The ( - ) Hyphen Strikes Back

The power of the hyphen. You know, that little punctuation symbol of connectivity. We see it often when connecting a collection of words to make one noun, such as sister-in-law. I wrote about my distaste for them on occasions in this blog, such as here, where I talk about the evolution of compound words.

It is most used in error when it is unknowingly left out and there is no rule to its use.

Here are some examples of why they are important:

1. Susan decided to resign her employment contract.
Susan decided to re-sign her employment contract.

2. Jacob recovered the chair and made it look new.
Jacob re-covered the chair and made it look new.

3. We were told a story about a man eating shark.
We were told a story about a man-eating shark.

4. The battalion was made up of six foot soldiers.
The battalion was made up of six-foot soldiers.

5. The patient suffered from disease causing poor nutrition.
The patient suffered from disease-causing poor nutrition.

6. Anna returned the stolen vehicle report.
Anna returned the stolen-vehicle report.

7. I must repress that dress.
I must re-press that dress.

8. We found ourselves in a dirty movie theater.
We found ourselves in a dirty-movie theater.

My thanks to the Society of Professional Journalist for bringing these little buggers again to my attention this week in their news feed.


Remembering 9/11

I remember what I was doing September 11, 2001.

When President Ronald Reagan was shot March of 1981 I was a director at an NBC television affiliate and I remember running to the studio repeatedly, throwing on lights and interrupting regular programming every time we had a morsel of information to report. The first broadcasts varied – the president had been shot, no he had not been shot, yes, the president had been shot. The newsroom and studio were chaotic again two months later when Pope John Paul II was shot four times.

I remember when President Kennedy was killed. I was in first grade and our school was led to River Oaks Boulevard in Fort Worth, Texas to see the president and Mrs. Kennedy pass by. An hour later we were kneeling by our desks fearfully crying and praying.

9/11 was like that without the crying for me, but certainly with the praying. I do not watch TV in the morning but always listen to music. I woke earlier that morning, made coffee and for some reason turned on the TV. I hurriedly called my editor while dressing and before rushing out the door to my newspaper office watched another plane hit the second tower live.

At first our office could not decide what to do. I learned all schools and government buildings were on guarded lock down so I rushed to an area school to get a local angle on the story, took a photo of children praying at a flag pole and rushed back to met our deadline. I asked to have a box on the lower front page added to encourage readers to report gas gouging to a federal telephone number because many gas stations across the nation raised their prices an additional $3-$5 a gallon that day to prey off the panicking public.

I also remember emphasizing that we get the information correct, because some major networks repeatedly referred erroneously to “…the attacks in New York and in Washington.” However, the Pentagon is in neighboring Virginia, not in Washington D.C.

The next morning everything was different and things have not gone back to the way they were since.


Business phone eitiquette

This is not a journalist-specific post, so share this with any office -you think can learn from it. I wish we followed some of these rules my last office.

March 10, 1876 Alexander Bell spoke the infamous words, “Watson, come here. I need you,” through his experimental phone. What Watson said in response is not recorded in history because business phone etiquette had not been invented.
Of all the digital tools and technology we have at our disposal to make our work more efficient, the most important device is 138 years old. We need to think of the phone as a business tool rather than just a communication device, and by tweaking our business phone habits we can use it to our advantage.
  1. Have a pen and something to write on before answering the phone.
  2. Answer with a pleasant voice and don't make the caller feel as though they are an interruption.
  3. You can simply state your company name and then a pleasant, “How may I help you,” or state your company and your first name. Personally, I like my name and I use it often.
  4. It is polite to state your first name before asking the name of the caller. If the person asks to speak with another person or department, say “My name is ___. May I tell them who is calling?” Offering your name first builds a relationship between the caller and your company right away because they feel they are being introduced rather than intruded upon.
  5. When you inform the person or department of the call, tell them the name of the caller and reason of the call. That way they can prepare in their mind for what is waiting for them on the line and they can use the information when they answer the phone.
  6. If a person or department is not available, offer to take a message, then tell the caller “I will give ___ the message.” Do not tell the caller “I will have him call you,” because you are promising something you can not guarantee.
If you are on he receiving end of a forwarded call, do not burden the caller by making them start all over with their request:
  1. Always have a pen and something to write on before picking up the phone.
  1. Immediately use the caller's name and refer to the subject. The caller will enjoy your courtesy and you will save valuable time getting right to the point. For instance, a call may be forwarded this way: “Stella, Kenton Jerfton is on line two asking about rates and billing options.” You pick up the phone and enthusiastically say, “Hi, Mr. Jerfton. This is Stella. I understand you have questions about our rates.” The caller does not have the frustration of repeating the explanation for the call and the two of you can get right down to business.
You save time, make customers happy and build relationships simply by the way you handle phone calls. Even an irritated caller can be softened by the professional, personal and courtesy manner in which you handle the call.

Bonus: If you use your personal cell phone for business, use your name when answering so the caller does not have to guess if they dialed the right number. And “Whatzuuuuuup!” is not acceptable.
Also, no silly ring tones! Nothing is more annoying than “I'm Your Boogie Man” or some other stupid song going off in the office. And what kind of impression do you make when a rooster crow or cow mooo goes off during a business lunch? Take your phone out now and set your ring tones and alerts to a pleasant tone or common ring.
Your co-workers thank you in advance.


Content for slow summers

Community journalists sweat it out during the summer in more ways than one, and back-to-school brings relief to more than just parents. You see, community newspapers have a tougher time keeping the flow of interesting news and features during the summer months as compared to their counterparts in large markets who have more people, more events and more hard news to report, like crime and politics.

