Posts Tagged ‘region 7’


It’s National Grammar Day (insert exclamation point here)

This is it, the day all word mavens and grammarphiles relish with a fervency everyone else reserves for major national holidays, weekends, and end dates on the Mayan calendar.

It's Grammar Time!Yes, it’s National Grammar Day, and if you think itinerant commas or cliches stand a ghost of a chance on this auspicious occasion, think again. It is a day that all of us should spend paying greater attention to the craft of good communication and do, as Grammar Girl urges, “March forth … to speak well, write well, and help others do the same.”

That includes using “their” when “there” or “they’re” doesn’t work, correctly distinguishing “to” from “too” from “two,” slicing off dangling participles, and excising unctuous conjunctions, among many other attentions to linguistic and syntactical detail.

The day’s designation isn’t bound by law or scripture, but motivated by common courtesy. In our information-crazy world, precise use of language rises to the level of imperative. To serve society and convey respect for others, we are obligated to employ language precisely, appropriately. Poor grammar muddles our messages and implies ignorance or arrogance. It can cost reputations and dreams.

Journalists understand this perhaps better than most people, but as we enter the age of “citizen journalism,” when so many American citizens possess the tools and potential to stand in a position of authority on news, the grammar imperative becomes acute. The serious task of news gathering also demands serious presentation. Careful use of language conveys not only necessary detail, but also personal credibility. People who use language properly will be assigned more authority than people who do not.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who reads resumes for a living how many job candidates are passed over because of spelling errors and misplaced punctuation.

So, take care today to watch what you write and say. Recognize this sixth annual National Grammar Day by putting usage among your top priorities. If you’re smart, you’ll strive to turn that attention to detail from headache to habit.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, adjunct professor of journalism at Lindenwood UniversityRegion 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Freelance writers, this is your week

National Freelance Writer Appreciation WeekThis week, if you see a freelance writer, give ’em a hug.

Better still, give ’em a job.

The annual National Freelance Writers Appreciation Week starts today, and if you haven’t heard it’s a seven-day serenade to all the wordsmiths and keyboard-pounders who give shape and life to ideas on their own time, often on their own dime, so that others without the patience or aptitude to write still have a voice.

No proclamation made this week possible; no act of Congress, or act of God — just the goodwill and good sense of people who put a premium on well-rounded words and the diligent souls who smooth them into shape.

And there are many of these souls plying this heartfelt trade. Besides being responsible for the words you’re reading here, freelance writers create most of the grant applications, e-commerce strategies and advertising copy that shape our world. They break news and they build reputations; they churn out blogs and business plans, pastorals and poems. In fact, you probably can’t make it through the day without seeing a freelancer’s work in ink or digital print.

So, this week, show your appreciation by giving a freelancer more than just a smile. Become acquainted with and support such prime sites for freelancers as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Freelancers Union, and of course, become a regular reader of the Society of Professional Journalists’ own Independent Journalist blog.

SPJ also offers a Freelancer Directory, where one can shop for freelance help, as well as a Job Bank, where freelancers can shop in return. And there’s “On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism,” written and edited by SPJ-member freelancers and free of cost to SPJ members. However, a small donation for it is welcome from everyone, as the money goes to help support freelancers and their efforts.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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In social media, patience is spelled with five W’s

In a perfect world, our words shine like jewels the first time we write or say them.

The reality is, they demand special consideration before displaying them in public. For one thing, so many terms in English have multiple meanings; for another, so many readers own distinct perspectives and biases. Ask 10 people to read the same sentence, and they’re likely to offer 10 slightly different interpretations.

That’s why, in our electron-fast, social media age, extra seconds spent pondering our pedantry before tapping the Send button can prevent embarrassment and thus preserve credibility.

So, at a time we’re still weighing New Year’s resolutions, or wondering whether to uphold the ones we’ve made, consider putting patience high on the list. Armed with it, writers and editors more easily catch spelling errors, check or recheck facts, change tone, even adjust attitudes — particularly their own.

The trick, of course, is finding patience where none existed. Hours spent banging out social media posts as fast as they come to mind can cultivate writing that’s reflexive, not reflective.

It may help then to install social media speed bumps of a sort — a set of objectives that forces introspection. For this, we could adapt journalism’s famous five W’s:

Who — Think first, “Who am I trying to reach?” Though social media networks permit users to group their followers, most users don’t, and their networks are a mishmash of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The result: just one post intended for a small group of followers could send others packing. Craft posts with the broadest possible appeal, frame edgier posts with self-effacing humor or courtesy, and restrict the hardest commentary to direct messages.

