Tuesday, January 29, 2008

weekly writing coach: the anti-Word

I know, you curse your writing tools. You used to hit your typewriter and rip pages from it, you throw pencils and pens at the wall, and nowadays, you curse your software. I'll indulge you this week with two writers raving about giving up Microsoft Word for Scrivener, software designed by a writer. Here's Steven Poole's post, 'Goodbye, cruel Word,' describing his departure from Word, and a followup by Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. Both work to give you the feel of working with the software through their words, and egg you on. Before you decide to make the move, this week, write a short essay of praise (faint or otherwise) for your current writing tool--no more than 500 words, in the medium of your choice.

Monday, January 21, 2008

weekly writing coach: paraphrase it

New York Times Managing Editor John Geddes answered questions last week in the paper's "Talk to the Newsroom" feature, and fielded one from the editor of an academic journal, who brought up the problem of what to do with quotes that reflected poor grammar or other problems--what he called "editorial intervention vs. minimalist editing for the sake of readability." Geddes, after noting that Times reporters follow its stylebook, said:
Our reporters and editors try to avoid ungrammatical expressions or dialect in quoting what people say when it could appear to be patronizing to quote verbatim, generally by paraphrasing. Thus, "I don't know nuthin' about dat" becomes Mr. Jones said he didn't know anything about the incident.
It's a good workaround, and one you can do with other writing issues--like avoiding he/she by rewriting a sentence to omit gender references when referring to a larger group. This week, take a look at quotes that don't meet your stylebook standards and look for ways to paraphrase.

Friday, January 18, 2008

media relations don'ts: missed target

A horrified hat tip to PR Newser, which reported this response sent from Target to a blogger asking a question about an ad campaign:
Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.
Every organization--nonprofit to government to for-profit--runs into inquiries from news media that don't represent their, er, "core guests." Why marginalize your potential customers? With the plethora of home decor, fashion, auto, crafter, beauty, college, parenting and music blogs out there, who can guess which category isn't the core guest of Target? Don't get caught opting for this media relations/blogger strategy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

one more reason to get facebook smart

Here's another reason communicators need to get their social media skills honed: The National Press Club this week is offering a "Reporting from Facebook" class, about that site and other social media sites. From the event report:
Reporting from Facebook will start by looking at the differences between several of the most popular social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. From there we will move on to what you can access, what you can't access, and how to get around some of the obstructions on Facebook.
All things communicators should know, too...

the communicator's facebook

I just spoke on what PR pros should expect in new media in 2008 at Washington Women in Public Relations, and my primary prediction was that if you haven't yet put your toes in the new-and-social-media pool, you'll have to this year--or start explaining why. Need an impetus? It may factor in your job qualifications, as more and more employers seek communicators ready to implement social media strategies--and social media's already shaped the habits of your next audiences. Here's another source for taking the plunge: The Mayo Clinic's communications manager Lee Aase may be one of Facebook's biggest proponents for business use, and his personal blog includes a section just on Facebook for business, with great starter tips for getting your feet wet--like his 12-step program for social media for PR professionals and 10 Facebook assignments for association execs. (As he notes, first, you have to admit you have a problem.)  Don't get caught waiting till 2009 to get smart on this score.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

new, free books on youth & digital media

The MacArthur Foundation has just issued a series of six free books, available here online, on the impact of digital media and learning on young people. According to the foundation, the new books:
...explore the effects of digital media on how young people learn, network, communicate, and play, and how growing up with these tools may affect their sense of self, how they express themselves, and their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.
The series includes these topics:
  • Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth
  • Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility
  • The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning
  • Digital Young, Innovation, and the Unexpected
  • Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media
  • Youth, Identity, and Digital Media
If you're planning a foray into reaching youth audiences with new media tools or digital learning, check out this useful new series. Not focused on youth audiences? Think of this as learning about your future employees, customers and supporters--and what they've grown up with.

weekly writing coach: ruled lines

If you've got a writing skill you want to improve or master, set some rules --ones that you develop and control -- and use them to guide your writing so that you're forced to practice the skill in question. We recommend at least a week of self-enforced practice in a variety of formats (or just one, if that's your focus), but you may want to practice for a longer period. Try coming up with constraints that will help you to your goal, such as:
- Omitting a favored weakness: no passive verbs under any circumstances, or no adverbs.
- Adding a style point you need to develop: using at least one analogy to make a technical point understandable, for example.
- Enforcing a form for sentences or paragraphs: at least two very short sentences in every paragraph, if your sentences all run long, or at least two very short paragraphs in each piece. By "very short," we mean one- to three-word sentences and one- to two-sentence paragraphs. Very short, indeed.
- Ruling in variation: news release leads that never repeat the opening-line style of the previous releases, letters with every concluding paragraph unique, different styles of quotes or outtakes.
This is a great technique for focusing intently on one area that needs correction. Hint: Let your editor know what you're doing, so she can keep an eye out for your progress.

