Sylvia Spotlights: Writing, Women, and the Big "What-ifs"

The Power of the Written Word at Work

Archive for the category “Writing”

Life’s Twisting Paths to Purpose

Celebrating leaps of faith and life’s twisting paths to purpose. When I earned my Journalism degree from USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism back in 1982, all I wanted to do was write. So I did. Freelancing all the way.

In 2012, I decided to go back to school and earned my Master’s in Digital Journalism under the direction of great professors like Dr. Sara-Ellen Amster, Danielle Cervantes Stephens & Alan Abbey. Never saw myself as a professor, but soon, began teaching Journalism & Media Studies classes. Challenging but exciting. Every day, I learn from my students and when I see their potential–it is inspiring.

And I continue to write, as well.

Then, surprise! At UCSD Extension, one campus where I teach, I was thrilled and honored during Women’s History Month this year to be featured as one of “50 Voices of the Future.”

Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, UCSD Extension selected 50 professors who are thought leaders in their fields to give their perspectives on “the next 50 years.” I was interviewed for the field of Journalism. What? How did that happen?

The interview is found here: 50 Voices of the Future: The New Era of Citizen Journalism with Sylvia Mendoza

It’s been quite the journey. What I believe to be true is this: I truly believe in the power of the written word. The platform or means for delivering the news and media content will change but what remains constant is the Journalism Code of Ethics. It’s what guided me as a young student at USC; it’s what should be core 50 years from now. Each individual journalist should be able to stand unwavering in this fast/first competitive mentality. Our integrity and respect have to be constant and the foundation for quality work.

What’s next on this twisting path to purpose?

There are more books to write, more people to interview, more classes to teach–and from them all–so much more to learn. How blessed am I? Onward!

50voices-mendoza

“My Writing Process” Blog Tour

Deadlines. Flexibility. Routine. The need to write. The need to create or produce. Fortunately, I am disciplined to sit at my desk and write almost daily, but taking part in this “My Writing Process” blog tour at the invitation of a writer and teacher I truly admire—Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days–really made me think. Judy is currently working on Wild Women, Wild Voices, which intrigues me to no end since I’m a big advocate for empowering women. You can find out more about Judy’s projects and process at www.judyreeveswriter.com

Diving into the 4 questions this blog tour is based on, I begin…

  1. What am I working on?

That’s a loaded question since I write non-fiction, fiction and articles—and teach.

For fiction I’m working on “the book of my heart.” Finally. It’s been simmering and shifting voice and point of view and being pushed to the back burner for seven years now. It’s about a breast cancer survivor who has lost her mojo and believes the only way she can get it back is by reviving her high school rock band—much to the surprise of her husband, kids, and best friends/band members. This year I have an agent who is so ready to take it out into the world, that I finally have a deadline. Maybe that’s what was missing all along. As a journalist I thrive on deadlines.

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

I’m also self-publishing my old romance titles that I received the rights back on. The first, Salsa Serenade, is out now.

Non-fiction--biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

Non-fiction–biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

For non-fiction, I still work with my The Book of Latina Women: 150 Vidas of Passion, Strength and Success. The 2013 re-release is currently a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards; winners will be announced on June 28 at a banquet in Las Vegas. Receiving that call from Kirk Whisler of Latino Literacy Now was my version of what the Academy Awards must be like. I was speechless and teary and overcome. The women featured in the book are amazing and even today I get goosebumps when I speak about them. My agent and I are talking about breaking down the book into a series for middle grade readers and highlighting much-needed Latina role models from various career fields.

For journalism, my favorite magazine to write for is Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. I cover amazing educators, advances in the education field, overcoming stereotypes and visionary perspectives. Next up is a piece on the incredible community outreach work being done by students of the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino headed by Dr. Juan Delgado, a poet himself.

  1. How does my work differ from that of others of its genre?

Good question. In all my work—fiction, non-fiction, articles—I find myself writing about inspiring people/characters I’d want to hang around with at a dinner table. I write about strong, intelligent, selfless women, Latinos and Latinas who blaze trails and surpass the bar. I write about people who have integrity and values and follow their passion despite the risks; those who have time for others and learn as much as they teach. Those who question the norm and break stereotypes. Those who speak for the underdog. Their stories mesmerize and need to be told.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

Because I believe every person has a story to tell—and that includes the characters that live in my head for my novels. I’m intrigued by people and their journeys, their obstacles and their vision. I’m often in awe of how they can somehow pull from that inner core—even on the darkest of days—strength, desire, perseverance and passion to change direction and make things happen.

