Sunday, July 31, 2005

BlogHer: Just Clone Me!

It was the first breakout session of the day, and already I wanted to be in three places at once. Clone me! (I'm a's not that big a a stretch.)

BlogHer '05, held July 30 in Santa Clara, Calif., was envisioned as "a network for women bloggers to draw on for exposure, education, and community." Lots of women (and some men), lots of ideas and energy, lots of options.

So, which "Birds of a Feather" interest group should I pick? The Citizen Journalism group, the "What's Wrong with Traditional Media" group, or the Education group. What's it gonna be?

Since I'm planning to use my blog in support of my newswriting class at SJSU, I went with the Education group. I got to talk with Melissa Wall, a journalism prof at Cal State Northridge; Staci Wolfe, multimedia coordinator for the KU school of journalism; Ellen Spertus, who teaches computer science at Mills College (and who happens to be related to one of my colleagues, Grace Provenzano); a middle school teacher who blogs anonymously about teaching; a student teacher who, like me, is interested in using blogs in the classroom; and a couple of local high school students who can already blog circles around me. Much fun, many ideas.

Some good ideas I took away from this group:
  • For students, blogging brings education into their territory...most of them are already on line.
  • Use open posting on class-related blogs and ask students to proofread/copyedit each other's postings (as well as comment on topic/content)
  • Ask journalism students to use an online style guide (as well as AP style) for their blog postings (I may send my students to KU's online style guide)
Much food for thought...more BlogHer notes to come.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Wretched Excess

If you'd like a taste of wretched writing, check out SJSU's Buler-Lytton Fiction Contest, which challenges aspiring writers to compose an opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The 2005 winner, just announced, opens by comparing a woman's "ample bosom" to an old auto carburetor. What more do you need to know!

Personally, I think a little wretched excess can be a good thing. In my writing classes at SJSU, I sometimes read some bad similes and metaphors to my students to get them to lighten up and feel more confident about crafting their own ("hey, my simile can't be any worse than that..."). Bad examples -- combined with some good ones too, of course -- can help students "get" the basic concept. Besides, reading the bad ones out loud makes me laugh...and that's always a good thing.

A good source of really bad similes is Oakland high school science teacher Anthony Cody's collection of the "worst analogies ever written in a high school essay." Enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Words Count

Words really do make a difference. They influence how we perceive issues and events; they color our worldviews.

That's why careful writers pay attention to the words they choose.

A recent San Jose Mercury News story ("52-year-old pleads not guilty to having sex with minor," July 20, 2005, p. 7A) needed a bit more attention to word choice. The news brief reported on the arraignment of an HIV-positive Redwood City man who'd been accused of molesting his 8-year-old stepdaughter. The article went on to say "...he's believed to have carried on a sexual relationship with the girl from April through late June."

That wording set off alarm bells in my head. Let's get real. How does an 8-year-old "carry on a sexual relationship"?

What we're talking about here is rape, not "a relationship." Pedophiles may prefer to think of it a "sexual relationship," but the rest of us don't need to use pretty euphemisms for such an ugly act. I say, let's call a spade a spade.

Most likely, MN reporter Jessie Seyfer was just trying to vary her wording and avoid repetition in this short article... and, hey, she'd already used "molesting" in the lead and "having sex" at the start of the second graph. But I'd rather see some repetition than the use of mealy-mouth wording that leaves the impression that children have any say in the matter when a trusted adult molests them.

I wrote to Seyfer, expressing my concerns. Here's the response I got from Seyfer and her editor, Peter Delevett:

"Thanks very much for your comments on how we referred to an alleged 8-year-old victim of sexual assault by her 52-year-old stepfather. The concerns you raise are important and certainly valid, and in retrospect, we might have handled the wording differently. Sex involving an 8-year-old is most definitely rape, and it's never our intention to gloss over the realities of child abuse.
"Again, we appreciate your close attention to wording."