Sharp Pencils

This is the first part of a two-part entry. Part I covers tips for Journalists, while Part II covers tips for Photojournalists.

As a journalist, staying practiced up is something that’s a must. Whether you’re a student, a stringer or a full-time staffer, you’ve got stay on top of your game. I call it keeping your pencil sharp for journalists and your lenses warm for photojournalists. Here are a few tips for doing just that.
Sharp pencil tips:

  • Read. There’s nothing that helps writing skills like improving the reading skills. Read books, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, regional papers, academic journals, and, yes, reading fiction can help your skills too. After a load of non-fiction and writing, I found The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway to be very refreshing.
  • Keep a personal journal. Writing about your day can keep your skills fresh. Plus, it’s a great way to clear your mind before much needed rest.
  • Schedule your writing. Whether for school or when in the newsroom, I find that by setting aside “chunks” or blocks of time for writing I get more done and I stay more focused.
  • Get it all together. By doing my research, collecting quotes, comments and other details, I can sit and write much more effectively than if I’m scrambling to find the next detail or making calls while in the middle of an article.
  • Blog. Like the personal journal, blogging can be a great way to keep your writing skills fresh.
  • Write letters. Sure Grandma may only be a cell phone call away, but you know she’d love to get a handwritten note from you. Your friends would be pleasantly surprised as well. Think about how much you appreciate getting a “real” letter in the mail.
  • Take a grammar class. It might seem extreme, but getting back into school can teach you more than keeping Strunk and White’s Elements of Style on your shelf. Find a good class that works with your schedule and take it. Many organizations will even pay for your class or let you use on-the-job time for the training you’re getting. Check with you HR department.
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    Michael Shead is a photojournalist and writer with experience in small town journalism as well as international video documentaries. He serves as Communications Director at Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, Michigan. He also teaches photojournalism at Cornerstone University.