Is that really what you meant to say?

In news reporting, journalists focus on getting all the most important bits of information into a story’s lead sentence — and even on getting the more interesting or important bits up toward the front of the sentence. They aim to fill this one important  sentence with the answers to all the basic questions — who, what , when, where, why, how.

When using this formula, you can end up with sentences that convey information very effectively, even though they sound quite different from the way people would speak, or how they would write in a non-news format. However, you really need to re-read sentences constructed with this formula to make sure they say what you mean, since treating pieces of information like building blocks that can be move around to fit a formula doesn’t always work. Here’s a recent example from CBC.ca:

Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police Service on Friday released video of nine incidents in which its officers deployed Tasers in response to a CBC freedom of information request.

This fits the formula perfectly — answers to who, when, what, and why are all there — but in this case the “why”  reads like it’s part of the “what” — so it most definitely does *not* say what the writer intended it to mean.

Great correction from the New York Times

Focusing too closely on getting the big facts right can sometimes derail you — it’s the little details that tend to get writers in trouble. Check out this great correction from the New York Times:

An earlier version of this post misquoted Mr. Remnick on his comparison between the book and a New Yorker article he had previously written. He said the book would not be a “pumped up” version of the article; he did not say that it would not be a “pimped out” version of the article.

You can read the article the correction refers to here.

Proofread business tweets, too

Twitter’s format lends itself to strange abbreviations, missing punctuation, and so on. But if you’re trying to build a business brand — or if you’re a reputable news organization — it’s worth taking a few extra seconds to proofread your tweet and make sure it makes sense and contains no errors (other than those you’ve made to adapt to the 140-character limit). Here’s an example of an unproofed tweet gone wrong, from @cbcnewsbc (the British Columbia arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

Today, the Delta, New Westminster and Tsawwassen and Ladner, to finish the day in Richmon

Say what?

Someone on CBC’s end must have realized the mistake, because the tweet quickly disappeared from @cbcnewsbc‘s profile, and a new tweet was sent. Here’s what they actually meant to say:

Today torch hits Delta,New West,Tsawwassen,Ladner+ Richmond.Share thoughts/impressions at The Hub :http://bit.ly/aV2BB7 #van2010 #olympics

But it’s too late — the mangled tweet survives in TweetDeck.

Here’s a tip that may save you from unproofed tweeting: If you use TweetDeck, disable the option to post simply by hitting “Enter.” You’re much more likely to slow down and check what you’ve written if you have to take your hands off the keyboard to click the “post” button.

Writing, Editing, Unearthing Opportunity: A Conversation with Christina Newberry

by Reija J Roberts

“When you’re self-employed, you are always selling yourself. You should be able to say what you do in fifteen seconds.” Preparing her “elevator pitch” is only one key to success for freelance writer and editor Christina Newberry. Her website, which boasts glowing testimonials and tangible work samples, ranks high in a Google search for “Vancouver writer and editor.” She has written articles about “how to improve the search engine ranking of your website,” which probably has something to do with her own top ranking. You can also find Newberry on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog. “The internet is my life,” she confesses. “The job that I do now didn’t exist ten years ago.”

Newberry didn’t always want to be a writer. When she first applied to the University of Victoria, she thought that she wanted to major in economics. What she ended up with, was a degree in English. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to be a teacher.” After graduation, she worked in a book store for a year. She says of the store, “I loved it, but I knew I wasn’t going to make any money doing that.” However, it was there that her interest in professional writing was sparked. She began creating promotional material for the store. She even designed a website for it. This experience prompted her to apply for the one-year journalism program at Langara College. Although she soon learned that she “had no interest whatsoever in being a journalist,” she acquired vital skills and abilities through the program.

When she left Langara, Newberry ambitiously applied for the Senior Writer position with a company that sold nutritional supplements. She lacked experience, but the hiring team liked her. A “junior writer and proofreader” position was created for her, and it wasn’t long before she made the climb to senior writer. By the time she left the company, she was the corporate editor.

Newberry next found herself working for the Internet Marketing Center as a writer. Newberry stayed put for five years and eventually became the managing editor, managing a staff of eleven and producing courses about online marketing. From there she found employment with CGA-Canada, as its editorial supervisor. This was to be her final desk job. When her work with CGA was through, she left the office for the comfort of her home. “It had always been my goal to go freelance,” Newberry explains. “For one thing, I am not at all a morning person.” For another, she had realized that the big money was in management. Being a manager, she had found, was no longer something she enjoyed. And since she couldn’t conceive of descending her ladder to a writer’s position, she swapped her manager’s cap for pajamas. Her desk is now in her bedroom, and her laptop enables her to work from her balcony or couch. But Christina Newberry is no loafer.

Newberry’s website describes her work as “writing, editing and communication strategy.” Her track record includes travel writing, ghost-writing, eBooks, profiles, press releases, and project coordination and consultation. She works with individual clients, as well as corporate and small businesses. And her work isn’t limited to her geography. “I do some writing for a website based out of Hong Kong, and some editing work for a company in India.” Newberry appreciates the variety of her work. “I really like what I do,” she reveals with a laugh, when asked how she stays motivated. This is particularly true when it comes to projects that require editing, a skill she didn’t even really consider until her studies at Langara. “I know what I want to do and I like making the changes.”

Newberry is particularly invested in her eBooks. So far, she has published two — The Hands-on Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home and How to Write an Obituary: A Step-by-Step Guide. She attributes the success of these books to a formula: “Find a niche market, figure out what information they need, and give it to them in whatever format makes sense.” She says that Adult Children Living At Home took about six months to complete. “I went back and lived with my parents after I finished university for about eight months,” Newberry reveals, when asked how she conceived the idea. Turns out, there was a desire for information on that subject. From there, she researched, wrote, revised, and published the book, with virtually zero publishing costs. “My goal is really to push the eBooks,” she says of her plans for the future, adding that she is now working on a third book. Once the books are up and running, they leave time and resources for other more worldly pursuits. “Ideally, I would like to be gone one month out of every three.” Travelling while working is high on her list of priorities, a fully attainable goal given her trusty laptop.

“Be really good at what you do, know what your specialty is, and develop a style and a voice that works for you.” That is Newberry’s advice to aspiring freelance writers and editors. She is also quick to add, “Keep an open mind and always look for the next opportunity.” Making contacts, she says, is absolutely critical to her success. “You never know where your next contract is coming from,” she explains. “So you have to constantly be working your contacts, and looking for new opportunities.” This effort may sound daunting to some, but Christina Newberry is obviously not someone who shrinks from a challenge.

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Reija J Roberts is a student in the Print Futures Program at Douglas College.

How to win a mini-press kit

As a proud sponsor of the Small Business BC Entrepreneur Showcase, I’m happy to announce that just by attending the event you could win a mini-press kit, including a business profile and one press release, plus a one hour consultation with me. Loads of other great prizes are up for grabs, and it’s sure to be an excellent networking opportunity. With George Moen, President of Blenz, set to speak, it’s an event not to miss!

http://smallbusinessbc.ca/showcase.php

A freelance travel & lifestyle writer/editor in Vancouver, B.C.