The occasional newsletter from the Writing Coaches at the
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Tim Harper Room 413 (or hanging out in the newsroom)
Tuesday noon – 5 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Thursday noon – 5 p.m.
Or by appointment: email@example.com
Contact Heath Meriwether anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The language we use matters.” — President Barack Obama, Jan. 26, in interview with Al Arabiya network.
While President Obama was referring to the words used to describe the situation in the Mideast, he provided a refreshing reminder about the power of language in what we do.
Joshua Cinelli, in his commencement speech for the Class of ’08, conveyed what life was like for his classmates. His words bear repeating:
“We wrote beat memos, went to community board meetings.
“We went on cop ride-alongs, we studied Near vs. Minnesota and freedom of information laws in legal and ethics, we learned the research methods of the 21st century from a document frame of mind.
“We learned boots-on-the-ground journalism.
“As one professor is fond of saying, journalism today is more than twittering in your underwear.”
Joshua’s words underscore what is said every day in classrooms and the newsroom around here. The new technologies for telling a story, like Twitter, are useful but it is the “boots-on-the-ground” reporting that will define us as journalists. Joshua capped his speech with an homage to Studs Terkel, who spent a reporting lifetime listening to the stories of ordinary people:
“The lesson Studs Terkel can teach us is one of the most important we can ever learn and I hope you take it with you.
“To listen. Let me say that again in case you missed it. To listen.
“Asking the questions is only half of our job. The other important part is to listen carefully and with great skepticism. And not just to the politicians and the power brokers, but to everyone who has a story to tell.”
As Jere Hester already has noted, there’s been no shortage of good work between semesters. We particularly liked how Rachel Geizhals provided not just a news lede but some historical context for the Bushwick neighborhood that gave her Brooklyn Eagle story far more meaning:
BUSHWICK — The FDNY’s plan to cancel night shifts at several firehouses — including one in Bushwick, which was ravaged by arson in the 1970s — is reawakening bleak memories and igniting new fears for some New Yorkers.
Bushwick’s Himrod Street firehouse will be one of four to lose a night shift come mid-January as the FDNY reduces expenses to meet budget cuts. Company 124, the search-and-rescue unit at Himrod Street, will still serve round the clock, but Engine Company 271, the fire-dousing unit, will only operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“Fire service is like insurance,” said Rodrick Wallace, an epidemiologist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute who has studied Bushwick’s fire history. “To save money, are you going to cancel your health insurance over the weekend?”
BTW, what a strong storytelling quote!
Hats off, too, to Collin Orcutt, who has started a web site, Box Score Beat (http://boxscorebeat.com/), that reports on the people reporting on sports. Without getting on a soapbox, Collin makes a compelling case for why beat writers make such a difference. Because they’re there every day, learning about the people they report on, they can uncover such delightful insights as Jack Quick of The Oregonian recently revealed to his readers:
Remember the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” where Andy Dufresne wrote a letter every week to the state to get books for the prison library? Well, the same concept is under way with the grandmother of Blazers center Joel Przybilla. The octogenarian plans to write NBA commissioner David Stern a series of letters complaining about the $7,500 fine Przybilla received for his part in an altercation with New Orleans center Tyson Chandler on Friday. Chandler was ejected and suspended a game for throwing a punch. Przybilla said he was stunned at the fine, but was handling it better than his grandmother.
“She said she is going to keep writing Stern until she hears back from him,” Przybilla said, smiling. “And believe me, she will.”
Speaking of sports, Tim Persinko scored a knockout with his Canarsie Courier feature on boxer Dmitry Salita, a practicing Orthodox Jew who cannot work or travel on Saturdays. We particularly enjoyed the observation from Salita’s long-time trainer, Jimmy O’Pharrow:
At sundown on the Saturday of his Garden bout, Salita hurried from his home in Midwood, to make it to the Garden in time for his 9 p.m. match. Before entering the ring, Salita had a rabbi say a prayer in the dressing room. After that, O’Pharrow said his own prayer in the dressing room.
“It wasn’t the same thing but I guess it was the same thing,” said O’Pharrow. “Go out there and kick some butt, period. I didn’t say it like that when I said it to the man upstairs, but that’s what it basically meant.”
With that as our inspiration, let’s continue to kick some journalism butt during the rest of the semester.
Heath & Tim