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).

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.

Wintec vs Waikato: Preparing Myself For Study

I am fully prepared to admit that I am not smartest guy on the planet, but so far the process of weighing up wether to go to Waikato University or Wintec has been a pretty enjoyable one, all be it hugely crucial in getting right which is still continuing to dominate much of the conversation as myself and “the team” try to decide what the best option is for me and more importantly my health in the long term.

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So I just wanted to give you guys and update on where we are at.

The plan is to study Journalism. Obviously right.

I can either study what is called a Bachelor Of Media Arts majoring in Communication (at Wintec) or a Bachelor Of Arts majoring in Writing Studies (at University). There is also a little thought of doing Social Work at some point, but for now it is the Bachelor degree which I am aiming for.

With me so far? Cool beans.

Primarily, the two degrees are much the same, but right now it is Wintec which is pulling me in slightly more than University because from what I believe and have been told, University is more theory based where as Wintec is a little more practical. In easier terms, Wintec will be slightly more hands on sit down at the computer and work sort of style, where as with University there are lectures and the likes, then some computer or lab work afterwards.

That’s not to say Wintec doesn’t have lectures also, because there are a few of those there as well.

With both, there will be a lot of work and a lot of study both at campus and at home. I will be busy, busier than I have ever been.

Full time study vs Part time study is also a major factor in this whole decision during the talks we are having right now. In an ideal world I would like to study full time, but with a degree such as the one I am going to be doing, the schedule is very demanding, however Wintec’s timetable is a little easier to manage full time verses the one University has to offer.

Tegan made a great point the other day on Facebook and I really should have worded my status a little better.

Obviously my energy levels are not that of most other people my age, and that has to be taken into account with the decisions I will need to make over the next few weeks. University is closer to home than Wintec, but the “hands on” approach of Wintec suits me a little better than the more “sit in a lecture but also do some hands on” approach that University has offered me. Clearly I am not trying to make an excuse for myself because both Wintec and University have both said that I have the brain power, enthusiasm, and energy to fly through the 3-year degree and pass with terrific marks, both saying I have the talent and will to land a top job in Journalism in the near future post degree, but a full time schedule over the course of 3 years would have an effect on my health and disability long term, there is simply no denying that.

At Wintec, studying the Bachelor Of Media Arts (Communication) a full time schedule looks like this:

Monday: 8am – 12pm 

Tuesday: 8.30am – 12pm 

Wednesday: 9am – 1pm 

Thursday: DAY OFF

Friday: 12pm – 5pm

University were not so clear in their timetable and didn’t offer concrete set times for me, where as Wintec did and also offered alternatives to the schedule long term for myself depending on the fluctuations of my health, which will undoubtably have their own ups and downs.

University offers much of what Wintec does, in my mind the degrees are a little better there, as are the social opportunities, but it is just a bit of a worry with the number of lectures because if I wake up and feel really sick one morning, which honestly happens a lot, and I have a lecture to go to, the fatigue and sickness, tire of muscles, and pain in the limbs I suffer will make it difficult to be 100% attentive throughout what would be a crucial lecture. Even with the support of a PA. Where as at Wintec, I may have more chance of working through that lack of comfort if I am at the computer working that way, which by the sounds of it at this stage Wintec offers more of than Uni does.

It is all such a mind field. But an exciting one.

Sure, doing 4 hours in the morning three days a week and 5 hours in the afternoon on a Friday is more than doable, that is what the full time schedule will look like for me if I go to Wintec, but that is not counting homework and other things.

I think I could manage the full time schedule, but for three years on the trot?

I mean, I don’t know where I am going to be healthwise in six months let alone three years, but I don’t want to let that hold me back either because if I get sick, I get sick. If I die at 25 because my health fails quickly while still working on my degree, then so be it. At least I had a go at it. That really is the mindset now, I am disabled but I don’t think I am really, so I try not to let it effect the will to try and achieve my goals, while at the same time remaining practical in how I live my life day to day. That is really how I feel, I don’t want to let my disability effect my dreams, and I certainly don’t want to go down the path of studying part time without trying full time first, just because I am worried my health my drop earlier rather than later.

I guess I am reserved to the fact that sometime in the next 10 years my health will take a serious hit. That was a big reason why I moved here in the first place, I want to experience while I can, and that includes studying.

Basically, if I study full time and hopefully do well, I will be extremely busy most of the time, but I can have the degree in 3 years. If I study part time it will be easier on my body, my health, and the fatigue, but it will take 6 years.

To have had both the University and Wintec tell me that I have the smarts to do very well in a degree as high as this is a wonderful boost for my confidence, but at this stage I am leaning towards Wintec over University, which is certainly a surprise because University was really the goal when I knew I was moving to Hamilton, so in many respects it has done a bit of a 180.

In terms of on site support, I am golden. I will have a full time PA (personal assistant) with me throughout my studies, at all times on campus to do everything from help me with note taking, to opening doors or getting me a coffee.

It’s actually looking like a pretty sweet deal. I am very lucky.

So the workload may be big, especially if I go full time over part time. I really am pushing for the full time schedule, but I will have to sit down with Mum in particular and see what she thinks. I will certainly do what she feels is the right way to go for my health, because she is the expert on what I am capable of, I have a bit of a habbit of overworking my body at times with my enthusiasm and drive for life.

At the end of the day, my health is important and I don’t want to burn out in six months. I can start at full time and then cut back to part time if the schedule is taking a toll on my general health, but I really don’t want to set the bar low from the outset.

More to come on this.

Regards,

Mike