Archive for June, 2012

Let’s look real – posting your photo to the blog

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The other day, I noticed that only one member of the SPJ freelancers’ blog had made her photo part of her blog posts. After about two seconds’ thought, I contacted our blog manager and asked about adding my photo to my posts. The result is the list of “how to” tips included below – and some thoughts about why it’s a good idea to add our photos to our blogs or posts to other people’s blogs.

I realize that many colleagues may be shy about adding their photos to their blog posts (or their websites), but it’s actually a good idea – and not all that hard to do. I also realize that some people may be worried about somehow being vulnerable to identity theft by posting their photos, but I really don’t think it’s that big a concern.

Putting your photo on your blog makes you seem far more real and credible than using the weird little avatars that show up automatically. A good photo also makes you look more approachable – more like someone who really might offer good advice and interesting insights than that anonymous little avatar thingy.

If you ever get together with colleagues in person whom you haven’t met before, having your photo at the blog is a great way to make it easier to find each other. You can just say, as I often do, “It may not be the best image, but check the photo at my website so you have an idea of what I look like and don’t go up to total strangers when you’re trying to find me at the meeting.”

My only caveat is that, if you do provide a photo, make it one worth using.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive professional portrait shot – it can be an informal family snapshot that you especially like. If all of those are only available as prints and you don’t have a scanner, ask a friend to scan it in (and crop it for you) or take it to a local camera shop or computer center for scanning.

And you only need a headshot (so it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or that your desk is a mess!).

Use a photo that really is of you, not some glamorous clipart model – either use your real self or go back to no photo at all. There’s no point in making your professional, collegial image of someone else!

Don’t include the kids, the cats/dogs, the spouse, etc. – people just want to know what you look like, and those other beings usually aren’t relevant in a professional arena anyhow.

Either black-and-white or color is fine; don’t sweat that detail.

And make sure the image is small enough to fit the blog or website format. If you aren’t sure about that, check with a local camera shop to make sure you understand the camera settings you need for online vs. print images. I look forwarded to seeing everyone!

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Pop Tarts® and Peanut Butter: Fueling the Freelance Muse

Whenever I tell people that I work from home, they often react with envy. Sometimes they tell me, “oh, you’re so lucky!” and other times they say, “I wish I could work in my pajamas!” Yes, these are a few of the perks of the freelance life, and I am grateful for them, but working at home isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There are dozens of distractions to keep me from a hard day’s work. The lawn needs mowed, clothes have to be folded, or the dog wants to go for a walk. Things that I ordinarily hate doing somehow seem more pressing than the article that needs researched, the book that requires editing, or the blog that needs to be written. I could procrastinate and distract myself all day long, but it is hard to earn a paycheck that way, and I don’t want to live in, or eat out of, a cardboard box unless absolutely necessary.

So I must motivate and discipline myself on a daily basis. How? By fueling my muse with proper nutrition and exercise. I realize that doesn’t sound very sexy, but for me it absolutely works. Sure, I’d rather eat a box full of sickeningly sweet, strawberry-flavored Pop Tarts® washed down with a six-pack of Diet Coke as I work, but I’ve found that doing so drives my creativity away. When I eat like that, my brain gets stubborn and sluggish. My keyboard does too as the Pop Tart® crumbs wedge in between the keys and the spacebar, but I digress.

When loaded with sugar and unhealthy carbs, I simply can’t function for any length of time, particularly after the crash. You know the one I’m talking about – you’re full of energy, typing and thinking 100 miles an hour, the ideas are firing one right after the other, and then all of a sudden, without warning, your face falls flat on your desk. Your hands won’t move, and you are essentially comatose. Your cat hops up on the desk to see if you’re still breathing while the dog is inspecting your drool for leftovers. Nothing good is coming out of that brain today. Game over.

On the other hand, if I start the day with a meal of 200-300 calories that is high in protein and low in fat, I can work for hours. For example, I might have a veggie-filled egg white omelet, low calorie toast and fat free yogurt for breakfast or, if I’m in a hurry, a good, quality peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread with carrots and celery on the side. [Note:  caffeine is optional.] It is surprising how much I can actually eat for just a few hundred calories, and I rarely get hungry on this plan. Add 30 minutes of cardio daily and similar meals every two or three hours, and my muse and I are unstoppable. I don’t need caffeine, I can skip the nap and I don’t feel the desire to run to the fridge every five minutes. I’m satisfied, and I’m on fire.

