Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wielding the mighty pen

Hernandez works on a feature article. Photo by SA Betsy Knapper.

I started this blog late and missed the chance to write about the early classes at DINFOS. A couple of students in the class below mine are going to shine the light onto an area that gives many students trouble. The first few months here are spent learning the basics of Public Affairs. We are taught the legal, moral, and security aspects of the job. And then it's on to copy editing, (finding mistakes), news writing, and features.

News writing and features are where we learn to... write a sentence!

No matter how good of a writer you think you are, you probably won't be prepared for this. What I mean is, the military has a specific way they want us to write. The format takes getting used to. The Associated Press Stylebook is our bible. Is it the carrier "U.S.S. George Washington" or "USS George Washington"?   Check the Stylebook. Some adapt quicker than others. If you're a "writer" like me, you may struggle more. But don't worry! The instructors are top notch and you'll get one-on-one coaching to work through any problems.

And when all is said and done, there's still room for creativity! Feature writing is the final and, for many, the most difficult part of the writing section. Students write two to three page stories about interesting personalities, events, etc. This involves researching the topic, then interviewing the subject. Most of the information in a feature comes from the words of the interviewee.

Briscoe receives coaching from her instructor. Photo by SR Cory Asato.
Knapper and Hensley put finishing touches on their stories. Photo by SR Cory Asato.

Cory Asato, 20, is a student who has just "survived" DINFOS features. He says it wasn't too bad. Asato sat down with me and talked about class while I typed madly.


Asato: The setup in class is simple. My instructor called it the "crawl, walk, run" approach. They taught us how to write a proper sentence, then a proper lead, nutgraph, etc. Attribution is HUGE. Credibility is a must. We're writing for a broad audience, all of whom have to trust us.

If we wrote about something, we had to attribute where it came from. We never, ever put our opinion in the story. The instructors know how much effort you're putting out. They didn't want us to use them as a crutch. We couldn't just take our papers to them and have them point out every error. They want us to learn to self-edit our work. They want us to become proactive, independent writers. It's not high school anymore. They're training us to be their replacements.

From left, Asato and McClearnon transfer notes from interviews onto their computers. Photo by SA Betsy Knapper.

Bennett checks his AP stylebook for proper word usage. Photo by SA Betsy Knapper.

Jeffries works on copy editing homework designed to familiarize him with the Stylebook. Photo by SN Glenn Slaughter.

Students work on writing assignments in the detachment's computer lab. Photo by SN Glenn Slaughter.

Below is an example of a personality feature. It was written by Knapper in the format taught here. She uses the first "lead" paragraph to introduce the reader to the topic in a way that makes them want to read on. The lead shines a spotlight onto the second paragraph, or nutgraph, and sums up what the story is about. What we write in the nutgraph is what you can expect to be reading about to the end. It's common for an instructor to write "says who?" on our paper. It's their way of getting us to to back up what we write with a source. We, as the writers, must maintain a low presence in the feature. A secondary source, someone who knows the subject, adds depth to the story.

Greg Badger, an instructor at the Defense Information School here, is not vocal in his teaching style, but when he talks, students want to listen because he is usually telling them something important, said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Hendrick Simoes, a co-worker.
        “He’s good,” Simoes said. “There is no doubt about that. He wouldn’t be an instructor here if he wasn’t. He’s a great photographer -- I think more than he even realizes.”
“Badger is knowledgeable, skilled and passionate,” Simoes said. “He’s the real deal.”
Badger, a petty officer first class, has been a Navy videographer and photographer since 2001 and is now using his experiences and skills to teach students at DINFOS.
Badger, 5 feet 7 inches tall with short light brown hair and a tuft on top, has traveled all over the world shooting video and still images, he said.
While deployed with a combat camera team, there were times when no one knew he was arriving or why he was there, Badger said. Therefore, he was not always welcome.  Despite being an introvert, Badger developed skills in communicating with people, he said. He was able to go into tough situations and establish rapport with other servicemembers and local residents, he said.
Badger credits this to a good work ethic. He was willing to jump in to help and do things outside his realm of his responsibilities, he said.
        “He doesn’t just go out there and shoot pictures,” Simoes said. “He connects with people.”
“When you connect with people and connect with the story, that’s when you’ll get the good photo,” Simoes said. “You’re only going to get that if you’re passionate.”
        When Badger was new to the photography field and started shooting
portraiture, he was very nervous, he said. In the beginning, it was tough for Badger to talk to high-ranking officers and fix their uniforms for portraits and direct them on how to pose, he said.
        Badger had to develop confidence in the job, he said. He worked on obtaining good thorough knowledge of every aspect of his career field.
       “That was the way I achieved my confidence in myself, so I wasn’t hesitant asking people to do things I needed to get the photo done,” Badger said. “Because I knew my job inside and out, I knew what I had to do to get that successful photo.”
        Badger doesn’t worry about his settings -- just getting the shot at that moment in time, he said. Knowing the equipment allows him to be in tune with his surroundings.
Badger, 33, has been an instructor at DINFOS here for a little over a year. Thus far, he has taught video and photo blocks.  Even though it is not required, Badger goes out with his students on projects and shoots with them. This helps him stay current and fresh in the field, he said.
        “Teaching is one thing, but when the students see us doing it and performing, it creates a good sense of credibility for the instructors,” Badger said.
Teaching redefines everything Badger knows about video and photography, he said.
It is one thing to know the material, but to teach it and teach it in a way that everyone can understand makes him to learn all the little details of video and photography.
“You can tell he’s passionate about his craft and what he does,” Simoes said. “He’s also a passionate teacher.”
“If I ever had to go out on an important assignment, Badger is definitely the person I would want with me,” Simoes said. “If I could pick anyone in this career field I would pick him, because he is the real deal, the whole package.”

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