I started Sincerely, Rowan almost four years ago because I was feeling overwhelmed after my first year of university and thought blogging would be a good way to practice my writing. I’d spent a year trying to find a balance between writing lengthy essays on philosophy and short news stories for journalism, and let me tell you… the end result was not pretty.
I thought blogging would help with my writing, open up my eyes to new topics and let me work on finding a voice that would prepare me for a career in journalism. What I didn’t anticipate was that this process would be the other way around.
Now, on the day after my graduation, I thought it would be nice to take a step back and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in J-school and how the skills and wisdom seamlessly integrate into how I look at blogging.
Write to your best friend
I love writing, and I always have. Sometimes on this blog I get the urge to push myself to write more eloquently and utilize the skills I’ve learned writing countless intellectual essays. Even though I love working on this type of polished writing, journalism has taught me that there’s a time and a place. Personally, for what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog, I don’t think it’s necessary to try to sound like the smartest person in the room. Instead, I picture that I’m telling my best friend about my life and my ideas. The writing style welcomes everyone into the conversation.
My professor David Swick told us once that language has the ability to welcome and to exclude. In this space, I want to make sure that I’m building bridges with my words instead of creating barriers for people that might not feel welcome if I were writing with the same tone as an academic paper.
Every word counts
The hardest lesson I’ve learned is how to edit my own work. With journalism, whether you’re writing a 300-word news piece or a 3,000 creative non-fiction piece, every word counts. I’ve learned there are certain words that I overuse and the beauty in short, concise sentences. For my honours project I had to write a 1,500-word story. I had over 4,000 words in interviews and another 4,000 in notes and research. In the end, cutting down my first draft that was well over 3,000 words turned into a much better story.
The same thing goes for blog posts. You would be astounded at the amount of editing that goes into each blog post. Sometimes I’ll write two or three times as much as I need just to get all my thoughts out. Taking the time to work through every word and every sentence means that the end product is so much tighter.
Add value through multimedia
For this one, I have to thank our professor and multimedia guru, Terra Tailleur. There are so many amazing ways to tell a story beyond text and photographs. We learned a multitude of different mediums that work to enhance — and not take away from — the stories we were writing that add value to the reader experience and make our stories more engaging.
You’ll notice in blogging that sometimes my stories just have photos, and other times there’s video or an infographic. I’m still working on bringing these multimedia elements to my blog, but I’ve definitely learned that there are so many ways to tell a story. I’m such a visual person so I understand from my own experience how important these additional touches can be to enriching a piece.
The power of design
I love thinking about how design alters and enhances our everyday life, but it wasn’t until this year that I learned how crucial design is for telling stories. In our advanced magazine workshop, my friends and I built a magazine from scratch. We thought out our look and feel and used those principles to guide us through the layout of the entire magazine. The designs that I created as the art director helped influence our decisions on what to include in the magazine, how to style photo shoots and the overall writing tone to create a seamless full picture of the mission we were trying to accomplish. It’s definitely made me think about every aspect of my blog and photography style to ensure I’m using every tool at my disposal to get my message across. If you’re interested, we put our magazine online to share with our friends and family. So… welcome to HARBOUR.
Most people seem to think that the role of a journalist is to tell stories. But most of the job is listening. It’s about listening to our sources in interviews and taking the time to focus on what they’re saying to get the best information and ask well-informed questions. It’s about listening to our gut when dealing with the ethics of a story and figuring out how to report on a serious matter. It’s about listening to the people in our communities talk about their hopes, fears, and ideas keeping an eye out for stories worth telling.
I often found it difficult to keep myself out of stories because I always made strong connections with my sources. When it comes to interior design, designers get to make it personal. Decorating a home is so intimate that it’s necessary to know and understand your client and participate in the whole experience in order to do a good job.
Even though I’m definitely not running off to work for CBC or write for The Globe, I’m so grateful that I chose to pursue journalism. Scattered in between interviews and assignments I found a place that showed me the value of storytelling and gave me the skills to go out in the world and tell those stories in the way I see fit. For me, it might be arranging a bookcase in a way that starts a conversation about travel or showcasing a piece of art that was found at the back of an antique market. Either way, I can’t wait to get started.