Both clients and members
A great author, Sir Terry Pratchett, passed away the other day. I was introduced to his work when our reading group, Read 23*, at the request of member Joel Habush, chose Mr. Pratchett’s wonderful novel Going Postal. It was a wonderful read and I subsequently have read a number of other novels in Mr. Pratchett’s Discworld series. Mr. Pratchett was afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and we lost him at the young age of 66.
“The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds,” said Larry Finlay of his publishers Transworld. The author died at home, surrounded by his family, “with his cat sleeping on his bed”, he added.
There have been many tributes to Mr. Pratchett over the last week, a number of which have been shared on the Read 23 mailing list:
- Publisher’s Weekly
- Neil Gaiman
- Cory Doctorow (via Boing Boing which also pointed to this geeky tribute to Mr. Pratchett designed to assure him immortality of a sort in another article).
Mr. Pratchett left us too soon… he’ll be missed.
* OMG, the discussion is tomorrow and I still have 23 chapters to read!
This morning, the New York Times published an essay by Oliver Sacks wherein he discusses his diagnosis of terminal cancer. His essay addresses his condition and prognosis with uncommon grace and dignity. In addition, science fiction author John Scalzi published an essay entitled Oliver Sacks and Public Individuals at the Close. Dr. Sacks is a renowned clinical neurologist and best-selling author of many fascinating books. He is one of the great contributors to life on this planet whose legacy will endure and he will be greatly missed when he leaves us.
Author Kathryn Schultz just published a great article, subtitled How Twitter Hijacked My Mind, on the New York Magazine website. From being a total skeptic, she became a Twitter addict. Not only is it engrossing but it also points out how Twitter’s a great tool for authors.
As the saying goes, been there, done that. I got deeply engrossed in Twitter but it became such a time suck that I gave it up cold turkey. Don’t get me wrong… I love it. The reason I gave it up is because I’m usually on a contract assignment where I’m dedicated to full-time work during normal business hours. I saw many of my colleagues and friends apparently spending most of their waking hours dedicated to Twitter and, as far as I can tell, giving their employers less than fair value for their wages. I didn’t want to do that… when I’m on an assignment, I don’t feel that it’s right for me to spend time during those hours on Twitter or Facebook or other personal-level social media. I’m not as engrossed with Facebook as I was with Twitter… I didn’t feel that I needed to give it up; I can manage my use of Facebook during my off hours. I will tell you this… when the time comes that I’m ready and able to retire, I’ll be back on Twitter in a heartbeat.
One of the fond memories from my youth was when the Chicago Tribune published the (now politically incorrect) Injun Summer by John T. McCutcheon each year on its front page. First published in 1907, it became an annual event. It brings a good feeling to the inevitability of fall and demonstrates how we can use our imaginations. The Tribune has a brief article about it here.
Joel Habush and Linda Presto reminded me that I had neglected to report on our participation at BizExpo on May 21st at Potawatomie Bingo and Casino. I had a good supply of handouts. I also had a nice banner that I draped across the front of our table. I wanted to hang it on the top edge of the backdrop behind our table but didn’t have what I needed to attach it… I’ll know better if we do this again. I got there early in the morning and got our table set up before the expo opened (wasn’t much to it… hang the banner on the front of the table, put out a generous supply of handouts, and set up my laptop.
Attendance was very good. Our booth was in the very last row but we got a great number of folks stopping by to find out more about what we’re all about. I told our story more times than I can remember and gave out a good number of our handouts. Late in the morning, Lora Hyler joined me to help out and I was actually able to take a break and grab a quick sandwich. Things started to thin out around 4PM and I closed up shop about 4:30. My dogs were barking from being on my feet most of the day.
Science fiction author John Scalzi just posted an inspirational message for fiction writers on his blog Whatever. Wander over to http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/01/20/a-season-in-the-show/ and check it out.
As the owner or manager at a typical nonprofit organization or business, you have a web site to communicate your mission, products or services. You also may have a newsletter — whether printed or posted on your web site — for customers, donors, potential clients, and associates. You also have other ways of communicating to your customers through marketing brochures, direct mail, and solicitation letters.
And while most large corporations have a staff of professional communications specialists to manage these things, you either don’t have the resources or can’t afford to hire staff. The burden then falls on the executive director, a secretary or business owner to manage web content, newsletters, and other communications.
Professional writing and succinct, clear communications are important for all organizations. If you are explaining a product application, writing a feature article about a person, or profiling a success, your writing needs to flow. Unfortunately, how often do we see awkward sentence structure or way too many words and adjectives stop the flow when reading an article? Grammatical errors and typos (far too common on blogs and web sites today) only further frustrate a reader.
Your organization’s image is on the line. You need to draw potential clients and attract donors to your nonprofit. Make sure your communications are professional and consistent each time web content is posted, a newsletter is published or a news release is issued.
