Reading (and Watching): Brooklyn Boheme and The Local

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Readings | 0 comments

For your reading this week, I’d like you to really bone up on Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s history and current demographics:

* Please watch Nelson George’s film “Brooklyn Boheme,” either at the screening that Lauren is arranging, or by yourself (it’s available on Netflix instant).

* “Infant Mortality In Fort Greene Shows Progress But Hides Disparities,” By DANIELLE SCHLANGER

* “Census 2010: A Dramatic Decline in Black Residents,” By TAMY COZIER and ANNESOFIE BROCHSTEDT

* “Explore the Census Data,” By NICHOLAS RIZZI

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Self-Editing Checklist

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Class Notes | 0 comments

Did I tell the right story?

 What is my story focus/theory/angle? Is it clearly and succinctly stated at the top of the story, in the lede or nut graf?
 Is the story clear? Compelling? Engaging?
 So what? Why should readers care about this story? What are its predominant news values, and have I emphasized those values adequately at the top of the story?
 What are the holes in my story? Instead of “writing around” them, do the reporting to fill them.

Have I told it the right way?

 Is this the best lede for the story? Why? Does the lede tell the story, either in anecdotal or straight form?
 Does the nut graf clearly and succinctly lay out the story’s focus, assert its news value, tell the who/what/where/when/why and how of the story, and show the reader why she should care about it?
 Do the quotes help tell the story? Are they vivid and colorful, and do they express emotions as necessary? Do they tell dull information that would be better paraphrased? Are they presented well, with clear transitions and setups as necessary?
 Do the scenes, details and anecdotes tell the story? (No matter how fascinating the scene is or how eloquent the quote, if the answer is no, cut it.) Would more details or visual descriptions help?
 Does the piece provide adequate context? Is it missing history, previous news, supporting statistics, data, explanations?
 Are experts’ and mavens’ voices included where necessary, and are their comments useful in telling the story?
 Are numbers, statistics and data presented clearly and accurately? Is additional data needed to substantiate the story?
 Is the kicker appropriate for the story? Does it relate back to the lede, or at least to the story focus, or does it look forward? Is it structured for maximum impact?

Is everything true?

 Develop your own system for “skeptical editing”: Double-check all names, numbers, facts, dates, spellings, quotes. Do the math to make sure all the numbers make sense. Weed out assumptions and vague statements. Make sure terms are explained, acronyms spelled out.

Are the mechanics correct?

 Check spelling, punctuation, and AP style. Check that the story is at length.
 Check for passive voice, gerunds, wordiness, clichés. Get rid of fancy words when simple ones will do.
 Does the story do enough “hand-holding” for the reader? Is its logic easy to follow? Are the transitions clear and does the story flow sensibly?

Does it sound OK? (Or more to the point, does the story sound AWESOME?)

 Read it aloud to see if the story flows. Listen to the language. Make sure there’s a mix of shorter and longer sentences and that the language is clear and straightforward. Fix punctuation errors that you may have missed.

Is the story due now?

 Accept that no story is ever perfect or finished. When you’re at deadline, you must be ready to pull the trigger, knowing you’ve done the very best you can.

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Clarification on Q&A and a Reminder About Multimedia

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Clarifications | 0 comments

I just wanted to clarify in case there’s any confusion: You are not required to file a second draft of your Q&A stories, though as usual you have the option of filing a rewrite in the two weeks after we return to you the graded version of your story.

Also, just a reminder that you should keep multimedia in mind as you do your reporting on these next stories — definitely shoot as many photos as you can, and also ideally do high-quality recording of your interviews, even if you plan to write a print story. This body of reporting that you all are doing right now will be a wonderful resource as the package comes together.

