Does school accreditation matter?

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 4, 2009 in journalism

If you attended college for journalism or a related field, did you choose an accredited college? Did the accreditation matter?

Central Michigan University’s journalism department is not seeking accreditation. The decision is yet to be made, as it must be approved by the dean, and CMU is technically still accredited until May, according to CM Life.

This really bothers me though. I chose to come to CMU because it had reputable PR and journalism programs. The accreditation was the bonus to me.

Even though experience and portfolio pieces is what usually matters to employers, I’m not sure the school will continue to attract serious journalism students like it has in the past.

What do you think? Does it matter?

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5 Simple Writing Rules

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Jan 19, 2009 in journalism, Public Relations, Writing

The AP Stylebook along with various grammar and writing guides can be intimidating. Here are five simple writing rules you should be able to remember off the top of your head:

  1. Serial comma. It’s like serial murder. You shouldn’t do it and you should know better.
  2. I was thinking this! Exclamation marks are overused. Write well and you won’t need to exclaim.
  3. That isn’t necessary. In most situations, the word “that” can be cut from your copy.
  4. Check your spell check. Spell check doesn’t catch everything. The lighting hit the tree. Lightning hit the tree. The lightening hit the tree. According to spell check, all three of these sentences are correct.
  5. Don’t be passive. Active writing is stronger. Avoid using “is,” “are,” “was,” “were” and other passive verbs.

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PR Vs. Journalism

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Dec 25, 2008 in journalism, Public Relations

I’ve read a lot of posts on PR versus journalism lately and thought you might enjoy this video.

Happy Holidays!

Related posts:
Jobs cuts in journalism could lead to less jobs in PR

PR Professionals and their role as a storyteller

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8 Tips to Finding Good Stories for the Media

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Dec 13, 2008 in Books, journalism, Public Relations, Story Pitching, Writing

Earlier this week I was at the library looking for some books on advertising for a final paper. I came across The Confessions of an Ink-Stained Wretch by John Persinos.

The book intrigued me. Although I have a good amount of writing experience, I don’t have a lot of story pitching experience. I’ve heard a lot of my peers say that we don’t get enough experience in this area, therefore I felt it would be a good idea to read this book.

With the recent cuts in journalism jobs, I think PR will be very important. With less staff on hand at publications, the remaining journalists will need quality press releases and sources to make their jobs easier.

I would like to take note of a few good tips Persinos offered on thinking like the media. Although his tips were mostly about money, some of them can be applied to general stories as well.

8 Tips to Finding Good Stories for the Media

1. Money matters. Have you ever heard of the term “CREAM?” It means, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” If there is a lot of money to be lost or gained, then you’ve got a story.

2. Localize, localize, localize. Things tend to be more important when it affects the local people. CNN has had a lot of coverage on the automaker bailout recently, but it’s much more compelling to me when they relate it to how it will affect the people I grew up with.

3. Remember your audience. Don’t use financial jargon that only bankers understand. Most of your readers, unless you write for the Wall Street Journal, aren’t going to get it. Write the story so they can understand it.

4. Check your work. Remember hearing that in fifth-grade math? It still applies. Make sure you got the numbers right.

5. Tell what’s really going on. So, there might not be an automaker bailout, right? GM goes bankrupt. That’s about money. But what’s the real story? How about the story about the man who won’t have a job to support his five kids?

6. People love rags-to-riches stories, especially when they are localized. Tell the media about how your client was homeless and on the streets before he became a billionaire (well, only if that is true).

7. Use money language that people can relate to. They will relate better to “gas prices denting their wallets,” rather than “oil prices continue to rise.”

8. Namedrop when you can. People know brand names. If you say, “Teflon accused of…” people will pay attention more than if you said, “Some companies that manufacture cooking utensils…”

You can go to Persinos Web site, Ink-Stained Confessions, to get a copy of the first chapter or to download his podcast. I will write a full review of the book once I am done.

Related Posts:

Alternative Story Forms

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Job cuts in journalism could lead to less jobs in PR

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Dec 6, 2008 in Public Relations

PR Practitioner posted about the latest layoffs in the journalism profession.

Gannet announced that it was laying off around 2,000 people, after already cutting around 1,000. Gannet publishes 85 newspapers in the US, including the USA Today. They publish almost 900 non-daily publications as well.

Before I discovered my passion for public relations, I was going to major in journalism. With all the cuts I have been hearing about in journalism, I’m glad I chose PR. I don’t think any industry is doing exceptionally well in this economy, but I still feel confident that I can find a job in PR when I graduate.

But, with journalists getting their job cuts, some will likely head into PR. With my graduation a year and a half away, this worries me a bit. Will there be less entry-level jobs in PR available when I graduate due to cuts in journalism?

This increase in competiton gives me even more of a reason to keep blogging and working hard at learning more about PR. The job market will become more competitive as journalists come to what they refer to as “the dark side.”

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Is Google best? Maybe not, according to SABEW speaker

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 16, 2008 in Research

NU Access posted a link to several videos from the 45th Annual Conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

One video was about how Google isn’t necessarily the best search engine for all things. Dan and I were discussing Google last week.

The speaker suggested tryingIce Rocket, Pipl, Hurisearch, and Domain Tools. Ice Rocket didn’t seem too bad. I searched “PRSSA” and one of my own posts popped up…along with some posts having nothing to do with PR (unless you’re Samantha from Sex and the City). I think I’ll stick with Google.

