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INTRODUCTION TO MEDIA SKILLS

Don’t be shy! Promote your community, your project and your work by using the media. Here, in this first of two parts, we provide: a formula for writing news stories or press releases, how to write the crucial first paragraph, three types of features, interviewing tips, how to quote people correctly, and accuracy and editing.
‘Changing Ireland’ hopes this will assist the many projects throughout the country who use newsletters and the local and national media to get their community’s voice heard.

Foolproof formula for writing stories

The following ‘inverted triangle’ shows the idea that there is a formula for how to write a news story or press release. You start with the result, which is the opposite to essay-writing where you build up to a climax.

inverted triangleA good opening paragraph for a news story contains the H and 5Ws (known as H5W):

It never needs to be any different. The traditional-style news story will have the answers to ALL SIX questions in the first paragraph or two.

The next (second or third) paragraph should contain background information and you continue then to write from there, ideally providing quotes from the people involved in the story (perhaps someone linked to your project).Keep paragraphs short - it is easier to read two short paragraphs than one long one.

Your first paragraph

It is not unusual to write the opening paragraph after you have written the rest of the story. Generally, keep in mind that there are two main types of openings for news stories and features:
Direct opening: The story begins with the news itself using the H5W formula in the opening paragraph.
Delayed opening: The story begins with a quote, an anecdote, gimmick or some other device to set a scene, etc. These type of openings are more common in features, but they can be used with straight news stories, though the H5W formula is usually more straightforward. However, if you are confident about your story, you could open with a blunt statement, a fact, or a rhetorical question (eg ‘Do poor children really deserve to have bad teeth?’) to capture the essence of the story. Your opening statement MUST be supported with attributed information later in the story. For more on this, check out Changing Ireland's video from one of our workshops.

You can QUOTE me on that!

Using quotes: A quote is the exact wording of a statement from another person. It is interesting to readers because of what was said or because of who said a thing. Their statement may be a fact or it may be an opinion. Quotes make a story more lively and more believable. Readers are more likely to believe what your story says if there are reliable sources speaking in their own words in the story.
Never use the words “when asked” or “in response to a question about” to lead into a quote. The story is NOT ABOUT YOU, so don’t insert yourself into it!
There are three types of quotes: direct quotes, indirect quotes and partial quotes.
(1) Direct Quotes are sentences printed word for word exactly as the speaker said them. The speaker’s exact words go inside the quotation marks. Usually, they are followed by the phrase ‘s/he said’.
Eg, “The government is thinking of cutting the one thing that keeps the community viable - FAS jobs. We don't want to go back to 1990 when there was nothing in this community,” said Moyross Community Enterprise Centre Manager, Paddy Flannery, yesterday.
NOTE: Don’t quote obvious or unimportant things.
(2) Indirect Quotes: An indirect quote is information from a source where the text does not include the speaker’s exact words; perhaps instead there is a paraphrase or summary of what the speaker said. Indirect quotes are used to: express a fact stated by the source; clarify a quote that is long, confusing or dull; sum-up the ideas of several direct quotes.
Eg Paddy Flannery, a community leader, fears the government may cut FAS jobs in Moyross, and the community does not want to return to the situation of 10 years ago when there was nothing in the area.
Note: Never change the meaning of someone’s quote when you paraphrase it.
(3) Partial Quotes
Sometimes it might work better to use only part of a quote to convey what the interviewee has said. If so, put the portion of the quote you use word-for-word inside quotation marks. A partial quote is good for highlighting lively or memorable words, especially those which express an opinion.
Eg Community worker, Mike Quinn, said that if FAS jobs in Inisbofin were cut the community “faces disaster”.
The main attribution word is ‘said’, and note that it is used in the past-tense form. Other attribution words used include: ‘asked’, ‘added’, ‘stated’ (eg, when a source read from a prepared text) and also ‘claimed’, ‘recalled’, ‘argued’, etc.

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Interviewing

Why interview someone? You interview someone because either they have unique information or they are unique themselves! In the first case, the information will make the story; in the latter case, the person is the story.
Interview material can be gathered from people (a) on location (b) over the telephone (c) by e-mail.
To prepare:
1. Do some research and write a list of smart questions.
2. Write a list of "stupid" questions, those questions you must ask to avoid mistakes (cover H5W).
3. If necessary, construct a time-line of the key events.
Other sources of information include stories/information published or broadcast by others that you have cut from the newspaper, copied from a book or magazine or recorded on tape. Always keep your notes from interviews and clippings from publications or tapes of broadcasts that you quote from.
Take the best notes you can but, unless you have shorthand or they speak very slowly, use a tape recorder so you will have a record of the interview. Buy new batteries, don’t forget a tape and test before you start recording. Don’t learn the hard way!

