like it if the editor cuts out the last piece of information - about the music on at the gig.)

·        Anne Harvey’s PR is written in logical order as well, and the editor’s knife on the last paragraph wouldn’t do too much damage.

·        The ‘Scriptwriting Studio at NMIT’ PR gives the teacher’s experience first, then the usefulness of his course second, then the punch-line in the last paragraph. (It’s unlikely an editor would want to cut the last paragraph though, as the article is just one page)

3. Include plenty of quotes (Facts are dull; people are interesting. What people say or think can be newsworthy. Include quotes in your draft media release.)

·        Rachel Bird’s PR has three direct quotes that give good information; plus a reviewer’s comment (in the just second paragraph) which is sparkling endorsement of the poet. (NB: some of the punctuation – including quote marks – is incorrect.)

·        Anne Harvey’s PR has interesting quotes from two different people – the author and the NMIT spokesman (expert opinions).

·        ‘Scriptwriting Studio at NMIT’ PR has nice bouncy quotes from the teacher.

4. Keep the media release to a page or a page and a half at the most

·        All PRs did this

5. Include your contact details at the end of the release (Include your contact telephone numbers and email address. Make it easy for journalists to contact you.)

·        All PRs did this

6. Use plain language writing techniques (Keep your sentences short. Use everyday words — cut out any jargon. Include contractions (I’m, we’re, didn’t). It’s more conversational, and it’s the style of language newspapers use.)

·        I think that Rachel Bird’s PR had much shorter and more concise sentences and paragraphs than Anne Harvey’s and the ‘Scriptwriting Studio at NMIT’ PRs. (These could have been improved by doing the same.)

7. Write an eye-catching headline (Headlines can make all the difference! You can write your headline last or first. Journalists may use it or may write their own.)

  • ‘Rachel Bush to guest at Nelson Live Poets’  OK - plain but gives adequate information. It would have been better if centered on the page (give the PR a better appearance).
  • ‘Local author is first NMIT Creative Writing student to land a book deal’ Fine – I think this headline says it all, and catches attention.
  • ‘Scriptwiting Studio at NMIT’Note the spelling mistake in the title. It would also have been better if centered on the page (give the PR a better appearance).