THE OKLAHOMA PUBLISHER, September 2009
Writer teaches journalism students how to write
BY TERRY CLARK, Journalism Professor,
University of Central Oklahoma
“Watch people. Listen. Write short
leads. Find the human side.”
How do you teach writing? It’s about
as hard as writing itself, because what
worked with one group of students may
not work the next semester.
But I know this… students have to be
exposed to good writing and good writers
if they’re going to improve.
That’s why I asked M. Scott Carter to
speak to my feature writing class recently. Carter, one of the top wordsmiths in
Oklahoma journalism, recently joined the
Journal Record in Oklahoma City, coming
from the Norman Transcript and Moore
What has captured my interest in his
writing is his ability to find the human side
of almost any issue, and to tell a story that
grabs you and makes you read more.
So what follows are some excerpts
of the advice he gave my students. They
lapped it up, mesmerized by his anecdotes
and humor. He was there to talk about
interviewing, but their questions and his
experiences broadened the lessons of the
Here are some Carter quotes I think all
journalists need to be reminded of:
“Journalism may be a business, but
journalism is about people. You are the
historians, the storytellers.
“I like people. I like watching people.
I like weirdos, not the chamber of commerce. I grew up with the underdog. I
may be losing my hair, but I’m charming
“You have to be interested in people,
and you can’t interview them from a
phone. Unplug the technology. There is
no replacement for a good interview, two
people sitting face to face.
“Interest yourself in the subject. Write
what you want to know.”
Carter uses a recorder for “99.7%” of
“People are used to little silver things
all over the place. I think a notebook puts
them at unease. That way I get all the
Carter said he learned to write short
leads from Mark Twain.
“Look at ‘Tom Sawcat and “two smelly dogs” live in
yer.’ The lead is one
word: ‘Tom.’ Next paraThe lead on his bio reads:
graph: ‘No answer.’
“M. Scott Carter has spent a life“You have to learn
time breaking the rules.
to write a lead. Avoid
“And enjoying it.”
English teachers. My
CLARK’S CRITIQUE: Lot of
goal is to get people to
examples in our state press of the
plunk down 50 cents
kind of writing Carter is talking
about, including some ideas you
“People will read
can steal. Here are a few:
your stuff if, (a) you
Julie Harding, city editor of
slap them up against the
Weatherford News, under “To
head to get their attenTweet
or not to Tweet” writes:
tion, and (b), it’s easy
are in business and aren’t
or posting notic“I can’t write the
fan page for
rest of the story without
writing the lead first.
The lead is the signpost
that says ‘go here.’”
He illustrated his
Marie Price of the Oklahopoints with examples Mustang News gets fans ready
City Journal Record, under
from his writing and for the bedlam football game
our way out of the red”
stories about how he with big play on the front page. Enid News & Eagle tells the story
watches people in malls with big photos and excellent packaging.
“OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoand on the street. He
budget leaders find themselves
said feature techniques
clip and put on their refrigerator doors.
management officials tryshould be used in news writing.
That’s better than awards.
while the tornado
“Find the human side to the city council
“Every issue has a human component,”
‘What the heck
story. How does it affect me or my readers, he concluded.
and write about that. If it’s a boring meetCarter got his start in journalism at
ing, write about people. They’re your best age 13, sweeping floors at The Yale News
Maunda Rust of the Lawton Constitusubject.
for Homer Ray, who he describes as “my
writes of people who live with chronic
“Approach your story with how it hero.” He made 50 cents an hour, enough
affects the people.
to buy a cherry limeade, and had his first
“As 22-year-old Jim Horinek approach“Print is not dead. Print’s problems are story published when he was 14. He credes
the large metal doors at the end of a
itself, cutting back on staff and not writing its his father’s storytelling around a camp
at Cameron Village, his irritability
stories to be read. It’ll be around as long as fire with getting him started.
through gritted teeth because
you want it to.
