Its/It's, your/you're, there/their/they're

I have waited a long time to say this, but I can’t hold back any longer. I have a pet peeve about people who misuse words. Specifically, its and it’s, your and you’re, and there, their and they’re.

I don’t see these words used incorrectly in professional writing, but I see these words misused in casual writing, social media, advertising and even business correspondents.

A simple way to check yourself is to simply take a moment and think about the use of the word. Is it a contraction? Is it possessive? If it is a contraction you will be able to substitute, in your head, the two seperate words.

For instance, “your” is possessive. Your nose on your face belongs to you, therefore it is your nose. “You’re” is a contraction, the combining of “you” and “are.” I believe you’re cool because you read this blog.

I was chatting online with my younger brother on Facebook and I responded with a crazy, funny statement. My brother typed back, “Your nuts.” So I responded, “What about my nuts?” He didn’t get it.

I admit I am a poor speller and sometimes a careless writer and I have to proof the heck out of my stuff (see Editing and Proofing), but I always get its and it’s, your and you’re, and there, their and they’re correct. I even pronounce them correctly, and you didn’t know there was a difference, did you?

For a humorous look at 10 commonly misused words with visuals that may help you remember how to use them correctly, visit this post by The Oatmeal, a clever and funny artist.


How I Got Started

This is a simple note about how I got started. I hope it shows that enthusiasm, imagination and being around the right people can take you a long way.

Journalism class was the only thing I excelled at in high school, but I was steered away from that field by a lousy high school “counselor” (big emphasis on the quotation marks). All seniors had to make an appointment to see a counselor for directive on going to college and this guy looked at my grades, asked me what I would like to major in and said (I am not making this up) “You’re not smart enough for journalism. You better try of something easier, like P.E.”

After stints at three colleges, retail stores, construction and my own tractor business, I kind of wandered into a newspaper career with childlike enthusiasm and the help of key people who coached and influenced me.

The end.
See you next week.

Here is the longer version:

Millie Thompson, long-time journalism teacher at Arlington Heights High School, Fort Worth, ran journalism class and our bi-weekly school newspaper like a business. I graduated in the mid 70s and by the time I got into a newspaper career she had passed away before I could find her and tell her that I, one of her troublesome students, became an award winning newspaper journalist and photographer.

In her class, editors were responsible for reporters and all were responsible for themselves. Corny stories were not allowed and we did important reporting on students, community, sports and the school district. It would horrify most college and high school journalism instructors, but Miss T did not read much of our work until after it was printed.  After papers were distributed she read the paper silently in front of class from cover to cover, occasionally making a note with a large red marker and shaming anyone who made a slight mistake. “Explain to me, Mr. Amos, why you did not attribute that information…. I am waiting for your answer.”

She was not mean, but she was serious about good journalism. If you made a bad error, she pointed right at you with that red marker and chewed your ass out sternly in front of your peers and then turned and chewed the ass of the department editor and the chief editor, who would both chew your ass out again in the hall after class. Needless to say, we put out an extraordinary high school paper. Thank you, Miss T for planting in me a love for media and journalism.

Years later as president of my community library I began contributing library news to the local paper. I struck up a friendship with the owner and publisher, Randy Keck, and occasionally contributed other news and photos I came across.

Randy Keck is the longtime owner and publisher of The Community News in Parker County who saw my enthusiasm and hired me part time as a reporter. As the paper grew he hired me full time and it was with his coaching and encouragement that I won my first Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Association awards.

After a year at a daily paper I really cranked up my talents and moved into Ninja gear when I went to a community newspaper group in another county. I embedded myself into the community and dug not only covering news, but finding news. I was first hired there as a photographer and was writing features three months later. I soon became business page editor and then main reporter.  After two years I became editor of one of the company's papers and I put a lot of effort into having a rocking front page and relevant content. My goal each issue was to have the absolute best newspaper of all six of our publications, and I racked up more Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Association awards, which in turn sparked me to work even harder.

I met a lot of wonderful people with amazing stories. Thanks, Miss T, Randy and all the co-workers who put up with me over the years.


Story: Nike Missile Base

This week I share one in a series of stories I wrote about the Alvarado Nike Missile Base. I post this for my friends in Alvarado, and for you journalism Ninjas, notice small details that help the reader see and feel what I experienced during the interview. I shared in the earlier post, Face-To-Face, that these pieces of "word candy" nestle well around quotes.

Veterans plan reunion at Alvarado missile base
Christopher Amos
The Alvarado Star Sept. 26, 2010

Farm-To-Market Road 1187/E. Davis Road, used to have a different name as it wound east out of downtown Alvarado. The view was different, too.

The road, which now meanders past Alvarado Elementary South and Alvarado Intermediate School, was known as Nike Base Road, and less than two miles from downtown one could see as many as 18 two-stage war rockets pointing to the sky 100 yards south of the road.

Such show of force so close to home was commonplace for residents of Alvarado in the 1960s – the Cold War was at its peak and America and Soviet forces were flexing their military muscles while keeping a watchful eye out for attacks from each other. In retrospect, it is alarming to look back and know that such a military installation probably put the city in the crosshairs of the Soviet military, or at least on hit list.

