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July 19, 2012

The top three books of all time

"The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it's conformity."  -Rollo May

"The difference between where you are today and where you'll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you've read."  -Jim Rohn

I think the world would be a better place if more people read the following three books. I'm not saying I agree with every single idea in all of them, but I think everyone would benefit from being aware of these principles and then either living their life accordingly or working to gain a clear understanding of why they would choose to consciously live their life differently. I would also enjoy knowing some of your recommendations.

1. "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. My college communication professor said there is no other book that has shaped his life as much other than the Bible. It's written in the style that would appeal to a 1950s businessman, but don't let that throw you, even if a couple of pages may seem a bit cheesy -- there's a brick of gold under the few thin slices of cheddar. I read this book my sophomore year in college, and some people made fun of me. But, alas, the book is so powerful that a few years later I noticed that some of those same people kept a copy of this book on their nightstand. Short chapters. Easy to read one or two a day. At least read the first two.

2. "The Richest Man in Babylon" by George S. Clason. Mr. Clason was a banker in the 1920s and was tired of watching people waste their money. He wrote a series of pamphlets as parables set in ancient Babylon -- the most wealthy city in the history of civilization. The pamphlets were later combined to create this book; hence, you'll notice some of the stories are loosely connected and others overlap. Overall, it's brilliant in its simplicity. A short book. Principles of money haven't changed since ancient times. (While I see his point of owning a home, I wouldn't rush into it, however)

3. "Gifted Hands" by Ben Carson. Anyone who's been portrayed in a movie by Cuba Gooding Jr. hardly needs an introduction. Carson came from nothing, growing up in inner-city Detroit in poverty with a broken home. The odds were against him, yet now he's the most famous brain surgeon in the world. He was honored in 2008 with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a U.S. civilian. Don't you think a person with a biography like that has something to share that could enhance your own life?

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Bonus Recommendations
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B1. "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. We slap our foreheads when we think about stupid things that used to be common health practices -- "bleed the bad blood out to cure a fever" or "doctors prescribing cigars for patients with lung problems," etc. This book shatters much of what we know about human movement, such as running and foot health. It's also an instantly gripping and fun read of suspense, a study of biology, a journalist's venture into drug trafficking territory in Mexico, and the recounting of one of the greatest races of all time...one that most people don't know about. I have since switched to only wearing VivoBarefoot shoes, even in the office. If you do decide to switch to minimalist shoes, take 3 to 6 months to do so. I'm probably the last person anyone would think of doing this -- two years ago I was one of those who laughed at the Vibram Five Finger shoes. But now I get it, and I'm even more fascinated with the way our feet were designed. I don't wear the Vibram Five Finger shoes, but prefer the previously mentioned brand, which is born of the same concept. This book may cause one to wonder what else our society is pushing in the name of health that is actually harmful.

B2. "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" by Harry Browne. Like I said above, I don't necessarily agree with every single idea in this book (his views on marriage are a bit independent, but even he later got married, as he mentioned in the afterward of the 25th anniversary edition), but everyone should recognize our cherished institutions for what they are instead of being awed by them and thus hindered from reaching our own potential. The title says it all -- who wouldn't want to live a more freeing life? He has two sentences in the afterword that should appear in every book: "You were able to overlook our differences and take advantage of the areas where my words could help you."  and  "You wouldn't have made it this far through the book if you didn't have the confidence in your ability to think things out for yourself."

B3. PersonalMBA.com  These are some of the best books of all time on life-enhancement and business (which is much of life).

June 15, 2012

Personal journalism degree

I'm a fan of the Personal MBA reading list. The author suggests skipping the tuition and lectures of business school and creating your own degree by simply reading the texts. He suggests 99 books, and the subjects range on everything from management, corporate finance and sales to value-creation, negotiation and personal growth. It's a great list, and a lot of popular rot is not on the list -- only truly valuable and helpful titles. Granted, I am still more impressed by a person who has an MBA than someone who might say, "I've read every book on the Personal MBA booklist," but it tells me that the person is serious about improving and increasing his or her value.

When he was in college and medical school -- now the most famous brain surgeon in the world -- Dr. Ben Carson, found he didn't learn well by hearing lectures. Instead he discovered he could skip a lot of classes, just read the texts and still score well on exams.

So drawing inspiration from the Personal MBA and Dr. Carson, and responding to demand, I here offer my own Personal Journalism Degree booklist. Again, I would still be more impressed by someone who has a degree (full-disclosure/bias alert: I have one) because of the way you grow by creating content and being edited by professors, especially the papers you have to write and defend at the graduate level. Still, this list offers a great understanding of subjects you would encounter in school, and by reading these and Matt Brown's story in my June 15 posting on his rise in the industry, you're likely good to go. And you can get all this knowledge mostly by using your free library card. A few titles may require you to buy a used copy online.