  1. How does your writing process work?

It starts with acceptance of fewer hours sleep and that my desk will never stay clean for more than a couple of days before the next project takes over the space. It usually pays off in the end…

Elbow deep in a new project

Elbow deep in a new project

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I teach media studies and journalism at a community college. The days I don’t, I get up by 5:00 to start writing on my fiction. For some reason, my brain is in its more creative juices. On those days I pick up where I left off. Almost always I work on my desktop computer, though I carry a notebook to jot down ideas, or else I forget. I’m going to try to use my laptop this summer for more portability. I take an exercise break—usually a spin class or brisk walk—around 9:30 to get the blood flowing and give my brain a rest. Then right back to it.

In the afternoons, between lesson plans and grading papers, I work on articles, non-fiction, or editing. That could mean research. Interviews. Outlines. Transcribing notes. First draft. Second draft. Third draft. Sometimes more, especially for articles. At night I’m usually fried, so I watch TV and enjoy it, dissecting well-written shows.

Deadlines trump all routines, however. When I worked on The Book of Latina Women, two weeks before deadline, I was probably at my desk 15-18 hours a day.

And then there’s life. Curve balls are thrown at us all the time and I deal with those as they come. More importantly, I like spending time with my kids, family and friends and practice escapism in different forms like salsa dance lessons, hiking, reading, traveling, eating, movies and concerts. I convince myself they’ll bring a depth to my writing, one way or another.

I figure how can I write about life if I’m not experiencing it?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’d like to learn more about my projects and writing life, please check out www.sylvia-mendoza.com

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Now it’s time to pass the baton. Two of my friends are up next on this blog tour and will post their routines on May 5.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Caridad Pineiro is a Jersey Girl who’s written over 40 novels/novellas—dark and sexy romantic suspense and paranormal romances for those who live to love on the edge—and contemporary romances under her sweet, but still naughty side, Charity Pineiro. Visit www.caridad.com/blog

Ara Burklund writes YA with a unique voice and twist. Her first book, If I Die Before I Wake, is out now from the Alloy Entertainment division of Warner Brothers. Take a look at her other projects, sure to stand out in the ever-expanding YA genre, at www.araburklund.com

Encinitas Street Fair–Connecting Readers to Local Authors!

The ENCINITAS STREET FAIR is this coming weekend, April 26-27! It’s so much fun and a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday in San Diego.

Encinitas Street Fair

If you’re in the area, please visit the READ LOCAL San Diego booth on Sunday from 1:30-4:00. I’ll be joining other authors as we sign and talk books.

The opportunity to meet and mingle with other local authors of all genres, meet readers and share our writing process sounds like a perfect kind of weekend. To have it in quaint yet eclectic Old Encinitas on Highway 101–one of my favorite communities in San Diego–is the proverbial icing on the cake.

I’m proud to be a member of READ LOCAL San Diego. The mission of READ LOCAL is to connect readers with authors in their communities. According to its website, it was “created to raise awareness of the expansive literary community in the greater San Diego area, to foster a meaningful connection between local authors and readers, and to enrich the lives of readers through ongoing events and outreach programs.”

I just like the fact that we see the power of the written word come alive in a variety of genres; there’s something for every reader. Much like a bouquet of wildflowers, we will each offer the unique beauty of our individual books as part of a bigger collection of art.

Hope to see you Sunday!!!

For more info on READ LOCAL, visit http://sandiego.readlocal.org/

For more info on the 400+ booths and the weekend schedule for music and entertainment, visit: http://www.sandiego.org/events/festivals-and-street-fairs/encinitas-april-street-fair.aspx

Shades of Gray: First Amendment Rights Not Always Black & White

JOURNALISM LAW (655) DISCUSSION QUESTION: Do you believe that traditional First Amendment protections should also apply to the Internet? Please cite the relevant Supreme Court rulings on this point, and also please give your opinion and thoughts. Please explain your reasoning in detail.