If so, the list was long. The United States installed 265 Nike Missile bases across the country beginning in 1953. Most had a similar layout as the Alvarado base with barracks, a basketball court, a helicopter pad, a mess hall, a giant domed Target Tracking Radar and a smaller Missile Tracking Radar raising high above hay fields.

In time, development of mobile missiles and airborne radar made the bases absolute. The close of the Cold War also signaled the end of the need to guard major populated areas such as the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex from air strikes, and Alvarado C-Battery 4th Missile Battalion, 562 Army Artillery Division was closed in 1969.

Age and nature have taken their toll on the site after the base was decommissioned and the missiles, radars and machinery have been removed. However, memories of comrades and life on the base came alive for Alvarado veterans Paul DeGrant and Able Sanchez when arrangements were made with the current property owner to visit the base.

The land is now private property were Jim Hughes and his family have lived since 1989, and Hughes is allowing the vets to host a reunion at the site. Degrant said he expects about 30 veterans to attend.

“This brings back old memories. I could actually cry,” Sanchez said as he walked behind what used to be the mess hall and over to the building that was once his barracks. “I haven’t walked this much since I had my stroke two years ago, but I am so excited it gives me energy. It just makes me feel good being back.”

The Target Tracking Radar at Alvarado Nike Missile Base, 1966
Inside, Sanchez walked on cracked tile of the empty and destitute barrack, wrenched the handle of his cane and held back tears as he recited the names of his comrades who once bunked near him. Outside, the veteran recited radar commands he used 42 years earlier.“Regain beacon. Positive pitch. Negative yaw,” he said as he walked past a large cement slab were a radar was located.

DeGrant swept his hand across the grounds naming missing structures across the vista – a heliport, a hobby shack where some soldiers worked on remote control cars, a field used for football and soccer, and cement pads where numerous radars once stood. A large radar once rested on an octagon pad large enough for a house and a raised metal platform at the south end of the base once held a sweeping radar.

“This is hallowed ground here for these guys,” DeGrant said. “It is hard to explain. We lived here and we had the responsibility of guarding the United States. There are so many memories and feelings here it is hard to explain.”

The Nike Missiles across the country never had to take down an enemy aircraft or seek and destroy an incoming enemy missile, but they came close. The Cuban Missile Crisis of September 1962 had Americans in fear for their lives and the Nike Bases on full alert. An American U-2 spy plane discovered and photographed Soviet intermediate ballistic nuclear missiles being built on Cuban shores and in range of most U.S. major cities. President John F. Kennedy had a political stand-off with the Soviet leaders and the Cuban missile sites were dismantled.

“We came close,” Sanchez recalled. “That lasted nine days. We were under full alert and everything was fully armed. Guard dogs were everywhere night and day and the dogs were the only ones not carrying live ammunition. It was pretty intense.”


The Time Saving Phoner

This is one of my best time saving tips and will help you get a handle on deadlines. You may find this tip useful for news gathering, public relations, producing office or church newsletters, or any vocation that requires working with people and gathering information.

When I went from a weekly paper to a daily I learned like never before how precious time was and how fierce deadlines can be. Each reporter at this daily were required to turn in two “packages” a day, which were two stories, completed, edited and ready to go on the page with photographs and cut lines, filed before 4 p.m. every day. Also, because I had sports writing and shooting experience I had to turn in at least one completed sports package a day to the sports editor. Completing three packages a day required working ahead on several stories at a time and tracking progress on each to establish a consistent flow of making contacts, conducting interviewing, taking pictures, processing pictures (picking three great pictures and adjusting them to print), writing, editing, proofing and turning in. I also had multiple stories in various stages of completion so that when a story collapsed that I was counting on for that day, I had another to grab and finish before deadline. It was hard and I dug the challenge.
I did a phoner before meeting with a high
school art student for a story about a 9-11
memorial at the school. The phoner helped
the interview go smoothly and allowed
more time for pictures.
When I went to a group of weekly papers in Johnson County a couple years later I continued that discipline and was able to more easily meet deadlines than my fellow reporters and editors in my office.
A valuable tool is the phoner, which is a phone interview. I did a phoner with a digital recorder and a note pad for every story even though I was going to interview the subject face-to-face.  The phoner saves a tremendous amount of time because you collect much of the basic information before you meet and interviews go faster over the phone than in person. The phoner also improves the in-person interview because when you do meet the subject you have already established a relationship, and the face-to-face goes smoother and faster.
When I was at the desk setting up an interview with a subject I would ask, “Do you have time to answer a few quick questions right now?” If not, I would ask if I could call back at another time. Later when we met I would get a deeper feel for the story, gather a little more information, take pictures and then head back to the office to write my story.
Phoners not only helped me meet deadlines, they improved my writing because gathering much of the basic information ahead of time allowed me to be more casual with a subject in-person and not just grill them with questions. It also allowed me to concentrate on the emotions, mannerisms and surroundings of the subject to include with the story. Including little bits of that candy into the story to help put the reader right there with the subject.



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