This list is in development and will expand over the coming weeks and months, and it could even have a few titles later shaved off. The Personal MBA updates its list each year and maintains no more or less than 99 books. Not yet sure how big this list will grow or if a cap will be set. Let me know of any suggestions you might have.

The Bible

The Associated Press Stylebook

Writing/Reporting

An introduction to News Reporting by Jan Yopp and Beth Haller
or
Elements of News Writing, 3rd edition by James W. Kershner

The Journalist's Craft: a guide to writing better news stories by Jackson and Sweeney
The Investigative Reporter's Handbook by Brant Houston
Online Journalism by James C. Foust

Passion for the craft

On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser
The Book of Writing by Paula LaRocque
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Details

The Concise Guide to Copy Editing by Paul LaRocque

Questions

The Craft of Interviewing by John Brady

Broadcast 

Broadcast News Handbook, 4th edition by Tuggle, Carr and Huffman
We Interrupt This Newscast by Rosenstiel

Understanding government

Field Guide to Covering Local News by Fred Bayles
Parliament of Whores by P. J. O'Rourke

Boundaries

The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication by Trager, Russoman and Ross
or
Mass Media Law by Don Pember and Clay Calbert

Don't be a hack

Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel
Breaking the News by James Fallows
Left Turn by Tim Groseclose
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig

The other side

Making the News (revised & updated) by Jason Salzman
Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat, 5th edition (2011) by Judy Hoffman
The Practice of Public Relations, 11th edition by Fraser P Seitel

Origins

American Media History by Anthony Fellow

Theory

A First Look at Communication Theory, eighth revised edition by Em Griffin

Intercultural communication

Intercultural Communication in Contexts, 6th edition by Judith Martin & Thomas Nakayama
Dave Barry Does Japan by Dave Barry

Photography

Photojournalism, sixth edition: The Professionals' Approach by Kenneth Kobre

Charts

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Dona M. Wong

Management

Media Management in the Age of Giants, second edition by Dennis F. Herrick

Documentary to watch

Page One: Inside the New York Times


Books for fun and inspiration

The Good Times by Russell Baker
Newspaper Man by Warren Phillips
All The President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Movies for fun and inspiration

The Paper
Absence of Malice
All the President's Men
The Year of Living Dangerously
Broadcast News

June 10, 2012

Final reminder

This is the last 'real' posting on journalism tips for beginning religion journalists, and it's my top tip on this blog.  This plea addresses an uninformed method of reporting. Not to criticize anyone -- I used to do it, too, before someone set me on a better path.

Remember to focus on the top results of a meeting -- what administrators will do, what their goals are, what challenges they will address, what was voted, etc.  Don't just lead with headline, "[type of people] meet/gather for meeting" and show a group photo.

That's the tip.  You may even wish to re-read the previous paragraph.  For more on this subject, please see my August 30 and March 7 postings.


June 8, 2012

Measure yourself against the industry standard of excellence

An unfortunate occurrence I see too often in some non-profit organizations are people working in the Public Relations department who wouldn’t be able to get their equivalent job outside of their present organization.  They just don’t have the skills or experience to make it in the real world of the news media or corporate PR.

Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of only comparing yourself to others within your same organization.  Measure yourself against the industry standard of excellence. 

Two organizations have good annual conventions that are worth attending—the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).  PRSA even has an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) that is worth attaining.

Become valuable as a professional to any organization, not just the one you presently work for.  Doing so will make you even more valuable in your present position, help you become a sought-after industry expert and teacher, and offer you more career options…should you wish.

June 7, 2012

Go back to the beginning halfway through the feature

I was disappointed to see a religious magazine a few months ago publish a poorly written feature. Once I slogged through the story I could tell the writer had stumbled on something special, but it was written so poorly that I doubt many readers made it to the end.

The main problem is that it was written chronically. It started with the main character’s childhood, and only at the end does the reader discover the great outcome.

A feature doesn’t necessarily need to follow the traditional inverted pyramid style of writing, but it does need to early on reveal some of what’s to come.

Do this by writing most of the story up front and then, halfway through, going back to the beginning of the person’s life or the trend.

A great way to see this is in The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview stories. These are longer features based on an interview with a prominent figure. Read several of them. Nearly all of them go back to the person’s origins halfway through the interview – sometimes one-third or two-thirds the way through. This is very similar to an obit formula. Sometimes the Weekend Interview features go back to where the person was born, while other times the writer only goes back to when they started becoming successful.

