SPJ Conference Notes, cont.

Before we tap our TIPA attendees to share some of their session notes, here’s a comprehensive overview of the sessions that Anna Gutierrez attended at our recent SPJ Region 8 event. Some good stuff in here, so give it a read:


I’m super nerdy about conventions. Most of you know this already, but I love lists and notes and schedules and pretty much everything related to organization. The SPJ Region 8 conference was a great learning experience. I got to network with Rebecca Aguilar, Ed Bark, Michael Mooney and John Harden.

I can’t wait to share my information with you guys!

-Anna Gutierrez, Life and Entertainment Editor



The wonderful world of Freelance with Rebecca Aguilar and Ed Bark

They were thrust into the world of freelancing, but quickly learned how to make it work for them.

Freelancing is freedom – to do what stories you want – but it has it’s challenges.

Contacts and credibility are important when gaining stories as a freelancer.

  1. Establish credibility with yourself as a reporter.
    1. Create a website with your domain name. DO IT NOW.
    2. Single yourself out with a unique perspective, but be factual. You need to have a genuine voice in your reporting.
    1. Get a full time job right out of college – make a name for yourself in the newsroom.
    2. Save money! You need cushion for when you are between freelancing jobs.
  3. Join journalism organizations while you’re planning.
    1. Every person is a contact and someone who can help you get a job. Most organizations have student rates for joining. Go to their conferences.
  4. Make your own website. WordPress, MuckRack, anything.
    1. Have everything about you on there professionally for a portfolio.
    2. Don’t show bias for anything – you are setting your tone for the rest of your career.
  5. Start a blog about a niche you have.
    1. Anything to keep writing.
    2. Having a unique perspective makes you stand out.
    3. Weekly newspapers are good for contributors. Getting a story published is what matters.
  6. Real world (published) experience shows that you’re serious.
  7. Always be writing!
    1. Your social media should be selling you 24/7.
    2. Set the tone, have a nice photo – look happy.
    3. Don’t react on Twitter. Don’t be a troll. Create your own content with original thoughts.
    4. Always post your stuff and link to your articles.
    5. Everyone has a unique voice. Let that show.
  9. Think about the bigger picture – block the haters and be careful with what you post.
  10. The main take aways:
  11. Clips are so crucial.
    1. Learn to shoot, cut and edit video.
    2. Always have stories to pitch.
    3. Plan.
    4. Network.
    5. Be flexible.


How do I get paid?

  1. Good exposure doesn’t always beat good pay.
  2. Driving traffic < Money
  3. Writing for exposure is good at first when you’re getting your name out there.
  4. There are tons of publications, find the ones that pay.
  5. Being your own boss in intoxicating. As an editor, lead by example.
  6. If you want insurance as a freelancer, you should probably get married.
  7. Pay
    1. $1/word or $25-$50/article?
    2. Think about the per hour work.
    3. Be flexible with pay.
    4. Use your contacts and ask around.
    5. A little golden rule – If they ask you to write for them, you should get paid. If you approach them, just write and take it from there.
    6. Remember to ask for their high rate and low rate.


When you are providing content as a freelancer, the more you can provide, the better.

When you’re pitching:

  1. Summaries + details
  2. How am i going to suck you into my story?
  3. Listacles are great
  4. Take your own photos!


Feature Writing with Michael Mooney

Michael Mooney is an enterprise feature writer for D Magazine. He told us he realized he wanted to write features when he realized he could write in a fun way that had literary techniques in it.


It’s all about the Human Condition for him. What’s the deeper, bigger picture? What does this tell us about us? What are the lessons? Sometimes you have to figure out what makes it interesting to you. Mooney recommends finding the incredible thing to work a story around, not the other way around.


Writing and reporting are two separate things. You have to have an ear for when the story could start. What’s the big reveal or lesson? Play around with that.


Something Mooney said that caught my attention was he never starts a story with the world “the.” He also tries not to start stories with a date stamp. It’s good for a story, but there’s no way to develop from that.

If you’re struggling finding a start, work backwards. No first draft is going to be in print, so play around with it.


