Friday, December 30, 2011

Learning To Write As A Reporter

Nothing buoys my spirit quite like the life stories of fellow small town reporters who went on to have successful careers as professional writers.

I was once a small town reporter. In fact I cut my teeth at a little 4,000 circulation paper before moving up to a 40,000 circulation paper. I still write a weekly humor column for a small town paper--just 10,000 circulation. I don't mind it though because unlike so many other papers, my current one still has their own printing press in the back churning out the daily edition.

Some writer's stories are tragic, certainly. Not everyone who sets out to accomplish something achieves their goal in the end. That's just life. But it is life affirming to listen to their struggles, decades later, and see them sitting before you, alive and well and happy.

As a writer I have had my fair share of struggles already, and I'm just getting started. Three decades of work so far, and I say, "I'm just getting started." That sort of starry-eyed optimism is emblematic of most writers. We always feel we are just getting started; that we have learned so much, yet still have so much left to learn; so much left to give to our readers.

I read this story of Richard Graber, a once small town reporter who went on to have a successful career as a magazine writer and novelist. He didn't win a Pulitzer Prize, cover the JFK assassination or the Moon missions; and most of you have probably never heard of him. But he is an example of the successful life a writer can lead when he sticks with his dream, stays on the writer's path and follows it all the way to the end.

Growing up in Granite Falls, Minn., in the 1930s and 40s, Richard wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be a writer, but he was always drawn to the arts and literature. He was sensitive to nature, to his own emotions, and to the tumult of life around him. Lucky for him, his hometown librarians, Lois Palmer and Anna Feley, were early subscribers to The New Yorker magazine.

"I was a young teenager when I started reading The New Yorker," he says. "Or, well, at least going through and reading the cartoons. But that was back when they had real writers, James Thurber and E.B. White."

After a stint in the Navy, Richard enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He majored in architecture for a year and a half until a perceptive friend asked him what the hell he was doing in architecture. Richard knew his friend was right, so he took a career counseling test to figure out what to do with his particular mix of skills and personality. He ended up taking the test 14 times.



Click here to read more of Richard Graber's life, in an article by Becky Karush.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anonymity Is Sometimes A Writers Best Friend

As a writer I have the underlying fear that nothing I write will ever be read. Or worse, that once read it will be quickly discarded with the day's rubbish. I long for my words to be lauded, praised, shared amongst friends and discussed at the dinner table.

Like many writers I know, it's not my name I want bantered about, but my words. I don't care if they know who wrote the words they are quoting, as long as they find the words worthy of quoting in the first place.

This is hardly a new idea:

Anonymity and pseudonymity have a long history. We think of medieval authors laboring anonymously, but even the first age of literary celebrities, the 18th century, was also paradoxically an age of anonymity. Book historian James Raven estimates that "over 80 percent of all novels published in Britain between 1750 and 1790 were published anonymously." Given that only Henry Fielding (best known for "Tom Jones") of the major 18th century novelists put his name on the title page, we ought to think of anonymity as the default position for the novel, thought to be a low form.



Writers have long used a pseudonym to hide behind. Sometimes it was because they feared their words would bring down retribution from political leaders and sometimes it was because they didn't want their innermost thoughts and beliefs known to others.

Again, for these writers it was the words which mattered most, not the authorship.

Today, with the increasing popularity and ease of self-publishing via ebooks, it seems everyone is seeking the "fame" of being a published author. I have no problem with that. In fact, I am working on my own ebook. But I believe it is important to note that all you need to do to be a writer, is write.

However, the immortality achieved by authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen (to name only a few) had nothing to do with the name on the cover, but rather with the quality of the content.

I suggest everyone with a desire to be a "writer" examine their exact motivations and recognize that not everything that goes into print is worth the paper it's printed on (or the e-reader.)

Click here to read more about the history literary anonymity from Robert Folkenflik.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

eBook Growth Astounds Publishers

It is no wonder a majority of publishers are planning to release more digitized versions of books next year.
Some estimates report that ebook sales have grown more than 600% in the past year making them a commodity that traditional publishers need to own and control.

The problem for most publishers, however, is receiving the same level of profits from digital books as they receive from print books. Except digital books have no where near the same production costs as traditional books, meaning their prices must be artificially increased to keep pace.

This obviously doesn't sit well with readers who are savvy enough to know they shouldn't pay the same price for a digital edition of a book as they do for the print edition.

There is also the increased competition to consider. It is now easier than ever for an author, or anyone with a story to tell, to self-publish their own book in a digital edition. Amazon has made no secret of the fact they are desperate for more eBook content, simplifying the upload process and distribution system so that nearly anyone with an Internet connection (and a finished ebook) can do it.

Pricing has also been a point of contention when it comes to ebooks. Where traditional publishers seem to be setting higher-than-acceptable prices on their eBooks, self-publishers are doing the exact opposite, setting prices as low as .99 cents for most works. Readers are naturally more inclined to choose the lower priced book, unless they are looking for something specific. A .99 cent book is at least worth a read, if not a recommendation.

eBooks are not going away any time soon, regardless of whether or not traditional publishers get on board and find a pricing structure that works. For the time being traditional publishers have contracts with established authors that give them a slight lead in the ebook market, but as more and more authors wise-up to the advantages of self-publishing, and traditional printed books become more of a niche market, it seems likely that the market will force traditional publishers to make do with less, while at the same time provide individual authors with a bigger piece of the pie.

