Saturday, February 8, 2014

Toledo Blade reporter instructs News Academy candidates

Toledo Blade reporter Alex Mester holds a mock press conference during a writing exercise. (Photo by Quinn Hatfield-King)
   There is a distinct difference between writing English papers and news stories. 
   This became quite evident when the Owens Outlook student staff participated in a news story writing exercise during Session 3 of the News Academy on Thursday.    
   This is how the exercise went: 
  Guest speaker Alex Mester, a Toledo Blade reporter, pretended to be an animal shelter supervisor. She held a 10-minute mock press conference about a feral cat whose tail and one foot was frozen to the bottom of a dumpster and saved by a Good Samaritan (a real story she recently covered).  
   Students posed as media and asked her questions, and then were given 15 minutes to write the story on deadline.
   It was a thrill to watch them labor over MAC computers, and write their first news stories. Alex and I took turns reading every lede sentence out loud, and then broke each story down to what worked, and what didn't. I hope it was a valuable learning experience for them!
   This exercise proved to be a practical way to teach them several things:
  1. Ask the right questions, and make sure the 5Ws and the H are answered. If you don't have the information you need, it's hard to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
  2. The lede sentence should be short, concise, and most importantly, interesting enough to get the reader to read the rest of the story.
  3. Write concisely, directly, while pulling interesting details from your notes.
  4. It's hard to write under deadline pressure!
  5. There's a lot more training to do, most of which will be learned on the job.
   The students will continue to hone their writing skills throughout the rest of the semester, and I can't wait to watch them progress as their confidence grows.
   The Owens Outlook is in the process of switching to a new website, so they still have a few weeks before they make initial contact with their beats. In the meantime, the News Academy sessions will continue for another five or six weeks.
   The training agenda includes the following  remaining topics: photography, videography, law and ethics, and social media.
   Guest speakers, including the Great Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg, are scheduled to attend many of the remaining News Academy sessions, and I'm very thankful for their help.

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