The Rocky Report

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The Writer as a Fighter

By Rocky Reichman

Ever have one of the moments where you don’t know what to do? Where a mountain of work faces you? Where you are given an assignment and don’t have enough time to do it?

The answer? Probably a yes for most people. Sometimes you end up in a crunch. Where it’s simply not humanly possible to get something done by an assigned deadline. It’s a fact of life. Stuff happens. The question is, what do you do to combat it?

How you react will determine whether you succeed. I have experienced these moments dozens of times during my entrepreneurial ventures with Literary Magic (.com), writing or even this past week. An assignment was given. The task? Write a Features story on an issue you think is important. Find sources from both social media outlets, and get one interview in person.

The assignment itself was simple. But on my end, I misunderstood how laborious and lengthy the task of finding the right sources could be. In this blog post, I’ll share my experience adapting to work on short notice and what I’ve learned.

When given an assignment, the first task of every writer is know what they are writing about. Sometimes an editor will save you the trouble by telling you outright what issue you’re expected to cover. In my place, I had my professor to guide me through the issues to see which would make the best story. But in many cases, you may not know the exact topic to write about. How do you go about choosing?

If you know the field you want to write about, the obvious answer is to first learn as much about that field as possible. Bruce Byfield has a longer piece about at this at his blog, http://brucebyfield.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/how-to-generate-ideas-for-journalism/. For me, what ultimately made my decision was importance. Find the issue you feel is most important. The issue you think really needs to be covered. Then go after it. Once you know what you are writing about, you know where you are going. Next you need to figure out a plan to get there. Brainstorm. Then outline your main points. Note that none of your “plans” can be set in stone. Why? Because you never know when your story will evolve, And usually, it will be a better direction.

The most difficult task I ran into in writing a story on short notice was finding the right sources in time. For example, if you are assigned a story one week before deadline, that does not mean you have a several day to find sources. Work on finding sources immediately. It helps you already know the exact topic you will be writing about, but even if you only know the area but do not have a set outline yet, start contacting people as early as you can. Especially any “experts” you will need. Sources can be hard to reach, and even if they respond to your request (and hopefully say yes) within twenty four hours, you still need to work around their schedule to meet them. The interview process itself is a whole different story.

Be ready when interview time comes around. Prepare a variety of questions beforehand. Be open to whatever direction your sources takes a question in. This could lead you to good points to build your story off of. Or it could alter your story and send it in a completely different direction. Which is exactly why you never want to set your story in stone. I had to scrap my original game plan twice before finally settling on a solid theme. I let my interviewees lead the way. Their passion for the subject fueled me with the right material for the story, and set me on course. Be prepared to improvise with new questions in case you or your subject changer course. Often the best ideas are found by accident.

Look at http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/2007/03/26/13-simple-journalist-techniques-for-effective-interviews/ and http://www.mediacollege.com/journalism/interviews/tips.html for basic interview techniques.

Record each interview as a backup. Gather your notes after each interview, then revise your story plan. Write up you first draft, transcribing only the quotations you know you will need. You can always add more in later. Sometimes, it pays to just listen to your recordings, paraphrase your future quotations, and see where the story goes before initiating the laborious task of transcription. Double check any facts like dates, names etc. and get your draft out as soon as possible. The war may not be over then—but at least you have survived the first few battles.

Facebook: The Death of Privacy

Facebook: The Death of Privacy

By Rocky Reichman

Everyone has secrets. Thoughts they do not wish anybody else to hear about. Or to know. Some of these thoughts spread to other ears, either because we “spill the beans” (what does that phrase even mean?) or because we tell someone about it. But who can you trust? Your friends? In a digital age where broadcasting personal information has never been easier, whether in a blog, or Facebook or even in book form, can we really trust other people with our information?

This blog post does not endeavor to attempt to answer that question. Rather, this author would like to focus on a more important, frightening question. Whether or not we can trust the people around us with our secrets is one issue. But the real question, this author believes, is can we trust ourselves.

Can we trust ourselves with our personal information? Our own secrets?

This issue is especially pertinent in modern times with the advent of the Internet. With blogs. And Twitter. And Facebook. No matter your virtual social vehicle of choice, the issue is the same. Can we trust ourselves to keep our own privacy? Or are there ways and instances where our privacy can be disrupted by own actions?

This blogger’s take is a positive nod to the latter question, unfortunately. Not only can our own actions endanger our most secret thoughts, but the very attitude that this social media “Me” generation has toward what they share is also putting them at risk.

Take Facebook. One of the most critical, if not the most critical tools of thus website is its Newsfeed. The Newsfeed helps form the backbone of this social network (after the users and their profiles, of course). The Newsfeed is a quick way for Facebook users to keep up-to-date on their friend’s status’. Who’s doing what. Who’s going where. Who’s dating who. Is it “complicated?

