Writing the lead – Lesson Plan

Every news story begins with a lead, the most important part of the story.

A good lead to needs to catch the reader’s interest and make them want to read the rest of the story.

Less is often better as it helps you get your point across quickly.

Think Twitter’s 140 character limit.

Social media can help you become a better writer.

Lesson Plan: Lead Writing

Objective

  • Student will learn to write effective leads using 140 characters or less.

Activity 1

  • Students will identify the lead sentence of three stories taken from a newspaper article. Students will explain why a particular sentence was chosen as the first sentence, why it is important, and what makes it interesting.

Activity 2

  • Students will write at least 10 questions (no yes-no questions) and spend 15-20 minutes interviewing a fellow classmate. Their assignment is to gather information that will be used in a future assignment to write a short bio about their classmate.

Activity 3

  • After completing the interview, students will think about how they want to begin their story. Students will identify the most important and/or most interesting piece of information. Students will write a short sentence (140 characters or less) using the 5Ws and H to write an informative and interesting lead.

Assessment

  • Students will be given three short articles and will identify the strongest and weakest lead and explain why it is strong or weak. In addition, they will explain what catches their attention when they pick up a newspaper, what makes them want to read a story, what makes a story interesting, and what can cause readers to lose interest in a story.

Materials

  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Newspapers

 

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Roles and responsibilities of the media

There are two important points that need to be reiterated.

First, as I stressed many times before, journalists must not mislead.

Next, we need to remember why we need photojournalists.

The role of the media is to inform the public, to share accurate information and more importantly, the truth.

The four fake Asiana Air pilot names should never have been broadcast.

A summer intern working at the National Transportation Safety Board was blamed for this fiasco.

Intern or not, this problem shows that there needs to be better communication between government agencies and the media.

I previously wrote in Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis:

Media involvement in the emergency management process can help minimize misunderstanding. The goal is after all, to provide the public with accurate information as quickly as possible. Media agencies are great at doing that.

This means that journalists and government agencies need to work together and establish positive mutual working relationships. However, it is important to note that journalists are not the only source of media.

Another news organization recently got rid of its entire photography staff.

According to Jim Romenesko, Michael Gebhart, the chief executive of Southern Community Newspapers (in Georgia) wrote in an email, “How many photographers need dark room skills to develop film and make prints?”

Like many other professional photographers, I have not used a darkroom in a very long time. With the advancement of technology and digital cameras, no one really needs a darkroom anymore.

Gebhart obviously does not understand the importance of professional photographers.

Photography is a powerful tool and a universal language that can be used to inform the public and share with them the truth about what is going on in the world around them.

I previously stressed that reporting and photography require different levels of training and understanding.

I wrote in Importance of professional photographers, Part II:

So does having a blog make you a journalist? Does having a professional camera make you a photographer?

Anyone is capable of taking a snapshot or writing an article but the answer to both questions is no. They might possess the tools and equipment but that does not mean they have the technical expertise to do the job.

They are different forms of storytelling and we need them both.

Reporters and photographers are different types of storytellers and neither is more important than the other.

But one thing is for certain, as journalists they are responsible for telling the truth.

The media needs to remind themselves that people need to be informed, not misled.

Guest blog: The disconnect in modern media

The disconnect in modern media

by Erin Caballero

Upon coming home late last night, I turned on the TV and saw on the little scroll on the bottom that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini passed away on June 19th, 2013.

Naturally, I Googled it the second I got a chance, and every major media outlet (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) reported the same set of facts: Gandolfini died at 51 from a massive heart attack. However, smaller websites reported that his death was a hoax, and that he was indeed alive and well.

A major fuel to the fire of media misinformation is the need to get the story first, and it seems the approach with modern-day reporting is the throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks one. I understand every journalist’s desire to be the next Woodward/Bernstein that breaks a scandal powerful enough to end a presidency, but what made these two men great was that they took their time and did it right the first time. They didn’t just publish whatever sounded the most titillating, but rather did the necessary fact-checking and kept their sources confidential.

A second major fuel is the natural human tendency to want “news” that already dovetails neatly into their preconceived notions and beliefs. The whole purpose of news (and journalism) is to challenge a prejudice one may have.

Combating media misinformation is as simple as taking a single deep breath and asking some simple questions. Who wrote this? What is their motivation? Where did they get their sources and other information? What  is their credentials/training/expertise?

