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Author Archives: Julie Schwietert Collazo

Online Professional Development Resources for Writers & Journalists

I love school.

I have always been a sit-at-the-front-of-the-room kind of student, thanks, no doubt, to my parents, who were the first in their respective families to go to college. They always impressed the importance of education upon my brother and me, and did everything within their power to provide us with the best educational opportunities possible.

As an adult, I’ve missed classroom learning. I earned my MSW at NYU more than a decade ago and started a PhD in Spanish when we lived in Puerto Rico. I did not finish it because we moved and because, on a deeper level, I was frustrated with the disconnects between academe and “the real world” and wasn’t sure how to resolve those tensions.

I’ve never stopped learning, of course, but when I say I’ve missed learning, I mean I’ve missed the structured guidance of a professor and the collegiality of a classroom of learners with a purpose. It was for this reason that I enrolled in two short courses through edX, both of which I’ve just finished, and one of them for credit.

edX, as you probably already know, is a platform for “MOOCs,” massive open online courses, in which student enrollment is unlimited, all teaching is conducted online, and students do coursework on their own time, rather than a prescribed meeting hour, with a new unit of information delivered each week. Some courses are for credit, others for audit. edX MOOCs cover a vast range of topics–from marketing to DNA methylation data analysis (no, I don’t really know what that means)–and are offered by instructors from a number of different institutions, from the small New York private college, Hamilton, to large universities like UC-Berkeley. There are also courses offered in other languages, with instructors representing a variety of colleges and universities around the world.

The pros and cons of MOOCs are parsed endlessly in think-piece articles, but as Doran Larson, the instructor of “Incarceration’s Witness,” one of the courses I just completed, wrote, “One great advantage of a MOOC is that it can operate like a small, living gallery with an open running time: people can enter and visit, take the time to explore and read and view, and wander back to things they want to study more closely….” I found his course, as well as “Journalism for Social Change,” offered for credit through UC-Berkeley, worth the time I invested in them, and saw right away how they could be valuable continued learning resources for writers and journalists who can’t/don’t want to/aren’t able to take a course in a bricks-and-mortar classroom.

In addition to edX and similar MOOC platforms, there are numerous resources you can access–many of them for free–for the benefit of professional development. The list below is short, but each offers a breadth and depth of online learning opportunities (as well as some offline opportunities, too) that I think you’ll find useful:

Poynter: An institute that describes itself as the “world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st Century democracies,” Poynter has more than 250 free or low-cost courses to sharpen students’ journalism skills. Formats include self-directed study, group seminars, and webinars, and topics include everything from how to conduct interviews to how to use Snapchat. You can review the full list of courses here.

Reynolds Journalism Institute: Hosted by the Missouri School of Journalism, the Reynolds Journalism Institute hosts webinars and other events that are open to registrants not affiliated with the school. Past events have included how to report on science beats more responsibly and effectively and free speech. A list of upcoming events can be found here.

PBS MediaShift: Dubbing itself as “media training for the digital age,” MediaShift, a project of PBS, hosts “series of live online media trainings… in partnership with top journalism and communication schools.” Most of the trainings emphasize digital reporting skills, and cover such topics as iPhone audio reporting. Unlike many of the other resources listed here, these courses, most of which are just one hour in duration, are not free.

Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma: A project of Columbia University’s Journalism School, Dart is an invaluable resource, especially for journalists working in/covering conflict zone issues and other trauma-oriented beats. Though Columbia and Dart are based in New York City, Dart often holds events in other locations, as well as online webinars. A list of upcoming trainings and events is here. Under its “Resources” section, journalists can also find a wealth of self-directed courses on the subjects related to trauma reporting. These can be found here. International Journalists’ Network is another useful resource (in full disclosure, I write for the site), particularly for those writers and journalists interested in and/or covering international beats. While the site itself does not host courses or trainings, many of its articles fall under the heading “journalism education” and include announcements about and links to other training opportunities.

Science journalist Kat Friedrich shared the following resources:

Women’s Coding Collective
Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at The University of Texas, Austin

Have any other resources I’ve missed that you’d like to recommend? Please mention them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list.