The point, is that the Newsfeed is viewed as an important part of, if not necessity, for Facebook users. But it was not always like this. Upon its introduction, Facebook users originally cried out against it. The current “official” anti-Newsfeed group on the site us currently at 159 thousand members. The Newsfeed, clearly, represents a violation of users’ privacy. What if they do not want every single one of their friends—or, in many cases, friends of their friends—to see everything they post. Maybe they have some secrets they want to share with some of their friends, but not necessarily all of them.

What is the situation like now? There is less uproar concerning the NewsFeed. This tool continues to be indispensable for Facebook users, and is almost always the first part of the website they interact with when they log on.

Okay. All good. We can go home now, right?

Wrong! Stop. Wait a minute. Take time to analyze what really happened here. Did the NewsFeed go away? Did it stop automatically publishing your status and actions on Facebook to the rest of your friends?

You are probably shaking your head right now. Because it’s true. The Newsfeed is still there. Why? Because people got used to it. That may seem nice and dandy at first glance, but what has really happened here is a generation-wide degeneration of the value of privacy. According to Marshall Kirkpatrick, Facebook’s Barry Schnitt told ReadWriteWeb “that he too believes the world is becoming more open and his evidence is Twitter, MySpace, comments posted to newspaper websites and the rise of Reality TV.” Which shows that the true danger that social media like Facebook affords to future generations is not its blatant promotion of secrets and other thoughts that are usually not publicized, but a mellowing in attitude. The attitude of the “Me” generation has become more relaxed—too relaxed, I would venture to say—concerning what type of information they share with other people.

Some critics might point out that the danger is overblown. That Facebook has taken the privacy issue into their hands. That Facebook allows people to restrict access to who can see their posts.

Lovely. But do people actually care? Some do. And that’s the point. Some people care, not everyone. Many Facebook users do not know what they can restrict. Others are too lazy to change, or have just developed the attitude of not thinking too much of it. Evidence of this lies in the fact that so many blogs advocate and write about how to restrict your information on Facebook and protect your privacy. Examples include AllFacebook.com,  Oodles of Goodles, PCWorld.com and PCMag.com just to name a few. But this author would advocate doing everything one can to protect their personal information online. Or at least, moderating who can view that information.

So. On to the details now. What type of information can be learned about people from Facebook?

At first stab, readers might venture that at most, people would post their likes/interest, relationship status, religious views, school and year graduated and even contact information like their phone number or e-mail to the public, or their friends. This itself is a plethora of personal information. Some information which may serve the owners better if it were kept secret. But the information spill does not end there. This author himself has seen profiles that reveal this and more, from home addresses (where people live!) to other information that could be used by not-so-very-friendly people to try and crack into someone e-mail or even bank account. Don’t believe me? Read this Scientific American article by a columnist who did just that. Even Facebook apps cause privacy risks, as evidence in a CNet exclusive.

Next time you are about to post something online, do a double take. Decide whether your secrets are truly safe on the Internet.

The Nitty Gritty of Writing News Stories

The Nitty Gritty of Writing News Stories

By Rocky Reichman

This blog post will be dedicated to discovering my recent experiences learning and practicing how to cover a new event and subsequently transform it into a well-written, professional news story. To be honest, this process is not yet complete. But I do not think that really matters. Because like anything, writers can always learn new things. Adapt their style. Improve their techniques, and the speed at which they get event or other stories onto paper. This blog post will therefore focus on one specific challenge I have faced with my latest news story. That challenge is of a technical nature, and involves obtaining and editing digital photos for a News piece.

Let’s get started. Technology can be a bane to many writers. But fortunately, I was part of a generation that grew up around technology. So is the newest generation. “It’s simply a part of their DNA,” says Dave Verhaagen, a child and adolescent psychologist in Charlotte in USA Today, at http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-10-igeneration10_CV_N.htm. Why is this important? Having tools like the Internet, and knowledge sufficient to use them, saves the writer boundless amounts of time and hardship getting to learn them. So, one would think the technical aspects of writing a News Story would be clear-cut for someone like me, right?

Wrong. I am learning many new things in my Digital & Multimedia class, and believe it or not, not all of them revolve around the techniques of journalism. I think so far, the greatest challenge I have faced is realizing how little I don’t know about this medium. On the other hand, this has served as my greatest asset, too. Later in the course, and in future blog posts, I will have the opportunity to blog about my challenges with video and audio technologies. But for now I stick to one: digital editing. A plethora of tutorials exist for learning how to shoot, upload and edit digital photos. Adobe has tutorials, as well as video tutorials, all explaining in detail how to do this. Brandeis University has its own tutorial for Photoshop, at http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/photoshop/. So does the Knight Digital Media Center, on topics ranging from tone to cropping to exporting, available at http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/photoshop/.

But the process is really much more complicated than that. Editing digital photography requires the possession of quality photographs to begin with. When I started working on my news story, editing my photos, of which there were only a few, was not a big problem. Easy-to-use, free online tools such as PicNik or FotoFlexer are available for free on the Internet. But shooting a quality photo in a packed room with a hundred bustling people is no walk in the park. And I mean that literally. Usually, if you are walking in the park, the scenario is serene. Peaceful. Quiet.