Amazon says the Kindle is their best selling product. Eight months ago the company announced that customers were choosing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than two to one, even as hard cover sales continued to grow.

On Amazon since April 2011, 242 Kindle books have been sold for every 100 hardcover books.

Amazon's Allan Lyall said: "They are really convenient, easy to use. You can change the font size to suit you eye. You can just flip the pages through. So folks are finding the product itself really convenient. And of course it is delivered in a very convenient way."


Click here to read more about eBooks from Sky.com.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bloggers Vs Journalists: Part Deux

Want to know just how much traditional journalists hate both new media and the people who are responsible for it? Check out this fantastic play-by-play story of a Delaware County Times writer (Journalist) who targets the efforts of blogger (@ThePhillyPhans) who he says is spreading rumors.

Now, it is important that I disclose I worked as a print news reporter for more than a dozen years and I currently make my living as a professional blogger and social media manager, so I straddle the fence.

What I enjoyed most about the way Geoffrey Detweiler broke down this entire situation was how he provided screen shots, actual Tweets and Posts as evidence for every point he makes. Clearly Detweiler is right when says that the sports writer Matt Smith seems to be making a mountain out of a mole hill when it comes to some his claims. It also appears clear to me that Smith is suffering from sour grapes, taking umbrage against new media providers for some personal reason rather than de to any singular or specific offense.

There certainly is no love lost between traditional journalists and new media. I worked in a news room as social media began, expanded and eventually led to serious declines in advertising revenue as businesses found other, much more effective ways of getting their messages out.

What I find interesting is the way Smith chides the bloggers for doing what news reporters do all the time: Reporting rumors, and identifying them as rumors.
Specifically:
"@ThePhillyPhans, an account run by, well, Phillies fans, published on Facebook and Twitter that a “source” said Wright would be wearing red pinstripes “very, very soon.” The message spread through the Twittosphere like wildfire."

(Click here to read Smith's entire article.)

As a reporter I can tell you, it is not uncommon to publish a rumor simply as a way of saying "Hey, there's a rumor going around that says,,,blah, blah, blah." The problem only arises in you try to turn that rumor into fact without attribution. A rumor in and of itself is not a bad thing, only how it is used and whether or not someone tries to pass it off as fact.

This obvious mistake on Smith's part didn't escape Detweiler, either. Using the actual Tweets referenced by Smith Detweiler tears his argument to pieces:

"Right there, in the tweet Mr. Smith sarcastically referred to as a "report", is the phrase "no actual report". Did Mr. Smith read the sentence that he's so upset about, or he is taking a bit of journalistic license here?"

(Click here to read all of Detweiler's article.)

The fact is, traditional forms of media are slowly being replaced by new forms. The way hand written books were replaced by the printing press; cut-and-paste systems were replaced with desktop publishing and the telephone replaced the telegraph and is itself being replaced by the text.

If you don't like new technology, fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But to try and drag down someone else's work when it is clearly an example of the type of work you yourself engage in every day, well, that seems more than a little childish to me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tip For Writers: Leave A Will

Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson is responsible for what has so far been three of the most popular crime novels of the 21st Century. His Millennium Trilogy, featuring a tattooed, goth-like, tech-savvy protagonist named Lisbeth Salander, has sold millions of copies and inspired films in both his homeland of Sweden and now the United States.

Unfortunately, Larsson died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 50, in 2004, never having seen his works reach their pinnacle of popularity. Also, when Larsson died he left no will, meaning his longtime partner of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson, had no control over his work. Instead the rights to Larsson's work passed to his father and brother who are now being accused by Gabrielsson of selling-out in order to reap the maximum profit rather than maintaining the integrity of the original work.

I am not about to step into this fray. I didn't know Larsson and have no idea what his motives might have been regarding his work. I am a fan of the Swedish film versions of his books and am NOT looking forward to their U.S. adaptations, but that's about as far as I'll go.

What I will weigh in on is the importance of writing a will, especially if you have a library of creative works--or even a pile of unpublished short stories in a dusty desk drawer. If you have any concerns about what happens to your work after you are dead you need to take a few simple steps to ensure your wishes are followed. A will does not need to be an expensive or complicated matter. You can write your explicit instructions on a piece of paper, sign it, date it and mail it to yourself (don't open it) and that works better than nothing.

But don't trust that people will know what you want done with your work. Don't leave it to family members to understand what your thoughts were, or what you would or wouldn't approve. This is a recipe for disaster.

As millions of people head out to the theaters to see the latest film adaptations of Larsson's work; buy the related merchandise or whatever else the current owners of his work have planned, I will be wondering what the author himself would have thought about all of this. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing because he didn't leave a will.

The longtime partner of late Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson says he wouldn't have approved of merchandise being linked to this week's release of a Hollywood adaptation of his best-selling novel, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

Eva Gabrielsson said Monday that Larsson would have instead used the buzz around his work to call attention to violence and discrimination against women.

"We would never have sold any rights for merchandising," Gabrielsson said. "It has nothing to do with books."


