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Archive for February 2011

Finding the rhythm in beat writing

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Writing for a beat involves finding your groove in what you write best. It can help you hone in on your skills for one type of writing. The best writing is the kind that includes “shoe leather” reporting. Shoe leather is getting out there and pursuing your story. You can’t write a good story just by sitting at your desk. You have to talk to people, listen to them, notice elements that could add to your story and record detail. This type of reporting applies to beat and local writing. Beat writing covers everything from weather to politics to medical writing.

Examples of great beat writing shown in the chapter are Rick Bragg, Thomas Boswell, Jonathan Bor, Mitch Albom, Russell Eshleman and Dan Neil. Each reporter has their own specific skills but they all involve making the reader “see” the story by including descriptive details, whether it be through simple descriptions or poetic language. They get to know their subjects well and notice little things about them that paint a picture in the readers mind.

Another important part of beat writing is establishing a rhythm. Boswell uses a rollercoaster rhythm by using poetic descriptions and metaphors but then bringing the reader back to “real life” by using simple language. Bor writes in an hourglass pattern so readers get the news first and then the chronological telling of the story. Albom establishes a rhythm through varying sentence length to establish pace.

Good beat writers need to establish their writing as different from others of the same beat. Eshleman does this through short offbeat stories about government. He often takes serious matters and makes humorous stories about them, offering a refreshing perspective. Neil does this by alluding to art and popular culture in his automobile writing. He sometimes uses colloquial language to make his pieces different. He often compares cars to people and writes from that perspective, which is a different take on most automobile critiques.

Other great examples of beat reporting:

A Parish And Its People by Bob Keeler

Keeler won the Pulitzer for Beat Writing in 1996 for his reporting on a Catholic Parish. Keeler writes in an incredibly descriptive way. When I was reading this article I could picture everything he was describing, from the inside of a quiet church to the regal priests. My favorite part of this piece is the lead: “It is a nondescript winter Tuesday night in the third week of Ordinary Time, the gray expanse of not-Lent, not-Easter, not-Advent, not-Christmas that makes up most of the church calendar. No holy day of obligation, no palm, no ashes, no prospect of pageantry to draw the crowds.” Keeler takes what would normally be an ordinary lead about an ordinary night and turns it into a great hook for the story.

A Case On Race Puts Justice O’Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role by Linda Greenhouse

Greenhouse manages to make Supreme Court writing interesting, a feat in itself. In this particular piece, she makes Justice Sandra Day O’Connor the focus rather than just reporting on the case. She writes the article from the point of view of O’Connor and how she is often the judge who is “on the spot.” It makes what would normally be dry court writing interesting with a new twist.

After Leukemia, Family Struggles to Define ‘Normal’ by Amy Dockser Marcus

Marcus writes about cancer survivors in her Pulitzer Winning beat reporting. What I liked most about this piece is how she ties in the family’s experience and the child’s experience at school. She delves deep into their lives, even talking to the child’s teachers at the school to get his experience there.  Marcus reminds us that these children have real lives too, outside of their treatment, whereas most articles just focus on the cancer patients’ hospital experiences.

No More ‘Business as Usual’ by David Shribman

Shribman uses extremely descriptive terms and metaphors in his writing about Washington affairs. He compares a speaker to a tornado that “upended customs, spewed rubble and rained destruction.” Shribman uses a similar roller coaster technique to Boswell by using metaphors like this in between facts and quotes.

Extra Credit: At Many Colleges, the Rich Kids Get Affirmative Action by Daniel Golden

The language Golden uses reminds me of Neil’s writing. For example, Neil uses the term “wicked fun” and Golden refers to children of affluent parents as “rich kids.” This is an interesting twist, as most writing is pretty professional. Golden combines investigative reporting with his beat writing to find out the story behind why these “rich kids” get into good schools like Duke.


Written by juliasayers

February 25, 2011 at 9:06 am

Elonthon raises money, awareness for Duke Children’s Hospital

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By Julia Sayers

Elon, N.C. – Imagine not being able to sit down for 24 hours. Sounds painful right? But for the past eight years, Elon students found the fatigue to be worth the reward.

Elonthon, Elon University’s 24-hour dance marathon, is a yearlong fundraising event culminating in a dance where students are not allowed to sit or sleep.