What — Make sure the point of a post is clear and consistent with the facts. Go back through other people’s posts, check associated Web links and references to see whether those people are interpreting the information correctly, and whether you’re doing the same and not relying on conjecture. Only then can you safely answer the question, “What am I trying to say?”

When — Speed is a drug in social media; we assume the faster we post, the more certain we are to ride the leading edge of news. Blame this behavior in part on traditional media, which instilled the belief that “scoops” or “beats” on breaking news were just as important as the information itself. In truth, no newspaper shut down and no TV station went dark from not having enough scoops. Today, the Web is rife with humor and shame over errors by news organizations that moved too fast to gather facts. Thus, the answer to “When should I post?” ought to be, “After I have all the facts.”

Where — The term “social media” is as broad as the horizon. It encompasses numerous networks, each having its own best practices and tolerances. Still, we consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to possess the same reach and intent. But there’s a saying: Facebook is for people you already know, Twitter is for people you want to know, and LinkedIn is for people you need to know. Learn the point and purpose of each social network, then you’ll be able to answer “Where should I post?”

Why — I’d like to think everything I say via social media is important. We all do. Nevertheless, each of us encounters users who think otherwise. That constituency dwindles though with solid answers to “Why should I post?” Whereas flippant or rhetorical commentary only attracts more of the same, social engagement founded on research and reportage is shared and re-shared more widely.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Make a resolution to do better on social media

The Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year’s fireworks are going up. Also around this time, long lists of New Year’s resolutions go up, too.

Diet and exercise top most lists, as do stronger finances and better personal relationships. One thing also worth reviewing among freelancers and maybe revising for 2013 is the way they present themselves through social media.

Numbers are why. As 2012 wound down, Twitter users churned out 175 million tweets daily. An estimated 625,000 new users joined Google+ daily. Facebook garnered about 850 million active users monthly. And LinkedIn added 50 million members in one year; it needed six years to get its first 50 million.

In other words, social media has skipped well past the point of novelty and entered the realm of necessity, especially for freelancers intent on attracting attention. So then, it pays for freelancers to paint a clean, clear portrait of themselves online, if they haven’t already, to keep that attention coming.

A few crisp strokes can do that. These should encompass:

Profile photos — There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Nevertheless, a lot of serious people trying to do serious business still hide behind the faceless default icon all social media platforms employ, the result being they don’t gain digital friends or, more importantly, win jobs, says Nicholas Salter, a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He led a recent study that found those people on LinkedIn with profile pictures are more likely to get hired than those without.

Susan Gunelius, a marketing communications executive who is the author of “Google Blogger for Dummies,” underscores the value. “It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you for the first time.”

Headlines — In a newspaper or news website, headlines are concise declarations of pertinent information intended to announce, inform and attract. In a freelancing proposal, job application or social media campaign, writing with the crisp prose of headlines brings focus and adds clarity to one’s message. Studying the way headlines are written and following their form can do wonders at putting that message ahead of others.

Keywords — And speaking of headlines, keywords give those headlines punch. These keywords are the distinguishing terms lacing online business reports, blogs, and especially job postings, that search engines pluck out for categorization. Special attention paid to keywords helps turn heads and boost Web and social traffic. But keep them relevant; don’t trot out trendy terms just because everyone else has.

Research — Like the way a drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet can be distracting, so too can social content designed to make more noise than sense. The best, most memorable content reflects an understanding of the intended audience and an appreciation for what that audience finds interesting. Invest time online in 2013 researching audience behavior and trends. Start by getting to know Google Analytics and Google Trends, and reading reports from Gartner, the Pew Research Center, and Poynter.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Guide for freelance journalists debuts at EIJ12

Updated, 9/28: A year’s worth of work by SPJ’s Freelance Committee debuted at Excellence In Journalism 2012 with the introduction of On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism, the committee’s first effort to consolidate the collected wisdom of its members.

The 77-page guide, available only in digital form, addresses a broad range of questions common among new and aspiring freelancers — from bookkeeping to business licenses to branding — soon will be made available to SPJ members in good standing. Later this fall, it will be sold as an e-book for a nominal fee, with the proceeds going toward committee programming.

Incoming chairman Michael Fitzgerald says the committee plans to update the guide on a regular basis, and include more personal experiences from freelancers to reflect changes and trends in the marketplace. SPJ also encourages freelance writers and editors not yet affiliated with the society to join and add their input to the guide.

Comments, suggestions and criticisms are welcome and should be made to David Sheets, the guide’s editor, by email at dksheets@gmail.com, or through Twitter at @DKSheets or LinkedIn.

David Sheets, a freelance journalist and former content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is Region 7 director and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter.

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