Journalism is not dead, importance of storytelling

A recent study conducted by Bankrate.com shows journalism as one of the worst  return of investment for a bachelors degree. According to Bankrate.com, it will take 31.83 years for journalists to repay their student loans.

Ken Layne suggests that sailing would be a better career than journalism.

Journalism, however, is not dead.

Newspapers might be declining but storytelling continues to play an important role in our daily lives.

Nic Coury explains on Sports Shooter, an online resource for photographers and photojournalists, that he was a journalism major and loved it. According to Coury, who works as both a reporter and photographer for the Monterey County Weekly newspaper, even with the decline of newspapers there will still be crime, politics and sports that needs to be covered.

I was also a journalism major and to this day, I believe that it was a valuable investment.

The skills I learned through my journalism courses taught me how to become a better storyteller, a better communicator.

Earlier this week, I stressed that photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and that we need them both.

There are also other important forms of storytelling, which will be discussed in future blogs.

Storytelling is an important form of media that teaches people how to think critically and to improve their communication skills.

This brings us back to the importance of media literacy.

Media literacy is about teaching people critical thinking skills and helping them understand the complex messages presented by the media. However more importantly, it is about teaching communication skills.

A journalism education teaches students how to become better storytellers, a skill that is useful in every field.

We need to emphasize the importance of journalism and photography as forms of storytelling.

In previous blogs, I stress how students used photography for storytelling, as a means to express themselves and to learn about others. I also explain how photographs can make a difference.

Stories can make a difference.

Importance of professional photographers, Part II

In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of professional photographers.

First it was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who said “there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”

Then the Chicago Sun-TImes eliminated its entire photo staff.

Really?

According to Sally Kalson, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Eliminating the entire photo department has to be the dumbest, most wrongheaded move any news organization has made in recent memory.

As both a journalist and photographer, I need to stress that both are different forms of communication and require different skill sets.

Neither is more important than the other. Both are equally important.

So does having a blog make you a journalist? Does having a professional camera make you a photographer?

Anyone is capable of taking a snapshot or writing an article but the answer to both questions is no. They might possess the tools and equipment but that does not mean they have the technical expertise to do the job.

Both jobs require different levels of training and understanding.

As Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia said, “Reporters are ill equipped to take over”.

Garcia explains:

That’s because the best reporters use a different hemisphere of the brain to do their jobs than the best photographers. Visual and spatial thinking in three dimensions is very different than verbal and analytical thinking. Even if you don’t believe that bit of science, the reality is that visual reporting and written reporting will take you to different parts of a scene and hold you there longer. I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking, involving motion and sound.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Photojournalism and Diversity, I explained:

Photojournalism is a universal language that uses photographs for storytelling and allows people of all races and cultures to find the things they have in common.

Through photography, students in Massachusetts and South Korea were encouraged to express themselves through storytelling.

Previously, I also talked about the importance of photojournalism. I shared my story about why I wanted to become a photojournalist. I explained that I wanted to use photographs to educate people about important events around the world.

I stressed how a photograph can make a difference in someone’s life.

Photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and we need them both.

Role of media during times of crisis

As Bill Mitchell explained, rather than focusing on the stories to tell, the media needs to focus on “What can we do?”

The first thing that the media needs to do is remind themselves – People need to be informed, not misled.

In my previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I wrote that during emergency situations, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial.

Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is crucial for the media to work with emergency management agencies during emergency situations.

Mitchell talks about how social media pages are used to help people connect with others and share information.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I mentioned that the average person also plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others.

I wrote in Media Literacy and Social Support:

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are powerful communications tools that can be used to help people in the aftermath of a disaster.

The ability to connect and instantly share information with other people is what makes social media a valuable tool. With social media, people can reach out to those in need and make a difference.

An important lesson that even the average person needs to learn is – Do not mislead.

In order to help others, accurate information needs to be shared.

It is also especially important to work together.

Social media can help you become a better writer

Do not blame social media for bad writing.

In fact, social media can make people better writers. There are several ways that social media can have a positive effect on writing.

It is difficult to write an effective sentence with less than 140 characters.

Less is often better. Write less, say more.

The Power of Leads

Journalists do it all time. Every news story begins with a lead, the most important part of the story.

A good lead needs to catch the reader’s interest and make them want to read the rest of the story.

Brevity is a good thing. It helps you get your point across quickly.

Here are some tips for writing a good lead (or a good tweet):

  • Remember the Five W’s and H – who, what when, where, why and how.
  • It is important to be specific and brief.
  • Use active sentences and avoid flowery language.