It’s the ideal situation for capturing photos.

But that was not the case this past Thursday. The event I covered, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ speech to the Brandeis University community, was in a mid-sized room with people sitting—or even standing—everywhere. There were no clear vantage points from which to capture a powerful image, because they were either taken by spectators or crowded by other photographers. I managed to capture a couple of photos before the event that showed how packed and full of excitement the entire room was. But once the event started, it was difficult to move from my seat in order to get a clear picture of the speaker himself.

Why was this? Well, it was partly due to technological limits. I do not own, nor can I afford, a quality digital camera like those recommended at Bestinclassnet. I had one once, but it ceased to work. Given that, and the efficiency with which I wanted to have my photographs ready, I was left with using my back-up device: the camera on my mobile phone. The pictures were not as clear as I had hoped, but it was a start. One side challenge I faced was taking photos during the event. This was because I was sitting very close to Rabbi Weiss. The speaker was a kind man, but he seemed exhausted too. I doubt a flash in his eyes from my camera would have been appreciated very much. That, and my dual role as writer and photographer, got in the way of taking better photos. But some literature I found useful on the topic, and that readers can benefit from as well, can be found at http://www.kodak.com/global/en/corp/top10tips/index.jhtml.

Allow me to explain. I have been writing for one of the school newspapers here at Brandeis, The Justice, since last semester. What I have noticed is that it is usually more efficient if two people attend the even. One person to write about it, the other to take pictures. I assume this occurred at the Rabbi Avi Weiss event as well, since I saw a group of photographers crowding the corners.

But, you may ask, why is this a problem?

Answer: True, it is important to learn how to multitask. This is crucial for being a good journalist. Robert Hernandez writes about this in OJR: Online Journalism Review. And I appreciate having been afforded the opportunity of this challenge last week. But ideally, it was difficult to manage both tasks simultaneously. This is because while most photographers spend there time patiently scouring for good shots to take, the reporter is busy recording the speech. Taking notes on it. Listening carefully. Digesting every word. Weighing each point and deciding where the story should go. I realize the planning usually happens after the event, but I have found it easier in my short journalistic experience that the more fore planning you do early on, the more you will truly understand about your story.

Why Society and Social Media Go Together

Social Media

This technology is transforming not just the way people act, but the way we interact. And not just on an individual level, but on a greater level. As an organization. As a community. As a civilized society.

But what is transforming?

Too often we hear buzzwords like “trends,” “transformation” and “change.” But the fact that a technology changes society is not what matters. How it changes society, is what people should care about. Which means it’s what writers should care about too. A plethora of media mediums have impregnated themselves into society long before the Internet was birthed. Newspaper publishing. Radio. Television. Not only that, but these mediums were very successful—and to some extent, still are.

But the Internet has done something far more important.

The web, social media most of all, has brought people together as a society. And in the rest of this blog, I will outline how.

According to Ravit Lichtenberg from Ustrategy.com, “Social Media Will Become a Single, Cohesive Experience Embedded In Our Activities and Technologies.” Dan Gillmor, in We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, writes in the book’s Introduction (page XIII), that, “Tomorrow’s news reporting and production will be more of a conversation, or a seminar…The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone’s voice, not just the few….”

What this means is that, thanks to the Internet, more and more people are able to come together and participate, no matter what the topic or interest at hand. The fact that Gillmor uses the word “conversation” alone portrays the view that the Internet has brought people together.


There is ample evidence to show that specific types of social media technologies have brought society closer, such as SMS text messaging and P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing on the Internet. According to Gillmore, P2P can also be used to bring societies together in response to—and in defense of—repressive governments. So says Gillmore in his book:

New P2P systems under development will provide the closest thing to anonymity that we’ve seen so far. Repressive governments want to keep Internet content under control, but anonymity will make censorship more difficult. (Chapter two, pages 37-38)

Lisa Hoover, in a ComputerWorld article entitled How Social Networking Has Changed Society”, talks about how social media expands the opportunities for people to meet and collaborate. She writes, “Social networking services expand the pool of people we have the opportunity to meet to near limitless possibilities. We’re no longer restricted to or rely on people in our neighborhood, church, or workplace to provide the interaction we desire.” Brett Green, a blogger for the Huffington Post, wrote about theBoulder Fire on Labor Day 2010 and how helpful social media technologies like Twitter were during the disaster. “Tech-savvy” residents, he writes, took to Twitter to share information about the fire, from where to get food to evacuation advice.

Even older generations, people who did not grow up with social media usage as the norm, are beginning to pick up on the technology. According to a recent PCWorld blog, “A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project says the number of social networking users ages 50 and older nearly doubled in the past year, continuing a trend of strong growth that was first spotted during the summer of 2009.” According to that blog, the primary reason older generations have turned to social media is because, “ social networks can be a way to stay in touch or get support.”

Now we can stop. Take a step back. Look at what we’ve found. This author has small doubt that readers will see that the Internet and social media has brought us closer together as a society. Everyone has a voice.

And everyone can share their voices. Together.


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