Next Stop: Procrastination Station

I am working on a story right now that I’m having a hard time finishing. And, when I say I am “working” on it, I’m using the verb in the loosest way possible. Fact is, I haven’t lifted a finger to complete this story in weeks, maybe even months. Sure, I’ve had plenty of excuses as to why I couldn’t work on the piece. Grades were due. Other deadlines loomed larger. I had to take my cat to the vet.

The truth is I am a bit stuck on the story, which is a travel feature on the part of the world where I was born. Perhaps the proverbial saying that familiarity breeds contempt is just too true in this case, and I can’t really see why anyone would go out of their way to visit the Arkansas Delta unless there was a Thanksgiving turkey and fat slice of coconut cake waiting for them at the end of the rutted road.

But the assignment — and The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge on list making —  led me to reflect on some of my favorite ways to procrastinate, which I have explored all too thoroughly in recent weeks and also enumerated below.

1. Work on something completely unrelated to the task at hand – I call it productive procrastination. Sure, taking on a 15-day Blogging 201 challenge improved the appearance and content of my blog and I do need to transcribe some notes from that interview project I’ve been researching for more than a year, but is now really the time?

2. Run errands – Although I am not a prolific shopper, I will not hesitate to take a trip to the bank or post office in the middle of the day or even create an elaborate grocery list that can take hours to fill. I think one of the secret pitfalls of working from home is the allure of running weekday errands when destinations are “less crowded.”

3. Exercise – It’s another form of productive procrastination. Days when I want to avoid my desk are the perfect time to double the length of a leisurely walk or add a few reps from one of the workouts in my latest fitness obsession, 30-Day Fitness Challenges.

4. Cook – There is nothing quite as satisfying as concocting an elaborate batch of prosciutto-wrapped, cherry-stuffed chicken breasts or crafting a three-layer cake when a deadline is imminent. After all, why drive to Arkansas when I can bake my own coconut cake right here at home?

5. Let online research devolve into aimless internet surfing – Okay, so I’m on Level 181 of Candy Crush Saga. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Please share your favorite ways to procrastinate. I need some new ideas.

Free Photo from Photo Pin

Free Photo from Photo Pin

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnystiletto/6937952848/”>I Believe I Can Fry</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Come to The Dark Side: Tips on Writing Press Releases

Even Luke Skywalker was tempted by The Dark Side and, at some point in their careers, most reporters and writers will be, too.

“Star Wars” analogies aside, there are many reasons to learn how to write press releases, even if you never do paid public relations work.  Knowing how to write an effective press release can come in handy for the small business owner who wants to get the word out about her company, for organizers of charity events and other fundraising efforts, or for authors and artists who want to publicize their newest self-published book or other work. And, while it can feel odd at first to toot your own horn and bang your own drum, there’s really nothing wrong with being your own one-man band when you’ve got something newsworthy or unique to share.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to write an effective press release.

Good Press Releases:

  • are newsworthy.
  • have an attention-getting headline and lead.
  • are accurate, objective, and contain sources for follow-up calls and contacts.
  • take into account impact on the public and classic news values including proximity and timeliness.

So, what can you do to generate a newsworthy press release?

  • emphasize ties with current events
  • conduct a survey
  • issue a report
  • interview a celebrity
  • tie in with a holiday
  • stage a special event
  • organize a tour
  • adapt national reports for the local market
  • hold a contest
  • address a controversy

Once you’ve got something newsworthy to write about:

  • identify your audience and tailor your writing. Would an editor at the local newspaper be interested, or is your news better suited for a trade magazine that specializes on covering your industry?
  • decide whether the release will be news oriented or feature oriented. Are you holding a meatball eating contest or did you just release a blockbuster new product that will double the size of your workforce? Your writing style should reflect the content of the release.
  • write an attention-getting headline, then identify the theme and put it in the lead. Your reader should know immediately what your release is about.
  • include information in the body of the release to support the theme and weave in lots of strong quotes from sources. Even if a reporter develops his or her own story from a press release, these quotes will sometimes be used word for word, making them a great way to get your message out.
  • take the time to send your release to the right person. Don’t just send your press release to the generic email address listed on a newspaper, television station, or magazine’s contact page. Find the address of a specific editor or reporter and send your release directly. That being said, make sure your release is actually worth reading. If it is, you are likely to at least garner some respect for your company or cause, even if you don’t generate positive publicity.

I can say from personal experience that these tips really work. I’ve written or edited a number of press releases on a volunteer basis for everything from my fiance’s country band to a friend’s non-profit wine bar, and each release has generated multiple stories. This semester, some of my students found similar success when their releases resulted in stories or even ran verbatim in the local daily newspaper.

So, feel free to explore The Dark Side, because it might not be so bad after all.

 

Food Prepared With Love Is a Work of Art

A work of art

A work of art –

Check out The Daily’s Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge to share your own interpretation of what constitutes a work of art.

Bachelor’s Degree Bargain

To riff on a bestselling book title, everything I needed to know, I learned in undergrad.

At Arkansas State University, my humble alma mater, I received all the essential knowledge I needed to become a successful journalist. I also had the opportunity to serve as editor in chief of the student newspaper, work with many other talented students who are still professional writers and editors today, and — with only one exception — attend small classes taught by full-time professors, many of whom had recent real-world experience in their fields of study. What’s more, I got all this for a paltry $975 or less in tuition and most fees each semester.