 

99% correct may spell fisaster

Be 100% that there is factual accuracy about:

 

3 types of features:

A feature is a story that does not necessarily focus on a subject that is in the news. It could be about anything, but is usually about either people or things. There are three basic types of features:
(1) Human Interest Stories appeal to the readers’ emotions. They are generally the most widely read and listened-to stories of all. An example - an older person who admits they contemplated suicide before they joined a local active age group.
- Human interest stories involve people rather than things. It could, for example, be about a teenager who wins an award or a coach who leads a team to a hurling final. Or a retiring community leader.
- Human interest stories often focus on well-known people. So, who is well-known in your community? They may be well-known for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reasons.
(2) Informational Features can be of historical, social and practical interest, such as about the background to a new project in the community.
- The basic purpose in this case is to inform rather than to entertain.
- They often take the form of ‘How-to’ features such as “How to buy a qualify for an allowance” or “Legal options for if your neighbour is playing loud music late at night.”

- They can take the form of informational or personal profile features.
- Informational interviews may deal with an authority, for example the local TD, whose opinions are of significant value.
(3) Personality Sketches aim to give a real impression of what a person is like. Personality interviews are interesting because of the individual rather than the subject matter - for example the oldest person in the community.
- They usually attempt to reveal someone’s personality through telling stories about the person.
- It provides information that readers will want to know, such as: Name; Personality; Background; Physical appearance; Environment; Hobbies; Influence on others.

The writing process isn't over until you edit

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INTRODUCTION TO NEWSLETTER SKILLS

Here we look at newsletter layout and headline-writing. We hope it assists local voluntary groups throughout the country who use newsletters to keep the community informed and connected.

Is your layout modern?
The layout look of magazines changes over the years and the modern trend is for publications to be laid out with rectangles in mind. Each story, including text, headline, artwork, photography, etc, is contained within a single rectangle. One rectangle usually dominates and contains the lead story. Each page may be made up of a number of rectangular modules. Have a look at the Irish Times to see how the design works in practise.
Can you see influences of this ‘rectangular’ trend in the design you adopted for your newsletter?

Layout for newsletters
Layout is the design of a page destined for publication - you can design a mock-layout on a sheet of paper and use it as a guide when you begin laying out items on a page on your computer screen (a skill called desk-top publishing, or dtp for short).
Remember the three basic ingredients of any page are headlines, text and photographs. Each is as important as the other and it is important to get a good balance. You must also plan where to place the following and what size should they be: photographic captions; white space; advertisements. And you also have to choose typefaces (often referred to as fonts) and where and how to use colour. You aim for a layout that is attractive to the eye. For example, it is very important that the text should be readable (9 point size minimum, use fonts with ‘tails’ (see below) plenty of paragraphs, good punctuation and grammar, accuracy and correct spelling).

What do you think then?!
Take a few minutes and take notes on your newsletter design:
Are you aware of a deliberate design style used in your newsletter? Look at it.
Write down:
Number of columns per page?
Are photos used?
Are the photos given borders or put in boxes?
Do you use single headlines, or put sub-headlines beneath?
Do you purposely use white space? It can help to attract the reader’s eyes to a piece.
What size is the text in stories? Do you think it is too small or big?

More interesting questions:
Who designs your newsletter?
How could it be better?
Do you use by-lines (names of authors)?
Is it reader-friendly in the way it is laid out?
Do you have a formula for what stories go where? E.g. News to front, sport to back.
Have you looked at other people’s newsletters to get ideas?
Do you use enough photos? Are they of good quality? Do you include captions?
Do you use page numbers in your newsletter?
What fonts do you use, for text, for headlines?
Have you shopped around to see what prices and quality other printers offer?
Does your printer deliver on time?