 “First Amendment Protections are not absolute.” This was one of the most intriguing quotes in the textbook, The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication for the Journalism 655 Law class. Based on discussions and readings, especially Chapter 2 on “The First Amendment,” I have started to see that the law, which is black and white, really has more shades of gray than ever imagined when it comes to interpretation and also on a case-by-case basis.

It was interesting to see definitions of Freedom of Speech—and the parameters under which Law of Journalismthe right is protected—and how so many people just throw the term out there, thinking they are protected. From the very birth of the amendments to present day technologies and citing specific cases, the concept of Freedom of Speech is, well, beautiful and to be experienced by every American.

However, that right often comes with limitations and caveats. Freedom of speech covers many platforms, including now, the Internet. I believe First Amendment protections should apply to the Internet, but I also believe that these protections will be evolving as technology evolves. More people are posting to blogs, websites, and all modes of social media, sometimes because they can, and sometimes because they can remain anonymous.

It was interesting to see that sometimes an ISP (Internet service provider) could be brought to court for allowing questionable material to be published on a particular site. Mostly, it is about individuals or publications or companies that post material; they are liable for what they post. When someone decides to publish commentary, stories, photos, or the like on the Internet, they do have freedom of speech, but there are many “unprotected categories” of this right.

For example, the text says, “Political speech enjoys full constitutional protection, while seditious speech, fighting words, obscenity and defamation are unprotected categories.” 

A few other categories that are not protected include: blackmail, extortion, perjury, false advertising, disruptive speech and can cover child pornography, cross burning, and true threats (particularly to national Security), and also to an individual’s security/safety. Freedom of speech cannot cross privacy interests, either. In addition, there are content-neutral laws, also known as time/place/manner laws, which can affect a person’s protection under Freedom of Speech.

One Internet case citing the “true threat” category was about the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), which targeted doctors who performed abortions and placed them on its website (p 115).  Wording on the site “suggested a mafia-type contract be taken out on abortion providers whose “crimes” were compared to the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II.” 

Four doctors sued the organization, fearing for their lives and inability to continue practicing medicine. They said they were “intentionally intimidated…with a threat of force.” The ACLA was found guilty of “intentionally threatening to harm the doctors.” On appeal, another court upheld that ruling, saying that “true threats arise not from the use of specific words but from the meaning of a message interpreted in context.”

Categorical balancing was a topic brought up in the text that covers, for example, privacy vs. political speech. It explains the extent of harm caused to determine whether the expression falls into punishable category.

For the abortion doctors’ case, the Supreme Court ruling covered the “true threat” category and, therefore, this was a punishable category. It is interesting to see how these cases are brought to court and trial. Sometimes it seems that the outcome can seem like a roll of the dice, so random, but in reality, we have these freedoms—of speech and of the press—and still have to be held accountable as citizens and journalists. The ACLA crossed the line—if one looks at the black and white of the law—and the unprotected categories of Freedom of Speech.  Whether through a website, blog, or social media outlet, what a person says can be seen as a threat or a target for libel, slander and defamation.

As journalists, it might be more of a balancing act. It can come back to ethics and being aware of what the unprotected categories are, but at the same time, we have to have the liberty to publish what we feel is relevant news. It will be interesting to see how protection of our Freedom of the Press and Speech will evolve as more of our work appears on the Internet, and reaches, influences and/or incites the masses.

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The Poetic Flow of One Man’s Perspective–My Heart Jumped

Inspiration. I seem to always be looking for it. I run into it all the time.

My critique group rocks

With my friends, who endure hardships and still are the most amazing, generous, talented, loving people surrounding me. With my own kids, who I sometimes watch with awe with their blossoming. With my parents who withstood unbearable conditions to succeed and offer their kids better lives. With my professors, whose knowledge spurs me to do better. With my employers and editors who who create environments of respect and professionalism that make me aspire to make a difference. With my educator mentors who are in academia because they want to teach and envision our future leaders. With my colleagues, who are so committed, their achievements create magical outcomes. With my interviewees, who have taught me about life and living and how attitude is everything.