It was a great  value, even in those days, and seems more of a steal when you consider the average annual in-state price tag for tuition and fees was $8,893 for public four-year institutions in 2013 according to The College Board.

All this doesn’t discount the value of my master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, where I learned how to physically and psychologically navigate life in the city, gained insights from some of the best reporters in the nation, landed a paid internship at Newsday, and was matched with a mentor who helped me get my first real job.

But I have no doubt that I would still be thriving as a professional reporter, writer, and teacher today if I had ended my educational career after earning my bachelor’s degree — and all for less than $1,000 a semester.

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Free morgueFile Photo

Free morgueFile Photo

To read the college newspaper news story and editorial I wrote about tuition in 1995, please click here (and ignore the fact I use the words fewer and less interchangeably).

To hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren talk about the great undergraduate education she got for $50 a semester and how the American dream is 300 percent more expensive today than it was a generation ago, check out this CBS Sunday Morning interview.

To post your own thoughts about being a student, teacher, or both, respond to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge.

 

Who Needs the Gym? I Do.

Folks with full-time jobs might think it’s easy to stay fit as a freelancer who works from home and sets his or her own schedule. After all, freelancers can feasibly drop what they’re doing and go for a run or attend a Pilates class while working stiffs are confined to their cubicles.

I have to admit, when I left full-time K-12 teaching to work as an adjunct professor and devote more energy to writing, I thought the same thing. What’s more, the new gym at the college commons was open to audacious employees willing to work out next to coeds far fitter and firmer than they. So I dropped my gym membership, planned on working out every day I had classes on campus and even created a Pinterest board optimistically titled “Who Needs the Gym?”

Who needs the gym? Turns out, I do.

I need the gym:

  • to watch St. Louis Cardinals games in a venue that does not offer beer bucket specials since my quasi-Luddite lifestyle means I don’t have cable television at home but am not opposed to taking advantage of it at nearby taverns.
  • as a weekend refuge from the Budweiser, barbecue, boy haven, Beatles guitar jam festival that my own home sometimes morphs into during spring and summer months.
  • as a place to expand my summer workout regimen beyond leisurely walks around the neighborhood and the occasional yoga practice or Jillian Michaels DVD.

So my recently reactivated gym membership starts in May and I have to admit I’m sort of excited to get back into a  more rigorous routine — and the gym’s new sauna — after a tough work out, of course.

For more on staying fit as a freelancer, please  check out my story and others on the topic in WOW! Women On Writing.

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Reader Feedback

As part of The Daily Post’s Blogging 201 course, I created this reader feedback survey. I would love to read more about what you think of the content I am offering here at http://www.charleneoldham.com and would be happy to give fellow bloggers the same type of feedback.

Thanks so much for your time and interest in my work.

This Teacher Learns a Few Lessons

A while back, one of my Basic Reporting students turned in an assignment that certainly wasn’t perfect, but had undeniable news value. Locura Sana Fitness, a Facebook page launched by the student and two friends, had built a following of more than 10,000. After helping him polish it into a press release, we sent it off to the university’s student newspaper and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A story sparked by that press release about the Spanish-language fitness program, offered free through Facebook and other social media sites, ran in last week’s newspaper.

Between the three of them, the college students put in at least 40 hours a week maintaining the Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram account which, together, boast more than 20,000 followers. But they are pursuing a passion, not a paycheck, so do it all for free.

While following their dream may eventually lead to financial gain for these young people, their efforts to educate others without expecting anything in return is an important lesson for everyone, especially this teacher. Sometimes, I lament the number of hours I put in planning and grading, occasionally thinking about giving up teaching altogether for more lucrative pursuits. But I always come back to the fact I would miss interacting with students — not only sharing my own passions, but celebrating successes when they discover theirs. When I asked the student how it felt to be featured in the newspaper, he modestly replied,”Yesterday was a good day.”

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morgueFile free photo

It was a good day for both of us.

 

 

 

 

More Things to Be Thankful for In 2013 -Saint Louis and Simple Pleasures

Fall is full of simple pleasures here in Saint Louis, even when the Cards aren’t World Series champions. After all, Cardinals fans still got almost a full month of playoff baseball and, judging from history and statistics, can likely look forward to enjoying October games well before Cubs fans again experience the glory of post-season play.

The Gateway Arch - Morguefile PhotoBut I digress.

First off. I am truly thankful to live in a city. I grew up in a rural town that is now home to fewer than 3,000 souls. My town did not get a fast-food restaurant until the late 1990s, around the same time it got its first ATM. While those facts may make my hometown sound charming and Rockwellian to those who have never experienced the Arkansas Delta firsthand, I can assure you that it was not.

At the same time, Saint Louis is a city that showcases the seasons, something I rarely experienced in the Delta or in Dallas, a place that specializes in summer and the metropolitan area I previously called home. Dallas is city so short on trees that I believe most Dallasites have to take their seasonal cues from the Starbucks menu. After all, nothing says fall like a Pumpkin Spice Latte and highs in the 70s and 80s.

But, here in Saint Louis, a taste of fall can be found right outside my back door, no Starbucks necessary.Image