[box type=”note”]Editor’s note: If you missed the NYC rendition of SPJ JournCamp 2015, here’s the crib-sheet version of the day-long event, courtesy of NJ-SPJ members Jane Primerano and Erin Roll. Topics covered are: narrative writing, digital tools, freelancing, data visualizations, video editing, and Twitter.

You can also access notes, handouts, slides and other materials from JournCamp on Google Drive, thanks to the folks at the national SPJ headquarters. JournCamp was co-sponsored by SPJ and the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University. 

[button link=”” bg_color=”#9e5f00″]Click here to link to JournCamp materials[/button]


[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Narrative Writing[/typography]

Predictability isn’t a virtue in Tom Hallman’s world of narrative journalism.

Hallman advocates seeking the story beneath the obvious and telling it using techniques closer to fiction writing than the average news story.

While many journalists, who haven’t won a Pulitzer or had their writing turned into a Movie of the Week as Hallman has, are constrained from much creativity by time, space and editors who are essentially predators with carpeted offices, they can use many of his tips to improve their writing and increase their connectivity with their readers.

Among his tips: Reporters are taught not to trust emotion, to write fast and short and use lots of quotes, ignore that sometimes.

  • Training can teach the craft but it can’t teach the feeling; it can’t teach you to see.
  • Read everything you can get your hands on.
  • Talk to people; meet people. You’ve got to be able to talk to everybody, to be interested.
  • Get out of the newsroom and watch people.
  • Look for the humorous, the lesson learned.
  • You’ve got to be willing to dance with the story, to bring your own energy.


[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]The Complete Reporter’s Digital Dirty Dozen[/typography]


Here is a list of digital tools and resources that are most likely to be of use for journalists and editors working in digital media. The list was compiled by Doug Haddix, director of the Kiplinger Program and former national training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Kevin Smith deputy director of the Kiplinger Program.

Here is the list, by topic:

  • Research: the Internet Public Library
  • Notes: Dragon Dictation
  • Social Media: Storify
  • News Gathering: StoryCheck
  • Monitoring: HootSuite
  • Audio: Voddio
  • Crowd Sourcing: Google Forms
  • Photo/Video: ProCamera 8 + HDR
  • Data Mining:
  • Video editing: Videolicious
  • Mapping: MapAList
  • Sharing: Twitter

[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Freelancing 101[/typography]

The “hard-knock” life of freelancing was the topic of Alex Tarquinio’s program at JournCamp.

Tarquinio tried to speak to both full-time and part-time freelancers, young and experienced, and that was the demographic of her audience. The changing news business resulted in more freelancers, some less willing than others. Tarquinio, like many others, moved back and forth between staff and freelance jobs over the years. She works in financial writing, traditionally the highest-paid freelance gig.

For those just starting out, she advised a start-up checklist: What is my long-term goal? Who do I know who can help? How do I combine my interests into one elevator pitch? What makes me unusual? What life changes am I willing to make to freelance? How far am I willing to go/write out of my comfort zone? Can I afford the uncertainty? Can I work from home? Will I miss the camaraderie of the newsroom? Can I be my own boss? Can I market myself?

Tarquinio had some cautions: It takes discipline to maintain a full-time schedule even when you don’t have an assignment. It takes time and research to craft a pitch even to an editor familiar and comfortable with your work. And your editors have to know your schedule at all times. You have to be willing to work on stories that don’t interest you and are out of your comfort zone when you need the money. You may have to be willing to do PR, marketing and corporate work. You will have to market yourself and compartmentalize your marketing plan when you have multiple beats. Multiple beats may also require separate websites and Twitter accounts.

Blogging is a double-edged sword, Tarquinio said. You need some social-media presence but too much can make you look like a hobbyist. Blogging or a little work for non-profits can be done for free, but everything else must be paid for, even if it isn’t much.

If you’re freelancing for somebody you may want to work for full-time, make sure you both know it.

Pick what you know. Write about what you are passionate about as much as possible.

Veteran freelancer Maureen Nevin brought up the problems associated with pitching a story and waiting for an answer. Do you risk pitching it to another editor? Tarquinio pointed out every editor knows a writer has to make a living.

A freelancer can become an expert on a new topic but needs to be realistic, Tarquinio said. If you studied something in college, but aren’t current, go back to school, go to conferences.

Take advantage of existing technology, she said: blog, tweet, repeat. Lurk on listserves and feeds.

Your byline is a valuable asset. Each freelancer needs to decide whether to attach it to PR.

An important part of Tarquinio’s talk concerned managing your editors: Don’t be afraid to turn down work, but always explain why. Get all the information you need to complete your assignment upfront. Update your editor if a story changes. Communicate by email, never telephone unless you are specifically asked to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise after you’ve proven yourself. Craft killer pitches and create clean copy. Don’t make pitches too long, even with an editor who likes your work.

