Archive for November, 2015

A movie about journalism with great review

November 20, 2015

Earlier I posted a note about the reviews of Spotlight. I caught it during the Thanksgiving weekend and it is really good. It doesn’t sentimentalize journalism. It shows what a fallible profession we are in.


The reviews of a new movie called Spotlight have been great. Spotlight is about a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who put the spotlight on Catholic priests who molested children and the long-running coverup of their crimes. Based on a true story, and according to reviewers, a highly realistic account of how journalism actually works. It’s opening this weekend in Houston. It should be well worth watching.


Registration for spring semester

November 20, 2015

The reason you can’t register for most classes is because you haven’t completed the prerequisite classes you are taking now. But don’t worry. Review the available classes and meet with an adviser, me, or Dr. Ulasi or Dr. Poudeh. Dr. Poudeh can override the computer requirements and get you into a spring schedule.


How to write the draft

November 19, 2015

What is your story about in a single word?

Let that word guide you. What is the story about? Let the answer to that question help you open the story.

Set the story in time and place

Don’t be cute and withhold the character’s name. Tell us where we and when. Introduce us to your character.  Most stories are in a time and place. You could do this in the first sentence, as you will see in a story below.

Reporting reporting reporting

Remember you are telling a story, not writing an essay. Therefore you need lots of reporting, which adds up to lots of details. Have you done enough reporting? What else can you add to make the story come alive?

Here for example is a little bit of description from the opening of a story I did on Eldrewey Stearns, the TSU law student who led the sit-ins in 1960.

After insisting that he had ordered the racial integration of the very restaurant in which he was now eating lunch, Eldrewey Stearns looked imperiously around his table at the Spanish Village and began spooning hot sauce directly into his mouth. He also began explaining all that is wrong with his soon-to-be-published biography, an advance copy of which sat before him. A short, narrow-shouldered man of 65, Stearns wore green slacks, black patent leather shoes and a purple sweatshirt drawn tightly over his compact dome of a belly. But he had the confident air of a celebrity; he had been using an advance copy of his story, No Color Is My Kind: The Life of Eldrewey Stearns and the Integration of Houston, effectively.

“I showed this book to a white boy,” Stearns said, indicating the volume, “and he said, ‘Goddamn, I been thinking you were the biggest bullshitter in the world.’ “

Eating the spoonful of hot sauce was something I saw, and it said a lot about Sterns, who was also bipolar and suffered from mental illness. The point I’m making is you can’t write what you don’t see or hear. Report report report. Go back to the Crestmont Apartments and look at the place and take notes. Talk to your brother and your mother. Don’t make this an essay. Make this a piece of reporting. Scrape up every detail you can find. Tell me a story.

Write simple sentences with people in them. 

Notice that the first thing we see is Stearns eating hot sauce. But the first thing we hear is Stearns insisted he had ordered the racial integration of the restaurant in which we were eating.  He had ordered the integration. Subject verb object. People saying and doing things.

Keep the pace slow and deliberate

Notice that I don’t try to tell you everything about Eldrewey,  just that someone has seen fit to write his biography. I don’t even say who wrote it until the third paragraph. The opening is just about Stearns, what kind of a man he is.

Convey emotion is by keeping cool.

Let the facts convey the emotions. Give  readers the freedom to bring their own emotions to the material. Don’t try to tell them what to feel. If you want to say something is wrong, show how it is wrong. There’s a kind of self hatred when a black person says her skin color makes her feel dirty. But don’t get on a soap box. Don’t deliver a lecture.  There is an emotional power in staying calm. Remember the wireless operator who knocked out the man who was trying to steal a life vest? His calm and dignity said a lot about him.

Read the story aloud

This very important. Don’t read it silently. Read it out loud slowly. You will be amazed at the mistakes you find. It words don’t make sense when read aloud, they won’t make sense when read silently. The voice of the story should be human, something that can be spoken. If you try to make it sound like what you think is fancy or literary, it will be false. Keep it simple and deliberate. Slow down. Revise it so it feels right in your mouth when you read it.

Maria Carrillo’s examples

November 13, 2015

Carrillo’s Lessons on craft

The ugliest word in journalism: deadlines

November 12, 2015

To do well in this writing project you need feedback from me. Some of you are far ahead. Others are straggling behind. You’ve got to press on. Report report report. Keep looking at the story form and thinking about what you need in order to fill the demands of the form: a grabber for the lead. Background history and explanation to fill out the meaning of the story. A chronology for the bottom third of the story. Maybe the ending will circle back to the beginning. Or maybe it will anticipate the future. Maybe the ending will answer the question, What’s next?

Get me a draft by Thursday November 20. A draft of some sort. I’ll give you a critique. Best to come in for office conferences.

Then the revision. The revisions need to be in by Thursday, December 10, which is the final exam week.

Stay in touch with me, preferably with email. That’s best.

The story lineup for Maria Carrillo tonight

November 12, 2015

One of the things that an experienced editor like Maria can provide is insight to the reporting of stories. You can’t write it if you haven’t reported it. But you can anticipate what is needed and go for it. Tonight we have a great chance to get some reaction from her.

For example, we know Jonah should have some background information on what Katrina did to New Orleans. The big picture kind of thing. How the 9th Street levee broke. How many millions of gallons of storm surge wiped out neighborhoods, and how many people were homeless. And how storm surge works. This is the kind of stuff you don’t want to generalize about. You want to have details. What time did the levee fail? Details details details. It will be fun to try out our titles and subtitles.

Here’s the lineup as I see it. But it can always be refined.

Zamar the Musician. Torn between two cultures, American and Bahamian, he struggles to sing his song. Mike Capetillo.

Brother Love. How two teenagers survived Hurricane Katrina. Jonah Gilmore

Resuscitating Hope. Helping the homeless takes more than just shelter. Chris Lassiter
The Beautiful Son. Like many Nigerians, she lost her son to sickle cell anemia. But preventing the disease raises a terrible question:  Should he never have been born?
Gbeminiyi Ope-ewe
Sugar Girl. Is it prostitution if he gives you money? Nigel Cox.
Finding a Groove. A female DJ tries to find her way in a male’s world. Jasmine Lofton
Coming Out. He is 15 and runs track, but he doubts whether he’s a he. Tiara Brooks-Chatman
A Piece of Nature. Houston’s Arboretum can soothe a city’s soul. Jazzi Black
American Hustle. A Nigerian hip-hop artist tries to make it big. Chioma Emuku
An Epidemic of Whiteness. Eight out of ten Nigerian women are bleaching their skin with dangerous chemicals. Is this a matter of beauty or self hatred?  Chigozirim Wellington.
My Father’s Trouble. I could never image him being addicted to anything but his family. Dominique Toussant.
Dead End. The Crestmont Apartments are headlined as a terrible slum, but for this group of people, they were home. Virtron Mitchell
Houston Sound.  How Slim Thug led the way.  Mykel Yowman