October 30, 2006

National College Media Convention Wrap-up

I'm am sleepy. Two hours in a plane and another three in the car wiped me out yesterday, and this daylight savings time business is always strange for the first few days.

But the conference was good. It gave us a chance to meet some people in our respective fields and find out what's happening in the media today.

Unfortunately, TBL didn't win any official awards at the conference, but we did receive a big complement from a professional critique of the paper; the advisor wanted a copy of TBL to show to her students for content and design purposes and they had a full journalism program and a sponsored newspaper at their university.

I thought I'd share some of the highlights of the trip; perhaps this information could be useful to others out there:
  • Features to Books
    • As I said before, Michael Taylor gave a detailed session on turning magazine/newspaper features into full length non-fiction. Non-fiction is pitched (before the book is completed) in a book proposal, which consists of several parts totally around 30 pages on the average (no more than 50):
      • Synopsis: A two to three page summary of the book, like a lengthy abstract.
      • Annotated Table of Contents: A chapter listing of the book, with one paragraph descriptions of each. It doesn't have to be exact, but the publishers want you to think about organization (about 10 to 15 chapters, typically).
      • Bio: All about you, professionally.
      • Sample chapters: One or two completed chapters from the book.
    • These were the basics (there are a few books written about these proposals). He said finding an agent is necessary, preferably one who handles other authors that you admire. Taylor also said to avoid internet publishing; any agent that tries to charge up front is probably trying to get one over.
  • Resumes
    • This was probably the most useful of the sessions, hosted by editors from the Wall Street Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Indianapolis Star. Everyone has a different opinion on the contents, but this is what they had to say:
      • Cover letter: One page, well written. In journalism they use it as a gauge of your writing abilities in addition to clips.
      • Resume: One page, neat, simple, to the point. Include three references (education, professional, personal)
      • Clips/Media: Six samples of writing, either from photocopies of the print article or a website printout. They recommended supplying commentary with each clip, describing your process or problems briefly. One of the editors recommended sending a disk containing any edited pages or designed pages or graphics. He liked to see "the whole package."
      • No folders, nothing fancy: Just a paper clip and white 8.5 x 11 paper. No staples.
    • The session was geared towards general journalism and never delved into specialist writing (like science journalism), which was a tad disappointing. They recommended "overdoing" your online resume if you have more information, and giving the link in the resume for further info.
  • Blogging for the Serious Journalist
    • I had mixed feelings about this session. The woman who hosted the session had been a journalist for 30 years for one newspaper, and her political blog was anything but personal (or interesting, for that matter). It was basically a way for her to include smaller stories in another format (does that truly make her a blogger?). She is enmeshed in the machine, however, and said that blogging is becoming a necessary skill in journalism. She felt that it will be the wave of the future and should be included on any resume. Most of her colleagues don't do it because of time.
That's about it for the words of wisdom (I won't bore you with design specs or software alternatives).

The trip was a great opportunity, but I'm glad I'm home. I have a few new tricks up my sleeve and a better sense of the professional writing world. Sort of.

I've been going to these conferences for three years now, and I've only seen one science journalism session given. Unfortunately, the presenter never really delved past the scientific issues people care most about: money, morals and health. I'm more concerned about getting a job at this point.


  1. Glad you're back!

  2. Knowing as many people as possible should also help you find a job.