The Washington Post Magazine had a great feature on broadcasters for the Washington Nationals baseball team. Sure enough, about one-third of the way through, the reporter went back to a broadcaster’s humble beginnings as a kid and how he got involved in the business. Then, near the end of the story – probably about two-thirds of the way through the entire piece – the writer went all the way back to the start of baseball broadcast history. Later, the reporter told the exciting part – the broadcaster's colorful rise through minor-league broadcasting.

This is similar to the classic Reader’s Digest formula of short tales. A family doesn’t start by sitting at home and then the house catches fire and they all escape safely. Nor do they start with the family having gotten out of the house safe and then reminiscing about how they did it. The formula usually started with the house on fire...then the writer goes back to the beginning, and later the narrative ends the with the family's successful escape.

This is also well articulated in the excellent book “Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff. The formula goes like this: 1. Put man in jungle 2. Have beasts attack him 3. He gets out of jungle safely. But as Klaff notes, keep the reader in a bit of suspense by keeping the man on the edge of the jungle for a while.

Now you can re-read good feature stories and watch for some of these patterns. You can learn to use similar foreshadowing and pacing.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating formula writing. But there is a case to be made for formula structure. That case is seen in the numerous patterns routinely found throughout journalism. This blog wouldn’t exist without them.

Hopefully that religious magazine – which reviews a particular denomination – will see the need for writers who know these methods of better keeping the attention of readers. Doing so would not only make their own publication better, it would also honor the people they write about.

June 5, 2012

The difference between a rookie and a veteran

Q: What’s the difference between a veteran reporter and a rookie?
A: The veteran is used to being edited.

Now and then I hear complaints from rookies about how an editor changed their story or that their original version was nearly unrecognizable when it was published.

My advice: Instead of complaining, make yourself better so you don’t have to be edited.

I remember the first time I got published in the college newspaper.  A very reasonable editor changed a few things in my story and I got upset.  I had no reason to do so.

Later, as a veteran, I appreciated my editor making changes to my submissions. When I first covered city council for a newspaper, I would literally look over her shoulder as she edited my story, hearing her say things such as, “I’m just going to punch up this lead, check this out,” or “I’m gonna switch the order of these two ideas, watch.”

As the weeks and months went by she edited my stuff less and less.

I once heard Ken Wells, former Page One editor of The Wall Street Journal, say in a speech that everyone needs an editor.  He's absolutely right.

If you find that your stuff is getting edited heavily, instead of blaming the editor, work hard to make yourself better.  Find an editor who will work with you to improve.  Earlier exercises on this blog will also teach you how to improve.

May 28, 2012

My speech to the Global Adventist Internet Network 2012 forum

The title of my presentation was "How your division can become more prominent on the world stage." My target audience was presidents of divisions, unions and conferences.

I delivered the speech to the entire group of participants as a conference formatted 10-10-10 presentation: 10 minutes of speech, 10 minutes of individual group discussion, and 10 minutes of feedback and large group discussion.  My speech was accompanied by Keynote/PowerPoint slides (I have included a few), but even just the text below, I believe, makes the point well on its own.

~ ~ ~ begin presentation ~ ~ ~
[title slide]


[slide]


[slide]

 
--Begin speech--

Have you ever been touched by something you read or saw on TV?
Have you ever been touched by something you read or saw and then wanted to do something about it?

I’d like to share with you about two people who were moved by something they saw, and what they did about it.

This is the Descendants.


They are an Adventist singing group in Mongolia. Adventist News Network did a feature story about them. Near the end of the story the writer happened to mention that their rented van broke down 10 times during a seven-hour drive to support an evangelism series.


A man in the United States was touched when he read this and he wanted to do something about it. He bought them a new van. Who knows how much longer they would be struggling without it.

This is Josant Barrientos.


He is an Adventist pastor in Washington D.C.  Every Thursday morning he volunteers as a chaplain at the Washington Dulles International Airport. He is one of 18 chaplains. He’s the only Hispanic chaplain there, the only chaplain who speaks Spanish and can communicate with the large numbers of Hispanics who work at the airport.


Adventist News Network did a feature story on him. A reporter at the Washington Examiner newspaper saw this online. She was touched and she wanted to do something about it. So she wrote her own feature story about him.


That got the Adventist Church mentioned positively in front of 300,000 readers.


These examples are two stories. They both touched someone who then wanted to help. One person helped with money, another person helped with publicity.

We need to touch more people with the content we create. We have lots of effective delivery systems in our global church – web, TV and print – but we need to make sure our content is something that people want. We need to touch our members. We need to touch our community. We need to touch a chord in their minds and hearts so that they will want to do something about it.