What is the main purpose of writing your column, blog or home page? Ask an executive and he might say to tell readers about the company’s financial picture. Ask a marketer and she likely will say to sell the product. Both answers are wrong. The main purpose of anything written is to be read. What good is writing about your great financial success if it isn’t read?
- Don’t stop the reader by not transitioning
- Don’t confuse the reader with run-on sentences
- Don’t strain the reader with lofty but unknown words
- Don’t irritate the reader with puffed up marketing-speak
Back in journalism school, we were taught to write in the “inverted pyramid” where the most important stuff came in the first paragraph and lesser information or background information, followed in succeeding paragraphs. This was done because a newspaper editor often had to cut the article to fit it in the layout. A reporter needs to tell the who, what, when, and why in the first paragraphs. If space allows, she can tell the “how.”
This same rule applies today but for different reasons. People don’t read web sites; they scan web sites for content they’re looking for. Our eyes scan in a similar pattern to reading but much faster on a web site. We are accustomed to looking in certain areas and are less patient reading through unnecessary words. A narrative style of writing just won’t do on your home page.
Here are a few steps you can take to build professional communications in your organization:
- Adopt a style manual for all external communications. A common style manual used by business professionals is The Chicago Manual of Style. (Being a hometown Milwaukee guy, I’m not too crazy about the name!!) There are others and you don’t have to use a published stylebook; you could make up your own. The important thing is consistency in writing style. Using a known stylebook makes it easier.
- Two sets of eyes are better than one and three sets are even better. Adopt a procedure for proofing all content written. The worst case scenario is when one person is doing all the writing, proofing, and publishing. Typos are guaranteed to happen and once it’s printed, it’s too late.
- Designate someone to be the go-to person or Editor-In-Chief for all written communication by the company. This editor can oversee company style and consistency in communication. This duty could be split between two people but both need to use the same stylebook.
- Find someone outside the loop to give a final review of the communication piece. Often, two people who are so close to the situation and ingrained in what they are writing, will overlook something that needs more clarification. They may know what they’re saying, but what about another reader? An impartial review by someone not so close to the situation may be revealing.
Terry Bolda began his communications career as a newspaper editor in 1979. He has worked in corporate communications, public relations, and more recently, marketing and fund development for nonprofit organizations. His business, Bolda Communications, provides nonprofits and businesses with marketing communications, public relations, and fund development services.
It’s been more than a month since Oak Creek, Wisconsin stepped into the national spotlight when a crazed gunman slaughtered six people and injured several others at the Sikh Temple. I learned on Monday, August 6th from fellow Working Writer Barbara Abel that Time Inc. was seeking a reporter to cover the aftermath of the tragedy from a local angle. About an hour after accepting the assignment, I set off for Oak Creek. In my briefcase, was a hastily written letter I had requested from the news director in case anyone questioned my credentials. In the darkness, outside a local church, I stood among about a hundred solemn others at the first of several candlelight vigils held in honor of the victims.
I respectfully requested interviews, fully aware that Temple members were among the crowd, as well as shocked residents from throughout the area. They all simply found it too painful to sit in front of their television sets and do nothing. I gained easy access to people close to the tragedy, the shock still fresh on their faces. Yet, they needed to give voice to the voiceless—their friends, family members and peaceful worshippers–who stared at the barrel of a gun that Sunday morning on August 5. I felt the raw pain of the Sikh Temple vice president Vikramjit Singh who lost not only his leader, but his friend.
I filed my first story.
The next day, I got in my car and drove to the Cudahy neighborhood where Wade Michael Page, the gunman last lived in an upper duplex just above a single mom and her two girls, ages 11 and 17. After doing a bit of research, I learned the address. The family had been there for a year prior to Page moving in above their heads. I thought I’d interview neighbors, but was surprised when I found Jennifer Dunn and her two daughters and their black lab huddled together on their front porch.
As I slowly approached, the lab moved forward barking loudly, sensing yet another intruding reporter. I backed off and smiled that I didn’t want to upset her dog. Somehow when I asked if she lived at the home and whether I could talk to her, Dunn sighed and simply asked, “Do you have a camera?” I quickly responded no, and that turned out to be my passport to gain entry onto the front porch.
It was a surreal scene as we sat on her porch in the early afternoon sun with gawkers slowly driving by, reminding me of the Jeffrey Dahmer scene. Another neighborhood disrupted by mass violence. Dunn remarked that she wasn’t sleeping, and mentioned she was lying awake nights figuring “how to get out of here.” It was clear she had a lot to struggle with. As a psychiatric nurse, she was second guessing herself for not figuring out that Page had some mental health issues. She was upset at her landlord for telling her he ran a proper background check on his new tenant, and she blamed herself for unwittingly exposing her vulnerable children to a mass murderer.