I’ve been lucky to work with students and clients like at UCSD-Extension, who write about their lives. Memoirs. Creative non-fiction. It is a brave thing, and often times, I am inspired beyond words as they are willing to be raw and real. Maybe this is why I started my own company offering writing and editing services–so that I could help clients develop their stories while staying true to their visions and voices–and ultimately share with the world the life experiences that so moved them, transformed them, or led them to better places of awareness. I see my clients who are already inspirational and motivational speakers like Daniel Gutierrez and Dr. Yasmin Davidds, whose words I read to this day.

And now, my clients who wrote 8 Ways to Say I Love My Life will have their book out this Fall.

Raw, real, rich in detail, 8 Ways Delivers

All eight authors laid their hearts bare and the resulting book has that “wow” factor to me. I cried. I laughed. I saw light after dark despairing depths.

What I know is this, some memoirs, inspirational works and self-help books rise above. They have the potential to inspire and change lives.

I listened to Jane Fonda speak on Life: The Third Act and her focus was on–what do we do now, with long life expectancies, for the last three decades of our lives? Should I do anything differently, I wondered.

It is not only about our purpose in this world, she said, but in our approach to it. How do we react to the good that comes to us and the bad that corners us?  When you strip away everything material, what matters? Fonda shared a quote by Viktor Frankl (how did I not read him before?), author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

I had to find him, his work, his words.

“I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets…”

His passage on love flowed so poetically, I read it over and over and my heart leapt. Imagine, to be lucky to love that way, to have someone love you that way. To know that love is one of those “things” that matter. So as Frankl, a Holocaust victim enlightened me when he shared bits of his life and philosophy, I saw inspiration.  Those who write about their lives are bold and brave and inspire in their own way. I am right where I am meant to be.

I close with Frankl’s poetic perspective of love:

“…for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…” 

~ Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor & Author, Man’s Search for Meaning

Secrets to Successful Online Publishing

Secrets to Successful Online Publishing
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program Final Assignment; Journalism 620 Online Publishing)

Networking. Social Media. Multi-media. SEO. Billboard approaches. Links, hubs, nodes. Websites. Internet. The World Wide Web. Anchor text. Interactive. Audience-driven. The jargon itself seems technical and fast-paced. But what pulls these elements together is interconnectivity.

Beyond our personal lives, this networking world has also transformed traditional news gathering and dissemination in print, broadcast and radio mediums. The way news—and online publishing—is covered today, is also fast paced, far-reaching, interactive and instantaneous. Successful news coverage offers an audience options in how to read, listen to, or view a story.

Producing news for online journalism and publishing is about networking and linking to promising audiences—but it goes beyond being efficient in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and a myriad of other online networking sources. When we set up websites, we must be conscious of the words we choose, placement of those words and graphics and possibility for links. In the textbook, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug shows how important it is to be aware of and practice more of a “billboard” approach.    

Don't Make Me Think

Author Steve Krug uses common sense tactics to make web site development user-friendly and efficient–which can result in more traffic to a site.

Awareness will make us better journalists for online publishing. Kirby Harrison compares analyzing websites with how he first viewed films, which is the career path he wants to pursue. Harrison says in his blog, “Now, I look at the little details that are wrong with the web. It was similar with film, when I went to the movies, all I did was watch the movie. It didn’t matter if it was a horror film or a comedy, I just enjoyed my time in the theatre. After learning more details into what it takes to make a film, camera angles, and the eventual do’s and don’t’s in filmmaking, I saw movies differently. Instead of enjoying what I was watching, I started judging the camera angles, whether or the director should have used a wide angle or not, etc.”

Like Harrison, journalists must be aware of how their work can be most effective. They must communicate and produce stories they are assigned or are compelled to tell—in one medium or another—but also in a multi-media focus to keep audiences engaged and keep the news interactive.

Jane Clifford explained this extremely well in her blog, “Digital Daze.” She writes, “After realizing — and accepting — that online readers are different in their approach to news (they choose what to read, when to read it, whether to respond to it on the spot and, much like being in a buffet line, they may taste a map, such as this one digest a graphic or list or photo, and move on to the next story sooner or later, depending on how well the journalist holds the viewer’s attention), online reporters must make sure a story is more than text.”

So what makes one news agency or journalist stand out from another? What is the secret to successful online publishing? What is the secret to successful networking?