An important tail about fonts

Designers over the centuries have come up with many different printed alphabet styles when it comes to the printed word. Some typefaces, or fonts, look more serious than others, but fonts will always fall into one of two ‘types’ - those with little tails and those without.
(‘Serif’ is latin for tail; ‘Sans’ is latin for without. So a ‘Sans Serif’ typeface font is one without tails, for example the Arial typeface).
There’s one more important point - it is easier to read blocks of text if they are set in fonts that include tails. On the other hand, words set in typefaces without tales can be more easily read in larger sizes and so they are best used for headlines, in adverts and for captions.
N.B. The most commonly used typefaces/fonts for story text are Times New Roman and Century Schoolbook. Stick to two/three fonts for headlines and two/three other fonts for text. And don’t forget that you can use the bold, italic and underline options for extra emphasis, though you should not overuse them.
A Question: people sometimes wonder, SHOULD headlines always use FULL CAPITALS? Answer: Text set in all capital letters (aka uppercase) is not as easy to read as ordinary text. It can be used for emphasis or special effects, but should be used sparingly.
A final point: There is actually a third category of fonts, but we ignored it until now because it is not an important category - Script fonts. Script fonts are not good for story text
because they are difficult to read.

Have you made the headlines yet?

Who reads headlines? Everyone! And who reads on; only people who were attracted to the story by the headline!
 *  Write in the present tense. Use active verbs.
 *  Put the key words of the story in the headline.
 *  Get the most important story element in the headline. Headlines should tell readers what happened and why the news is important to readers.
 *  Avoid puns.
 *  Be accurate.
 *  Be interesting and inviting. Headlines should be an advertisement for the story, but they should never be so cute that they fail to instantly tell the news.
 *  Be creative. Headlines can and should creatively convey a mood or emotion when appropriate, but they must always tell the news in clear and direct fashion.
 *  Use verbs. They mean action.
 *  N.B. Give time to headlines – who wants to read a story with a boring headline?

 

The TACT test for headlines

Ask these questions of each headline:

1. Is it in good taste? Anything offensive in any way? Can anything be taken a wrong way?
2. Does it attract the reader's attention? How can it be improved without sacrificing accuracy?
3. Does it communicate clearly, quickly? Any confusion? Any odd words, double meanings?
4. Is it accurate, true? Proper words used?
5. A single "NO" above is a veto. One "No" vote represents tens or thousands of put-out readers. Start over: rethink the headline from the beginning.
* In the next issue of ‘Changing Ireland’, the national newsletter of the Community Development Support Programmes, we will focus on Writing and Reporting Skills, including: a formula for writing News stories, how to write the first crucial first paragraph, three types of features, interviewing tips, how to quote people correctly, and accuracy and editing.

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EXAMPLES OF GOOD MEDIA WORK:

Manage the media - an example of how Tralee CDP did it

By Sharon Browne

An experience at Tralee CDP highlights the importance of managing media relations. A community clean up day went horribly wrong when the mountain of rubbish collected was set alight overnight. This led to the fire brigade being called out a number of times. Some of the local press also got to the scene – and just in time to take pictures of a small number of youths throwing stones and other missiles at the fire officers. Bad press indeed for a very hard working community.
The following day community reps involved in the Estate Management &
Community Safety Plan for the area felt understandably disheartened. But with a little persuasion from Tralee CDP they decided to make an attempt to manage the coverage rather than just wait and see how it would all turn out.
While the fires and stoning did make the headlines of the two local papers, there were also statements in the story about all the positive work done in the area by the two residents associations involved in the Estate Management & Community Safety Plan. Even though there were some errors in the reporting all involved said it could have been worse.
The media obviously felt they had to report it as news. And because the community worked with them to bring a balanced context – rather than trying to stop them reporting it - a relationship was forged. The community then followed up on this and got the Kerryman to promise a full page feature on all the positive work done in the area including the residents associations, organic garden project, all the local youth groups and the Family Resource Centre, along with a minimum of three photos.
A reporter has been on a guided tour of the area with a number of local volunteers and has met with the various groups. We have yet to see how it turns out. In the end of the day we have no control over that. All we can do is provide accurate information, explain our case and build positive relationships. This is an area where CDPs can play a role in training and supporting communities to make the most of all their media coverage – good, bad and indifferent.
* Sharon Browne is Co-ordinator of Tralee CDP. A former national journalist, she is a member of the ‘Changing Ireland’ editorial team.