I set aside my journalist role for a minute to tell her, “You can’t blame yourself for not figuring this man to be a killer after five minutes of conversation over a three-week period.” She nodded, and I went on with the interview. As I left her porch front, I realized Page himself had walked up and down these same stairs. Both mailboxes– for the upper and lower units –were in the front of the house.
I filed my second and final story.
A few days later, I started a long-term corporate consulting project with a leading downtown Milwaukee global financial services provider, but I’ve often wondered whatever happened to Dunn and her two girls. I’ll also remember them as the family with the unfortunate luck of renting the same home as one of the nation’s most notorious killers. Thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.
Read Hyler’s Time articles at:
Lora Hyler began her career as a radio news journalist with WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and WISN radio, an ABC affiliate. She now works primarily in corporate communications, public relations and marketing. She’s based in Glendale, Wisconsin.
I’ve spent my summer rediscovering the joy of biking. I am a fair weather rider, and often forget from season to season how much fun biking is. This year with the cost of gasoline and the desire to shed a few extra winter pounds, I’ve turned to the bike for commuting and neighborhood errands almost every day.
Up until a few years ago, I had not been on a bicycle for 30 years. Then my husband got me the best Christmas present ever – a shiny white and silver “commuter bike.” My “Townie” has fat tires, a seat designed for the middle-aged anatomy, no toe clips and brakes that are easy to reach and upright handlebars that didn’t require me to ride hunched over like I was competing in the Tour de France.
I was a little nervous at first. But, after trying out my new wheels on the asphalt parking lot of the elementary school down the street, I quickly found that it was “like riding a bike” – you don’t forget. Soon I was rolling around the neighborhood, running errands and even venturing onto local bike paths and off to parks and stores outside the neighborhood.
The gear was great – a sturdy helmet, a comfortable t-shirt and padded, billowing, biking shorts. When I first suited up, my teen-age son complimented me as I set out for my ride: “That’s what I like about you mom. You’re not afraid to try anything no matter how stupid you look.” My fashion-conscious daughter added her own advice. “I don’t want to hear the words ‘spandex’ and ‘mom’ in the same sentence.”
I quickly discovered the biker’s rules of the road:
- Always make eye contact with drivers who are pulling out from stop signs, especially if they’re on cell phones;
- Keep an eye out ahead for drivers who may be ready to either pull out or open their car door just as you’re passing;
- Read the weather forecast religiously; and, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing. On one of my first trips down the bike path, I was amazed at how far and how fast I could go – until I turned back north and started riding into the brisk wind that had propelled me so swiftly and easily south.
- If you’re going someplace to work, check to see if the facilities are bike friendly with racks, a place to change; and maybe even a shower.
Like any form of transportation, riding has its dangers. One of my sisters scraped the pavement with her face and broke a few teeth when a bike right in front of her on a tour lost a pack, and she went headfirst over the handlebars as her bike struck it. A good friend, like me a grandmother, broke her hip and fractured a few other bones while training for a triathlon. So, I ride slowly and stay vigilant.
On the positive side, I’ve also discovered the joys of seeing and smelling the world close-up. Milwaukee’s Lakefront is lovely from a car window; it’s astonishingly beautiful cruising along on a bike in places cars can’t go. The aroma of French fries and pie that wafts over the Capitol Drive bridge on the Oak Leaf trail in the evening speeds me on my way home to dinner. And you never get that mixed floral smell that is a Milwaukee summer when you’re driving along with the windows rolled up.
I’ve notched a number of small athletic accomplishments.
- I have actually passed one person (on a bike, not on foot) this summer.
- I rode in with a group I work with on Bike to Work Day. I was the last one to arrive, but I made it up the half-mile long incline at the end without getting off and walking.
- I managed to successfully transport a bowl of fruit salad to a party on the bike. (Bowl and fruit in separate containers in the backpack).
- I’ve ridden all the way to Irish Fest (and back) for the Sunday morning Mass and morning buns on my August birthday weekend every year for the past five years – not bad for a mother of four, grandmother of five. Every year I tell myself “I’m too old for this;” and every year I do it again.
When I was a teen (many years ago), the bike was my only form of summer transportation. My dad took the one and only family car to work every day, and my mom was too busy taking care of a large and growing family to drive us all over even if she’d had a car at home.
I remember fastening my clarinet case to my bike handle, meeting up with my friends and fellow musicians and heading off to band practice. It was five miles each way and we thought nothing of it.
Now, as I fasten my grocery bag to the bike handles and head out to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter on a summer day, I feel that young again.
Kathy Quirk of Quirk Ink was born in Lima, Ohio (fictional hometown of Glee) where she learned to ride her first bike. She earned her degree in journalism from Ohio State University, worked for ten years as a newspaper reporter in Dayton, Ohio and moved to Milwaukee 30 years ago. She’s continued to write about everything from Tuvan throat singing to car seat safety for various clients ever since.