Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Journalistic work

Journalists and Press Secretaries: Understanding the Divide

I wrote a Poynter Online story this week about the working relationship between journalists and press secretaries, following the publication of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new book, in which he criticizes the press for not being aggressive enough in the lead-up to the Iraq War. The topic of this piece is also relevant given the fact that some journalists are now leaving the field to work toward becoming press secretaries, public relations officers, public affairs officials, etc.

I talked to a journalist who used to be a press secretary, a press secretary who used to be a journalist, a former White House press secretary and others. One press secretary I interviewed said journalists often believe they’re more important than they actually are. Newspapers, she said, just aren’t as highly read as they used to be, and not all politicians read the newspaper anymore. To read more of this story, click here.

Value in Virtual Communities

In preparation for the end of the primary season Tuesday night, I looked at ways in which journalists can use virtual communities such as Facebook and Twitter to enhance their political coverage. It’s funny when I think back to this time last year. I used to have trouble seeing the value in social networking sites. Why not just step outside the office and report in the real community? I used to think.

There is great value in going out into real communities and talking with people, hearing their concerns and observing their work/living areas. But in researching social networking sites and their implications for journalists, I’ve come to realize that there is also value in online communities. Journalists are communicators of truth, so it only makes sense that they would explore the various forms of communication on the Web, so long as doing so doesn’t sacrifice their face-to-face time with sources.

Sites like Twitter can also help improve journalists’ writing. I’ve used the site to help curb my tendency to be wordy when writing. Because Twitter only lets you post 140-character updates, the site has helped me to think more concisely and to be more conscious of the words I use. With only 140 characters to spare, I can’t waste words. As with journalism, every word counts.

How have you used virtual communities to enhance your reporting/storytelling process?

Many Disatisfied with Iraq War Coverage

I wrote an article for Poynter Online this week, which you can check out here. The story lists findings from a study that Poynter commissioned to find out more about Americans’ views on the Iraq war coverage. Many of those surveyed (47 percent) classified the coverage as “poor.” Interestingly enough, people said they wanted to know more about the Iraqi government and people than they did about how the war is affecting local communities here in the U.S. How do you think the war coverage has been? What would you like to see more of?

How Personal Writing Makes Us Better Journalists

I wrote a centerpiece for Poynter Online today about journalists who have found that personal writing makes them better reporters — by teaching them to look for greater details in their stories, making them more sensitive to the people they interview and by helping them develop a deeper appreciation for the work they do.

I’ve asked readers in the comment section of my article to share their own personal stories with me. A few reporters have sent me e-mails with links to their stories, which I’ve really enjoyed reading. If you have some stories you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments section of this blog post, or in the comments section of my centerpiece. I love hearing different people’s stories and seeing how the written and spoken word connects people …

A Swimming/Summer Story Idea

I just wrote a Diversity at Work post, “Bridging the Minority Swimming Gap,” about a new study that found that 58 percent of black children can’t swim compared with 31 percent of Caucasian children. One reader, who is a teacher, pointed out to me that the word “pool” in my article could just as easily be replaced with “school.” Interesting thought. Now that I’ve presented this idea, I wonder how many reporters will read it and use it as a story idea.

Here’s part of the post:

The minority swimming gap is a story worth localizing. With summer vacation approaching, you may want to visit your local pools and see what the demographics there are. If the majority of children are white, what are children of other races/ethnicities doing instead? How does the cost of private pools affect the demographics of families who swim there? How does all this tie into pool safety? What does a day in the life of a public pool v. a private pool look like?

Exploring such questions can help turn a report about a survey’s findings into a story about the people behind the numbers.

‘Is Racism Making Us Sick?’

I wrote a Diversity at Work blog item this week about a new documentary, “Unnatural Causes.” The documentary reveals that minorities are often unhealthier than their white counterparts, in large part because of racism and discrimination:

When I think about racism, I think about emotional pain, ignorance, the need for equality. So when I recently saw the words “racism” and “health care” clumped together, I wondered why.

In a recent Google Alert for the term “racism,” I came across a National Public Radio piece about a new documentary series titled “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” The documentary looks at the ways that racism affects our health. Many minorities, the documentary says, have greater health issues than their white counterparts. The documentary sites several examples of this, including one about black mothers in the U.S. being far more likely to have premature births and low-birth weight babies than white women.

Lou Smith, co-executive producer of the documentary, said during the NPR interview that this problem is not innate to being black, but rather to the conditions of race that black people live with.