We will be able to better accomplish this when we increase the quality of our content.  We can do this by making sure we fill an existing positions at our conferences, unions and divisions with great story-tellers.  They are called “journalists.”

Having a journalist on staff will enable us to tell more touching stories in our magazines, on our websites, and through our videos.

I’ll now share with you three influential people who would support this idea of hiring journalists and story-tellers and why they would support it.

1. Michael Eisner, former CEO of the Disney corporation.
2. Paul Kim, an icon in Adventist media production.
3. Ellen White, a servant of the Lord and a co-founder of our denomination.

Let’s go through these one by one and we’ll see if I can touch a chord in your mind or heart about how hiring journalists and other content creators will further the mission of the church…starting with:

Number one – Michael Eisner, former chief executive officer of Disney, a global media empire worth about 57 billion dollars. He now writes books and works for an investment firm.

 
In a 2010 interview with The Wall Street Journal Magazine, he had some very direct things to say to the media industry about what gets people’s attention:

“The creation of content has never been more important.” 

I know this seems obvious, but it’s huge.

There is content and there are delivery systems. Content is the message that is sent through a delivery system. It can be through a website, printed in a magazine, or chiseled onto a clay tablet. This conference is mainly about the effective use of delivery systems, but both content creators and delivery system experts need to work together. Eisner also said:

“A lot of people can learn to write computer code and understand the inner workings of the technological revolution we’re going through, but if you’re going to be in content…

...and this is huge...

“I would rather you understand what makes a good narrative. To find people who can make you laugh or cry or smile or get upset or learn something about yourself. Those people are rare. They are rarer, frankly, than the others.”

In other words, if you can create good content, then there will be people in delivery systems who can support you. Technology, graphic design and delivery systems are important, but they need to have carefully crafted messages to deliver.

We need to be honest with ourselves.  We need to know our limits. Do you really honestly have a good grasp of technology? Do you really understand how to communicate information clearly through good architecture? Can you really write engaging stories that touch people?  We need to know our own limits.

I know myself. I’m not a graphic designer. I tried it for a week. A friend hooked me up with a designer at the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  He showed me some tips, and what I realized after that experience is that it’s just better for me to hire a graphic designer to do that kind of work for me. I’m a writer and a photographer and that’s what I can offer. I need people like you, who can deliver effective technology and information architecture. But communication is the content, not necessarily just the delivery system. Again, there’s a big difference between content and delivery system. We need to work together. And what Michael Eisner is saying here is that the commitment to content and getting the right people on board should be key.

This is very similar to what Ruben Gelhorn once told me. Ruben Gelhorn is in the South American Division. He is director of public relations at River Platte University in Argentina. He said we need communication students to understand writing and theory. Technology and equipment is something that can be learned later. Production is only part of communication. A TV camera can be part of communication, but it’s only a tool. It's the message creator that's the most important.

Both Gelhorn and Eisner say that the person creating the content needs effective support and it’s important to get someone on a team who has training and experience of writing touching content. Someone who has proven they can write for the public in a big way. Speaking of big ideas, our second person,

2. Paul Kim, is a person who works with big ideas and important people for big audiences.

 
When former Adventist Church President Jan Paulsen wanted to create his official presidential video for the last General Conference Session, Paul Kim was selected to produce it. What an honor, and what a talent. He knows his stuff and he recognizes good content when he sees it. He wrote to me after Session and said, “Who is that reporter you had, Edwin Garcia? Every one of his stories on Adventist News Network was standout.”

I’m not surprised that Paul Kim would say that.  You see, we brought on Edwin Garcia just for Session. And what Paul Kim didn’t know was that Edwin Garcia has worked for nearly two decades as a reporter for major market newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News, which is the newspaper in the technology capital of the world. He understands how to cover major events in interesting ways.


Paul Kim didn’t know Edwin Garcia’s background, but he did know that Edwin delivered an excellent product – great, interesting stories. And if an expert such as Paul Kim recognized good content, you bet the readers noticed, too.

We need journalists and content creators who can impress and touch the other journalists in our denomination.

You know, I could probably fool some people into thinking I’m a lawyer. I could hang out at courthouses and carry a briefcase...

...but very soon, I’m not going to fool other lawyers. They’re going to see that I’m not good at what I do. And you know what? Eventually, the public isn’t going to be fooled anymore either, because they’ll see that I lose my cases. So instead of hiring me and giving me on-the-job training, you're better off hiring a trained, experienced lawyer.