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Readings and Deadlines for Next Story

Posted by on Apr 12, 2013 in Assignments, Readings | 0 comments

Hi guys,

I hope your Q&As are going well. For class next week, I would like you to take a look at some of the past Craft 2 multimedia projects, including these:

* “The Subsidized Housing Search Maze,” which we did in my class a couple years ago:

* “The Sixth Borough: New Yorkers’ Changing Relationship With Their Water,” which Lisa’s class did:

* And spend some time browsing the other projects on the news service special projects pages:

A note on readings: I have noticed that many of you are not spending enough time on the readings. Too often it’s clear that people have not done the reading, or have just spent a few minutes skimming the readings I sent. You should be spending at least an hour on the readings each week, sometimes more. So this week, please actually read these projects through and think about what kind of thinking and work went into creating them, so that you can discuss them intelligently in class on Tuesday.

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Class Notes: The Basics of Interviewing

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Class Notes | 0 comments

As we discussed in class, here are some basic tips on interviewing:

  • Research/preparation: know as much as possible before going, but don’t act like a know-it-all. Ask them to explain things in plain language, even if you already know them. List some questions you need the answer to, but don’t limit yourself to that list.
  • How to dress: Depends somewhat on the situation and subject, but as a general rule, an interview is not the time to wear your fanciest or most outlandish outfit. Dress professionally, in a style that will not stand out excessively in whatever setting the interview will be in.
  • How to approach someone. Notebook out or not? There are arguments for both approaches. Explain clearly what you are doing. Treat all your sources respectfully and assume that they are intelligent. Ask for their thoughts on your story subject. If you’re not sure what the story is yet, sometimes they can help you figure that out.
  • Body language: Be professional and straightforward, but also natural. Don’t forget the pleasantries, and don’t forget to smile. Be respectful and act with authority. Develop a “cloak of invisibility” — a persona you take on as an interviewer. Even if you’re naturally shy and quiet, your cloak will allow you to be bold and chatty as necessary.
  • Never, ever lie.
  • Keep in mind that your subject may lie.
  • Brace yourself for rudeness or anger or outrage. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t retaliate in the way you portray the person in your story.
  • Questions: Ask all the questions you absolutely need the answers to first, and then ask the more outrageous or fun questions that might add detail or color to the story. Stay in control of the conversation. If they’re rambling, bring them gently but firmly back to the issue at hand. That may even mean interrupting them – politely. Don’t forget these questions: “Is there anything else you’d like to add, or perhaps a question I should have asked you?” and “Can you suggest anyone else to speak to on this subject? Do you have her phone number?” Also, “Who can I interview on the other side of this issue?”
  • Never agree to send them your finished article before publication. If they ask for this, explain that it’s not journalistically appropriate to do so because then you’d have to offer the same to everyone else quoted, which would be impractical. But you can offer to read back the quotes and paraphrases you’ve taken down on the spot.
  • Dealing with reluctant interview subjects: Know that most people don’t actually have to speak to you, and that they can end the conversation whenever they choose to. At the same time, know that most people don’t mind speaking to you – don’t expect reluctance, as that can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Keep the conversation going, no matter what. Ask them if you can bounce some of what you’ve found out off them, just to make sure you’re on the right track. Ask them to suggest other people to speak to. Make small talk if necessary. Just keep talking. Try to find aspects of the story that they’d be willing to talk about. Mention who you have already spoken to. Try approaching again later, when you’ve found out more, or they may be in a better mood.
  • “On background,” “off the record,” and anonymous sources: Use these only as a very last resort. Remember that these arrangements are agreements – both parties need to agree. ALWAYS clarify exactly what your arrangement is with the source, and don’t rely on them understanding what you mean by each term — since there are so many different ways to understand the terms. If you’re quoting someone anonymously (which you will rarely be allowed to do for stories in this class or for publication) be clear with them about how you will describe them and their reason for not commenting – “a former manager who would not give her name for fear of jeopardizing her new job.” When speaking off the record, take notes anyhow, and go back at the end of the interview to ask them to reconsider on specific quotes – Could I just take this one sentence on the record?
  • Note-taking: To tape record or not?; hold onto a quote in your head until you’ve got it down, even if they’re still talking, and then go back and have them repeat if you think you missed something important; mark initials of who’s talking with each quote; writing questions you doesn’t want to forget in the inside cover of your notebook; Always keep writing. Use downtime in the conversation, when they’re talking about irrelevant stuff, to write down sensory detail about your subject or the surroundings.
  • DON’T FORGET TO LISTEN. As in any conversation, you must listen and respond to what people are saying. Keep an open mind, and try to understand people on their own terms, as well as in a larger context. Ask follow-up questions about intriguing aspects, and don’t be afraid to stray from your original list of questions, or to rethink your original conception of the story.
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Class Multimedia Project, Readings and Q&A