Networking was not always associated with the Internet. In Hassan Alassaly’s blog, he reminded me of how our textbook, Linked, began—citing a networking venture that is centuries old. Alassaly writes, “Albert Barabasi[‘s] first pages of his book “Linked” he talks about the networking and how is it works, and to tell us it has been used since the beginning of the Christianity describing Paul that he understood his message is not enough to be reached for, except by networking.  He has to walk 10,000 miles in 12 years of his life to contact as many people as he can to connect his idea about Christianity and Jesus of Nazareth.”

Bodies, bridges, social networks–what do they have in common?

Technological advances and mediums that are the norm now have been foreign to me, a print journalist for the last 30 years.  In National University’s Online Publishing class for its Digital Journalism graduate program, every class has led to this one.  The core group of students in the program personifies a solid networking system.    Students are learning there are no secrets to successful online publishing. It is hard work. It is adapting. It is about putting into practice what we learn in the classroom—and also trusting our instincts. It is about what we bring to the table as individual professionals. It is about telling compelling stories that will draw audiences and reaction.Through all the readings in this class—Don’t Make Me Think by Steven Krug, Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins, and Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi—what I’ve learned most is this:

  • the news is ever changing,
  • multi-media offers interactive alternatives for the online user,
  • the dissemination of news is interactive and instantaneous, and
  • successful promotion of a news article or news agency depends on how effectively key words and phrases are used that can optimize an online search on a given topic.

A journalist can adapt to a digital journalism world by remembering two valuable practices. 1. She must remain true to ethical journalism standards as she researches and reports her story. 2. She must strive to tell a story with heart, which was the crux of Tompkins’ viewpoint. If one can get to the emotional core of a story—the heart of a story—the more likely audiences can relate—and will return to a site to learn more.   

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

“Write, Shoot, Report & Produce for TV and Multimedia”

The beauty of networking is that one story can link to other sources, one person can tell their friends and families to link, and then the network for a story grows. Journalism student, Nebo Uyanwah, seemed to enjoy how Linked resonated and gave a new perspective of the magnitude of the Internet. “I love the analogy of the web being different continents or very large communities,” Uyanwah says.

This is how we network and grow as journalism students in the program. We read texts from experts in the field of impactful journalism so that we all start on the same footing. During weekly Live Chat sessions we listen to each other’s comments and discuss certain materials; we link to each other’s blogs and learn about personal style while seeing the strengths and diversity of perspectives. Our professors invite us to stay linked and suddenly, our networking circle has grown.  

As Professor Theresa Collington states, we need to “begin to view (digital) society as a complex social network. The world is actually very small.”

Indeed, Jerry Simpson put that idea to the test when he “linked” with Collington. “I was surprised as the number of connections you and I have in the journalism world,” he writes in his blog. “About a dozen of my friends follow you and even though we haven’t met in person, we are connected or as the author points out “Linked.””

We are enlightened by each other in these journalism classes, too. Insight by Mark Taylor enlightened me as to why Barabasi used the example of Gaetan Dugas, known as “Patient Zero” in the AIDS epidemic, in the Viruses and Fads Chapter. I initially had trouble equating it with the concept of being linked.

Taylor says, “People infected with HIV not only provide an example of the six degrees of separation outlined in the first nine chapters but the epidemic also implies that networks can be made to be damaged…Many journalists rely on digital devices and various social media outlets to reach out to other networks to acquire information needed for news stories. If an act of cyber terrorism was launched against these devices our communication infrastructure would be greatly hindered.”

When each of us in these classes shares insights, perspectives and news coverage practices, they link us to other points of view. Isn’t it part of a journalist’s job to see as many sides of a story as possible?

What I have loved most through all the readings is the concept of interconnectivity that Barabasi brought to life through discussion of the Pareto Principle—or Six Degrees of Separation. He made it fun and relatable by describing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. We are in a connected world but we have to go beyond that basic concept to produce news that matters to more people.    

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

It is taking this interconnectivity and following the lessons Krug tells of producing effective websites that are conscious of the target audience. “They want information fast, at their convenience, which is easy to understand,” says Mark Godi. “Often times, they want to get in and get out. To make them stay, your site has to be interactive.”