How to Report on Cuba (Responsibly)

Tickets are now on sale for the workshop “How to Report on Cuba (Responsibly),” which I’ll be co-faciltiating with Havana-based journalist Conner Gorry at the Cuban Art Space in New York City on April 27. You can learn more about the workshop, which is intended for professional journalists and journalism students, and buy tickets here.

Register Now

We are also working with Tracie Powell of All Digitocracy to make the workshop available via webinar for those who are not in New York City. Details will be posted about the webinar soon.

BinderCon LA: A Review

I’m just back from Los Angeles, where the second iteration of BinderCon was held this past weekend on the campus of UCLA. Described by organizers Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum as “[a] symposium to empower women and gender non‑conforming writers with tools, connections, and strategies to advance their careers,” and by male trolls on twitter as a “militant” man-hating mafia (no, really), BinderCon included keynotes, panels, workshops, speed pitch sessions, and plenty of time for socialization.

I’m a pretty critical person. If you know me, you might consider me to be the most critical person you know, and I’m ok with that. When I criticize, it’s because I really believe things and people can be and do better. But even I can’t find anything to criticize about this conference. In fact, of all the conferences I’ve ever attended–and I’ve been to a lot–this one is, hands-down, the very best, and here’s why:

1. It is extremely well-organized.
If you ever attend a conference and pay close attention to the organizers, they always look harried and frazzled and seriously stressed, and there is inevitably something that goes wrong. This wasn’t the case at BinderCon. Stein and Alptraum were always busy, but they were focused and present and had clearly prepared so well that I, at least, wasn’t aware of a single hitch. This is likely due to the fact that they had assembled a team of volunteers and arrived on-site a day before to train them. No doubt there were a hundred other actions taken behind the scenes to make sure that things ran smoothly, and that’s what a great conference should do: seem almost effortless from the vantage point of attendees.

2. It makes the conference accessible.
With ticket prices over $100, organizers knew that the conference wouldn’t be financially accessible to everyone who wanted to attend, so it made scholarships available. Twenty-two of the participants were scholarship recipients.

3. It sets a tone for attendees.
I’ve been to plenty of conferences that felt like a loosely held together jumble of presentations, all to be passively sopped up by attendees. At BinderCon, participants were invited to engage repeatedly, and in multiple ways. For one thing, they all agreed (by virtue of being there) to a code of conduct, which established an atmosphere of collegiality and respect. Organizers made a phone number available to which participants could send a text if they experienced a code of conduct violation. But the tone-setting went beyond that, and was reinforced in multiple ways via multiple media. Inside the conference agenda, participants were encouraged to be friendly (engaging other writers), responsible, and bold, owning their own space and sharing of themselves generously with others, engaging in challenging conversations, and taking breaks if necessary. More than one participant took to twitter to remark on how easy it felt to connect with other attendees, even though they typically found networking events and conferences socially challenging.

The atmosphere of active attendee engagement was also a core feature of panels and workshops. Many workshop facilitators engaged participants not solely through Q&As, but other exercises. The assumption was that everyone had something valid and valuable to share, and I suspect most attendees would agree that their “take-aways” were all the richer as a result. Because I was a panelist, I know that the BinderCon organizers who handled programming planning specifically set out to create this type of environment; it didn’t happen by accident.

4. It wasn’t intended to just inspire.
One of the common features of conferences is that you feel energized by attending– by connecting with like-minded folks who share your interests and by the new knowledge or skills you’ve acquired–but one of the things that typically occurs is that you leave without a sense of how you can apply these things in your life at home. Facilitators and planners were required to create actionable, resourceful take-aways for participants, actually useful tips, strategies, or information that could be applied after the conference ended.

5. Its values were reflected in every aspect of planning and programming.
From the bookseller to the photographer on hand for headshots, supporting women and their work was a value that was evident the entire weekend.