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ebooks Make Publishing Easy (But Is That A Good Thing?)

How important has the ebook marketplace become to writers? For lack of flourish: Really, really important.

For the first time ever nothing stands between the writer and his readers other than an Internet connection and a finished book. No more waiting for a publisher to recognize your work, offer you a contract and pay for the publication of your masterpiece. If you have finished your work and can get online there are plenty of ebook outlets for you to load it to. If it's good enough you might actually start making money. Even if it doesn't start making money at least you can see your finished work for sale someplace.

Unfortunately, as popular as ebooks have become they have done little to increase the quality of the books being written. In fact, I'd say they have further diminished the luster of being a published writer because now just about anyone can do it. You don't even need to be tenacious any more; pounding on doors, enduring a near endless stream of rejection notices or learning to have a thick skin for the harsh critiques you are likely to receive in response to your manuscript.

I am not suggesting every ebook is crap. There are a number of excellent ebooks on the market today and more are likely to be uploaded tomorrow. I'm simply saying that just because it is easier to publish a book now than ever before doesn't mean everyone should set pen to paper and write a book.

Writing is a skill. Writing is an art. Quality writing is something that only comes with hard work and perseverance. Just because you finished a book and have it for sale on Amazon doesn't automatically make you a writer. To paraphrase Truman Capote, it just makes you a typist.

No longer do authors need to send manuscripts to publishing houses in hopes of winning the book deal lottery given to so few writers. And while self-publishing has become more popular over the years, the difficulty and expense of DIY publishing and printing a hard copy book is quickly becoming out-dated in the e-book age.

It's a huge technological change for writers, and one that Petaluma author Rob Laughran had no problem accepting. The author of 23 books, his latest novel, “Tantric Zoo” was released on e-book and hard copy earlier this year. In November, he decided to completely embrace the new age of books by releasing his first children's book, “The Smartest Kid in Petaluma,” only on e-book.


Click here to read more about Laughran.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writers Read; Readers Write

The fact is, if you're a writing you're likely a reader as well. This isn't always the case. It applies more to those who write for the love of it rather an as a way to make a few extra bucks turning out e-books.

Not only are writers also readers, they tend to have a sort of romance with the books they read. There might be love, hate, indifference or outright hostility toward the books they read. They are also very likely to have their own library of books. It might be just a single bookshelf, or it might be an entire room stuffed floor to ceiling with piles of books they have read and re-read; want to read or will likely want to read again.

I have always been of the opinion that not only should I read the books written by the authors whose writing I enjoy the most, I should also endeavor to read the books those authors have themselves read. In this way I hope to experience the same thoughts or emotions or they might have experienced, and glean some of the same insight they enjoyed.

There is no harm in this. I am not seeking to copy their style, or even replicate their inspiration. I just want to share something personal with them which I could not otherwise share.

I wish it would have occurred to me sooner that others were doing the same thing. If it had, I might have been inspired to write a book about it, like Leah Price.

Alongside the formidable collections—featuring Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud and James Wood, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund Whit—are short interviews with the authors about the books most important to them (including their top 10), their style of organization, and their thoughts on what the future of books might hold. (Cue in writers on the future of books.) The interviews are prefaced by Leah Price's fascinating brief history of bookshelves, from the rise of the vertical book on a horizontal shelf to how social bookmarking services are changing our relationship with tagging and indexing information.


Click here to read the complete review of Price's book.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Writer Restored: Trumbo Finally Gets The Credit He Deserved

In the 1950's the "Red Scare" forced otherwise law abiding citizens to account for their political beliefs and testify against their friends, all of whom were accused of being Communist sympathizers (at best) or spies (at worst.)

People went to prison for refusing to participate in the kangaroo court-like proceedings,headed-up by Senator Joseph McCarthy. "McCarthyism" as it became known, was focused on removing communist or socialist influences on American society and focused primarily on Hollywood writers, directors, producers and actors.

Good people were harangued, forced to testify against their friends, wrongly accused, imprisoned; had their careers destroyed, their family lives shaken to the very foundations and their hopes and dreams (American Dreams) shattered.

Among the victims of this Black Plague disguised as patriotism was a screenwriter named Dalton Trumbo. If you are a fan of classic films then you are familiar with his work: Roman Holiday (1953). Unfortunately, his name was not attached to that project, appearing nowhere in the credits until just this week.

Because Trumbo was targeted by the McCarthy trials he was Blacklisted in Hollywood, forced to flee to Mexico with his family and was only able to follow his passion in secret, working with a "front" who was actually credited for Trumbo's work and accepted payments (secretly) on his behalf.

Trumbo's son, Chris Trumbo, and the son of the man who acted as Trumbo's "front", Tim Hunter Jr., worked tirelessly for decades to restore the proper screenwriting credit. Their success is a story of love, endurance and a commitment to restore the dignity and reputation of a man who did nothing wrong, except refusing to indict his friends at a time when it seemed the entire nation was against him.

After investigating the matter, the guild's board, which had given a story credit to Trumbo in 1991, voted to posthumously give Trumbo a full screenplay credit for "Roman Holiday," sharing the honor with McLellan and John Dighton.