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Issue 7

Autumn 2003

Public awareness worth more than money

Mountwood/Fitzgerald Park CDP, in Dun Laoighre, Co. Dublin, realised early on that the main value of a Christy Moore benefit gig for them was that it would raise public awareness about the CDP. The ticket sales brought in funds, but the main thrust of the publicity about Christy's gig was to highlight the appalling living conditions of the residents and the need for a proper community centre for the residents.
Following the gig, the CDP and members of the local community were invited to sing with Christy Moore on the Late Late Show. The project co-ordinator also got to have her say on the air.
"We felt that when people realised that we were living in these conditions, public opinion would force officials to do something," said Susan Stevenson, chairperson of the Mountwood/Fitzgerald Park CDP.

(Ed's note: The community centre was finally built after a long-running campaign).

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Issue 3

Spring 2002

Galway Travellers use media to resist bullying

After 20 years waiting in a “temporary” halting site at Hillside Camp, Galway, half the 16 families living there were provided late last year with housing. However, a day that should have been a cause for celebration for Travellers in Galway city turned to dismay and disgust when the Corporation issued an order giving everybody 24 hours to be gone from the site. Those who were allocated houses had to move in without furniture, while the eight remaining families were ordered to leave the site immediately. For where? All local authorities are obliged to provide sites to cater for the nomadic lifestyle of Travellers.
The Galway Travellers Support Group issued press releases, one stating that the Corporation had “betrayed” the partnership approach. Upset at the treatment, the GTSG launched full-scale media campaign. Resulting headlines included the following: “Outrage at closure of Galway halting site” (Irish Times); “TD slams conditions at Galway halting site as ‘disgraceful” and “Anger over eviction of Travellers” (City Tribune). Now the GTSG have devised a proper media strategy should future incidents occur. Here, project co-ordinator, Margaret O’Riada, tells how it worked out during the fortnight.

In response [to the eviction order], committed workers and volunteers from the Galway Travellers Support Group dropped tools and went on a fortnight’s full-time media offensive. They had two reasons for doing so – not to let those responsible away with it and to have the accommodation issue for Travellers in Galway debated in public. Also, the Partnership process had failed them. Here, Ms. O’Riada tells the story of that fortnight.
Once again the Traveller community, a generally voiceless and powerless people, were expected to put up with being treated as second-class citizens in Galway city. Personally I believe that the way the unofficial Traveller site in Hillside was closed down was the worst, institutional abuse of the Traveller Community I have seen in my time working with Travellers.
The event and the circumstances meant that the GTSG management and staff team had to respond immediately. It was decided that the lack of respect and dignity shown to Travellers on the day needed to be debated in the media and that people needed to be held accountable for their actions and blatant disregard for the Traveller Community.
A media campaign was planned in response to the appalling treatment so it was all hands on deck, the facts had to be gathered and recorded and the campaign planned.
It was also felt that it was timely to challenge the partnership arrangement between the Galway Traveller Support Group and the Local Authority. Prior to the incident in Hillside we, as a project (our vision is “to achieve full equality for Travellers in all aspects of their lives”) had spent two years bringing the issues in relation to Traveller Accommodation to the table, talking about shared agendas and meaningful consultation. It now looked like we had wasted our valuable time. Our advice, expertise and recommendations were ignored.
What the institutional bullying has highlighted for the project is the need to choose carefully who we build alliances with. It also showed us that while engaging in partnership arrangements is one way forward it is not the only option. There is nothing more frustrating than going to meeting after meeting with no measurable change on the ground for Travellers coming from the talks.
Handling the media campaign meant a full-time investment of time by staff and management over a two-week period. The type of work included strategically planning the steps that needed to be taken, consulting with the Travellers involved, writing press releases, contacting key journalists, following up with journalists, doing interviews, lobbying local councillors, getting in touch with the relevant departments, and making key links with the relevant health authorities.
As a result, the issue got great coverage at local and national level both on radio and in the newspapers. While not all of this was positive it strengthened the resolve of the GTSG in its belief that projects need to build strong relationships with their local, regional and national media and be proactive in getting their side of the story told.
This type of collective action can make it difficult to deal with existing workloads. However, there was complete consensus that the time invested was necessary. Challenging injustice in this fashion gave everyone involved renewed energy.
* Galway Travellers Support Group is a Community Development Project funded under the Community Development Support Programmes. Contact details: GTSG, 78 Prospect Hill, Galway; Tel. 091-562530; Fax 091-561857; E-mail – gtsg@iol.ie

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