Now in its ninth year, Elonthon raises money for Children’s Miracle Network and its affiliate Duke Children’s Hospital. Each event features “miracle children:” children with diseases, injuries or birth defects.

Mason Lindley, a child involved in an unfortunate accident, was the first miracle child of Elon’s event. He attended every Elonthon until he passed away a few years ago. His family still attends each year.

Elonthon is now the campus’ largest philanthropy. Last year 1,200 students danced and the event raised $100,343.96.

Alexandra Lawrence, executive director of Elonthon, said that this year, they are hoping to exceed that amount and the amount of people who sign up.

Students have the option to dance the entire 24 hours or do six-hour shifts. Last year 250 students committed to the full-day dance. In addition to students, there are usually about 16 to 20 miracle families in attendance. About half of these families choose to share their stories during the event. Some organizations, like on-campus fraternities or sororities, sponsor a child. They get to know that specific child and make banners for them.

“It’s really cool to see the children look up to the college kids,” Lawrence said. “They’re like celebrities to them.”

There are activities including free food, entertainment, gaming systems, photobooths, inflatables and games for students and families to enjoy during shifts.

“We try to make a lot of different options available to keep people’s minds off of their tiredness,” Lawrence said.

Elonthon is the only event that doesn’t have a budget, since everything is made possible through donations.

“Best Buy has been really great,” Lawrence said. “Last year, they donated a Wii, Xbox 360 and two TVs. This year, they’re going to donate an Xbox Kinect.”

Other entertainment includes Elon’s a cappella groups, DJs and entertainers.

“We always try to switch it up,” Lawrence said. “Last year, Miss North Carolina spoke and we had SkipSations, a jump rope group from Chapel Hill.”

The DJs chosen are family-friendly and play upbeat, fast music.

“We want the music to make people want to dance and have a good time and not think about the fact they’re standing for 24 hours,” Lawrence said.

Each year, Elonthon has a theme, and this year’s theme is based on the Adidas logo. The motto is “For the kids, impossible is nothing.”

“We want to play music that relates to the sports theme so we’ll play songs like ‘All I Do Is Win,'” Lawrence said. “We try to incorporate it as much as possible. It makes it fun for the little kids who come.”

During each shift, a coordinated dance, called the “morale dance,” is taught. The morale chair makes up the dance and teaches it to the board and committee prior to the event. During the event, the dance is taught to the attendees.

“It really brings the event together and keeps the morale up,” Lawrence said.

This year, Elonthon starts at 6 p.m. on April 8 and ends the next day at 6 p.m. Students can register with an organization or individually online at org.elon.edu/elonthon.

Written by juliasayers

February 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Fire blazes around bridge on Interstate 40

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A fire broke out in the brush around a bridge on westbound Interstate 40 in Alamance County, North Carolina on Feb. 19 around 3:30 p.m. The cause of the fire is unknown but thought to be a cigarette butt thrown into the dry brush. The blaze stayed on the right side of the bridge and no one was hurt. Firefighters arrived on the scene at 3:45 p.m. and the blaze was out within ten minutes. However, large amounts of smoke still billowed over the highway, making visibility difficult for cars driving through.

Written by juliasayers

February 20, 2011 at 12:29 am

Reaction to America’s Best Newspaper Writing: Deadline Writing

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Deadline: the word that strikes fear into both students and journalists alike. The anticipation, the ticking clock, the pressure. Writing prize-winning journalism on a tight deadline is something that takes practice. But with the right preparation, planning, reporting and drafting, a great story can arise. In America’s Best Newspaper Writing, by Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan, the aspects that make up a great deadline story are evaluated.  Reporters tend to work better when they are on deadline. The adrenaline rush is a reporter’s drug of choice. Sometimes the more pressure and frustration a reporter is under, the better the story will be. For example, Richard Ben Cramer, reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a prize-winning story in a “white heat of frustration.” The reporting he did in the Middle East won the first American Society of Newspaper Editors deadline-writing award.  In Cramer’s work, he doesn’t just tell the story, he shows the story. The best journalism puts people right into the story and evokes emotion from them. By doing this, journalists are bringing the writing closer to home for most people. A good example of this is the Wall Street Journal’s “Nation Stands in Disbelief and Horror,” an account of September 11. The lead says, “They were like scenes from a catastrophe movie. Or a Tom Clancy novel. Or a CNN broadcast from a distant foreign nation. But they were real yesterday. And they were very much in the U.S.” The writer makes the subject real for the readers. In the next paragraph, a description of the sounds, ash blowing in and ceiling collapsing paints a picture.

