Rogue Ink

May 12, 2008

Serious Journalism Terms. Plus Sex.

Filed under: Journalism,Writing — Tei @ 6:28 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Deep Friar, the other day, asked in all seriousness, after we’d been joking about it all day, what a nut graf was. This after I explicitly told everyone we were not going to be discussing actual business-related subjects. He’s rebellious, is the Friar. To punish him, I am going to answer this question rogue-style. Come along, denizens of the Lusty Weevil. Step right this way. We’re going to make that Friar sorry.

Now then, the basic components of a journalism article are as follows: hed, dek, lede, nut graf, body, and kicker. And if you can resist thinking dirty thoughts about that series, you are a more self-controlled person than I (and Saturday’s dirty joke contestants).

First thing to know: Journalists enjoy screwing with layfolk.

All of those terms are misspelled intentionally. Anyone in an editorial office will claim this is so those words don’t get mixed up with the actual copy of an article and accidentally printed, but this is a lie worthy of getting booted into a deeper circle of hell. One with those people who scratch themselves in inappropriate ways when they’re in rush-hour traffic on the way to work. Like no one can see them behind their protective pane of opaque glass. Oh, we can see you. And so can the Gods of Judgment, and they are judging you as harshly as we are. We can only wrinkle our noses and mutter under our breath, but the Gods of Judgment can SMITE you.

Right. Where was I? The real reason for misspelling the terms is kept a secret from all other occupations (carpenters, pool drainers, CEOs of major corporations, et cetera). I cannot divulge the secret, lest the Ninja Journalists of Hibachi come after me in my sleep, but I am permitted to tell you the following: it involves an elaborate drinking game, an avocado, and (peripherally) Indiana Jones. More I dare not say.

Worth remembering: the only time journalists, English majors, copywriters, copyeditors, regular editors, or anal-retentive people will let you get away with misspelling is when WE have initiated the misspelling. This intention must also have a nefarious purpose behind it, and will probably be to the exclusion of all others. This is because everyone thought it was a cop-out major in college. Who’s laughing now? The Masters of Spelling, that’s who.

Anyway. They’re misspelled. Roll with it.

Hed.

Hee hee hee. Sorry. Okay. ‘Hed’ is short (and misspelled) for ‘headline.’ This one is fairly obvious. Let’s give our article the headline “Optimus Prime.” Because we can.

Dek

The dek is short and misspelled (which we shall hereby refer to as ‘S&M’ for brevity and humor purposes) for declaration. This is a sentence or two just below the headline that summarizes what’s in the piece. It’s not part of the article, it just sort of hangs with the lede like an extraneous buddy. The dek is basically the journalistic equivalent of the ugly friend. A lot of articles do without one for this reason. Ours is “Scientists determine the best sexual position.” See why we didn’t really want it? Feel free to excise it mentally from our article.

Lede

S&M for ‘lead-in’, the lede is the grabber sentence. This is the sentence whose job it is to prevent you from putting down your paper and picking up your crying child instead. It is supposed to be either shocking, informative, fascinating, or sexy. We’re going with sexy, since we’re already there. “Doggie style.”

That’s actually a fragment, which is not uncommon for ledes. My lede would actually be a list, in fragment form, and it would go like this. “Doggie style. Missionary. Cowgirl. You won’t need ’em anymore.”

See? Aren’t you intrigued?

Nut graf

The nut graf is S&M for, get this, ‘nut paragraph.’ It basically means the paragraph that’s going to give you an overall sum-up of what’s to follow. The main nugget. The nut. This is more of journalists screwing with you. Pay it no mind. In my experience, frequently the nut graf is where one of two things happens: either you get really psyched about what you’re about to learn, or you find out that you were suckered by the lede and this article isn’t about what you thought it was about. Since our theme for the day is ‘journalists are messing with you’, we’re going to have our nut graf do the latter.

