Tricks of the trade

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From Arizona State's Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism comes this two-page PDF with step-by-step tips for bullet-proofing your copy. Craig Silverman of Poynter's Regret the Error blog writes: "One thing I like about the checklist is that it advises journalists to print out their articles when checking them. Taking stories from the screen to the printed page is a great way to ensure you examine them with fresh eyes."

Andrew Hindes at PRNews asks three editors what makes a good headline and puts their tips in this blog post. “Avoid fluff or padding,” says Lisa Horowitz, copy chief at the L.A. Weekly. “Don't put the entire story in the headline — one of the main goals of a headline is to entice the reader, without spelling out everything the story has to offer.” The journalist should know just enough from reading the headline to determine if the story might be of interest.

It's not as easy as you might think, Justin Ellis writes in a Nieman Journalism Lab report on how Gizmodo live-blogged the new iPad's grand unveiling: "When a Gizmodo liveblog rolls out it’s a neatly packaged machine, text flowing inline with photos with stories posted throughout the duration of an event. Gizmodo, like many tech blogs, has this down to a routine — or, actually, a drill. 'We had a practice run on Monday,' Brown told me. 'Yes, we do practice.'"

The veteran NPR reporter recently talked to Nieman Storyboard about how he coaxes subjects into producing broadcast-quality answers to his questions on subjects like the epidemic of traumatic brain injuries among recent combat veterans. "Sometimes we get great tape through luck, but usually, Zwerdling says, it takes persistence, time, and someone higher up willing to spend the money for that," Julia Barton writes. "But of course there are other factors money can’t buy."

The answer can be anywhere, according to this exchange on The Open Notebook, partly funded by NASW. Nature features editor Brendan Maher: "It will rarely be one single piece of evidence, but rather one or two things heard in passing (i.e. reading a paper, or talking with a trusted regular source at a meeting, or having a random conversation on a plane, or seeing a single line in a news story that makes you go, “Huh. I wonder if there’s something more to that!”).

"If you’re looking to portray loss of innocence, your character dropping flowers into a muddy river ain’t a bad metaphor," Tommy Tomlinson writes about the 1967 song, "Ode to Billie Joe" on Nieman Storyboard. "Every writer can learn from music – not just rhythm and pacing and mood, but the poet’s efficiency a songwriter needs to tell a story in the short span of a song. Bobbie Gentry wrote a textbook here in 358 words."

For starters, don't pitch a new year story two weeks into January, writes Denise Graveline on her Don't Get Caught blog. She lists examples both good (a pitch to Andy Revkin at the New York Times) and bad ("Want to make sure I got your email? I got it. Want to see if I need to speak with someone? If I need to, I’ll ask.") Plus how to pitch infographics and how to avoid becoming a spammer when sending out press releases.

Craig Silverman takes a break from collecting errors and provides links to his favorite copyediting tipsheets on the Poynter web site: "If a story refers to a direction, check it. That may mean getting out a map and looking at the direction." He also discusses what happens when copyeditors get carried away: "Editors save writers from making mistakes ... but it’s also true that the editing process can introduce errors. This drives both writers and editors crazy."

Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells multiple stories and jumps around in time. On the Open Notebook site, Skloot tells David Dobbs how she made it work. "As soon as I realized I had to structure the book in a disjointed way, I went to a local bookseller, explained the story to her and said, Find me any novel you can find that takes place in multiple time periods, with multiple characters and voices, and jumps around a lot. So she did."

Journalism schools barely teach it but interviewing can be the difference between good and mediocre stories, J. Maureen Henderson writes on "If done right, interviewing is actually a neat little game – you use all of your investigative and interpersonal talents (asking, listening, analyzing) to engage another person in conversation, mine that interaction for useful information and then use that information to create or augment a compelling story."