Tricks of the trade

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Book editor Peter Ginna sees more than a few weak proposals, he writes in this Nieman Storyboard post: "The most critical difference between a book and a magazine or newspaper article is that the publisher has to convince someone to part with 25 dollars or more for this story and ... to invest several hours of his or her life in reading it," Ginna says. "You need a story that has a significance beyond itself, and you need to convey that significance to the reader."

Environmental journalism narratives often gravitate to what Michelle Nijhuis calls the "Lorax narrative," the focus on tragedy as a story's primary theme. In this post on the Last Word On Nothing blog, Nijhuis offers some alternatives, linked to examples of each: "Overcoming the Monster," "Rags to Riches," and "Voyage and Return" among them. She calls them "archetypal frameworks that still fit the facts, but startle the reader out of his or her mournful stupor."

Hallway conversations at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference revealed frustrations among reporters about the opacity of investigations into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On the Observatory blog, Curtis Brainard quotes both journalists and investigators about the problem, and points to some sources that can help reporters penetrate the system — from obscure web site reports to deliberately detailed narratives in prosecutors' indictments.

In a world where your name is your brand and you have to promote it, learning a little bit about appearing on radio or television is a good idea. Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review offers some advice. For example, on television, "Don't wear jewelry that will reflect or pick up light. Most non-professionals forget about lighting when they are working in TV or film. Ditch anything reflective or dangling when you're on camera."

There's a new feature on Storify, the popular tool for aggregating bits of information from social media. The 10,000 Words site reports that Storify has added a "slideshow" format that helps users overcome some of the tool's limitations. Among the improvements: Larger pictures, and more flexibility in the structure of a presentation. "It feels more like you’re presenting each item as its own entity, so the need to group them together is lost," Lauren Rabaino writes.

NPS's Robert Smith surprised and delighted his studio engineers last May with high-fidelity sound bites from the Ground Zero celebration of Osama bin Laden's death. This post from the Nieman Journalism Lab explains how he did it. "An iPhone 4, running on Verizon’s 3G network, with a standard field mike and an adapter plugged into the headphone jack. Smith pulled off what might have required days of planning just a few months ago," writer Andrew Phelps says.

Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review was peeved when he got a theme park's press release by email several hours after seeing it on the park's Facebook page. "Getting the email hours after I'd posted my own blog story about the announcement made me feel like the PR rep had wasted his time, and a little bit of mine, as well." Niles responds with tips on how PR people can best use Twitter, Facebook, email and web pages to get their messages out most efficiently.

Brevity, attitude, feedback from readers, and the freedom to be funny — even sarcastic — are some of the benefits that the Poynter Institute's Mallary Jean Tenore has collected from four years of tweeting. "After writing my first draft of this story, I went through it and removed all the words I didn’t need," she writes on the Poynter website. "Every sentence in this story — except for one excerpt — is now 140 characters or less."

As part of its outreach to journalists, Facebook now says including "analysis and personal reflections" is one of the key ways to ensure that your posts get noticed and don't just sink like a stone. Posts that ask questions or seek input from users do even better; perhaps for obvious reasons, such posts received double the comments. And here's bad news for Twitter: Longer posts on average generated more user feedback (in the form of comments and likes).