Posted by on Mar 27, 2013 in Assignments, Clarifications, Readings | 0 comments

Thanks to Gabrielle and to all of  you for this summary of your thinking on the group multimedia project. I can see that you’ve done some good thinking on this, and I’m really pleased with the direction you’re taking. This is a great start!

SO, since the direction you took is to do sort of a “big idea” type project — as opposed to a one-big-story type project — the next challenge will be to come up with the stories that will illuminate idea/topic. I think you guys have done a great job of breaking out some promising areas to pursue. But as I’m sure you all know, it is going to take people — characters, with stories — to make this project work. A statistic isn’t a story, no matter how compelling that statistic is.

The good news is that your next assignment in this class is going to be the Q&A assignment — so what better way than that to start “casting” some people to populate this package? I’m going to ask that you choose a person for your Q&A with this package — and the piece of it that you’re most interested in — in mind. (So it should be a person from Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, even if that is not your regular beat.) For example, if you’re interested in looking into the Auburn Shelter, then it would make sense to find a resident of the shelter, or one of the activists at Fort Greene SNAP who has worked on this issue, to interview.

Please send us your ideas for subjects to interview over the break — definitely by April 5, the Friday before school starts back up, but ideally earlier than that so that we have time to go back and forth. Please feel free to send a few ideas our way for us to discuss. And if you have an area that you’re interested in but are not sure how to find a person to tell the story, email us about it and we’ll try to help you zero in on the right person.

Also, keep in mind that you will have quite a bit of flexibility about how you do the Q&A. I am not holding you to the classic Q&A format. Here are your options:

* A straightforward Q&A, like these conversations, “conducted, condensed and edited” by Deborah Solomon, who used to do the Q&A in the NY Times magazine and was known for her confrontational style: Or her successor, Andrew Goldman:

* An “as told to” piece, like these, where the interview is condensed and edited into a first-person narrative: Also, here’s a link to a print project I worked on on the one-year anniversary of 9/11, on people whose lives had shifted as a result of the attacks, in “as told to” pieces.

* What I’ll call an “on this and on that” piece — — It’s essentially an “as told to” piece structured with inserted questions and headings.

* An audio slide show or video interview, like this one by former student Natalia Osipova: Or this one by another former student, Christine Streich: If you take this option, we can discuss you expanding on work you’re doing in another class, like Video Storytelling for example. Please talk to us about it though. 

Your pitch should also tell us what form you hope to take with the interview piece. The point is the interview — using some of those skills and techniques that we discussed in class last week. So it’s a question of figuring out what’s the best format for the person and setting of the interview. You should try to set up your interviews for Wednesday April 10 or before, since that’s your reporting day on this story, which will be due that following Monday, April 15. 

As for readings for over the break, I would like you to take a look at two examples of “big idea” type reported packages, and think about how these projects were conceived and put together. Think about what makes them hang together as projects. In what ways are they successful? What could they have done differently? These packages contain a lot of great stories, so spend an hour or so looking at them — I don’t expect you to read every single story, but I do expect that you’ll have spent some time with each package. 

* The package we discussed in class, “How Race is Lived in America”: It’s a really great piece of journalism — I highly recommend almost all the stories in here.

* A package that ran in today’s Times, a series of stories that “illustrate where money and emotions collide”:

Looking back, I realize that your readings and examples this week are very NY Times-heavy! Apologies for that — I’ll try to diversify your readings next time around. These just happened to be the best examples I could find.

