Diary Of A Disabled Journalist: Good Writing Process vs Cheap News

Every writer has their own particular approach to the craft, and if we are all to be honest with ourselves, even the most seasoned of us would probably admit to changing up the process several times along the way.

It’s a variable thing process – some writers can easily open up a word document and start scribing without anything other than an idea. Others will have to put a lot more into the preparation side in order to even begin writing something worth reading.

I don’t refer to myself as a ‘seasoned writer’ by any stretch, but having said that, I often forget that I have been doing this semi-professionally for well over a decade now and nearly half a decade as a journalist/reporter/columnist for a large variety of online/print mainstream media.

To me, writing process is all about setting. The delivery of a good article or blog is all about nailing that setting.

As a freelancer, my home is typically my office. If it’s not my home, probably a press box somewhere.

Given that, I’ve naturally experimented with different places of writing but one thing remains key, the less distraction the better. That’s an obvious conclusion to reach, but within distraction is also noise, and the elimination isn’t so much the actual physical distraction (like your cat jumping onto the table when working at home for instance) as it is about the noise part.

For example, I can write with a little bit of background noise, low beat music for instance, but I can’t even begin to find the concentration to write even a sentence if loud direct noise is in the room, like television audio or loud conversation.

Being a journalist and having to meet deadlines teaches the need for speed when it comes to writing. But it also teaches about detail, working out just what to leave in a story and what can be taken out, understanding the particular narrative or ‘angle’ the article is taking.

Quite often, in fact for some of the best articles and blogs I’ve ever written, that formula has evolved during the actual writing of the piece where I’ve enabled myself to relax and let the story tell itself. The basic idea is there, that gets me started, but it’s that state of relax and deep concentration where there is literally nothing between my thoughts and the document that is truly representative of the best moments in writing.

As a journalist, seasoned blogger, and passionate writer, I’ve also learnt that it’s vital to understand one very real reality.

That reality is simple, the reader (that’s you reading this) will likely decide within seconds whether they’re liking what you’ve written or not. We live in an age where information, news, and the reaction is being delivered more quickly than it ever has before and in a huge variety of ways.

As a writer, your readers have hundreds of different options ready and waiting for their attention, so if you want to be truly good at this thing, you’d better learn that your craft isn’t actually about trying to reach and convince absolutely all of them.

Good writing has the ability to do is engage, inform and challenge. It’s not about re-publishing the same old rubbish message over and over again, it’s about developing a truly detailed account of your thinking and/or the facts and this can only be done with effort and skill.

Call be a bit jaded, but I believe that half the reason why a lot of mainstream media outlets get the flack they do is because their content isn’t crafted as much around quality as it is about the time factor, i.e being the first or the most informed on a story versus how that’s actually written and presented.

But, and it’s a big but, mainstream media is also a business and like a lot of businesses it looks to provide the biggest bang for its buck, often with a diminishing amount of resource.

For example, it’s cheaper to pay a fresh faced journalist fresh out of university to go out and tell the big stories with nothing more than a notepad and laptop than it is to invest the time into really digging into the facts, cultivate good reliable sources, and most importantly, have the freedom to be able to tell good stories.

Many journalists are terrified of screwing up, something that is fuelled by the constant reminder of how lucky they are to call themselves a professional in this business, that they won’t seek greater challenges within their particular beat.

That’s why so many all in media scrums that rugby journalist will be well custom to are often described as ‘theatre’ by some of the veterans in our business, because it’s often not about anything other than being sure to ask a question so there is something to write about – regardless of how bad many of those questions often are because they’re thrown out without any real thought.

Being a blogger for over a decade before entering this business is something I will cherish forever because it gave me time to understand how process truly impacts on the final piece. It’s also given me plenty of room to fail, and yes writers, you will fail numerous times along the way toward a career in writing.

The bad articles are the ones written without thought and are designed in no way other than to join the constant void of information. The good articles are written with thought, and as a writer, my advice would be to ensure that you spend as much time looking and thinking about your craft (and it’s potential impact on the reader) during and before putting pen to paper.

That, in my opinion, is a little bit of what you need to do in order to be a good writer (if one can ever be called such).