"It's not in our power to erase the mistakes or the suffering of the past,'' WGA, West President Chris Keyser said in a statement. "But we can make amends, we can pledge not to fall prey again to the dangerous power of fear or to the impulse to censor, even if that pledge is only a hope. And, in the end, we can give credit where credit is due."

The story of how the sons of the famous screenwriters worked behind the scenes to get Trumbo credit is told in the January edition of the guild's "Written By" magazine.


Click here to read the entire article and get the link to "Written By" magazine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Man Who Brought Down The Berlin Wall

If you ever doubted the power of the written word, study the life and times (and writing) of Vaclav Havel.
Havel, former Czech president and popular dissident (not in that order) died this week at the age of 75 after a life spent mostly in pursuit of freedom for himself and his countrymen.

Havel spent decades dissecting the Communist rule which all but enslaved his people. His writings earned him much esteem abroad and imprisonment in his homeland. In 1989 Havel was at the center of street protests in Prague and worked behind the scenes to bring about the end of Communist rule.

Long before he freed his country, Havel worked with pen and ink to express ideas which were both intuitive, insightful and courageous; he braved arrest, surveillance, detention and the possibility of death at the hands of a government which was no doubt feeling the pressure building long before the protests in Prague.

Havel proved that the good fight could be fought not with bullets, but with words. Not only could the good fight be fought with words, it could be won with them as well.

Havel was known as a gentleman and a scholar; a learned man ho stood by his convictions, whatever the cost. Ultimately he will be remembered as not only the hero of the Czech people, but as a writer who wielded his power for good and won the day against overwhelming odds.


He was chosen as post-communist Czechoslovakia's first president, and after the country split in January 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic. He linked the country firmly to the West, clearing the way for the Czech Republic to join NATO in 1999 and the European Union five years later.

Both as a dissident and as a national leader, Mr. Havel impressed the West as one of the most important political thinkers in Central Europe. He rejected the notion, posited by reform-minded Communist leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, that Communist rule could be made more humane.

It was as a dissident that Mr. Havel most clearly championed the ideals of a civil society. He helped found Charter 77, the longest enduring human rights movement in the former Soviet bloc, and keenly articulated the lasting humiliations that Communism imposed on the individual.



Click here to read more about Vaclav Havel.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: Writer, Revolutionary, Thinker, Man

Christopher Hitchens, 62, is dead.

Hitchens is perhaps the only writer with an asteroid named in his honor. He was astute observer of the human condition; a journalist, columnist, author and literary critic. Oh, and he believed the myth(s) of god(s) is bringing about catastrophe for the whole human race.

Hitchens believed that the global religious phenomenon was part of an underlying effort at totalitarianism meant to suppress everyone. The very idea that some sort of Supreme Being was watching, guiding; punishing and praising each and every one of us was completely against logic, he said, and not something we should be fooled into believing.

Some said Hitchens cancer diagnose was some sort of retribution for his antitheistic (a term he coined meaning "someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion" that god may or may not exist) views. I believe he died of cancer because he likely had a genetic precondition or maybe smoked too much or was exposed to some chemical compound which caused it.

The world lost a Revolutionary of Thought when Hitchens died. I hope that an army of such revolutionaries will take up his banner and mount an assault on the pillars upon which most of human civilization has thus far been built, or at least carry his ideas further, questioning everything for the simple reason that they can.

Rest in peace, Christopher Hitchens. And thank you for thinking.

Hitchens himself was many things: a polemicist, reporter, author, rhetorician, militant atheist, drinker, name-dropper, and raconteur. He was also an absolutist. He liked a clear, defined target against which to take aim and fire; he knew what he wanted to write against and he did so with all the force and power of his formidable erudition and articulacy. Hitchens was an accomplished and prolific writer, but an even better speaker: his perfect sentences cascaded and tumbled, unstoppably. He was one of our greatest contemporary debaters, taking on all-comers on all subjects, except sport, in which he professed to have no interest at all.


Click here to read more about Christopher Hitchens.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How To Write To Video

Producing a cool video that is entertaining, funny or touching, is one thing. Writing the story around that video is something else entirely different.

That's right: videos need writers. Seems like an odd pairing, but the fact is that every good video tells a story and every good story starts with a good writer.

If you want to improve your skill as a video writer consider interning with a television news reporter. In the digital age video sources are plentiful, especially when a crime has been committed someplace where crimes are expected: a bank, a shopping mall a liquor store. Many times these videos speak for themselves, other times they require explanation, or at least some narration to help explain what is happening in the video or maybe what is happening off camera that the viewer cannot see.

Don't be confused. I am not talking about a scripted video, I am talking about raw video, usually a news piece, that needs some punching-up to make it consumable. On any given day there are thousands of hours of digital video being collected, most of which needs a writer to help convey the story that goes along with it. How you do that is a skill I don't have, but I know who does. That means if I ever need to write a piece to go along with a video I am just a few phone calls away from a resource that can help me.

How about you? Have you ever tried writing for a video? It's great practice--and you never know when the skill might come in handy.


WTVF reporter Nick Beres is a veteran reporter who knows how to work fast, but I think one of his best skills is writing to the video. The story that Nick produced Monday required his best work.

