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Book Fests & Bookstores: September Appearances

Yes, yes, I know: Pope Francis in His Own Words was published two years ago.

So why am I starting a book tour of sorts right now?

Well, as you’re probably aware, Pope Francis will be visiting Cuba and the United States next month, and it seems like a prime time to reintroduce the book to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences (did you know the book has been translated into about 15 languages?). Plus, I received a few lovely invitations to do so, and I couldn’t turn them down.

If you’re in one of the cities below, I hope you’ll spread the word and join me at one (or more!) of these events:

Decatur Book Festival: Decatur, Georgia, USA
I’m grateful to my alma mater, Emory University, for inviting me to participate in this beloved book festival. I’ll be signing books in the Emory tent from 3-4 pm on Saturday, September 5.

Brooklyn Book Festival, Bookend Event Series: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Before I head out of the country to cover Pope Francis’s visit in Cuba, I’ll be talking about the book and signing copies as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. My generous host is the delightful Hullabaloo Books, and I couldn’t think of a better bookstore to have a conversation about Pope Francis. This is an Official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event.

This event will take place at 8 pm on Tuesday, September 15.

Cuba Libro Bookstore: Havana, Cuba
I’m so excited that I’ll have the chance to talk about the book the day before Pope Francis will be giving his mass at Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

This event will take place at 5 pm on Saturday, September 19.

Would you like to add Pope Francis in His Own Words to your bookshelf or inventory? Need a speaker or expert to interview about the Pope? Get in touch by emailing me: writingjulie[at]gmail[dot]com!


How to Sell a “Cold Case” Article

“What do you do,” a colleague asked recently, “when you have a piece you just can’t seem to sell?”

It happens. It’s frustrating when an idea or article you’ve worked on so hard becomes the journalistic equivalent of a cold case, but that doesn’t mean all the work you’ve put into an assignment is for naught. Here are a few strategies worth trying before giving up on a piece.

1. Use your running pitch list to your advantage.
If you don’t know what I mean by running pitch list, read this post and take a close look at the visual. A running pitch list allows you to track the progress of a piece continually, and if you get in the habit of scheduling one day a week on which you dedicate an hour or two to pitch follow ups, you’ll whittle away at your cold case rate.

Every time you pitch an article, be sure to fill out the field on your pitch list that indicates the other outlets and editors you’ll try if your Plan A publication doesn’t pan out. I put that information in the “Other” field. If you haven’t heard from Plan A, move on and pitch the back-up publication. Exhaust all possibilities.

2. Turn to colleagues.
Tell your colleagues where you’ve pitched and ask for other suggestions. They may have outlets you haven’t considered or ones you don’t even know.

3. Call in a favor.
Ask a trusted colleague to read a pitch that’s gotten nowhere and request her input. Is there something you’re missing that a second set of eyes might help identify and correct to strengthen the idea that hasn’t yet found a home?

4. Take feedback to heart.
Sometimes we’re too close to our ideas and stories to understand what may be missing for a more general audience. If your trusted colleague gives feedback, take it into consideration and rework your pitch accordingly.

5. Relax– sometimes it’s all about the timing.
You may have an incredible article idea, but if no editor’s picking it up, consider the possibility that the timing just isn’t good for some reason… and there can be lots of reasons why it might not be. That doesn’t mean the idea or the resulting story will never sell; it may just mean that you need to sit with it for a while and wait for the timing to be better. For an example of this, check out my guest post on Jordan Rosenfeld’s blog; it’s about a story idea I sat with for seven years.

Hold it until it’s sellable and peg it, if you can, to a timely event or news.

6. Rework the angle.
Let’s say the story idea you’ve been sitting on has suddenly been done to death. Maybe you had a story about the famous chef Rene Redzepi, but it feels like you’ve been seeing stories about him everywhere and maybe your idea has been played out.

In these situations, see if you can tweak your angle. The question to always ask yourself about a person, place, or phenomenon that’s been hyped ad infinitum is this: What’s the story that hasn’t been told? How can you offer a fresh take? In our Redzepi example, can you focus less on the food and more on his family? Some new entrepreneurial venture that’s underreported? His right-hand man (or woman)? Tell the story no one else is telling.

7. Put it into a package.
If you’re having a hard time selling a piece as a stand-alone, figure out a way to put it into a bigger package. Using our Redzepi example again, turn what you intended to be a profile of him (done. tired.) into a package. This isn’t always ideal, of course– none of us wants to kill off our darlings, the original ideas we had about how we wanted to frame a story–but if your goal is to sell, then you have to consider this as an option.