6. Keynotes were conversations, not speeches.
Two of the three conference keynotes, including the first one of the weekend, were conversations, not just speakers pontificating about their own ideas. To me, this was one of the single-most effective ways of establishing a sense of what participants could expect from BinderCon. It was incredibly refreshing to have two powerhouse people in conversation rather than one person plucked from a speakers’ bureau, reading prepared remarks they’d probably read a hundred times before.

7. There was actual diversity in every room.
Lots of conference organizers–like lots of publications–say they want diverse attendees. Far fewer conferences actually DO have diverse attendees. BinderCon could (and should) be a role model in this regard. If you’re a conference organizer, you don’t have to guess at how Stein and Alptraum brought together a diverse spectrum of women and gender non-conforming writers; Alptraum explained the process in this piece she wrote for The Advocate.

8. The conference managed to provide value to writers at various stages in their careers and in various genres.
If you’re not a writer, you might not realize just how much a feat that is. But from inviting writers and editors to host topical tables during a networking lunch (an essayists’ table, travel writers’ table, and freelancers’ table were a few among them) to organizing and offering speed pitch sessions in which writers could connect with editors from magazines as well as literary and screenwriting/TV agents, there really was something for everyone at BinderCon.

9. It provided practical added value.
A few weeks before the conference, after seeing the agenda, I tweeted to organizers that the only thing that might please me more would be if someone was on-site to do headshots for writers. And don’t you know it, they were actually already in the process of identifying a photographer to do just that? A local professional photographer came in on Sunday for headshot sessions (plus free make-up, provided by Glam Squad), offering free headshots… or $25 for non-watermarked portraits. It was a deal.

10. Everything started and ended on time.
Do I even need to say how amazing that is?

The next BinderCon will be held in New York City in November. Learn more here.

Call for Pitches: Cultures & Cuisines

On May 1, my friend Christine Gilbert (a National Geographic Traveler of the Year!) and I are launching Cultures & Cuisines, a website that we’re referring to as a place for longform writing and multimedia that represents the intersection of food, travel, and anthropology.

We are a paying outlet, and we are now accepting pitches. Please read the specs below completely. If you have questions or you’re ready to send us a pitch, please email me: julie[at]culturesandcuisines[dot]com.

Submission Guidelines

We started Cultures & Cuisines because, despite the abundance of websites about food, travel, and food and travel, we weren’t seeing the kind of writing we wanted to be doing, nor the kind we wanted to be reading: informed, intelligent, well-written narratives about the places, both literal and imaginary, where food and travel meet, narratives that allowed a luxurious word count, while keeping in mind that every word matters and shouldn’t be wasted, narratives that resulted not from in-and-out “parachute reporting,” but from a deep interest in and love of a particular place, and the desire to learn more about it and share that with others.

We also weren’t seeing bylines by writers we knew were capable of such writing, writers who had, quite possibly, squirreled away in a desk drawer or, more likely, a digital drive, that piece they never sold because they couldn’t find the right outlet for it. Or writers who didn’t have the publication history that an editor expected. Or writers from any one of the many communities of identity that are marginalized by traditional media. And, most of all, people who were traditionally the subjects of stories, but who were never given the opportunity to construct a narrative from their own point of view, in their own voice.

We’re looking for pieces that fill that space.

They can be first-person or third-person, 800 words or 3,000, and can push the boundaries of the non-fiction genre in terms of style and form (we are not, however, looking for fiction). They cannot be superficial and in most cases, should have some degree of research and reporting involved in their making (and if this is the case, we’ll require materials for fact-checking). They can be about “exotic” places or spots near your own home turf–we interpret “travel” quite broadly–, but you must know them intimately and be able to convey a very clear sense of place.

It’s a great big world filled with more than seven billion people, all of us sharing in common, if nothing else, the fact that we must eat, that food, whether abundant or scarce, is one of the most essential elements of our culture. This means there are at least seven billion stories just waiting to be told. We can’t tell you which ones we want until we read them, but a very partial list of subjects we’d love to see in longform, when hung on the frame of a story (as opposed to just an idea) and written by the right person, is below.

