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The Lookout | January 23, 2022

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MPA offers virtual journalism lesson

MPA offers virtual journalism lesson
  • On October 8, 2020

By Maddy Warren
Editor In Chief

The Michigan Press Association’s annual convention is taking place virtually this year. The 2020 convention started Sept. 16 and runs through Oct. 17.

M.L. Elrick, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, held a Reporting 101 seminar Wednesday, Oct. 7, via Zoom call. Students, journalists, MPA associates and others attended virtually.

Elrick has a book, “The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick,” of which he is the co-author. He hosts a podcast called “ML’s Soul of Detroit,” and teaches journalism at Wayne State University, University of Michigan-Dearborn and Michigan State University.

Elrick started the session by saying the strength of any strong journalism is the writing.

“It’s getting people to read,” Elrick said. “If you found the most incredible thing ever but you can’t figure out how to convey it to anybody, it’s almost a waste of time because you’ve got the keys to the kingdom, but nobody wants to unlock the door. So writing is critical.”

He said if he had 30 seconds to teach Reporting 101 he would explain it as: ask questions, get answers, tell people what you found and let them make up their mind.

Next, he discussed the Lead Commandments. As put by Elrick, below are 10 tips to make sure a story starts strong.

  1. Every lead should have a subject, verb and object.
  2. No passive voice.
  3. Time elements are important.
  4. Location is important, too.
  5. Give yourself a 35-word limit for hard news leads.
  6. No cliches.
  7. No questions.
  8. No outside quotes from philosophers, etc.
  9. No “imagine” leads – tell the audience, don’t make them imagine.
  10. Don’t start a lead with “WANTED.”

The second topic Elrick discussed is a device he calls “Professor Elrick’s Inverted Christmas Tree.”

“Basically what it does is takes the inverted pyramid, where we put the most important thing at the top, and then we have other information of diminishing value as we go down the pyramid,” Elrick said.

Elrick said the beautiful thing about the inverted Christmas tree, is the inverted Christmas tree calls for ornaments. Ornaments might include great quotes, fantastic observations and details. The star on the top is the lead.

“What you really want to do is give people a reason to stay and get to the end,” Elrick said. “And you want to make sure that you make the most of all those things you’ve been tucking in your notebook; the things that when you saw them, or heard them or thought about them made you say, ‘You know what? This is worth saving; this is worth remembering.’”

Elrick said a journalist’s reputation, now more than ever, follows him or her everywhere.

Regarding his own reputation, Elrick said he tries to deal with everyone, no matter their political affiliation or beliefs, the same way, and that he treats everyone with respect. 

“Stories come to you because of your reputation,” he said.

Robin Luce-Herrmann attended the Zoom session. She is the lead counsel for MPA’s hotline team, which assists members with legal matters involving stories.

“By the time that you get to a retraction demand, it may be too late,” Luce-Herrmann said. “So remember that the hotline is here. I mean there are limitations, but we can help you with the story where you’re not sure if there are holes … disproving what you think you’ve already proven.

“It can help to have some fresh eyes looking at a story or making sure it’s as bulletproof as it can be. … The hotline is here to help you with that.”