Look for the religious/obvious outliers in your story! It helps to guide and made a skeleton outline. Creating an outline is crucial because it provides some flexibility in your writing and it keeps the sanity and integrity of planning.


“Once it’s published, you can’t re-do a story. Put 100 percent into every story you do. You only have one shot with any reader. It’s what you do with that shot – teach about the world, show a mile in someone’s shoes – that matters.”


When developing a relationship with your source, here are some things to remember: It takes time; Don’t judge; Have an open mind; Ask normal; curious questions; Be genuine about it.


Feature writing is like fiction, but it’s true. There are always going to be surprising elements and things that stick out.

It’s about the way you wrap the cigar, not what’s in it. Writing features is all about problem solving. Boil it all down to the facts.


Sentences should be useful. Don’t be cheesy with them. If you’re struggling, take it out. An editor will probably take it out anyway.


How do you fix the uninteresting?

There has to be a reason you are writing the story. It’s all a matter of time before you figure out what intrigues you. When you mention the story you are working on to your friend/family/whoever, what’s the first thing you mention? What made these circumstances?

Let yourself explore. Always wonder if something could be a story and channel your interests in things.

Always have a story ready to go.


Google News Lab with John Harden

Newslab.withgoogle.com has all of your needs for most things newsy.

Google fusion tables – mapping software

  • Spreadsheets
  • Add addresses or longitude/latitude
  • Data
  • Zip codes/countries/etc.
  • This is good for special analysis.
  • It’s all fixable and updates live on the websites it is published to.
  • When doing maps, you want to go for the significant data, not just the extreme data.

Google trends

  • This is for following trends and showing when something was most popularly searched

Google public data explorer

  • Need to know some coding for this, but it’s helpful for searching

Google spreadsheets – charts

  • This is good for charts! Not everything is going to be a map.

Open records

  • Be nice to your open records people. Be thoughtful.
  • They deal with a lot of people and people keep data.
  • Where can I get data?
    • City halls
    • US dept. Of education
    • US govt.
    • Public data explorer

My Maps

  • Automatically saves to your google drive
  • More customizable than fusion tables
  • Easier for non computer people
  • Customizable icons! Yay!


John’s #1 Tip – start small with the tools. You don’t want to crash and burn. Go slowly and really learn it.


Preparing yourself for the Marketplace with John Harden and Rebecca Aguilar

  1. Have a rare set of skills, find your niche.
    1. Something specific to you.
      1. Example, data reporter with data skills.
    2. Diversify your skills in order to be more marketable.
  2. Social media sets the tone.
  3. Buy your URL.
    1. Own your name.
    2. .com is the most important thing.
  4. Network like crazy and give yourself back.
  5. Hustle on your days off. Never stop meeting people.
  6. Go to conferences that are in your area of expertise.
  7. Join organizations regardless of the title.
    1. Ethnicities aren’t a requirement
  8. Set up LinkedIn.
    1. Use bullet points of who you are.
    2. Make your linked in very specifc and non generic
  9. Be careful with your opinions and where you post hem.
    1. Unique voice
    2. Passion for something
    3. Remain neutral in hot topics
  10. Stay passionate and invest in yourself.
    1. It’s okay to sacrifice a weekend or two for learning opportunities.
    2. You will be where history happens, let that fuel you.
  11. Get your foot in the door any way you can
    1. Reporters are all friends with each other across publications
    2. The more years you have under your belt, the more you will get paid.
  12. Don’t give up your career for anyone
    1. Don’t date someone that’s from the city you are working in.
  13. Clips
    1. Use significant stories that you are proud of
      1. Awards
      2. Follow up
      3. enterprise/investigative pieces
      4. Stories with passion
  14. Business cards show your personality
    1. @all social media
    2. Contact information
    3. Photos?
    4. Name – HUGE
  15. Patience
    1. Don’t feel like you’re not improving fast enough.
    2. Stay patient and passionate.
  16. Don’t take not getting jobs personally.
  17. Find a mentor
    1. Pick their brains
    2. Name drop – they add credibility
    3. Having both a male and female mentor provides perspective


{This is your life. Live it.}

{There’s a five year make it or break it period for journalists.}

{Empower. Educate. Inspire.}




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