The family-run salt farms of Peru: Introduce readers to a family who has passed their salt farm down across multiple generations.

Eating in the midst of war: Whether from the point-of-view of someone in the military or someone who is eating in a home or restaurant in a place that is besieged by war, what is it like to try to satisfy this most basic need, and is it ever possible to enjoy food in this context?

Procuring for paladares in Cuba: Who are the people who are procuring ingredients—especially illicit ingredients—for Cuba’s paladares? What are their stories? We are especially interested in stories outside Havana.

“The Family Meal”: Meals in specific places/contexts, shared among a group of people who have a particular bond or identity in common. A few examples include: Miners in Chile or Canada; deep sea fishermen on a boat (and how their meals change over the course of the season); night-shift ER doctors, nurses, and staff; people on the set of a TV show or movie; archaeologists working on an active dig; stormchasers following a tornado; air traffic controllers on lunch break; hotel housekeepers snacking during break. They could also include historical examples: the meals shared by protesters during the Civil Rights Movement, for instance.

Cooking in the face of climate change: How are cooking and eating changing in places that are under immediate threat due to climate change?

The Afro-Latin Kitchen: When looking at Afro-Latin communities (keeping their diversity in mind), what are the characteristics of place that gave rise to a certain type of cuisine, and how are foods and food traditions changing as these communities become less geographically isolated?

Work for Women’s Hands: All around the world, there are agricultural, food production, and culinary traditions that were reserved for women because it was said that women’s hands were more delicate than men’s and, therefore, more appropriate for a certain type of work, such as picking delicate flowers or harvesting salt. Tell us the backstories of one of these types of work and the places in which it happened… or still happens.

And we’re not only interested in “serious” subjects! We want to read unforgettable essays and longform about holidays, celebrations, festivals, and other food-related traditions, preferably those that aren’t as well-known among U.S. readers. These don’t, however, necessarily need to be outside the United States.


Do you pay?

We believe strongly that writers should be compensated for their work. Initially, rates are set at $200/article. This rate is non-negotiable.

2. Where does your funding come from?
During pre-launch and during the initial months of the site, we’re paying for your work out of our own pockets. No, we’re not trust fund kids; we’re just committed to building the kind of literary environment and market we want to exist. We have multiple monetization streams in place; as these start generating revenue, we intend to increase payments and will provide updates here.

3. Do you accept works in another language and/or works in translation?

We’re very open to the idea of works in other languages and in translation, so reach out to us with your query. Acceptance will depend, as always, on the story idea itself, as well as the resources we’ll need to invest in bringing that piece to its best form.

4. Can I pitch or should I send a complete piece?
You’re welcome to pitch, though if we are interested in the subject you query, we will likely request a completed piece on spec.

5. Do I need to send clips?
You can if you’d like, but they’re not necessary.

6. Do you accept stories that originate from a press trip?
No. We are not looking for stories that originate from press trips. We are looking for pieces that have a depth that requires long-term engagement with and interest in a place.

7. Can I send you previously published work?
Yes, as long as you hold the rights to it.

8. Can I republish my work that you publish on Cultures & Cuisines?
Yes, after 90 days. We ask that any future publications mention that the piece was first published on Cultures & Cuisines.

9. How often do you publish articles?
Two to five times a week. We are not a clickbait site.

10. Will you give me feedback? What will the editing process be like?
If we are not interested in your piece or it’s just not a good fit, we will probably not offer much feedback. For one thing, we’re a two-person team; for another, just because it doesn’t work for us, doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good and/or that it won’t be a great fit somewhere else.

As for editing, your piece will certainly be copy-edited and may also receive some developmental editing, which we will discuss with you. You will receive a review copy of your article before it is published, and you will be required to “sign off” on the final edit prior to publication. We will also ask you to “sign off” on the photography and other visuals that are paired with your piece.

11. How long will it take before I hear from you?
It depends. We’re writers ourselves and we’re juggling a number of other projects, including five kids between us. We’ll do the best we can to respond to you within two weeks; if, after that time, you haven’t heard from us, please feel free to email again to check on the status of your query. It would be ever so helpful if you include your original query cut and paste into the body of your email.