There are also short videos about entrepreneurship, health insurance coverage, social networking in business reporting, and more.

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AP Style Exercises

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 16, 2008 in Editing, Public Relations, Writing

Knowing AP Style is important for those working in journalism or public relations. On the NU Access blog, there was a post about a grammar school with style.

Newsroom 101
has around 1,900 exercises in AP Style available for free. This is definitely a Web site I’ll be adding to my favorites.

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Alternative Story Forms – You don’t have to use the inverted pyramid every time

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Editing, Writing

By now you probably think I am obsessed with News University. The truth is, it’s a great resource.

I’m the kind of person who wants to learn more about my industry. I want to be more than good…I want to be great. A Web site like News University is great because, (1) it’s free, (2) it’s put together by industry professionals, (3) it’s interesting and interactive.

The first course I took through News U was “Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Creating Alternative Story Forms.” I really wish we had learned about these in my journalism class last fall. The inverted pyramid has its place and is important, but today’s audience needs more sometimes.

Types of Alternative Story Forms
(In the course, this is a cool table of elements/science graphic)
Also note that the explanations were not working for the standalone categories.


  • Interview
  • Breakdown
  • FAQ
  • Vingette
  • Grid
  • Comic Panels
  • Snapshot
  • How-to
  • Recap
  • Preview
  • Game
  • Bracket


  • Q&A – anticipates reader’s questions
  • Quiz – same as Q&A-anticipates reader’s questions
  • Timeline – focuses on the important moments
  • Calendar – itineraries
  • By the #’s – good for statistic heavy articles
  • Top lists – collects and organizes information


  • If you go – box telling how to participate in event, uses who, what, when, where
  • Tips – bulleted list giving advice
  • Pros and Cons – grid format, allows reader to compare
  • What’s next – adds a “forward-looking tone to your coverage”
  • Breakout – summarizes main point or details of story
  • Updates – lists latest developments, often used onlie
  • Characters – short bio containing the “role” a person in the story
  • Glossaries – list defining terms for complicated, jargon-filled stories
  • Story so far – textbox giving the the background information on the story – like a movie flashback
  • Bio box – can include the basics and sometimes trivia-type facts (favorite book, etc)

Several Great Examples of Alternative Story Forms

Read More About Alternative Storytelling

A Simple PDF About ASF’s with Examples

And through my Google search, I came across the blog of Andy Bechtel, the person who created this course.

On a final note, looking through this month’s “Allure,” I noticed several ASF’s.

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Getting the most from interviews

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Public Relations, Writing

Interviews seem to be a daily activity in my field. I generally prepare as many questions I can think of before even contacting the source. I like to be prepared.

For the past 30 minutes, I have been on an interactive course at News University. The course was pretty simplistic, but it served as a nice reminder of how I should conduct interviews. The course is simple enough for a junior high school student-and interactive enough to keep their attention span.

Here are a few interviewing tips I was reminded of through the course:

  • Be prepared. Figure out what you and your audience need to know before the interview.
  • Ask open-ended questions. You want them to give you an answer that tells the story, not a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Be conversational. If you seem like you are interrogating them, their responses might not be what you are looking for.
  • Listen and be patient. If you cut your source off, you might here that great quote they were working towards.
  • Off the record. They say something great…and then tell you that it is “off the record.” Ask if you can use a specific part of the quote or try to otherwise convince them you need it, if it really is a necessary quote. Or, you can ask if you can use it “on background,” meaning you would define the Professor Joe as a university employee. It’s a win-win for you and the source. You get your quote and the source is unidentified.

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Ten tips to revising drafts for journalists and PR professionals

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Editing, Freelancing, Public Relations, Writing

I recently completed a free online course called “Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision” through News University. As a writer and a public relations professional, the course helped focus me for revisions.

No writer is perfect. How many different drafts do you go through when writing?

I usually go through two or three. It really depends on my deadline though. If time is of the essence, then I am less likely to rewrite several times.

Here are my tips for writers stemming from this course:

  1. Remember that you are revising to make your writing better—it doesn’t mean it was necessarily bad. Just because it isn’t bad, doesn’t mean it can’t be better.
  2. Print it out. There are so many blatant errors you miss just from looking at the draft on your computer screen.
  3. Read through it and just make little marks or circles where something doesn’t sound quite right. Don’t fix it right away. Keep reading and marking until the end. Then start making the changes. 
  4. Staring at a printed version and have no idea what to do? Set it aside and work on something else for awhile. 
  5. Read it aloud. If you trip over parts of your copy, you might want to rewrite it. 
  6. Look for passive voice and adverbs to edit. The course has a tool called Word Painter. It “paints” passive voice and adverbs for you. 
  7. Have someone else read it. A fresh set of eyes can give you new ideas.
  8. Try the course tool called “Sentence Tracker.” It will show you a graph of the length of your sentences and paragraphs. It helps show the pace and flow of your writing. 
  9. Take down the scaffolding, what the instructor describes as the words that help us get started writing. Go ahead and start your first draft with “This story is about…”, build onto the story and by the end you can start taking the scaffolding down. 
  10. Write tight. That’s actually a tip from Dan, but this course suggested using the 10 percent rule. Take your first draft and cut 10 percent.
“When I see a paragraph shrinking under my eyes like a strip of bacon in a skillet, I know I’m on the right track.”
—Peter DeVries

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