“A team of scientists, attempting to ascertain the best sexual position for those choosing abstinence, determined early this week that the optimal position was sitting in a separate room from one’s partner and conducting a phone conversation. This position has benefits that no other sexual position has, including lack of all sensation, a feeling of numbness and bewilderment, and occasional bouts of anger at one’s parents and former lovers.”

Body

The body is where all the real information is. In our article, we’d talk about the experiments the scientists conducted, quote them, quote their study group if we could get ahold of them, and generally kill you with information. This is the part of an article where most people tune out. Proven fact: if the article is not personally relevant to you and your life, you will not continue reading past the first paragraph. You’ll skim the main body until you get to the kicker.

Kicker

The kicker is the closing sentence or sentences that make you feel glad about leaving, so here we go.

“Just kidding. Go get laid.”

That’ll teach the Friar to ask relevant questions.

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May 10, 2008

And the Winner Is . . . Dirtiness.

Filed under: Journalism,Out of Context,Quotes,Writing — Tei @ 6:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

Rogues, scoundrels, fiends, vagabonds, renegades, rebels, down-at-heel heroes, kitchen lads and lasses, and, of course, artists . . . .

I give you the submissions for the Bad Journalism Pun Joke Awards.

The insanely awesome prize for winning this contest is a drink of the winner’s choosing, bought by the owner of the Lusty Weevil (that would be your Rogue truly), cash. Well, not cash. PayPal. Because this is a virtual pub, people. You gotta roll with it. The virtual component of the prize means that the drink retains the magical ability to change form AFTER IT HAS BEEN ORDERED AND BOUGHT. It is a web-based goblet of liquid that transmogrifies upon the winner asserting his or her will. Yes, I just got all geeky on ten dollars sent via PayPal. Pay no attention to the rogue behind the curtain.

Without further ado, I give you: Bad Journalism Pun Jokes.

Our First Contestant: Kelly of Maximum Customer Experience

Kelly wins points for not only being the first person to make a joke, but by sending me a link to Cover Letters From Hell, giving a nod to Pheonix Way, and referencing both lederhosen and a cloak of invisibility. She also entered this contest twice, giving her two shots at the title. Starting off strong. Kelly’s two entries are:

“Okay, so the other day I walk past a solid-body on Pheonix Way, getting a nice kicker out of scratching his nut graf right through his lederhosen…”

“There’s a reason for the cloak of invisibility. Maybe they’re each afraid their nut graf isn’t quite the kicker it’s supposed to be.”

Our Second Contestant: Janice Cartier of Painting a Day

Janice gets points for picking up on the storytelling vibe not once, but twice, and contributing to the ongoing tale of our beloved Lusty Weevil. She also used all four of the given words, and gets extra credit for her creative use of the word ‘lede’. (Note: the Rogue does not advocate Coors, lede or otherwise.) She also entered twice (sort of) by getting into the swing and using ‘nut graf’ as an expletive, which tickled the Rogue, and incorporated the phrase ‘shaking the salmon’. Janice’s entries are as follows:

“Harrison enters the pub…’Walk this way, walk this way”…. a swagger in his kicker, he tosses a fresh tie die to Brett, some jeans. “Ladies getting rowdy again?” Brett, grabs the tee out of the air, puts on the pants. “Nothing I can’t handle, bro”. One solid body follows the other over to the bar as every female eye in the place follows. “Two Coors lede, barkeep.” The Viking hands one to his friend. They turn and look around, survey all Tei’s friends, ” Ahhhh, nut graf, just the way we like’ em.” “Could get kind of messy”….”Ahhh, we’ll mop it up.”

“Allison, seriously, hold the blade right there. And quit shaking the salmon, Every nut graf in the universe will be calling you up.”

Our Third Contestant: Wendi Kelly of Life’s Little Inspirations.

Wendi gets points for using the word naked many times over, for mentioning viking hats and bravely making the first undeniably sexual visual of the night. Bonus for referencing bestiality. Go, Wendi. We didn’t know you had it in you.

