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Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog) RSS feed

Is it still a great time to become a personal historian?

by Pat McNees (updated the month the Association of Personal Historians filed for bankruptcy--but individual personal historians are still at your service)

Since 1990 I've been helping people and organizations tell their life stories. If you're nosy, love to do interviews, like shaping them into a compelling narrative, and either know how to produce and independently publish a book or are willing to learn and/or subcontract some stages of the process,  Read More 
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Kinds of editors and levels of edit--what every writer and editor should know (updated)

Updated 8-19-19. Original post 7-22-13)

If you want to hire (or be) an editor, it is important to know the difference between what different kinds of editors do. There are developmental or substantive editors, assignment editors, story editors, production editors, photo editors, line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, among other specialties? Read up on the different functions in these stories (linked to below), so you know what to ask for and what to expect. These articles are sorted roughly by category; Freelance editing


What editors do: levels and types of editing
Fiction editing
Copyediting
Proofreading
Newspaper editing
Technical and academic editing
Freelance editing
The editor-author relationship
Whether editors are valued and valuable
Becoming an editor
Editing a website

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Where journalists get their medical news and information

by Pat McNees (updated 4-15-19) On the "Top of the Morning" page of the Center for Health Journalism, prominent health journalists and experts write what sites, newsletters, and social media feeds they turn to first every morning and why. Below are links to those sites and others, in alphabetical  Read More 

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Great covers sell books, but what makes for a great cover?

Updated 8-25-17. What about the best book covers makes us look at the book? We can see them from afar as well as in thumbnails. They ask a question rather than provide the answer. They elicit an emotional response.They're not too cluttered with copy and information and backstory. They make clear what genre the book  Read More 

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A Hairstyle of My Own by Pat McNees


"A Hairstyle of My Own" by Pat McNees from William Erwin on Vimeo.


A lot of women have either identified with my lifelong hair problems or reported the opposite type. As to spelling: Is it blonde or blond? "The word comes to English from French, where it has masculine and feminine forms. As an English noun, it kept those two forms; thus, a blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female. When you're using the word as an adjective, 'blond' is the more common spelling and can be used for males or females; however, "blonde" can also be used to describe a woman or girl  Read More 
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News literacy and fake news (originally 'Fake news and media literacy')

Pat McNees, updated 11-18-19)
More recent (but not necessarily most useful or interesting) entries at top:
Get Smart About News (News Literacy Project) How news-literate are you? Test and sharpen your news literacy skills with short activities, engaging quizzes and shareable graphics for learners of all ages.
Meet the KGB Spies Who Invented Fake News (Adam B. Ellick, Adam Westbrook and Jonah M. Kessel, video opinion, NY Times, 11-12-18) Episode 1 of Operation InfeKtion, revealing reveal how one of the biggest fake news stories ever concocted — the 1984 AIDS-is-a-biological-weapon hoax — went viral in the pre-Internet era. Meet the KGB cons who invented it, and the “truth squad” that quashed it. For a bit.. See also The Seven Commandments of Fake News (11-13-18) The Pizzagate playbook: Same tactics, new technologies. How the seven rules of Soviet disinformation are being used to create today’s fake news stories. Pizza anyone?
Can News Literacy Be Taught? (John Dyer, Nieman Reports, 4-14-17) At a time when more critical media consumption is sorely needed, news literacy can be a difficult skill to impart. Whether educators can train audiences to unmask fake news, conspiracy theories and propaganda remains an open question.
• “When I was a reporter, we had a saying: ‘Facts are stubborn things.’ Now it seems opinions are more stubborn things than facts.” ~ Alan Miller, News Literacy Project.
Flagging Fake News (Eryn Carlson, Nieman Report, 4-14-17) A look at some potential tools and strategies for identifying misinformation
Rick Gates Sought Online Manipulation Plans From Israeli Intelligence Firm for Trump Campaign (Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman, NY Times, 10-8-18) Trump campaign aide Rick Gates expressed interest in an Israeli company’s proposal for a social media manipulation effort, requesting proposals from the company to create fake online identities, use social media manipulation, and gather intelligence to help defeat Republican primary race opponents and Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign’s interest in the work began as Russians were escalating their effort to aid Donald J. Trump. Though the Israeli company’s pitches were narrower than Moscow’s interference campaign and appear unconnected, the documents show that a senior Trump aide saw the promise of a disruption effort to swing voters in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Truth, Disrupted (Sinan Aral, Harvard Business Review, July 2018) False news spreads online faster, farther, and deeper than truth does — but it can be contained. Successfully fighting the spread of falsity will require four interrelated approaches — educating the players, changing their incentives, improving technological tools, and (the right amount of) governmental oversight — and the answers to five key questions."
****Catalogue of all projects working to solve Misinformation and Disinformation (Shane Greenup, MisinfoCon, 6-9-18) Starts with The Disinformation Index (rating the probability of a source carrying disinformation).
MisinfoCon ( a community of people focused on the challenge of #misinformation & what can be done to address it. Events so far at MIT, London and Kyiv--DC in August)
rbutr (tells you when the webpage you are viewing has been disputed, rebutted or contradicted elsewhere on the internet).Get the plugin.
Credibility Coalition An interdisciplinary community committed to improving our information ecosystems and media literacy through transparent and collaborative exploration. Tackling the misinformation problem successfully will require a holistic approach, with reputation systems, fact-checking, media literacy, revenue models, and public feedback all helping to address the health of the information ecosystem."
Teaching in the Age of Trump (Andrea Rinard, Medium, 7-13-18) Five tenets for navigating alternative facts and ad hominem attacks in the classroom: 1. Kids need to learn how to be more responsible and canny media consumers. 2. We must create safe spaces and insist on civility. And so on, with stories from the classroom.
Journalists can change the way they build stories to create organic news fluency (Tom Rosenstiel and Jane Elizabeth, American Press Institute, 5-9-18) "We propose a new way of creating journalism that helps audiences become more fluent and more skilled consumers of news the more they consume it....imagine a format or presentation that, alongside the story, poses some key questions a discriminating or “fluent” news consumer might ask to decide what to make of the story." They might ask: What is new here? What evidence is there? What sources did you talk to and when? What facts don't we know yet? What, if anything, is still in dispute? ...Imagine if more journalists were to raise and answer these questions in an element placed at the top of the narrative."
The enduring appeal of conspiracy theories ( Melissa Hogenboom, BBC, 1-24-18) While some conspiracy theories are largely harmless, others have damaging ripple-effects. With new insights, researchers are getting closer to understanding why so many people believe things which are not true.
Center for a New American Security. See, for example, Behind The Magical Thinking: Lessons from Policymaker Relationships with Drones (7-31-18)
He Predicted the 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About an Information Apocalypse. (Charlie Warzel, BuzzFeed, 2-11-18) "In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled 'Infocalypse.' The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation."
How the Left Lost Its Mind (Katie Martin, The Atlantic, 7-2-17)The Republicans do not have a monopoly on fake news."The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists.Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light."
How and why to spot and identify fake news (Pat McNees, Writers and Editors)
A century ago, progressives were the ones shouting ‘fake news’ (Matthew Jordan, The Conversation, 2-1-18) As a rhetorical strategy for eroding trust in the media, the term dates back to the end of the 19th century. Righteous "muckrakers were usually the ones deploying the term. They sought to challenge the growing numbers of powerful newspapers that were concocting fake stories to either sell papers or advance the interests of their corporate benefactors. "
We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned (Laura Sydell, All Tech Considered, NPR, 11-23-16) During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. "It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they're about to get served," Read More 

