WJI 2015 Day 1 blog: grammar, obituaries and the interview

May 18, 2015

By Thomas Miller from the College of the Ozarks 

Today marked the official beginning of the WJI course "Backpack Journalism in a Digital Age." Following a lecture on a Christian Worldview in Journalism, 14 prospective journalists began our day measuring both our abilities in grammar and recognizing quality sentences.

Joel Belz, founder of WORLD magazine, next introduced us to the rigors of maintaining a magazine. “Do not start a magazine,” Belz jested. He proceeded to detail the difficulties of keeping a Christian publication alive, particularly in a world turning more and more to technology to convey news. Belz left on a hopeful note, though, saying he dreamed of more and more subscribers for WORLD.

Following the lecture, the class read and critiqued obituaries we had written about famous individuals. WORLD writers and editors Marvin and Susan Olasky pointed out ways each work could be improved. We focused on using active voice, filling our pieces with stories instead of lists of facts like a resume, and avoiding the temptaiton to make our writing too much like a public relaitons press release. 

Following this exercise and a break for dinner, the last leg of the day’s skirmishes concluded with a session by Lee Pitts on the finer points of an interview. We explored environments from the roof of a house in Seattle to Capitol Hill, noting the subtleties involved in relating to different individuals. Each scenario held a common thread: Mr. Pitts drove home the idea that the human factor is the key to a productive interview. Nothing is so effective to opening up a source as showing genuine interest in them as a person rather than an object to be utilized for quotes and then forgotten. The day concluded with the critical analysis of several masterful interviews conducted during the last century, including the famous exchange between British journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon.

The course has begun in earnest, and the instructors of WJI are pulling no punches as they strive to hammer us into fighting form, preparing us for the challenges we will face upon entering the world of journalism.

For more information:

World Journalism Institute