Community newspapers rely a lot on school for content. However, other factors slow the flow of news because businesses have fewer promotions during the summer, many businesses pull back their advertising dollars and there are usually fewer new business start-ups. Down here in Texas where it is so hot during the summers everything slows down a bit with fewer outdoor activities, fundraisers and festivals. Heck, even the longhorn bull across the street from me doesn't move from under a tree during the summer.
Here is way to increase your content with interesting, relative stories: Invent anniversaries.
  1. Make a list of major events that changed your community in past years, such as a new business area, school campus, annual community event that started or major construction that effected an area. Perhaps it could be a newly formed city position, new organization or a major club event. It is not fun, but it can be a harder news story such as a tragedy that effected the community.
  2. Look back in your archives at the past stories, glean much of the body of information from them for a new story and devise a before/after angle to report on. How is the community different since the highway was expanded? How large has the event grown? How has a new administrator improved operations? What has a new charity organization done to improve life in the community?
  3. Severe storm damage is an excellent story to revisit.
    To ad greater significance to the story you very likely can find some type of anniversary to that event or happening. For instance, if the story is a major super store that moved into the area you will find in your newspaper archives there were preliminary meetings, a ground breaking, various construction phases, a ribbon cutting and grand opening, so pick a phase close to the current season and tie that into the story. Soon you writing headlines like “Grandmart looks back on four years in the community” or “Pastor Sponzie recalls first day.”
  4. To save time, use much of the content and photos from your archive and follow up with a quick interview and maybe a new photo.
Here is another idea if you are approaching or have arrived at back-to-school time; arrange to speak with a few teachers and administrators and ask them what is the earliest first day of school they remember and what was their feelings, edit each response into a paragraph and list them on a page with a small headshot of each person. You may already have headshots of teachers and administrators on file and can do the whole thing by phone.

Instant content to ease your hot summer will cool you off better than a snow cone in the shade!


The wonder of blunders

Plans underway to get Americans sick with ebola

That was the online headline from the Associated Press August 1 which was quickly changed to “Plans underway to retrieve Americans sick with ebola.”

We find a lot of humor in goof headlines, be they by oversight, typo or not checking closely what your spell checker suggests.

Rather than sharing a bunch of headlines you can find simply online, I want to share with you my fantastic blunder.

But first, a grand blunder done in the text of a story by an under qualified chief editor I once had the misfortune to work under at a daily paper. The story was about public cleanup day, where residents are encouraged to get their junk out of their yards and garages and take it to the county facility for free disposal. The editor misspelled “Public” and instead wrote “Pubic,”  and to make matters more horrible he ended his story on Pubic Cleanup Day encouraging people to see if their elderly neighbors need help.

My big goof was in the cutline under a front page picture, which was a wonderful photo I took of scores of people releasing purple balloons into the air. The story was Children’s Advocacy Week, and supporters gathered at county courthouses across Texas to hear speeches and released balloons into the air. The cutline read:

“Supporters yesterday joined children advocacy groups around the state in releasing 10,000 baboons at courthouses across Texas”
Ahhhh! The baboons are attacking!

Are you brave enough to share YOUR blunder? Email it here.


A diamond in the abyss

I teach that you need to be a personable conversationalist to be a great photojournalist. You need to be a outgoing, tactful and creative to break the ice with subjects or approach complete strangers. I just completed a grueling photography task I do each year where I photograph dozens of subjects in one day, often finding strangers to be my subjects.

This is easy if you are at an event – such as an art show, park or fair – but the task is photography for the annual Parker County Texas Visitors Guide. I must get interesting photographs – preferably human – from 16 towns big and tiny and I do the task in one day. I have been doing this assignment for about 10 years and it is grueling but satisfying.

Doing the job in one day is essential because I need to drive the entire county and I don't want to take days going out and back. To make things harder, doing it in one day means I cannot schedule to be at popular public events or make arrangements to meet people at particular times.

The bigger towns have senior centers, parks and farmers’ markets to find subjects doing interesting things while the small towns have almost nothing. It is the smallest towns that I try to pre-arrange with the schools, which sometimes does not work or can fail even after making arrangements. As I said, this is a tough assignment.

I was dreading the tiny town of Peaster because it is a bleak pinpoint on the map and a woman at the school district was snooty on the phone and would not let me photograph students this year, so when I arrived I took a picture of the post office, the only public building in town other than the one church (which I photographed two years earlier). Google Street View Peaster, Texas and see how screwed I was.

I drove around the town’s few homes and saw a woman in her shaded back yard; hair pulled back, head down and intently painting something on a table. I was thinking “Please, oh please, oh please” as I walked up to her wood gate, introduced myself and explained what I was doing. I asked if I may photograph her while she painted. “No, I don’t take good pictures,” artist Ariel Menchaca, said. I enthusiastically countered with my favorite comeback, “Well, I take great pictures, so that evens things out!” She laughed, and….Jackpot! Not only did she agree to be photographed, she was doing something of interest. She was paining folk art on mirror frames for a taqueria her family was opening in a building on the main road, which would be the town’s only business. For those not familiar with Texas, a taqueria is small Mexican cafĂ©, often with simply a walk-up window, specializing in yummy authentic soft tacos.

It took imagination, inspiration and a little bravery to get this good picture in a tough situation. It was my best photo of the job. I drove to my next stop singing “Everything is Coming Our Way” by Santana.

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