Freelancers Like Us Are Going To Be OK During COVID-19

Last week, on Twitter, I posted that I’d block anyone who played the ‘feel sorry for me’ or ‘please donate to my Patreon because I’m now out of work’ game.

The bottom line is this: we are all in a s**t situation thanks to COVID-19, and freelancers like ourselves have taken a big hit financially. Now is the time to have a bit of perspective, as hard as it might be.

Personally, if I am to be self-indulgent for a moment, I am now all but redundant until further notice. I am not the only one.

It would be easy for me, like many others who have been in the same position recently, to go on an all-out content push in the hopes that it would fill the void of what I may have had before.

Perhaps I am even guilty of this at times, but IMO there is a lot of gross and shameless self-promotion on social media these days.

When I transitioned from social media journo to regular mainstream journo, I noticed how loud the Twitter-sphere really was. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s just loud, getting louder by the day in fact.

There are some who are really good at promoting themselves and have some genuinely good content worth following them for, but there are others who

So as the lockdown begins and we ponder the next month (at least) of being confined largely to our homes, what’s the best way to deal with this? There’s certainly been no shortage of guides, how-to blogs and inspiring stories of how people are making the most of the situation floating around the internet in the past couple of weeks.

The first way to make the best of self-isolation is to understand that you’ll likely go through different stages. You’ll tell yourself you’ve got a plan, but the key moving forward is to not overdo anything. That includes making content for the sake of making content because you feel like your platform can’t afford to take a break.

For some, it may also be a good opportunity to go back to some of the platforms we’ve let get dusty, or potentially some of us can put ourselves out there and create completely new ones.

Personally, my first plan was to get back into streaming on Twitch, record a ton of extra podcasts and even begin writing a book.

But in reality, I’ve really only done a couple of streams and podcasts, spending the rest of my time keeping a close eye on the news, watching Netflix and playing PlayStation.

It’s going to take time to adjust to our new lives, and you will likely stumble off the mark. I know that I certainly have.

Today, by way of this blog, is the first time I’ve managed to get some concentrated writing done, and I did it with no idea of what I was going to type on the blank word document other than the ideology of getting something published online.

That’s probably why the general direction of this piece is all over the shop.

PlayStation got in contact this morning, the new Predator: Hunting Grounds trial weekend is open for gaming media and fans alike from today, so I will have a go at that and write up a preview blog for the game on Monday after I’ve had some hands-on time.

Us rugby journos had a phone conference with the Chiefs CEO and media manager earlier and I am glad to report that there will be some opportunities to talk to players about their respective self-isolation experiences.

I also redesigned the blog, so if you are reading this, be sure to let me know how it looks!

Stay safe, don’t push yourself too hard. Keep what’s most important nestled in the forefront of your mind, you are (hopefully) healthy and safe, surely this is what really matters in the current climate.

PERSONAL: The Importance Of Focusing On How I Contribute

The only things in life that you can control are your words, actions, and feelings, but you can also influence a lot of outcomes with your ability or inability to think critically about what you do and don’t do in certain situations. 

Sometimes a choice isn’t within your own control, ask a large majority of the population working in careers they despise if you don’t believe me. A lot of the time, we may have to act in a situation where the choice has been made for us and this can lead you to a situation of attempted influence or actioned ignorance.

That’s a very technical term to describe a simple concept. How you choose to react, deal with, and respond to a situation where the choice isn’t always just in your hands, as you’d prefer, can often reflect whether you’re prepared to rise to, or have settled to accept and ignore.

The truth is, you can do both, but the latter will leave a far more negative taste in the mouth of those around you, particularly the ones you will have to answer to.

Being Clear, Concise, And Patient 

Like you, I find myself in situations that challenge my thoughts and decisions multiple times every day. Perhaps that’s a reflection on me because I haven’t worked out the powers of command and control as yet.

But that raises the question, would I really want to live in that sort of world?

As much as challenging situations can be stressful and lead to all sorts of emotional responses, it’s important to do two things during that. One, be analytical about how you handled that situation when reflecting, and two, realize that you were probably a big part of the reason that situation occurred.