How do you do it? Consider all the material you have and pull out pieces that can be rolled up into another package. It may be a single sentence or idea that then gets pulled into a round-up style piece. You may need to do a little more reporting to fill out the new article.

Have some other tips about how to give new life to cold cases? Please share them in the comments.

Fact-checking workshop at CUNY on August 2

Just announced!

I’ll be teaching a class about fact-checking at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism on August 2. More information and registration are here.

Resources: Digital Archives

American Prison Witness Archive: Spearheaded by Dr. Doran Larson of Hamilton College in New York, the APW is the first known online archive to feature the writing of incarcerated people and “contributions by correctional officers, prison staff, and prison administrators, thus creating a true meeting place and venue for comparative expression by and study of all of those who live and work inside American prisons.”

Darwin Manuscripts Project of the American Museum of Natural History:
“On this site, you will find the world’s first & only large collection of full colour, high-resolution images of faithfully transcribed Darwin manuscripts,” writes David Kohn of The American Museum of Natural History. The “DARBASE,” as it’s called, “catalogues some 96,000 pages of Darwin scientific manuscripts… currently represented by 16,094 high resolution digital images. Thus far 9,871 manuscript pages have been transcribed to exacting standards and all are presented in easy to read format.” The database is a work in progress.

Freedmen’s Bureau Project: This just-launched archive promises to be an incredible, crowdsourced/crowd-built archive of African-American history. From the website: “To help bring thousands of records to light, the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was created as a set of partnerships between FamilySearch International and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum. Tens of thousands of volunteers are needed to make these records searchable online. No specific time commitment is required, and anyone may participate. Volunteers simply log on, pull up as many scanned documents as they like, and enter the names and dates into the fields provided. Once published, information for millions of African Americans will be accessible, allowing families to build their family trees and connect with their ancestors.”

Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera Archive of Princeton University: Latin Americanists will particularly enjoy this trove, which is described by the university as follows: “The bulk of the ephemera currently found in the Digital Archive of Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera was originally created around the turn of the 20th century and after, with some originating as recently as within the last year. The formats or genre most commonly included are pamphlets, flyers, leaflets, brochures, posters, stickers, and postcards. These items were originally created by a wide array of social activists, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, political parties, public policy think tanks, and other types of organizations in order to publicize their views, positions, agendas, policies, events, and activities. The vast majority are rare, hard-to-find primary sources unavailable elsewhere.”

Library of Congress: Looking for archival material on practically any topic? This should be one of your initial points of departure. There are photos, letters and other documents, sound files, and much much more in this extensive online archive.

Mexican Digital Library: Like most, if not all, of the online archives listed here, the Mexican Digital Library is an ever-evolving online repository of materials that, in some cases, are centuries old.

New York Public Library’s Digital Projects: From the literary to the ultra-niche (theatrical lighting; historical menu collection), the NYPL’s digital project archives are a treasure that can generate dozens of story ideas and serve as a research resource for many others.

Flickr’s The Commons: The online photo sharing/storage service, Flickr, has an ever-growing Commons that is not only useful for journalists and editors sourcing images, but also for research purposes. The Commons includes some impressive national and international partners, including Smithsonian and Cornell University Library, as well as some more obscure and unexpected members, including state and federal governments of Latin American and European countries.

This list is by no means comprehensive. If you have a suggestion to add, please leave a comment below so I can update this post. Thanks!

Typical Days? A Look at My Busiest Week Ever: Monday

People often ask, when I’m sitting on panels or giving workshops or talks, what a “typical” day is like as a freelancer. The great thing–for me, at least; for some people, it can be maddening–is that there’s no consistent structure. There’s always researching, writing, reading, taking care of my kids, and, hopefully, taking a shower, but outside of that, all bets are off and the ratios of some of these things against others shift from one day to the next.

A few weeks ago, some friends said they’d like a peek at my daily schedule, such as it is. I decided, what better time to indulge them than during the busiest week of my life?

Here’s how Monday went down:

7:00 AM:
Wake up. Make oatmeal for oldest child, pack her lunch, and help her get ready for school. Take a quick shower, dress, pack my own backpack (laptop, agenda, book to read on train, journal, pens, press card, business cards, wallet, iPhone).

7:40 AM: Leave home and walk to school.