I know, I know. Pop Tarts® and a triple mocha sound much more inviting first thing in the morning, but believe me, healthier meals and exercise will change your work life forever. Instead of sitting at your desk wishing you’d won the lottery, you will feel alert, productive and creative. And, as a special bonus, you’ll sleep better too.

But don’t take my word for it. If I haven’t convinced you that fueling your muse properly is the way to go, challenge yourself. Try this for three days. Give up those chocolate mini-donuts and your morning latte this week, and try healthier options. Just about anything high in protein will do:  a creamy vanilla protein shake, yogurt with low fat granola and fresh fruit, or cottage cheese, an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter. The choice is yours. With nutrition labels readily available and calorie and nutrition apps easily accessible, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Just plan ahead so you’ve got healthy snacks handy, and see how your new routine impacts your work.

At the end of three days, I think you’ll find that your creativity and productivity are easier to access. You will also feel better, and you might even shed a few pounds. The only problem now is what to do with that industrial-sized, variety pack of Pop Tarts® you bought at Costco last weekend. No need to panic; they make good door stops!

[I’ve got to give credit where credit is due:  Thanks to my chiropractor Dr. Brian Bussard for this healthy-eating plan and Walter T. Middlebrook, Assistant Managing Editor/Metro for Detroit News, for the “Pop tarts® and peanut butter” inspiration.]

Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of and An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10, serves on the membership committee, and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Follower her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).




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What to do when your copyright has been violated

On May 1, 2012, Duane Lester from wrote a story titled “Changes Implemented After MO Auditor Finds ‘Serious Shortcomings’ In Holt County Sheriff’s Department.” Ten days later the local paper, The Oregon Times Observer, reprinted the story almost verbatim, even including typos that appeared in the original story. Though the newspaper had removed the word Missouri from the headline and added a paragraph to the story, it was essentially the same. Yet Lester was not given credit for the original story. In fact, he received no attribution. Lester confronted reps at the The Oregon Times Observer and demanded payment for his work. Watch as the scene unfolds.


For more information on this story, including screen shots of the original online and print stories and an explanation of copyright violations, visit Lester’s story online.

Sadly, with the proliferation of online news, this type of thing happens much more than it should. Whether you are a freelance journalist, or a journalist working for a specific media organization, it is important to understand copyright law and the consequences of plagiarism and copyright violations. Protect yourself and your work.

*A special thanks to Virginia Pro Chapter President Paul Fletcher of Virginia Lawyers Media for sharing this story with the SPJ Freelance Committee. We’re glad you’re watching out for us!*


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Widbook: A tool for collaborative journalism

As the market for freelance journalism grows, so too has interest in the evolving tools for that job.

That interest is acute where collaborative journalism is concerned, because simply pitching PDFs of Word documents back and forth via email tends to be a clunky way of doing business in this demanding age of digital interactivity. Now, no matter the distance or purpose, teams of people with shared goals all want to work together as if sitting in the same room.

A relatively new website called Widbook tries to provide that goal-oriented environment and foster a social network to supplement it. Widbook is a writing and editing space that lets people alone or in groups craft book-length projects and shorter stories; insert resources such as photos, videos and animations; and add to or augment contributions by other writers.

Widbook also invites writers and readers to share and tweak favorite developing works, and create libraries of published works whether self-written or from other authors.

Early reports on Widbook, still in beta, call it a “YouTube for books” because of its heavy emphasis on interactivity. The central theme and interface are better suited for collaboration on projects. Writers who prefer to work alone can use Widbook as well, but they’ll miss out on many of its features.

And Widbook is free of charge to register for and use — surely the most attractive feature to freelance writers and hopeful novelists working with meager budgets. The only things that first-time visitors to Widbook need to get started is to create a user name and password. Options include creating a personal profile, linking with Facebook, and selecting favorite literary genres from which to build a library. Members also can send messages and “follow” one another through the site.

Because it’s in beta, Widbook has limitations and quirks. For one thing, it’s not possible to export a finished project to another platform, though that’s expected to come later as the site matures, and it’s not obvious to early users how the social media aspect will supplement the collaboration tools. The interface is also a tad balky with projects of more than a few chapters.

Still, for collaborative writers and editors, Widbook presents an intriguing new way for journalists to exchange ideas and bring far-flung talent together in the same room.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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