Interconnectivity is about believing that the heart of a good story will resonate with audiences as Tompkins believes—while using basic, effective online journalism practices. It is understanding that we are all connected as social human beings, in one way or another. In a beautifully clear written summary of Aim for the Heart, Mic Simpson reiterates, “Stories that pull at the heartstrings will not only be remembered but retold to co-workers, friends, or families. Then you’ve not only affected those who were there for the original story, but so many more as well.”

Glenda McCray-Fikes points out that Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point, realizes that we may know the same number of people as the person next to us. However, some people are connectors. McCray-Fikes explains, “Connectors are the folks that are strong networkers and can get a message to more people in shorter amount of time then the average person.”

Even with seven billion people in the world, we are linked. As journalists, we can be the connectors. When we keep the power of the written word and multi-media coverage professional, yet authentic, interconnectivity can also be more powerful than we ever imagined.     

Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch

Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program/Digital Journalism/#620 Online Publishing)

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

“Write, Shoot, Report & Produce for TV and Multimedia”

Online publishing puts news at a consumer’s fingertips in an instant. For any journalist trained in only print, radio or television, online publishing is a new world.  Think multi-media. Think “billboard” for posting headlines and text. Think interactive.

In the book, Aim for the Heart: Write, Shoot, Report and Produce for TV and Multimedia, journalist author Al Tompkins lays out the facts of an ever-changing terrain—journalism as we’ve known it, and how a journalist must adapt to online publishing. Tompkins, who is also senior faculty for the Poynter Institute, points out how there must be a great shift in thinking, training, ethics, and coverage techniques in order to be most effective and offer readers multiple ways to consume the news. 

Poynter Institute faculty member Al Tompkins teaches how to produce effective content for multimedia journalism.

Online publishing is about engaging audience.

Interaction
Online publishing should not be the same as what we put on TV. It is not TV. It is about letting the viewers, listeners and readers decide how they want to consume the news—even on that particular day, for that particular kind of news story. Visuals include maps, graphs, video, still photo galleries, raw footage, text, and links (but make sure they are legitimate, reputable and add to the story, since readers are taken away from the news site). There are “comments” sections after stories and with blogs, various ways to post on Twitter, and easy-to-follow directions to allow readers to post videos or stills on sites.

Cover a story from different angles, beyond the initial story focus. Tompkins suggests, for example, shooting half-time entertainment at high school football games to reach a different audience from the same location—band members, cheerleaders and their families. Make it personal. Localize it.

Interactive maps are another way to engage audiences. They can pinpoint where they are during a natural disaster, for example, and write a recap of what is happening in their neighborhoods.

Online, All the Time
Most users log in either midmorning or in midafternoon. There is constant updating to an online news story; however, a journalist must post with very specific, focused language. Nowadays, when audiences go online to search for a story, do research or expand their knowledge on a topic, they use search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. The words they key in to “search” for their topic can lead them to a news agency’s site—if that site is using those words in the stories and headlines.

Therefore, using key words thoughtfully and strategically can garner more “readership.” This process is called search engine optimization. Tompkins pointed out how the Sacramento Bee changed its “Real Estate” section to “Homes.” He said, “People who are looking for a house do not search the words “real estate.”

Other ways to draw readership include having compelling video and photo shots that are close up rather than wide angled. Enlarge fonts and practice selective word choice.

An interesting fact from Poynter Eyetrack showed that “online users tend to read more of an article than print readers do…” so to get them to read a story, a journalist has to offer the key words they searched for. Journalists also need to write tight—no more than 800 words—and 15 words or less per sentence. In other words, the story has to be enticing, engaging, interactive, and informative.

The Journalist’s Responsibility
One is no longer “just” a print media journalist. A “backpack” journalist must sharpen her skills so that she can file her own stories, become computer savvy, involve social media tools, know basics of Photoshop, video editing and audio editing, and understand “netiquette.” At all times a journalist must think in multi-media layers. Assessing readership is crucial. Why did they come to your website? What were they expecting? How can you present information? Visitor presence is measured through page views, visitors, unique visitors and the time they all spend on the site and all these factors must be taken into account as a reporter covers stories.   