She also said to consider networking as a concentric circle so don’t push other freelancers for a recommendation.


[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Visualizing Data on the Web[/typography]


What kind of data do you have? Do you need a chart? What’s the best way to present it?

Those were some of the main questions during the data visualization seminar, presented by Hilary Fung of the Huffington Post and Frank Bi from The Verge.

A lot of us will probably agree that a well-made chart or graphic can go a long way toward helping to tell a story or explaining a fact. But the key word is well-made.

The presentation began with an overview of different types of charts, like Venn diagrams, line graphs, bar charts, and so forth, and then moved on to how those different tools can be applied.

One of the most important lessons was that journalists and graphic designers have to take care that the data doesn’t get lost amid fancy graphics and gimmicks. As an example, we were shown a data graphic that tried to display reading test scores among eighth-grade students in public and private schools. The use of green and red apples to hold the percentage numbers was nice in theory, but it ended up being really confusing, especially since there was no legend attached.

There’s also the caution that data can be manipulated in a misleading way. Case in point: a Fox News segment showed a bar chart comparing the numbers of people on welfare vs. those with full-time jobs. There wasn’t much difference between the two – but the chart had been arranged to make it seem the welfare number was significantly higher.

The lesson here is be transparent, show where your data came from, and don’t forget the legends and labels.

For the hands-on part of the seminar, we did some practice with some spreadsheets of unemployment data – one showing the net change, by month, between 2005 and 2015, and the other showing unemployment rates by state. For the former, we used the numbers to put together a line graph, while for the latter, we used Excel’s map generator and color palette to construct an unemployment map of the United States.

The seminar concluded with a discussion of various tools and resources that are out there for data journalists, from map-building tools (examples: MapBox, Google Fusion Drive), to downloadable color palettes (Color Brewer) and fonts (Font Awesome).


[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Shoot, Edit and Publish Video on the Fly[/typography]


One of the tools mentioned in Kevin Smith’s presentation on The Complete Reporter’s Digital Dirty Dozen was the video app Videolicious.

The app was the focus of a smartphone video seminar presented by Cindy E. Rodriguez of Emerson College.

The first half of the seminar dealt with some of the basics of shooting video. Hold the camera or phone steady. Zoom with your feet (walk toward your subject if you need to zoom in – don’t use the zoom function on the phone). When composing a shot, especially an interview, use the rule of thirds: position your subject on either the left third or the right third of the screen, and have them facing toward the center of the screen.

It is especially crucial to do some planning before shooting: figure out what shots you’re going to need and what questions you need to ask. Choose questions that don’t involve long-winded answers.

The second-half of the seminar put us to work with some filming, by making short videos about the seminar and/or JournCamp. The attendees got into groups (ideally with at least one person who had broadcast experience) and began shooting B-roll.

Rodriguez advised us to shoot a series of five 10-second shots, using the native video function on our phones: one wide “establishing” shot of the room, two close-up clips and two medium-clips.

The next step was for someone to record a narration shot or a voice-over describing what was going on at JournCamp. All of the clips then went into Videolicious to be spliced into a short video, which was then uploaded.

The presentation was to have gone further into subjects such as microphones (Lavalier vs. handheld), tripods to use with phones, and other audio/video apps, but time wouldn’t permit. But there was time to look at some of the finished videos – at least one of which had already been uploaded to YouTube.


[typography font=”Noto Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Twitter[/typography]

Sree Sreenivasan, the guru of all things social media, capped JournCamp with some positive words. Journalism isn’t dying, he said, the business is “wobbly.” He also assured the journalists in the room “When everybody’s a writer, the trained pro stands taller and when everybody is a photographer, the trained pro stands taller.” He also quoted Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton: “The scariest resource of the 21st Century is human attention.”

He had some tips, like always keep your phone charged, connect with people when you don’t need them so they will be there when you do. It’s not who follows you (on Twitter) it’s who follows who follows you. The most important social media is having a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Tweet off your last tweet to build a sequence. Update your Twitter bio to reflect your best Twitter you. Have your email address on your Twitter bio “for the same reason Bob Woodward is in the DC phone book.” Don’t put your business’ name on your handle, that’s like having a tattoo of your current boyfriend’s name, it may not last forever. Write every Tweet as if it’s your last. Create the best Facebook profile you can. LinkedIn is the least understood and least appreciated social media.

He listed the 13 characteristics of good tweets: helpful, useful, timely, informative, relevant, practical, actionable (in the sense of promoting action), generous, credible, brief, entertaining, fun, occasionally funny. All tweets must be some of these.

Be the first to comment on "JOURNCAMP WRAP-UP"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.