This remarkable story from the Nashville station — crafted with surveillance video — is about a man who crashed into a quick market gas station and what happened next. Watch the piece, then we’ll discuss what it teaches about great writing. My interview with Nick is below....

Let’s face it, Nick had very little, other than the surveillance tapes, to work with. He had almost no audio except for a soundbite from the son. So the story would be almost 100 percent voice over video. To make that work, Nick explains the video, he doesn’t narrate it. That is the key to writing to video. Don’t compete with the images, and don’t say what I can already see. Tell me what I would not know from watching the video
.


Click here to watch the video and read the rest of the story at Poynter.org.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Can A Book Teach You How To Write?

Write what you know.

That's usually the first lesson every writer learns. It makes sense, too, because if you try writing what you don't know the lie will be revealed in your own words.

This doesn't mean every lesson you learn as a young writer will apply later in life. In fact even the first lesson can be circumvented. For instance, you can write a compelling story about climbing Mount Everest without actually climbing Mount Everest. Science fiction writers do it every time they write about travel to another planet, travels in time or some other yet-to-be-invented wonder of the imagination.

The other common rules for writers range from using proper grammar (which Anthony Burgess proved wrong when he wrote 'A Clockwork Orange') to avoiding run-on sentences (which James Joyce did to much acclaim in his novel 'Ulysses'.)

So, given that it makes almost as much sense to break the rules of writing as it does to follow them, is there any way you can learn how to be a writer, or a better writer, by reading a book? Of course there is.

In fact, if you didn't know what the rules were, how would you which rules you would like to break? How would you know how to compose a sentence so it makes sense; compose a paragraph so it make sense or include a lexicon of terms so people would know what your characters were talking about?

There is no harm in reading books on writing, especially if you are unsure exactly how to proceed with your work. This does not mean you need to take every lesson to heart, or set down the things you learn in stone. Instead, use these books as guide posts on your journey to completion. Once you have written one thing, you will have likely established your own rules which you can follow (or break) for the next you write.

Taken together all these rules you make for yourself will help you find your writing style. And style, writing style, your style, is what will make your story great and make you a better writer.

Marion Roach Smith, a writing teacher whose classes have proved popular with students for more than 13 years, operates from the premise of “writing what you know.” In The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life (Grand Central; ­paperback, $12), she reminds readers (and would-be writers) in a nonthreatening way of some of the fundamentals of personal storytelling: pay attention to detail, tell the truth, and shift emphasis away from yourself in order to “touch on universal themes.” Good advice in memoir-writing and in life. But Smith doesn’t mince words with her criticism of writing exercises as “insulting tasks.” “We will write no exercises,” she says. “We will write for real.” Once her initial testiness wore off, I was completely won over by her charming stories, her sound suggestions to “write what scares you” and her reminder that “there’s no right word when there’s nothing on the page.” A bonus is Smith’s one-page “punch list” at the end, where she includes simple (but not simplistic) directives for memoir-writing.


Click here to read about more books on writing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lawsuit Targets New Yorker Story And Everyone Who Picked It Up

Bloggers might think they are protected from libel when they use someone else's news story as the basis for their posts. 'News Curation' as it's called is nothing new. It's a relatively common practice that entails taking a news story and adding your own thoughts or perspective to it.

It's the method I use for many of my blogs.

Done correctly, with proper attribution and an emphasis on adding something new to the discussion, news curation is a great blogging technique. However, it is not automatically a license to write anything you want. The laws against libel still apply, even when you are using someone else's story as the basis of your post.

It is imperative that bloggers understand they do not have free rein to write whatever they want about whomever they want. Just as newspapers, magazines and other traditional forms of print media have to follow specific laws concerning the content they publish, so do bloggers.

Some view this as a form of censorship, but I consider it more a move toward full legitimacy. When bloggers are held fully accountable for their actions, made to play on the same field as traditional media outlets, they are being treated as equals. And in the final analysis that's what bloggers have wanted all along.


A strange libel lawsuit that reads like a pulp version of the The Da Vinci Code just became a bit stranger—the controversial art world figure who is suing the New Yorker is now taking aim at other media outlets that repeated the venerable magazine’s allegations.

The case involves a Canadian man, Peter Paul Biro, who became famous for using fingerprint technology to allegedly revealed undiscovered works by the likes of Jackson Pollack and Leonardo Da Vinci. Biro sued the New Yorker this summer over a 2010 story that cast doubt on the “man who keeps finding famous fingerprints on uncelebrated works of art.”

Last week, Biro expanded his defamation complaint to include a slew of new defendants. They include Gizmodo (a site owned by Gawker), Business Insider and the International Council of Museums. Biro says the new defendants defamed him by writing articles based on the New Yorker story and now he wants money from everyone involved for the “enormous damage” to his reputation, business and health.


Click here to read more about this case.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Food Writers Sweat The Small Stuff

Here's an interesting article about popular food writer, Monica Bhide. The recurring theme in this article is the great lengths she has gone in order to become recognized in a field already bursting at the seams with wanna-be food writers.

When you look at what Bhide has done to make a name for herself you see a pattern of self-promotion, perseverance and consistency. She has written tirelessly, carved out a well-defined niche and provided a plethora of content across multiple promotional streams.