12. Who are you, anyway?
The people behind this site are Christine Gilbert and Julie Schwietert Collazo, two writers
and travelers. We get lots of support from Christine’s husband, Drew Gilbert, too. You can read more about Christine here, Julie here, and Drew here.

13. Anything else I should know?
Yes. We are not looking for: chef profiles, restaurant reviews, or trend pieces. The Internet
has that covered already.

Cuba Reporting Workshop: Save the Date

What started as Facebook venting about my frustration with the majority of reporting on/about Cuba has turned into what’s going to be a powerhouse workshop offered live in NYC on April 27 with my friend and colleague, Conner Gorry, who has lived in Cuba for more than a decade.

More details coming soon (we’ll post them all here), but for now, mark your calendars and spread the word. Space is going to be limited!

Save the Date

Resources for Experts and Sources

“How do I find sources?”

It’s a common question.

“How do I find diverse sources?” is one that is, thankfully, increasingly more common, as journalists and other writers strive to ensure that they’re not just talking to white guys as subject matter experts.

Earlier this week, I participated in a spontaneous effort to gather a group of Latinos and Latinas who identify as experts, adding them to a list that will ultimately live on the website LatinoRebels, where it can be accessed by any writer looking for a source to speak about topics as diverse as physics and punk rock. For now, you can see that list here.

In response to that list, which evolved on twitter and is not comprised of experts who went through any sort of screening process, several people tipped me off to other useful resources, which include:

National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Experts and Spokespeople List, which includes TV- and radio-ready experts in approximately a dozen subject matter areas.

Source of the Week, a project spearheaded by NPR and described as “a resource for journalists who believe in the value of diversity and share in our goal to make public radio look and sound like America [with a] growing list of radio-ready subject experts….”

There are many other such resources, too. A sampling of them includes:

SheSource: a clearinghouse of women who are subject matter experts

Swarthmore College’s Sources and Experts List: a roster of academics who can speak to topics as diverse as the traditional dances of Ghana and transnational feminist studies.

Centers for Disease Control’s African-American Media Resources List: A list of doctors, researchers, and other health experts. There’s a contact person listed for journalists who need to speak with someone about a subject that is not included on the list.

South Asian Journalists Association: This professional organization can put journalists in touch with geographical and topical experts

Vera Institute of Justice: “Vera’s experts conduct research and analysis and develop policies and programs in a variety of criminal and social justice fields. Their varied knowledge, background, and experience enable Vera to address the full spectrum of national and local justice issues.” A list of its experts can be found here.

Obviously, this is NOT a comprehensive list. If you have a favorite, please add it in the comments below and I’ll add it to the post, which will be a regularly updated resource.

How to Make a Running Pitch List

A few colleagues have asked if I’d share the strategy I use for logging and tracking pitches.

I’m happy to do so here and you’re welcome to share this widely.

The sample you’ll see below is a cut and paste demo from part of my 2015 pitch list. I’ve removed editor names and contact information and rates, but otherwise, you’re getting the straight dope.

It’s pretty, simple, really: I set up a spreadsheet on Google Drive, adding the categories you see below. Every single time I sit down to pitch, I log the information. I update it when I receive an assignment or rejection. I make notes about other possible outlets in the “Other” field, as well a notation if a friend or colleague tipped me to an outlet or editor. If I get the assignment based on their introduction or recommendation, I always send a thank you note. And I have a weekly alert on my gmail calendar that reminds me to follow up on quiet pitches.

Here’s the color code scheme (obviously, do whatever works for you):
GREEN: Assigned
RED: Rejected (preferably with a note about why)
BLUE: No response (colored after at least one follow-up attempt)
YELLOW: In some sort of limbo

That’s really all there is to it.

I manage invoicing and payments through Wave Apps, a free program you can find online. It’s not 100% perfect, but I’ve found it incredibly useful so far (and I reviewed it here).

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll reply.

This is an excerpt from my pitch list.

This is an excerpt from my pitch list.


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