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September 10, 2008

Filed under: journalism»writing

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Via (of all places) Raymond Chen's Old New Thing, this series of clips of Ira Glass explaining how to effectively tell stories in broadcast media is phenomenal. Perhaps the best part is the third clip in the series, when he actually plays a report he did for NPR at the age of 27, which is almost a parody of stuffy, sing-song radio delivery--the point being that it takes a long time to get good at this kind of thing.

February 29, 2008

Filed under: journalism»writing

Matter of Fact

A reporter who interviewed author Iain Banks is trying a journalism experiment: he's posted the source material from the interview online, along with the resulting article, and encouraged students to try writing their own version. Of course, I've always thought the hard part was the actual interview, not the writing, particularly if the person on the other side has done a lot of PR lately and has their answers all lined up. But maybe someone will find it helpful.

Speaking of Banks, the interview was prompted by his new Culture novel, Matter, which I just finished. It's not quite as good as Consider Phlebas or Player of Games, but it's a pretty good adventure yarn and Banks' writing is as sharp as ever.

October 1, 2007

Filed under: journalism»writing

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

August 28, 2007

Filed under: journalism»writing

Sounding Board

By a combination of opportunity and wheedling, I've garnered an invitation to contribute articles on digital audio to Ars Technica, both from a production standpoint as well as the technical side. This is kind of a wide range. Now I just need to get some pitches together. Here are a few that I'm considering, and I'd appreciate feedback.

  • The Basics of Digital Audio: to some extent, I think this is necessary. I run into people on a regular basis who don't understand the differences between bit rate, sample rate, bit depth, and other technical details for storing audio digitally. On the other hand, there's lots of this information already out there, if someone cares to look--do we really need another article that rehashes the basics?
  • MP3 Explained: When people talk about MP3 to wider audiences, the usual explanation of the technology is that it "saves space by removing parts of the sound that the human ear can't hear." But why can't we hear those? How does MP3 find them? And once it has, how does it actually turn that into a new file? Assuming that I can get these answers without running into the Fraunhofer/Thomson lawyers, I think this could be a really cool piece.
  • Low Latency Audio For Musicians and Consumers: The thing about low-latency is that not everyone needs it but everyone wants it, and it's kind of a relative term anyway. This is primarily Windows-focused, of course--OS X has Core Audio to handle this kind of thing, and Linux is its usual shizophrenic, server-based self with JACK. Microsoft has only recently seemed to realize that consumers (or prosumer markets) would like built-in low-latency. It's too bad that they designed a standard that's only for PCI cards, leaving most of us to rely on ASIO anyway. In any case, this is another one of those basic topics but could be interesting if I dig around.
  • Audio Processing on GPUs: Every now and then you hear about this, although I'm not aware of anyone actually doing it: theoretically, audio processing could be handled in part by carefully-written shader programs on a 3D graphics chip. I don't see DAWs leaping to take advantage of this, though, perhaps because CPU power has become so ridiculously cheap for audio.

Suggestions are also welcome, and feel free to bring up topics where I'm not any kind of expert. I'm always interested in exploring new areas and then writing about them.

January 10, 2007

Filed under: journalism»writing»career

The Career Guidance Center Didn't Prepare Me for This

My B-SPAN coworker and I were talking about job interviews the other day. We're both on our way out of the Bank this year, and we recently finished going through the interview process for replacements. It was, as I've said before, a really educational process to be asking questions instead of answering them. My coworker, who I think ended up in the Bank practically straight out of college, asked what my worst interview had ever been.

So I was working at the American Diabetes Association my last year of school. It had its high points (my coworkers were good people who liked me) and low (the pay was terrible, the work itself was tedious). I started looking late for anything that would pay me to write, even though I had little in my portfolio at the time. Three months later, although I didn't know it, I'd be working at the Bank doing office work as a temp, a gig that eventually gave me an in for my far-more-satisfying position at WBI. In any case, while at the ADA, I got a call back from a wild resume submission I'd made: a high-end chocolate/confectionary supply catalog located in Rockville, Maryland. Taking an afternoon off, I drove up the beltway to go to the interview.

I hate driving in Maryland anyway. The state's department of transportation takes a sadistic glee in placing street signs behind trees, buildings, and other signs, making it hard to find where you're going. And Maryland drivers are, for one reason or another, among the worst on the face of the earth. Anyone who lives in Northern Virginia for long is familiar with the experience of watching someone do something truly boneheaded in traffic, invariably accompanied by a set of Maryland plates. So I was already nervous when I pulled up to the offices. They were located in a run-down commercial district that looked like a neutron bomb had hit, although inside they were quite nice. Since I was early, they sat me down with a copy of the catalog to look over--it was one of those pretentious "catalog with interviews," like a Skymall for people who need 50 pounds of sculpted, pulled sugar ribbons.

Finally, they called me into the interview room, and a harried-looking man sat down across from me. He introduced himself as the manager, and then he cut right to the bone.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

Now, I confused this with a standard interview question, like "Why do you think you should work for us?" I had a prepared joke ready for it. "Well," I said, "according to your web site, you're importers for the best Swiss chocolate in the world. Why wouldn't I want to work here?"

No laughter from the interviewer. Awkwardly, I segued into an explanation of how I wanted to be a journalist, and while they weren't doing news writing per se, I thought it would be an interesting place to build experience. And besides, I said, although I'm not a chef myself, I do love food.

The man looked at me. "I just don't understand," he said. "I've looked over your resume, and you don't have any experience with the food industry. I don't understand why you're here, since you're not qualified."

Then why did you make me drive up for an interview? The whole thing lasted about five minutes. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the worst interview I ever had. It's too bad. I think I would have been good at it.

February 6, 2006

Filed under: journalism»writing

The Rabbit on Writing

Man, this hit close to home.

December 22, 2005

Filed under: journalism»writing

Speaking of Limits

I've got an older article (written in March) that I'm going to pitch to the City Paper. It's a short piece on Potter's Violins, which does instrument repair and was a favorite of a photographer friend of mine.

Do you think it's too much to retitle it "A History of Violins?"

Future - Present - Past