Food writers are definitely not in short supply. It takes a certain panache to make reading about something you can't actually experience (especially food which requires an even higher level of description than say, a lap top computer) so not everyone is well-suited to it. Because there are so many food writers you need to have the skills, yes, but you also need to put in the work required to make your name rise above the rest. You need to have a good grasp of the tools required to self-promote; make certain your name is everywhere it needs to be to generate the maximum level of exposure.

And above all else, you need to have good taste. Literally. If you recommend a certain dish to a certain palate, it better be a good match. That's just another obstacle for aspiring food writers.


Monica Bhide is a living example of the axiom that success is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Which isn’t to belittle Monica’s talent as a food writer: She’s one of the very best out there. But she’s also one of the most persistent, single-minded, positive people I’ve ever met, someone who traded in her highly-paid job as an engineer for the brutal, economically uncertain, and outrageously fun world of writing about food.

Anyone who dreams of being a food writer would do well to emulate Monica. She teaches online food writing courses, has created an app, is a manic tweeter, is the author of the cookbook Modern Spice as well as dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, and now she has published an ebook, In Conversation with Exceptional Women, in which she interviews such luminaries as Ruth Reichl, Susan Orlean, Amanda Hesser, and many other writers. It’s full of wise advice on getting started, staying motivated, and having fun in the process. I turned the tables on Monica, asking her for her best advice on making it as a writer in the food world.


Click here to read more about Monica Bhide.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bloggers Are Not Journalists

I have said it before and I will say it again: just because you publish a blog does not mean you are a journalist. A writer, yes. A journalist, no.

Journalism is a profession. The skills required to become a journalist come through years of education, either in a newsroom or in a university. There are certain standards which you much understand, certain laws which you must understand and certain style points you must include in your writing in order to see your work published in any newspaper or magazine. Despite your years of experience your work will likely still go through a thorough editing process to verify its content and check for errors. This process is lengthy and uncomfortable (nobody enjoys being judged) but it is necessary to ensure journalistic integrity is maintained.

Blogging allows you to circumvent the editorial process, yes, but it certainly doesn't make you a journalist. The same way that you cannot practice medicine or perform surgery in your home no matter how capable you are, you cannot become a journalist by calling yourself one.

This is not just my opinion, it is also an opinion repeatedly upheld by our judicial system. Bloggers routinely believe that because they have a platform and report news they are journalists and therefore are entitled to the same rights and protections afforded to journalists.

Unfortunately, this mistaken belief often causes bloggers problems when they find the proverbial rug pulled out from under them. They think the blog format allows them to libel others, especially public officials; believe that they can print rumor as fact and get away with it; and create doubt about someone's innocence or guilt just because they believe it.

Take my advice: Before you set up a blog and start calling yourself a journalist make certain you understand the law, your rights and what you can and cannot do under the rule of law. (You can thank me later.)


Crystal L. Cox, a blogger from Eureka, Mont., was sued for defamation by attorney Kevin Padrick when she posted online that he was a thug and a thief during the handling of bankruptcy proceedings by him and Obsidian Finance Group LLC.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez found last week that as a blogger, Cox was not a journalist and cannot claim the protections afforded to mainstream reporters and news outlets.

Although media experts said Wednesday that the ruling would have little effect on the definition of journalism, it casts a shadow on those who work in nontraditional media since it highlights the lack of case law that could protect them and the fact that current state shield laws for journalists are not covering recent developments in online media.


Click here to read more about Judge Hernandez' ruling.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bad Sex Has Its Good Points

It's that time of year again, when the Literary Review awards writers with the 'Bad Sex Awards.' The delicate balance of weaving details of a sexual encounter into a work of fiction can sometimes go very, very wrong. At least, it produces a small distraction from the narrative, maybe even raises a chuckle at the misplaced choice of words. At worst the book is abandoned in disgust or disbelief. Of course, the bonus from writing the most awkward, unbelievable sex scenes of the year is that it might garner a little free publicity and who knows, maybe some new fans. After all, it takes different (literary) strokes for different folks...

The first thing that arises out of the nominations for this year's bad sex awards – the excruciating writing highlighted by the Literary Review each year – is just how fecund their writers' imaginations are. If they have done half the things they have ascribed to their characters, their spectacles must have steamed up.

There are agile tongues, rooms that begin to shake, warm wet caves, volcanic releases, moist meat, bottomless swamps of dead fish and yellow lilies in bloom and cellars filled with a heady store of wines and spirits emitting wafts of gaseous bouquets. And that is before you get to massaging, kneading, stretching, rubbing, pinching, flicking, feathering, licking, kissing and gently biting – which occurs in just one sentence thanks to David Guterson.

Click here to read more

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing A Book On Writing 'Thank-You Notes'

Think you have trouble writing? Imagine the newly wedded bride, juggling a move, a new husband and everything that goes along with it, needing to write thank-you notes to everyone who attended her wedding and/or sent a gift.

how do you make each note sound sincere, unique and heartfelt? how do you say 'thank-you' in such a way as to convey the joy you feel in your heart that the recipient participated in what has been the happiest moment of your life?

How to write a note by hand?

Ah-ha! There's the rub.