For example, last week I texted one of my support workers with a very vague message that led her to believe I wanted immediate action. If I had been more specific about what I was actually asking and saying, then she wouldn’t have thought I was demanding for a response right there and then, and thus, she wouldn’t have felt annoyed and that I had suddenly changed my plans at the last second, with the direct implication being that I required more work out of her.

That’s just one example of many lessons I’ve learnt recently involving how my own direct action, inaction, or lack of clarity can lead to confusing and annoying situations.

I’d have saved myself, and her, a lot of anxiety by simply being more clear, and perhaps a little more patient.

Focusing On How I Contribute To The Wider We

The events in Christchurch recently sparked a lot of conversation about the acceptance of different cultures and religions.

I’d like to see the same conversations happening around how we interact with one another, the things we say or not say, and how we deal with conflicting viewpoints because it’s not too dissimilar from the current unity being shown on that front. Like this example, we shouldn’t have to wait and experience such tragedy for the glass ceiling on these other important conversations to finally be blown off.

Some may say that leaning on the notion that accepting so much is beyond our control may be of defeatist thinking.

That’s where the power of conversation comes in. As an entire society and especially in the online spaces, we need to slow down, think, evaluate, and encourage ourselves to not let frustrated or bitter emotions get in the way of simply having a conversation about the issue/issues at hand. The same goes for non-issues, those positive points in our lives where we think everything is great and not in need of any further evaluation.

Everything needs evaluation, ongoing clarity,  and systematic acknowledgement that we ourselves are always half of everything. We aren’t the whole 100%, our virtues and beliefs may be right and working for us, but that doesn’t mean they are correct and to be followed by all.

It’s a simple concept, but it can often take a lifetime to understand. For me, it’s taking 27-years and counting.

Hamilton Press: Just about the people

The Hamilton Press and the vision of its editor Steve Edwards is simple, the paper must be community orientated.

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Most weekly newspapers like the Hamilton Press have the same motto.

It is news about the people, and views about the stories that matter to a community, regardless of how big or small.

Much has been made about the future of newspapers in the modern era, where news is being delivered to the consumer in so many new, instantly available, and interactive ways. News is breaking all the time.

The key word is instant.

For many community papers, there just isn’t room for those hard hitting breaking news stories that you read online or see on Twitter.

Because of its weekly turnaround, the Hamilton Press focuses on the stories that serve the city of Hamilton.

Thanks to the Waikato Regional Newspaper network, rural news from surrounding areas to Hamilton are covered in other newspapers, but the Hamilton Press works with each of its partner papers to put together the best stories that focus on people.

Daily editions that FairFax Media and the APN produce in the form of the Waikato Times and the NZ Herald are much different.

Weekly papers like the Hamilton Press are not going to get those big exclusive stories.

This is because of time sensitivity.

The Hamilton Press doesn’t exactly compete against other media either, it just tells a few of the community stories that are around Hamilton city each week.

Due to the size of the population, and the various amounts of stories that come from the community, Hamilton Press doesn’t exactly step on the toes of its rival paper the Hamilton News (produced by the APN) either.

The Hamilton Press operates using just one designated journalist.

According to the editor of the Hamilton Press Steve Edwards, their one journalist does the bulk of the writing that the newspaper produces each week.

Community newspapers like the Hamilton Press are also proving to be valuable to students, and Edwards believes that community papers like his own provide the best grounding because journalists cover everything and don’t just remain fixed on one area of news.

If utilised, Edwards believes students can get a lot out of the on-the-job style of learning that being a journalist for community newspapers can provide.

“Everyone can write, but to write for a paper on deadline and for what the paper wants, that’s the art. The best way of doing that is by doing that.”

Like a lot of people in the industry, Edwards believes that being pro active is the key to being a good journalist, even during the stages of training in tertiary education.

“I tell the people at Wintec all the time, write stuff for us as well as in class, the classroom is different. Go out and write a story, take a photo and send it in. If it gets rejected it gets rejected. It is not training, an exam exercise or a practice, what you do is you’re a journalist.”

Edwards believes the best students are the ones who don’t wait for an internship, but are the ones who show pro-activeness and take a chance by contacting newspapers and offering their work.

The Hamilton Press is produced weekly on a Wednesday, and delivered to mailboxes around the city for free.