7:53 AM: Arrive at school, drop daughter off, make a donation of books to school’s used book drive. Walk to neighborhood coffee shop to work until it’s time to leave for a meeting in Manhattan.

8:05-10:32 AM: Work at coffee shop. Check bank accounts and note paid invoices. Send outstanding April invoices to five clients. Check and respond to email. Send an email to an editor with a list of upcoming articles. Check Facebook and Twitter for my own accounts and for Cultures & Cuisines, a website I’m launching with Christine Gilbert on Friday. Prep rest of the day’s to-do list and make note (mental and otherwise) of article deadlines this week. Read Mexican and Puerto Rican newspapers online. Download most recent version of the outline for the workshop I’m teaching with Conner Gorry at CUNY School of Journalism on Friday and save it on laptop for our 11:30 meeting. (Tickets are still available, by the way!)

10:32 AM: Leave coffee shop and get on subway. Head to Manhattan. Read Chester Himes interviews on the train and marvel how much and yet how little the publishing industry has changed since the 1940s, especially for people of color.

10:49 AM: Get off train in Times Square. Walk to bank to get replacement bank card for Girl Scout account and make a deposit for cookie money!

11:30 AM: Walk to NYPL. Meet Conner. Decide that we should change venues and work in a cafe across the street. Work on refining the outline for our How to Report on Cuba (Responsibly) workshop. Make a list of action items for each of us to follow up on before Friday.

1:15 PM: Leave Manhattan and head home. As I walk home from train, Francisco calls to say that we’re having an unexpected guest coming over for a light lunch at 3 PM. The apartment, he says, is a mess.

1:40 PM: Home. Francisco gets ready to go pick Mariel up from school. I put water on to boil–pasta’s always an easy lunch!–and start straightening up. We change the other kids’ diapers, get them dressed, and I vacuum.

2:00 PM: Francisco straps on his rollerblades and zips off to pick up Mariel. I add the pasta to the water and prep toppings.

2:37 PM: Francisco and Mariel arrive home. Orion falls asleep. I call a PR person to request photos for an article for The Latin Kitchen.

3:00 PM: Guest arrives. Lunch is served.

4:00 PM: Guest leaves. Francisco takes Orion and Mariel to the playground. Olivia naps. I work on action items for the Cuba workshop: finding and sending some photos to Conner; cleaning up our list of resources so that the formatting is consistent; pulling the email list for the participants to send them an update message about materials they should bring. I also draw up an evite for the May 24 dinner for Cultures & Cuisines and start working on the guest list. I follow up on a last-minute article opportunity, sending materials an editor has requested for a time-sensitive piece.

6:00 PM: Francisco and kids return home. Two oldest kids go into bathtub; Francisco starts cooking dinner. Mariel gets out of bath and we start homework. She goes to visit a neighbor. I play with “the littles,” submit the Girl Scout cookie order, and plan pick up with the troop co-leader.

7:10PM: I feed the littles.

7:30 PM: Mariel comes home and eats dinner. I make a cocktail and, of course, drink it.

8:00 PM: Start to get kids ready for bed, helping them brush teeth, choosing books to read, and getting them into bed. Read books. Talk. Do a last round of milk for the two youngest. Lights out by 9:00 PM.

8:20 PM: Francisco leaves to do some errands: grocery store, post office, pick up keys for a friend who needs him to let in guests while she’s out of town.

9:00-10:20 PM: Wait for Orion to fall asleep. I fall asleep in the process, waking up when I hear the wind blowing over a container in the kitchen.

10:20 PM: Wake up. Kids all asleep. I wash bottles and prep them anew, wash dishes, put away food, make Mariel’s lunch for tomorrow, and set out breakfast items for the morning.

10:30 PM: Francisco comes home. We talk and catch up and plan how we’re managing the rest of the week.

11:00 PM- 1:30 AM: I continue working on the Cuba workshop materials. Orion wakes up and has a stuffy nose so fusses. I bring him out to the living room to sleep and fall asleep with him around 2:00 AM.

Last Call! Tickets for “How to Report on Cuba (Responsibly)” Available til Thursday

This Friday, Havana-based journalist Conner Gorry and I will be co-facilitating “How to Report on Cuba (Responsibly)” at CUNY’s School of Journalism. You can register for the full-day workshop here.


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.

LEARNO: The European Journalism Center is responsible for this series of courses, which include fact-checking and data-based reporting, among other topics. Courses are free.

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.