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Journalism Open 2011 workshop Q&A

In case you missed the workshop Wednesday night, here are some of the answers to some of the questions asked and some tips shared by Sacramento Press Editor in Chief David Watts Barton and Managing Editor Colleen Belcher with community contributors about Journalism Open 2011 entries.

Q: Are quotes a must?
A: No, but as for some basic guidelines: They make your story stronger. The more you get people into your story, the more it helps – even if you’re doing an opinion piece, because the more sources you can point to, the better.

Q: Is there a limit to how long the story is?
A: The limit is how long it’s interesting. One thing to watch out for is when you talk to people who are good talkers. You can quote them at length, and your story can sometimes get away from you. There are a lot of ways a story can get away from you. Read it over and pick out unnecessary paragraphs.

Q: Is it OK to submit video?
A: We’re not well equipped for video, and the thing about words is that they’re super accessible. If you want to say, “Here’s my video and here’s what’s interesting about it,” then that might work. It also might work if you narrated the video.

Q: People are talking about doing heavy investigative stuff, but what about the lighter stuff? Like going to a concert or covering a butchering class?
A: Everything is fair game.

Q: What if you decide to write about something, but then you realize someone is already covering it?
A: That’s fine. It won’t count against you in any way. Each article will be judged separately. If you want to see if someone else is covering your topic, you can contact Casey ([email protected]), and she might know.

Q: Does it matter if it’s written in first, second or third person?
A: It depends on what you’re writing. First person can work, and people like reading first-person stories because they can identify with the writer. But it’s something you have to get good at, because otherwise it’s easy for every sentence to start with “I.” Use first person sparingly.

Q: Is there a cutoff for the copy editing?
A: Yes. 6 p.m. on Jan. 31 is the deadline for copy editing.

Q: What about tags?
A: The most important tag for you guys is “Open2011.” You will need to add this tag to your story in order to have it recognized as entered in the Journalism Open 2011.

Q: How do you choose a good headline?
A: Headlines need to be short. Try to limit yourself to five words, and use words that are pretty identifiable. If you’re writing about a particular person or business, try to put that in the headline. It may not seem super creative, but just getting the basic information is fine.

Tips for brainstorming, writing, editing and entering your article and/or photos:

  • No story is too small. You’ll do better and have a better story if you keep it small. Really try to localize it.
  • Try writing about a topic you’re interested in, and not necessarily one in which you’re already an expert.
  • If you’re trying too hard to make a story work, maybe you need to reframe it.
  • One way to find a good story is when you read something and it makes you ask a question.
  • If you see an article on our site and you want to respond or tell your side, that’s a good way to find a topic, too.
  • For the basic structure of your article: First, you want to entice the reader. Then it should be apparent why he or she should care about it. You have to give people a reason to keep reading.
  • Before you send it to us, let a friend or family member read over it. Ask them what they think, what parts they would cut, etc.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. But if you have a photo and 200 words underneath the photo, it’s going to explain it a lot better and make it much more interesting.
  • Take 25 photos and pick three.
  • You want something visual that’s going to get people’s attention.
  • Photos of people are generally the most interesting. Getting pictures of people doing things is really good.
  • If you have a friend who’s a photographer who doesn’t like to write, then he or she can add photos to your article and enter the photos in the competition and that will count for an entry for the photographer as well.

If you’re stumped on a story and need feedback or help with what direction to take it, you can contact Colleen by emailing her at [email protected] 

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