The fact is, as laptops and tablet have replaced pen and paper many of us are loathe to write anything by hand. Many schools are eliminating cursive writing classes and the skill of handwriting has long since fallen out of favor with just about everyone. Even Post-It notes are now primarily used in a digital form. So how can anyone be expected to hand write a note, especially a heartfelt, sincere 'thank-you' note?

According to one recent bride, author Emily Smith, it's easier than it sounds. In fact, she wrote a book on it.

I'm not here to talk about Smith's book, however, I'm here to talk about the power of the written word, the 'hand-written' word. When you take the time to write a note by hand the emotion you are feeling at the time moves from your heart, down your arm, through your fingers and embeds itself in the ink used to illustrate every word. There is real feeling in a hand-written note.

Don't believe me? Ask anyone still clinging to the grocery list a deceased spouse wrote days before their death. Ask any man who still has every handmade Father's Day Card he received, or the finder of a used book with handwritten notes about the text in the margin. Or the archeologist who discovered the graffiti left behind by the builders of the pyramids in Egypt.

When humans first discovered a way to convey in writing what we could not speak aloud to the reader, it was a way to enhance our communication and actually reach into the minds of our fellow humans. That art is no less powerful today. In fact, I say it is even more important today than ever before because we are slowly turning our backs on this skill. Much as we have almost all lost the ability to start a fire without a lighter, or a pack of matches.

If you fear writing, or simply haven't done it a while, there is no time like the present. Write a note to your mom, your sister, your spouse or your child. You might just be surprised at the impact it has on them, especially when compared with an email...


In 2007, Emily Smith graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law, got married and moved to California to start a new life with her military husband.

Such major moments all happened within four months of one another. Needless to say, writing thank you notes for wedding gifts was put on the back burner.

As the months slipped by, Smith came to dread the process. She didn’t finish until June 2008.

“I felt like I was sitting down to write the notes in the midst of packing and in the midst of all of the craziness. It was complete chaos,” said Smith, 31, now a Montgomery attorney and university professor at various schools.

She was embarrassed by her situation and wondered if other brides had experienced the same. She started researching how to write thank you notes in an effort to make the process easier. Eventually, she decided to write her own guide. Her sister, Rachel Daniels, 27, a University of Alabama graduate and Montgomery CPA, helped her.



Click here to read more about Smith's book.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You Think You Have (Writing) Problems?

I have certainly heard my fair share of complaints from writers as to why they haven't gotten around to writing a book: Too tired, too much "paid" work, too many responsibilities, too much of a headache; too many obstacles to overcome.

Writer, biographer and blogger Peter Winkler has his fair share of phyiscal difficulties which make it all but impossible for him to put pen to paper, or even fingers to keyboard, but that didn't stop him from writing and publishing a biography of Dennis Hopper.

Winkler never mentioned his physical difficulties when he pitched his book. He pitched his BOOK and that was enough to get the deal done.

The next time you think you have problems that keep you from writing the book you've always wanted to write think about Peter Winkler and ask yourself in the real obstacles aren't all in your mind....

In the virtual world, Winkler roams free. He blogs. He comments. He writes articles about film.

In the physical world, he increasingly is trapped - dependent on his sister and a long, red plastic chopstick.

Rheumatoid arthritis has battered him for 46 of his 55 years.

His neck won't turn. His head is pitched down, chin to chest. His elbow and wrist joints are so fixed in place, he cannot touch his face.

Sitting up in bed, he can no longer extend his arms far enough to place his fingertips on the keyboard of the MacBook Pro propped on a lap desk across his thighs.

Instead, he braces the chopstick between several fingers on his right hand and uses it to tap, tap, tap one key after another.

It's not so bad, he says. He's gotten pretty fast, and anyway, "I was always a two-finger typist."

Winkler never told his faraway agent about his stiff, bent fingers and locked joints, he says, because "frankly, it was not his business, it was not germane."


Click here to read more about Peter Winkler.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Royal Shakespeare Company Gets Fresh Perspective

You would be forgiven for believing everything produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company is a repeat. After all, the Bard has not written a new stage play in centuries. However, the RSC has chosen to seek out original material from a new perspective in an effort to present something slightly different.
Not Monty Python different, but different enough to attract people who have grown tired of "All Shakespeare, All The Time."

To this end the RSC has chosen Mark Ravenhill to be its new writer in residence.

This is hardly the first time RSC has pursued original stage plays. In fact, when it was founded in 1960 its purpose was to encourage new writers to embrace the original works of Shakespeare and create their own plays from inspiration they receive from classical works.

Unfortunately, this project has been hit-or-miss at best. Some original works were decidedly more successful than others, and as the RSC has evolved each new leader has taken the group in a slightly different direction, also with mixed results.

It is certainly not the easiest thing to create a great play. Shakespeare himself did not produce a hit with sweep of his pen, no matter how great he might seem to us today. The same is true with modern writers as they strive to capture the essence of the human condition as we know it today, without seeming too trite or too sardonic. However, the pursuit of original writing should not be abandoned for lack of success. It is difficult to know what work will become a hit, much less what work will earn a new appreciation a decade from now, or even a century from now.

I applaud new RSC writer in residence Mark Ravenhill and the decision to bring him aboard. If nothing else, regardless of his success, it is the idea, the very pursuit of success which makes me believe that in the final analysis the work he produces will only serve to enhance the legacy of the RSC.