Editor, Professor, Chair of RTDNA, Stacey Woelfel. Photo credit: journalism.missouri.edu

Most importantly, a journalist’s code of ethics must remain steady even as online publishing changes continuously. In 2010, Tompkins, along with news director Kevin Benz, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) chair Stacey Woelfel, attorneys and other media representatives, produced  guidelines for the ethical use of social media. These social media guidelines for journalists include truth and fairness, accountability and transparency, and image and reputation. Journalists are expected to uphold these.

Sources must always be verified. Truth must be exposed. Awareness of the casualness of social media like Twitter should not be an excuse for inaccuracy and unfairness. Personal opinions and “friending” should not cross professional lines. With an intuitive guideline, a journalist must still “aim for the heart” in order to connect with readers on an emotional, interactive level.

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“Billboard” Thinking for Better Web Sites

Billboard Thinking for Better Web Sites
By Sylvia Mendoza

For journalists, words are powerful. They are the foundation and building blocks of a great story. The goal is to produce facts about a news event, features stories and profiles that show depth and heart, or insight that offers an opinion. The way words are strung together can produce sentences and paragraphs that present the material in a clear, concise and comprehensive manner—and still have an impact. The goal: to grab a reader’s attention and tell the best possible story. Effective word choice can make all the difference. Today, in a multi-media world, word choice has to be thoughtful and efficient.

Don't Make Me Think

Author Steve Krug uses common sense tactics to make web site development user-friendly and efficient–which can result in more traffic to a site, more sales & improved online presence.

For many news agencies, online presence is a matter of fact. Designing web sites that are user friendly and get a message across quickly is the goal. Word choice on web sites is especially crucial, as is placement of information on a page. In his book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, author Steve Krug spotlights an incredibly sensible, simple, common sense approach to user friendly sites with two very basic components to keep in mind: users scan and don’t read, therefore, developers must think “billboard.”  

In Chapter 3, “Billboard Design 101,” he reiterates the importance of word choice and word placement. Buttons, links, hyperlinks, highlighted text, graphics, video and boxes on a page must be used with words to help a user have a basically good, fulfilling and result-oriented experience on a particular site. The bottom line is, once a user is at a site, don’t make her think. The process of scanning a page, especially a home page, should be mindless, effortless and not frustrating or confusing.  No bells and whistles needed, just clarity.

Krug, an expert in the field of web usability, has worked with big-name business sites such as Amazon.com, Apple, Lexus, and barnesandnoble.com, as well as other sites. He assesses what works and what doesn’t on web sites—from a user’s point of view. The consequences of not having a clear and easy format?  People may try to muddle their way through the site, try to figure out what you’re trying to sell or services you offer, but in the long run, chances are likely that they won’t return if it takes too much effort.

Working with a team such as a web designer, sales and marketing rep, and administrative honcho when trying to develop a site, can be difficult. Their needs for particular information can affect the overall essence of the project—and it can fail miserably because too much info is overpowering a page. Yet, Krug appeals to common sense efforts to entice users to a site and have them return over and over.

Added “Sensible” Bonus

One of my favorite parts in the book was on the billboard approach because as a print journalist, I tend to write long and think I need “just one more thing,” which, Krug says, can be enough to tip a user’s experience to the dark side. I also enjoyed the entire chapter on “Designing the Home Page” because that is the first stop—and you don’t want it to be the last for any visitor. He mentions key elements for the home page: site identity and mission, site hierarchy, teasers of what is inside and timely content, among others—all to make it absolutely clear “what the site is.” I did especially love what he says a user will ask: “What can I find here? And “What can I do here?” It is about easy access for information on what you are selling, promoting or promise to deliver.

Also interesting was the “reservoir of goodwill” and how a person/business must be considerate of the user. Building goodwill between a site and a user, includes knowing “the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy;” “tell me what I want to know;” and “save me steps whenever you can.” The “Accessibility” chapter was also a great bonus because often times, developers do not tend to think about including elements for people with disabilities such as deafness or blindness.  

Advanced Common Sense, Krug’s web usability consulting site, is a great addition to the book and offers updated timely advances by Krug, as well as a medium where he can promote his usability workshops and consultation services. His corporate motto—“It’s not rocket surgery,” however, was at the bottom of the page, which is not what he recommended in the examples throughout the book. However, Krug’s blog, Some Slightly Irregular, offers a more user-friendly way of getting to particular issues, questions or problems with the book and/or workshop content. Krug ties together all his skills and services through the book, the site and the blog in an efficient way.