“OMG! Now Brett is naked, naked naked.

oh wait…now he has a viking hat hanging from his lede on his solid body.

Um..Brett watch out for those horns, there is a mis-behaved dog jostling things around in here. You don’t want to get a kicker in your nut graf.”

Our Third Contestant: Rebecca Smith of Smithwriting

Rebecca gets points for using all four of the words in a single trail of thought, as well as using the word ‘nut graf’ as what sounds like a painful medical problem. Also, for being the only person to go for the obvious pun on ‘lede’. Her entry also references collegiate sex, of which I have fond memories. Her entry:

Rebecca Smith: “I dated this guy in college who had a real solid body, but here’s the kicker: He had a nut graf. Funny, he still ledes the pack of my ex-boyfriends …”

Our Fourth Contestant: Matt Tuley of This Laptop for Hire

Matt gets points for defending his own nut graf. However, he has unfortunately disqualified himself by tagging me in a meme for which Brett had already tagged me, leaving me to come up with sixteen MORE random facts about myself that I have not already referenced at the Lusty Weevil. And since this pub is a ball of random, that takes some doing. Extra work for Tei = no soup for Matt. Here’s his entry anyway:

Matt Tuley: “I knew a guy once had to get a nut graf. Was out of commission for a week. There, but for the grace of God…”

Our Fifth Contestant: Karen JL of Storyboard Blog

Karen started off crazy strong, by referencing a comment I made, talking about booze, giving all the journalism words creative alcohol-related references and inventing what sounds like the best Writer’s Brew ever. Unfortunately, Karen went and shot herself in the foot by claiming Aquarians rock more than Sagittarians. With totally unjust prejudice from the judges, she too is disqualified. Here’s her recipe for Writer’s Brew though:

“Yes, fresh booze all day long. BUT when you get here early, you get to give the keg a good little kicker, which gives the lede a solid body and you get lots of head on your nut graf. Mmmm…”

AND THE WINNER IS:

Brett Legree, in a surprise Pingback entry.

Brett wins for the following reasons:

He took the lede by dragging the game on over to his own blog, where he referenced his very own nut graf, a bold move no other contestant took. The kicker? He offered up a solid body with nut graf on full view. In a shocking turn of events, the pornographic entry wins the favor of the judges. Brett, send me your PayPal address. I’m buying you a beer.

And a tablecloth. That peanut bowl is see-through. It’s like covering yourself up with a giant magnifying glass.

Unless that was the point.

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April 3, 2008

Link to my article!

Filed under: Journalism,Writing — Tei @ 10:53 pm
Tags: , , ,

Because I have not talked about this NEARLY enough.

This is my article in the San Francisco Chronicle. My first published article.

Isn’t it shiny?

April 2, 2008

Conducting Interviews for Folks Who Hate Conducting Interviews

The Golden Rule has always worked for me. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Which is why, occasionally, my friends will awaken to me on their doorsteps with a chai latte and a muffin at the ready. One of these days, someone will do so unto me. And that will be a good day. Because every day is a good day when it begins with a muffin.

Days that begin with a random stranger calling me up and asking me to give them money are not, however, good days. They are days that leave me fumbling for the coffeepot and growling at the cat. (Just to give you an idea of how annoyed I would be, I have no cat.) And yet this is the thing that, as a freelance writer, I have to do, over and over again. I call people who do not know me and I ask them for things. Frequently those things are money. More recently, those things are information.

I managed to land that gig writing articles for the employment section of the SF Chronicle, which means that every week I am clamoring for people to interview on various subjects. Cold-calling strangers is not something I enjoy doing. Asking those same strangers questions about why multi-interviewing has gotten so goddamn popular is not enjoyable, either, for them or for me. Here’s a few things that allow me to make peace with my Golden Rule.