[

‘Largo Adults Get Kicks from Childhood Game’


Screengrab of St. Pete Times story. Photo taken by Atoyia Deans, St. Petersburg Times.

A story I wrote about adult kickball appeared in today’s issue of the St. Petersburg Times. I played kickball in an adult league last fall and hadn’t really thought about why I played, other than the fact that I wanted to meet people. In interviewing other kickball players last week, I found that many of them play to escape the stress of work/adult life and just be a kid again, even if only for an hour.


If football fields are for the rough and tough, kickball fields are for the young at heart.

“Out here you can be goofy,” said 30-year-old Justin Taylor. “You can be a kid again.”

Justin is a member of the Bust N Balls, which faced off against the Playground Bullies at Whitesell Softball Complex field in Largo Thursday night.

The teams are part of an adult kickball league organized by the city of Largo’s parks and recreation department.

The men and women on both teams revert to a time when recess and naps were staples of daily life, a time when the space between bases seemed much bigger and the risk for getting hurt much smaller. [Read more…]

‘Hands in Motion Interpret Story of Classic Comic Opera’

A story I wrote appeared in today’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. The story is about a trio of signers who will be interpreting a production of H.M.S. Pinafore tomorrow, March 8, at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.


Kristen Willbur has trouble keeping her hands still. She uses them to communicate, express emotion and give meaning to what otherwise would go unheard.

And as a professional sign language interpreter, Willbur regularly gets called on to interpret plays. It’s not something most interpreters do, but those who take the gigs do it because they love theater and telling engaging stories.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Willbur will have a good one – H.M.S. Pinafore, a classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.

Willbur, Sandra Sanders and Greg Morrow, all from the Tampa Bay office of Sign Language Associates, have endured more than a month of late-night rehearsals to learn the opera. For the Sunday matinee, they’ll interpret it for a patron who plans to attend the show.

As storytellers of the stage, the trio of signers gives silence a soul.

When they interpret dialogue, they convey words, feelings and intent. When interpreting songs, they change the flow of their hands, mimicking the speed and rhythm of the song.

“When the song is about a fair maiden, then most likely our signs will show soft, flowing movements,” said Willbur, 33, of Lakeland, who has been signing for four years. “It’s a lot like listening to someone sing a capella. You don’t hear any music, but you know it’s a song. Signing music has your hands flowing through the air like physical poetry.”

With music and lyrics by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore tells the story of a naval captain’s daughter who goes against her father’s desire for her to marry a high-ranking officer and instead falls in love with a lower-class sailor.

“If you had to count the most enduringly popular comic operas and musical dramatic works in general in this part of the world, you have to include H.M.S. Pinafore on the fingers of one hand,” said Constantine Grame, who plays the part of Ralph Rackstraw, the lower-class sailor, and who is musical director of the production. “It’s a story that pokes fun at classes, and it’s a period piece given its musical style and setting. Its gentle social commentary is just as relevant today as it always was.”

Willbur and Morrow will share the interpreting for the male actors, with Willbur playing the protagonist’s role and Morrow playing the antagonist’s role. Sanders will interpret all of the female roles.

“For the roles we try to keep consistent with male/female,” Willbur said. “But in our profession we have more females than males, so sometimes this isn’t possible.”

The characters’ lines aren’t interpreted verbatim. In fact, the copy of the script Willbur, Sanders and Morrow have been using isn’t the same one the actors have used. There are slight differences in the characters’ lines, Sanders said, but the overall story line is the same.

Only a small fraction of signers interpret theatrical productions, Sanders said, in part because of stage fright or a lack of interest in theatre. A production with the cast size of H.M.S. Pinafore generally requires four signers.

“We put weeks and sometimes months of preparation into a show on our own time,” said Sanders, 29, of Tampa. “Interpreters who do plays, concerts, lectures, etc., do it for the love of it, not for the pay.”

They do it, too, Willbur added, for the sake of good storytelling: “Who tells a better story? A businessman lecturing about an event, or a grandfather that re-enacts the movements and sounds of the event to reel you into the story? That’s what we try to do with songs. We want to capture what the actor/actress is feeling deep down inside.”

The feelings, Willbur says, are best captured with helping hands.

Freelance writer Mallary Jean Tenore is the James N. Naughton fellow at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists that owns the Times.

If you go

‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

What: Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera

Where: Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 E Pine St., inside City Hall

When: 8 tonight, March 13 and 15 and 2 p.m. Sunday and March 16. Sign language interpreters will join the cast for Sunday’s matinee.

Tickets: $20 general, $18 for center members and students

Information: Visit http://www.tarponarts.org or call (727) 942-5605