Show Me the Money
Krug could have included example sites for entrepreneurs or those in the creative arts, such as authors, photographers, artists. Their needs seem to be different than a huge business that is appealing to mass sales instead of niche markets. The initial common sense approach might be the same, but the emphasis may be on what the artist wants—or needs—and should have more creative expression on their sites. Take, for example, photographer Ann Collins. Her site, imagesbyanncollins.com, has to be visual.  How can she get more traffic to her site and stay true to her art and visual beauty for emphasis?

For the e-book version, which was downloaded from Amazon.com, there were some formatting issues and typos that temporarily distracted, but they did not take away from the brilliance of the content. Krug could also have improved the last two chapters he added to this edition. They did not seem to flow with the rest of the book’s style and focus. The chapter on usability testing was long and drawn out; not as concise as other chapters. The “what bosses think” chapter also seemed laborious to wade through. The info here could have been condensed and even inserted into an already-established chapter.

To develop a site that will be user-friendly and clear, the first stop for the site owner, developer, designer and all involved in the process, should be to read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. Much of it is common sense and the user-friendly approach makes the book a gem of a source for creating outstanding sites.    

San Diego Book Awards Celebrates Homegrown Talent

San Diego Book Awards

San Diego Book Awards brought out “Best of the Best,” including Jean Forsythe, VP and presenter

Homegrown talent was celebrated big time on Saturday night, June 9 at the San Diego Book Awards Banquet! I was thrilled, humbled, honored to be the keynote speaker. As always when surrounded by such motivated writers/authors, I was inspired.  Host/emcee Bruno Leone was an absolute delight, ad- libbing, dropping trivia, telling great jokes. He set a great tone for the night. New for the first time was a “Kids Write” category for young writers ages 10-13. Cody Clements, Julia Situ, and Brian Wang were the finalists; Julia went on to win first!

San Diego Book Awards

RWA-SD President, Lisa Kessler, took first place at the San Diego Book Awards banquet for her book, Night Walker.

The Romance Writers of America, San Diego chapter, was well represented. RWASD President Lisa Kessler took first in the Sci-fi/Fantasy Category for Night Walker. RWASD member, Kelly Hayes took first in unpublished YA for her novel, Keepers. The judges were kept busy all these months reading many, many entries in about 20 different categories.

San Diego Book Awards

San Diego Book Awards Host, Bruno Leone, and Guest Speaker, Sylvia Mendoza

Then I think of how beautifully the event played out. It was a red carpet event, made possible only by all committee members and volunteers who worked behind the scenes. Jean Forsythe, committee chair was fantastic. Lisa took good care of me and many authors; Kate created the amazing Power Point; then there was Marcy who helped signing authors feel at home,

Johnnierenee Nia Nelson, who works with kids’ reading programs and all the judges who read many, many entries. There were many others involved who deserve kudos. too. Thank you!

San Diego Book Awards

San Diego Book Awards launched new category–Kids Write–for writers age 10-13. The first finalists included Cody Clements, Julia Situ, and Brian Wang.

I was thrilled to meet new authors (new to me) like Stacey and John Holley, who wrote Medals, Flags and Memories, dedicated to their son who was killed in Iraq. As they dealt with their indescribable pain, their heart wrenching journey led them to help other military families facing loss–by ensuring fallen soldiers are brought home with dignity and respect.

San Diego Book Awards

RWASD–Romance Writers of America, San Diego chapter–had great presence at the San Diego Book Awards–and 2 members took first place in their categories–Lisa Kessler & Kelly Hayes!

The Power of the Written Word. Healing and inspirational all at once.  What a red carpet night, surrounded by the magic and power of the written word. Congratulations to all brave souls who submitted to the competition, all who were recognized, and all who made it possible. Onward!

A Writer’s Approach–A Fun Outlook

Whether writing articles, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or any other type of the written word, your frame of mind in getting down to work can have an impact on your productivity. Here’s a fun way to look at that frame of mind.

Note: Please don’t get caught up in using adverbs in your writing, though. Have a productive writing day!

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