And that's a good thing.

Not only that: the RSC in the 90s lost contact with a whole generation of emerging writers. In the last decade, we have also seen the appetite for new writing growing elsewhere. The National, under Nick Hytner, commands the loyalty of what you might loosely call the Bennett-Stoppard-Frayn-Hare generation. In addition to established venues such as the Royal Court, the Bush, Hampstead and the Tricycle, we've also seen the Soho, the Finborough and Theatre 503 scrapping eagerly for new talent and a major regional theatre such as Manchester's Royal Exchange continuing to develop its own new play competition, the Bruntwood prize. The RSC is simply one among many in the scramble for new plays. Gone are the days when a writer of the stature of Harold Pinter saw it as a natural home.

Yet the RSC still has a lot to offer: a company of actors, ample resources, big stages. What it doesn't have is a permanent London address. In recent years new-writing seasons have randomly popped up at Wilton's Music Hall, Hampstead and Soho Theatre, reinforcing the impression of a lack of coherence.


Click here to read more about Ravenhill and the RSC.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Art Of Writing Visuals For Film

Some people believe writing is writing. When they find out I am a professional writer the first they ask is "Have you written any novels?"
No. I'm not that kind of writer.

Just because you are paid to blog does not mean you are a journalist. If you write stage plays you aren't also a screenwriter; or write children's books, you are not a poet.

For those of you who don't already know it, writing is a niche skill. Every different type of writing requires its own particular style. These are markers that let you know what sort of thing you are reading--a sonnet, a stage play, a film script, a novel, an autobiography, a news story. Some writers have no trouble writing across a number of specific genres because they have mastered a multitude of these niche skills. But not every writer has these skills and for the most part they stick with just one particular niche for the sake of their mental health.

Now, let's talk about film writing. When a writer prepares a script it contains much more than dialogue. It also has character emotions, plot outlines and scene descriptions; integral pieces of the film experience for the audience. But what if you are writing a silent film? No dialogue, or very little of it. How can you write a script without dialogue?

Very carefully.

In films, silent moments may be one of the most effective techniques to evoke a powerful emotion or to portray a character, and often what's seen on the screen is more powerful than any words could be.

But telling stories visually is usually thought of as the province of the director, not the writer, since writers are limited to words, whether it's dialogue or scene description. Yet writers often conceive images even when the story is still only words on a page.

The year's most extreme example is a film that is mostly silent: "The Artist." By choosing to (almost) entirely eschew dialogue and sound effects as a storytelling tool, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius limited himself to images to explain or evoke a conflict.

Hazanavicius points to a moment when fading silent star George Valentin meets rising talkie star Peppy Miller on a staircase at the studio. "She is on the top (of the stairs) and he is lower than she and he is a little sad. She dressed in white with very dark hair, and she is talking and talking because she is now doing talking movies. He is a little faded and not talking at all. Then there is a long shot where he is listening and looking at her where his eyes say he is in love with her. We use light and shadows," Hazanavicius says.


Click here to read more about "The Artist."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Graffiti Has Its Uses

You might think all graffiti is bad; simple destructive displays of vulgarity that serve no purpose other than to promote gang-related business, disparage women or promote the artist as a wunderkind of spray paint.

The fact is, graffiti is as old as language as itself and unlikely to go away any time soon. And for this, we should all be grateful.

The graffiti artist is at once a revolutionary and a practitioner of a respected tradition. He (or she) is demonstrating his opposition to conformity by putting his message in a place where he is not allowed to put it--thereby taking the right to freedom of speech to its highest level.

It is also true that not all graffiti is wasteful, vulgar or pointless. Some messages are poetic, memorializing deceased relatives, friends or those who have had a positive impact on the course of human events, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and even Albert Einstein.

I am sure you have seen examples of graffiti which have amazed and delighted you, either with their intricate patterns and vibrant colors, or their message. Instead of rushing for a can of paint to remove them, I suggest you capture them on film for posterity. Write down the message in your notebook and save it for a rainy day. Appreciate the artist who created the message and encourage them to express themselves. If you don't like the place where they are expressing themselves look around your community, I'm sure there is at least one abandoned building in need of some decoration.

I would like to start a collection of popular graffiti. If you have seen something interesting, snap a pic and post it to my Facebook Wall (http://www.facebook.com/jerry.battiste), or Tweet me (@jerrybattiste) or leave the message in the comment box below.

The walls of some of Orange Coast College’s bathrooms display art that ranges from drawings to philosophical questions, and sometimes even a running log of conversations that are presumably continued by different stall users.

Though most of the writing appears to be regular gang related graffiti, upon closer inspection, some of the messages are as deep as they are varied.

“I’m not in a gang, but I like to write on walls, scribbling haikus,” wrote one anonymous contributor.

My first encounter with these hieroglyphics was during my first semester here at OCC. I was just beginning to settle in and enjoy the maturity that came with a college campus.

I walked by the free speech circle and was barraged by anti abortion activists brandishing pictures of dead fetuses and was encouraged to sign a petition to legalize weed. All of which was unheard of on a high school campus.


Click here to read more about OCC graffiti.