I could fool some people into thinking I’m a surgeon. I could hang out in an operating room and make incisions on bodies with a scalpel. But I’m not going to fool other surgeons. They’re going to see that I don’t know what I’m doing. And you know what? Eventually, the public isn’t going to be fooled anymore either, because they’ll see that, even though I’m sincere, my patents die. So instead of hiring me and giving me on-the-job training, you're better off hiring a trained, experienced surgeon.

I know journalism isn’t necessarily as prestigious as law and medicine, but it’s similar because it does take a long time to learn how to do well – to get at the quality level our denomination needs. I want the content creators in our world church to write stories that stand out to people like Paul Kim. When we get journalists on board who produce content that impresses other journalists, we’ll more effectively touch our members and the community.

But it’s not just me saying this, or people like Paul Kim, and many others here I’ve talked to here, our church co-founder 3. Ellen White had several words of counsel regarding this issue:

“Let the press be utilized, and let every advertising agency be employed that will call attention to the work. This should not be regarded as nonessential.” (Evangelism, pg. 103)

“The character and importance of our work are judged by the efforts made to bring it before the public,” White wrote. “When these efforts are so limited, the impression is given that the message we present is not worthy of notice” (Evangelism, pg. 128).

I think we have message worthy of notice. But sometimes it would be hard to prove based on the effort we put into public relations. We need our best people on board.

This year we’re celebrating 100 years of the Communication department in the denomination. We even had a ceremony at the General Conference. 100 years ago the General Conference realized they needed help to effectively deal with the media. Guess who they hired:  Walter Burgan, a reporter. They hired a reporter because they needed someone who spoke the media’s language.

James White had even been lobbying church leaders about doing this 30 years earlier.

At the 100 years of Communication celebration, the General Conference Director of Archives, Statistics and Research, David Trim, said: “‘Today, we would do well to reflect on this decision, examine why [Burgan] was needed, why he in particular was hired, and how reviving this tradition at all levels of the denomination can strengthen our unity and mission.”

Trim went on to explain how early efforts in public relations were successful because of having trained and experienced staff on board. He went on to say:

“Similarly today, if you’re going to do outreach to a Hispanic community, you need to hire someone who speaks Spanish. And it’s the same with other types of outreach – if you’re going to do outreach to media, you need to hire someone who speaks that language and understands that culture,” he said.

Trim noted that even Ellen G. White urged early Adventists to capitalize on the press and advertising agencies to “call attention to the work.”

Guys, we’re playing a game of high stakes corporate communication. We’re in it to win it. Other organizations are in to win it, too. We need our best professionals on board.

These three people would support the idea – Michael Eisner, Paul Kim, and Ellen White.

If you’re a union president or division president, having an experienced journalist on staff, yet it’s going to raise your own profile as a leader, and that’s fine – you’re not being cocky or arrogant. We need to boost you as our leader to the community. But even more important, getting a journalist on staff is going to offer your members, pastors and institutions the recognition they deserve. They deserve that recognition both within the world church and out in the community.

We want to touch people with the stories we write. Not just to produce something just to say we produced it, but taking the time to make sure it’s something that’s going to touch people and move them to action. I hope you’ll commit to getting qualified, talented journalists and creatives on board in your division. It will make your division more prominent on the world stage, both within the global church, and even more importantly, in your community.

Let’s get qualified journalists as our Communication directors so they can identify news and report it. Let’s get some more vans bought, and our pastors featured in the media, not just in Washington, D.C., but in Seoul, and in Manila, and in every major city around the world.

~ ~ ~ E N D ~ ~ ~

Before we get to the questions, since we met last year in Jamaica, I have written a book on journalism tips, especially for people new to reporting on religious journalism. It’s called Journalism Patterns. And it’s free for you to read. It’s in blog form. The website is journalismpatterns.blogspot.com.  When you go there, I would suggest looking at the first entry … from August of last year and work your way back.

I will say this now.  Write something.  Put something on your website.  Update your pictures in your Flickr account regularly. Even if it doesn’t move people like you would hope, it’s still something. Stale content on a website just bores people. Write a caption that answers the five Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Also instead of reporting the headline: “Men’s ministry hold meeting,” report what happened in the meeting, what was voted, what’s going to come out of it. Please don’t write, “we held constituency meeting.”  That would be like writing a headline: Korea plays Brazil in soccer match.  Instead, lead with who won the match – the results.

OK, Let’s get to the questions. I’m interested in learning your feedback.

Questions:

1. How can we increase the number of qualified and experienced journalists on staff at each conference and union?

2. How can we encourage more Adventist young people to enter the profession of story-telling through journalism?

3. How can we help administrators commit to content and program creation as much as delivery systems?

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