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Editing checklist

by Pat McNees
What to do at various stages of editing a manuscript: the PRE-EDIT (as you interview, edit, and write), the SUBSTANTIVE EDIT (for content, organization, and approach), the LINE EDIT (for effective line-by-line writing), the COPY EDIT (for grammar and style), the PHOTO (AND CAPTION) EDIT, the PERMISSIONS EDIT (for copyright issues), PROOFREADING (for errors and formatting in final copy) , PRODUCTION EDITING (double-checking all formatting issues), and INDEX EDITING.  Read More 
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Storytelling, Part 1

At the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, I recently participated in a panel on oral storytelling of true stories as a way to work out a story before writing it. Panel co-organizer Ellouise Schoettler, a nationally known storyteller, has a sign hanging in her office: "Tell your story before someone else does it and gets it wrong." Read More 
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Addictive and wonderful TV and cable shows

(Updated 6-22-19) I wrote this alphabetized list of "best TV and cable shows of all time") for friends but got so many requests for it that I posted it here and update it periodically. Not all of the shows are current. I've added stars to shows that in my view are "must try" and I've provided links for many shows, but venues change. You can always google the name of a show and scroll down past the Google ads to see if and where the shows are streaming now.
If you haven't seen it, start with Friday Night Lights (2006-2011, watch streaming on Hulu). The rest, in alphabetical order:
Absolutely Fabulous (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video with BritBox) Fashion-obsessed, drug-addled best friends, total narcissists, and career women fumble their way through middle age.
Accused (BBC streaming, aired for two seasons, 2010-2012). This award-winning drama anthology follows people accused of crimes as they await the verdict of their trial. (Watch on Acorn or Amazon Prime.)
American Crime (ABC) Good actors take on different roles in compelling, sometimes depressing stories in anthology crime drama TV series.
American Odyssey (NBC, Netflix) An elite soldier, a corporate lawyer and a political activist uncover a deadly conspiracy linking terrorists to a powerful American corporation.
• • • • The Americans (FX). Read Joshua Rothman's New Yorker piece, The Cruel Irony of "The Americans. As the NY Times writes, the week of its finale, "It’s a fabulous spy thriller and an even better domestic drama — a strange, awful love story set amid tremendous violence but also staggering idealism. This finale manages the nearly impossible: a meaningful and satisfying but still surprising conclusion to a sprawling, difficult story." I have loved it all though it did bog down  Read More 

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Do blurbs help sell books?

by Pat McNees
My first experience asking experts to read and maybe praise a book was with DYING, A BOOK OF COMFORT, an anthology I put together after my father's death. It was designed to sooth the frightened and bereaved. The Literary Guild asked me for a list of people who might comment, which I provided,  Read More 
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