With Cramer’s work, he allows the story to be told through the subjects, rather than an outsider’s perspective. He used the appropriate amount of narrative to move the reader through the story, but told it mainly through the accounts of the people affected. It was emotional, descriptive and painted a mental picture. When readers can actually picture everything happening, you know you’ve written a good piece.

David Von Drehle and Leonara LaPeter, both deadline winners, also employed the idea of telling a story, not just reporting.  Von Drehle used the idea of a timeline to move his story along. LaPeter’s story has emotion but not through her saying something like “it was an emotional verdict,” but rather by describing the scene: “About 45 minutes later, they emerged from the jury room, many of them overwrought with tears as jury foreman James Burrows read the death sentence.” She set the stage for writing in all aspects. LaPeter didn’t just show the viewpoint of one side. She spent time describing the victims, the murderer and even the jury.  Throughout the reading and research, I found this juxtaposition of sides to be an important part of deadline writing. In addition to LaPeter, Francis X. Clines does this in his story “In Belfast, Death, Too, Is Diminished by Death.” He juxtaposes the idea of a sweet innocent girl against the gruesome background of death. Other stories that employ technique are the St. Petersburg Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In “Gunman Kills 5,” the St. Petersburg Times says “beside the pool, a man lay shot to death.” The pool is normally something people associate with a calm, relaxed setting, but the reader is given a jarring image because of this contrast. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contrasts KKK members against the group that stood to defy it in “Unity Thrived at Market Square.

Another important element of deadline writing is to not include too many people in one story.  Clines said a story is not a catalog of comments. Two publications that I think did a really good job limiting their sources were The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Both publications covered tragedies involving large amounts of people and easily could have made the mistake of just filling their stories with quotes, but they had a good balance of quotes and narration. The Boston Globe covered a tragic nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 96 people and injured 187.  However, in the article “Death Toll Reaches 96 in fire at R.I Nightclub; 187 Hurt” they used 10 sources, who were a good mix of victims of the fire, fire officials, club staff and the band whose lighting effects caused the fire. In The Washington Post’s article about the tsunami in South Asia, “Sea Surges From Massive Quake Kill Over 13,000 Across South Asia“, they also used a decent amount of sources. Of the 8 sources, most were officials, witnesses and rescuers.

All good deadline reporting employs the ideas discussed, along with many other tactics of good journalism. The graphic at the top gives tips on more ways to improve your deadline writing.

Written by juliasayers

February 18, 2011 at 9:06 am

CNN Producer Eric Hall gives industry tips to students at Elon University

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By Julia Sayers

Eric Hall speaks to a group of Elon students about writing and internship tips. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell

Eric Hall, an Elon alumnus and now a CNN producer, had to go through four internships and three jobs before landing a steady position with CNN, showing that hard work pays off.

Hall spoke to a class of reporting students on Feb. 14 giving tips on writing, internships and keeping up with the industry.

One of the most important tips Hall gave students was to know how to write.

“Know how to write everything- long form, short form, e-mails,” Hall said. “Be prepared to write anything.”

A major point that Hall enforced is how the industry is ever-changing and you have to be creative to keep up.

“You have to think outside the box to survive,” Hall said. “The game changes every day and you have to know it and advance in it.”

Hall told students to be aggressive when it comes to internships. He advised students to do things above their pay grade in their spare time to prove to themselves they can do it.

“The most important thing is being there and going above and beyond,” Hall said.

Working the industry is an important part in getting a job.

“In this industry it’s a big turnstile,” Hall said. “A lot of people go in and out quickly, which is good. It opens up opportunities.”

Landing a job in the industry involves many factors.

“The industry is constantly changing so it really depends on opportunity, luck, timing and what you put into your work,” Hall said.

Hall really emphasized the idea of “rolling with the punches,” especially because people hardly get their dream job right away. He says it’s tough to start any job with the mindset of being on top.

“You’re going to get down on yourself if you’re not where you want to be,” Hall said. “You just have to roll with the punches.”

During his time at Elon, Hall wrote for the opinions section of the student newspaper, The Pendulum. Hall started off with internships ranging from working for a minor league baseball team to working on “The View.” Directly out of college, Hall worked at a firm interviewing people. In August of that year, he got a call from Barbara Walters’ people offering him a freelance position for three months. Hall wrestled with the decision, knowing it would be an unsteady job.