They asked for it. Instead of contacting people out of the blue, try to get them to volunteer to be interviewed. This is easier than it sounds, especially when you stretch the rule a little bit and allow other people to volunteer your interviewee to you. Name-dropping a colleague of theirs is a good way to get past the initial ‘You’re a stranger, why should I even glance at your email?’ problem. Online forums are also a good place to find people – and people who know people. I’m on MediaBistro and a member of a women in consulting community, and when I send a little note out into the ether, dozens of people get in touch, wanting to be famous. Or in print. Which, for most of us mortals, is the same thing. Which brings me to . . .

Everybody wants to be an authority. We really do. You know that little thrill you get when you hear someone recommend you as the best person to talk to about how to grout your bathroom? Admit it. You get a thrill. And this is GROUT we’re talking about. When you’re calling someone to ask for an interview, you are asking them to be the authority on a topic. You are basically saying, “Hello, I’m doing an article on refinishing bathrooms, and so-and-so tells me you are the Queen of Grout. Would you, your highness, be so kind as to enlighten the rest of us peasants?” And everyone likes to be the Queen. Or King. Even if it is of Grout.

Grout is a funny word. Unrelated, but true. Related is the fact that being funny is the best possible thing you can do when speaking with a stranger. This is akin to the reason you should admit you were speeding when the cop pulls you over. It is so antithetical to what the cop was expecting that he will be thrilled. Same goes for interviews. When you first introduce yourself and do the perfunctory martini-chat, the interviewee is expecting you to be boring. If you’re funny and charming, you’ve just delighted them sideways. Low expectations are your friends.

Nobody likes a time-waster. Wham, bam, thank you Ma’am is bad for dating, but good strategy for interviews. Once you’ve got this interviewee actually talking to you on the phone, you want to get all the questions answered before the thrill of being an authority wears off. For most people, the upper threshold is about half an hour. If you’re Hunter S. Thompson and you are doing a full-length book on this person’s perspective, then you can take longer, but for articles and background information, keep it short and on-topic.

Questions are a beforehand activity. Seems obvious, but most of us consider ourselves savvy people, and we think, Hey, I’m bright. I can wing it. And we can’t. We are wrong. You will be typing up what this person is saying, and trying to follow their words, transfer them to paper, and remember what you were going to ask next is too much for your poor little brain. It is a fragile being. Be kind to it. Sometimes, without warning, it will come up with a brilliant off-the-cuff follow-up question, and then you can give it a cookie and feel superior to the rest of us. Do a little beforehand research and ask insightful questions. You’ll know you’ve done that when the interviewee says, ‘That’s a great question.’ Either that, or you’re talking to a professional politician. Back away slowly.

There is a magic question. If you’ve got a good authority on a subject, and you’ve liked what they have to say, you can usually squeeze one more drop of toothpaste out of the tube with the question “Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?” Some of the best anecdotes come from this question, and most of the best ledes I’ve ever written. It is a magical question. Use it wisely.

Know when to fold ’em. There are a few people who simply do not respond to leading questions. You could ask them to describe their adorable grandchildren, and they would only be able to come up with, “Well, they’re small.” Be polite to these people, but don’t try to force responses out of them. Go through your list of questions as naturally as you can with the crickets in the background, and then make a graceful exit.

Exit like a ninja. When I’m finished with an interview, I like to pull the trick my ex-boyfriend used to when he was tired of talking to me. I thank them, and then say, “Well, I should let you go.” Look how considerate I’m being! My interviewee is a busy person! She has dictates on Grout to deliver! And I remembered that! Aren’t I thoughtful!

Yes I am. I am also probably telling them I appreciated them taking the time, telling them I’ll contact them when the article runs, and saying goodbye, all while they’re still under the blissful little umbrella of my thoughtfulness.

Get a headset. Or your neck will hurt. That is all I need to say about that.

There’s some very practical, and well-written, advice on how to conduct an interview for normal people, who are not jaded and bitter, over on Words on the Page and (addendum) Smithwriting. Check it out.

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