I’m really excited about this project! It will be great. Once we’re back after the break, and you guys are working on your Q&As, we’ll start narrowing our focus and assigning sections of the package to you guys.

Enjoy these readings, and enjoy your spring break! Do a keg stand for me.

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The Class’s Decision on Group Project

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 in Assignments | 0 comments

Here is the note that Gabrielle sent to us profs regarding student discussions on our end-of-semester project:

We’ve discussed the multimedia project over the past few days, and decided we’d like to focus on income inequality as the topic. We agreed that it makes the most sense to focus our reporting in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill because it will narrow the scope, and these neighborhoods can also act as microcosms for the larger borough.

Within this topic, here are a few ideas for what we’d like to explore.


Does Fort Greene’s higher-income population leave the neighborhood for their health care needs, while lower-income residents rely on Brooklyn Hospital? Does Brooklyn Hospital have a large patient base on Medicare/Medicaid? How will the pending merger with Interfaith Medical Center in Bed-Stuy, where 60 percent of the patients are on Medicare/Medicaid, affect services and the communities that rely on the hospital?

How many people are on food stamps in the cd? And are those on food stamps also those with higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease?


There are a few people interested in writing about food for the project, and one angle that was suggested was how those on subsidized programs have access to healthy options through the Greenmarket Program. The farmer’s market in Fort Greene Park participates in the program, which helps those on government-subsidized vouchers access healthy options. One suggestion was to see how and to what extent public housing (or other low-income residents) purchase fresh food from the farmers market. Fort Greene Park is very close to public housing and to multi-million dollar homes. Unlike some low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn, healthy food is accessible to people across the income spectrum.

Multimedia: interactive map of the Fort Greene Park farmer’s market, or an interactive map showing all the places that both accept vouchers and offer healthy options, and where they are located in relation to public housing.

Erin, Theresa and Lauren have all volunteered to cover health, hospitals and food.


How does income disparity affect students as they prepare for college? Are there non-profits that work with lower income high school students to prep them for college, or overcome missing links in college prep? Are educators buckling under citywide budget cuts, and are lower-income families suffering more from them?

Millie would like to cover this topic.

We could also look at how cultural organizations in the neighborhood work to provide neighborhood youth with access to the arts. I know Irondale Center leads free summer workshops for kids and holds affordable ($5, I think) performances for families. They also have a fellowship program for teenagers (though I don’t think the program is restricted to FG/CH residents), and some of their company members go into neighborhood schools to host workshops. BAM offers free after-school programs in various disciplines and multi-week workshops in writing, film, dance and social justice for teens. Do these programs help fill the gap left by cuts to after-school programs and arts classes at public schools? Or are they selective and not able to serve those who need them most?

This is something I’m interested in.

Multimedia: video or audio slideshow of arts programs and performances that are available in the neighborhood

Barclay’s Center Jobs:

We could examine if jobs created by the Barclay’s Center are going to low-income individuals as promised. This project was 10 years in the making, with false promises made and not much in terms of checks and balances. Chris has a lot of sources for the center and for the Nets. We could also look at ticket scalpers as some of the only low-income residents who received extra work through the center.

Chris is interested in this topic, and suggested a video project to coincide with a print element.


As Chris suggested in class, we could look at the living conditions in the Auburn Shelter, where vermin and heating have been a perpetual problem. Access may be an issue here, since Chris has had problems in the past.

We could also look at the application process for affordable housing in the neighborhood. What are some barriers to this application? For non-English speakers, the very process itself can be prohibitive. What about the immigrant population? Do they have equal access to the already limited subsidized housing options? Are there alternatives in the neighborhood? I have a few contacts for this topic.

Census Analysis:

Craig suggested an in-depth analysis of census data to compare the income disparity in the neighborhood now versus ten years ago. This could be an overarching theme that resonates throughout the rest of the project.

There are opportunities here for some infographics and interactive charts.

Some have expressed interest in covering certain areas, but we haven’t figured out yet how we’ll break out responsibilities. I’m sure that will come shortly.
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