Monday, January 07, 2008

when to find web viewers? think brown bag

If you're posting video on the Web--especially if you do so frequently--you'll find a dedicated audience at lunchtime, according to this New York Times article. Major networks are scheduling video clips in the hours spanning 12 noon in several time zones (often funny ones, to take advantage of the lunchtime break mindset) and advertisers and marketers see this as an important new way to focus on buyers, the article says:
From an advertiser’s perspective, the Web is a more flexible medium than television, because technology makes it easy to monitor people’s behavior and adjust programming accordingly. Better still, marketers have found that consumers are up to 30 percent more likely to make a purchase after viewing an advertisement at lunchtime than at other times of the day.

“Not only is advertising volume and Internet use increasing during the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. time period, but people are actually buying and purchasing and reacting to advertising,” said Young-Bean Song, vice president for analytics at Atlas Solutions, a unit of Microsoft that helps companies with digital marketing campaigns.
Posting with consistency and frequency--just as with blogging--also helps draw regular viewers. So if you're going to upload videos, plan ahead to create a series and build on the demand for, er, lunchable video.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

updated media training: what to ask for

"So what's involved in an updated media training that takes into account today's realities?" asked a reader, taking the bait from our recent post about the overuse of a Bob Newhart episode in media training. If you're looking for a truly current media training, we recommend you ask for the following:
- Training in gestures for the smallest screen, so you'll understand how you'll be seen on YouTube as well as a large TV monitor. See our recent post Web videos attract more TV viewers to see how Web video viewership is pulling them in.
- How to handle longer, more informal broadcast segments that go beyond what's seen on TV to provide the "bonus content" on station or network websites. Our post on TV with its tie loosened, for the Web explains why.
- Whether the old rules apply in new media, and what to do now. Should you treat bloggers like reporters? Will writers quote your Facebook page? What about your answers on LinkedIn? We'll help you think through the new-media options in your training.
We work with reporters to keep tabs on their preferences so your training will benefit--and we'll even teach you what to ask reporters to be sure your interview experience is the best it can be. Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information on our one-on-one and group trainings.

weekly writing coach: ban these words

Now in its fourth decade, Lake superior State University's annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness has been issued. It's up to your editor to decide whether these choice gems are off your personal writing list, but it's worth noting the patterns in this year's list:

  • Disaster terms, including decimate, under the bus, perfect storm, post-9/11, and Black Friday. Apocalyptic hyperbole would seem to be so 2007.
  • Overused phrases, such as it is what it is, back in the day, and X is the new Y (as in, "pink is the new black"). The list authors include commentswith examplesof these trite phrases taken to the extreme--for example, using "back in the day" in a sentence about Blackberries.
  • Vague and overused adjectives, including emotional, random, sweet, and organic. Since your coach wants you to cut back on your adjectives, we can hardly disagree with this point.
  • Vague and awkward verbs, such as pop, give back, surge, author/authored, and wordsmith/wordsmithing. If you have authored or wordsmithed any of these, please stop, for reasons we hope are obvious.
  • Overworked nouns and gerunds, such as waterboarding and webinar.
You can add your comments to the list here, and the list authors say that you're allowed once more to use the word truthiness, banned in 2007, but restored as a humanitarian gesture.

weekly writing coach: punctuation police

Maybe your inspiration to punctuate correctly comes from seeing others' mistakes. Or perhaps your motivation stems from a desire to avoid the shame of error. Either way, you'll enjoy checking out the work of two bloggers we've found. The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks looks for and publishes quotation marks that don't belong; photos of offending marks come from this blogger and are submitted by readers. It's a great reminder that unnecessary quotation marks, cast doubt on the terms that they encircle -- thus, "convenient parking" means anything but. And this local blogger in Washington, DC sees examples all around her in which it's replaces its, incorrectly, notably an apartment building banner that advertises "renting at it's finest." You might use these blogs as inspiration: When you see apostrophes or quotation marks in signs and copy this week, can you spot the mistakes? (Feel free to submit them to the bloggers and share with the rest of us.) Use this link to The Elements of Style for a quick guide to keep your punctuation punctilious.

is email always on the record? we say yes

A recent post on another public relations blog notes that "these days, it seems everything is on the record" but, based on a 2005 post by Ross Mayfield, suggests we can at least protect our e-mails and keep them off the record if we add the following line at the end of every e-mail:
"this email is: [ ] bloggable [x] ask first [ ] private"
To me, this sounds about as effective as standing at a microphone and saying "what I'm about to say is off the record." The original suggestion came from a blogger who wanted to let his e-mail correspondents know whether they could blog about his private communications with them. And that might work with a trusted group, but expecting reporters to abide by it -- or expecting compliance from those to whom it's forwarded by your trusted friends -- seems a bit far-fetched. E-mail is just another way of broadcasting and publishing your thoughts. I say don't get caught hoping that new technologies somehow hold different protections. The old rule still holds: don't put it out there, unless you're willing to see it reported.