“I wasn’t going to do it but then I woke up one morning and Peter Jennings had died and I felt like I was missing something,” Hall said. “I wanted to be in the middle of the action.”

Hall began freelancing for Barbara Walters and also worked for CNN and Fox News before taking a producer job with CNN in Atlanta. Hall currently writes for the 3-5 p.m. show, hosted by Brooke Baldwin.

“I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many great people and so many different people,” Hall said.

Being a writer and a producer, Hall tries to keep a balance of news and cover everything.

“We keep it fresh and new, People want to know what’s happening and what’s going to happen,” Hall said. “Variety is key.”

Hall talked about how it is a great resource to have partners out in the world like CNN does.

“I’m so lucky to be working at a place where the news comes to you,” Hall said. “CNN is known all over the world.”

Written by juliasayers

February 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Car fire in Oaks parking lot at Elon University

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Firefighters responded to a car fire in the Oaks parking lot. Photo by Heather Cassano.

A car caught on fire in the parking lot of the Oaks Apartments at Elon University around 6:45 p.m. on Monday night. Elon fire department arrived and put the fire out but the car was ruined. The car, a blue mini cooper, is owned by an Elon professor.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but started underneath the hood of the car.

“It was pretty big, blazing all over the engine of the car,” said Alex Moss, a student who observed the fire. “The flames were 4 or 5 feet high. It took them a while to get it under control.”

The car was parked when the fire started. No one was hurt.

More details will be added as more information is found out.


Feb. 15, 5:35 p.m.

The car belongs to Elon religious studies professor L.D. Russell. The cause of the fire is still unknown, as the fire destroyed any evidence of problems with the engine. The cause is thought to be a mechanical or electrical problem.

Written by juliasayers

February 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Students sell fried pastries to fund alternative spring break trip to Mexico

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By Julia Sayers

Destinee Pray works the table in Moseley selling churros to support the alternative spring break trip to Mexico. Photo by Julia Sayers.

While some students will be laying out on the beach all spring break, others will be hard at work helping others. This year students had the opportunity to participate in the alternative spring break trip to San Luís Potosí, Mexico. This trip is the first alternative break trip to go to Mexico. Alternative spring break trips are service trips that are either student led or led through campus organizations.

To help fund the trip, which is through the Kernodle Center for Service Learning, students organized a churros fundraiser. Churros, fried dough pastries popular in Latin America, were sold in Moseley for $1.50 each.

Freshman Destinee Pray, who worked the table and is going on the trip, said ARAMARK cooked the churros for them, free of a labor charge.

Freshman Kacie Brennell helped to organize the fundraiser.

“I knew churros were available through Aramark and thought that would be convenient and unique,” Brennell said.

The students sold 170 churros were sold in the first day.

“I was walking across campus with all these churros in my arms and everyone was looking at me like who is this girl and why does she have so many churros?” Brennell laughed.

More churros are expected to be sold on Valentine’s Day, since students can send a pastry with a candy gram to a friend’s mail box.

Students going on the trip will pay no more than $1000. Financial aid is also available through the Kernodle Center. Students applied for the trip in the fall for the nine available spots.

“We wanted to keep the numbers small so it is a more intimate experience,” Brennell said.

On the trip, students will be spending the mornings at University Technológico Superior teaching English to the students. In the afternoon, Elon students will perform various service deeds including visiting an immigrant shelter, a retirement home and a soup kitchen. Brennell is one of the student leaders.

“I’m so thrilled. I’ve been on service trips to Mexico before but never led one,” Brennell said. “It’s an honor because I’m just a freshmen. I applied and didn’t think I’d get it but here I am.”

The two faculty advisors on the trip are Dianne Ford and Mary Leigh Frier. Ford has been to Mexico before on a sister city program that Burlington, NC has with Soledad de Gráciano Sanchez, Mexico.  Sister cities are cities in geographically and politically distinct areas that have established cooperative agreements between them to promote cultural and commercial ties.

“What makes this trip unique is that Burlington has a sister city program that sends adults to Soledad on service trips,” Brennell said. “This year Soledad is opening up to students from Elon.”

Churros will be sold until Monday.

Written by juliasayers

February 14, 2011 at 12:08 am