He’s bounced around, attending Northhe
elevator is already malfunc“Yes, the big papers are in trouble ern Oklahoma and OSU where he was editioning.
because of debt and technology, but not tor of both student newspapers. He worked
“‘This always happens’” ….
mid-sized and small papers.
at the Blackwell Journal-Tribune and the
Cathy Spaulding of the Muskogee
“Write about things that affect people.” Stillwater NewsPress.
profiles a local Rosie the Riveter
He spoke fondly of the late Lee Bell at
He’s also spent time in public relations
the Stillwater NewsPress.
for the Oklahoma State Senate, for speak“Flora Tye couldn’t begin to count all
“If you want to be great, let someone ers of the Oklahoma House and the Metthe
rivets she riveted during her three years
rip your stuff to shreds.
ropolitan Library system before returning
Douglas Aircraft during World War
“Lee Bell was crotchety, but one hell to journalism. He’s currently working on
just knew she was fast.
of an editor. I turned something in, and he a master’s degree in professional writing
shoot them so fast, my partner
attacked it with his red pencil. Finally, he at OU.
and say, ‘slow down,’ she
just wadded it up, threw it in the wastebasHe’s won a lot of awards, and his
1,500 of these WWII vets
ket and growled, ‘Go do that again.’”
essays and stories have appeared in major
What’s your excuse
Carter told the students they had to newspapers. He’s a member of SPJ and on
read to become good writers, and to learn the board of the Oklahoma City Literacy
Donny Cofer, managing editor of The
Producer, under “My Dad the
“You never know all the people you
He, his wife Karen, four children, one
touch with good stories – the stories they
Continued on Page 15
THE OKLAHOMA PUBLISHER, September 2009
Newspapers must file Statement of Ownership by Oct. 1
by BILL NEWELL, OPA POSTAL CONSULTANT
All periodicals must submit a completed Statement of Ownership (PS Form
3526) to their post office of entry by October 1 of this year.
Reminder: Look at your print schedule
for the period Oct. 1, 2009, to Sept. 30,
2010, for any period where you will not be
publishing an issue so you can include this
information in your statement.
For publications that print more frequently than weekly, a facsimile or something including the information on the
3526 must be published within the first 10
days of October.
For weeklies, it must be published in an
issue published in the month of October.
For those published less frequently than
weekly, it must be published in the first
issue published after October 1.
Continued from Page 14
“It was 1939, and oil was big in these
“A man from Edmond decided to move
his family to Seminole to try and claim his
part of the black gold business.”
Good verbs equal good leads: Helen
Barrett in the Alva Review-Courier:
“Two agenda items dealing with deannexation from City of Alva boundaries
withered under the deafening silence of
a lack of a second during the city council
meeting Monday night.”
HEAD’EM UP AWARDS: First
place, Tulsa World on a Sara Plummer
story about small school districts’ extracurricular activities: “Will the next tune
be taps?” on a story about smaller school
districts having a tough time keeping vocal
and instrument music.
Second place, tie, Guymon Daily Herald: “Mum’s the Word,” on a Katie Martire
photo of a woman making mum corsages
for homecoming, and Tecumseh’s Countywide and Sun, on a Wayne Trotter story
about water rates going up: “Dig Deeper,
Third place, tie, North Central Reporter on county fair time: “Pickles, pie and
a parade,” and UCO Vista on a story by
Caleb McWilliams, headline by Laura
Hoffert: “Edmond Urologist Aims for Congress”.
Publish the form in its entirety in your
newspaper and send a copy of the newspaper that it appears in to the post office
for proof of publication. Write what page
number the form appears on page one.
It is requested that you send a copy of
your statement of ownership to the Oklahoma Press Association and, if you’re a
member of the National Newspaper Association, one to them as well.
NOTE: OPA offers PS Form 3526 as a
PDF document you can fill out. The form
is available at www.okpress.com/postalform-3526. Now you can type in the information, print it out and send it the Post
The question as to whether the post
office will be going to five-day delivery
this year is still “iffy,” but it doesn’t look
like it will happen anytime soon.
Senator Susan Collins, a ranking mem-
ber of the sub-committee that oversees
USPS appropriations, still remains firm to
continue six-day delivery. However, there
is still the potential that any senator can
make an amendment from the floor that
would change this.
MARK THOMAS, Executive Vice President
[email protected] • (405) 499-0033
ROBERT WALLAR, Accounting Manager
Though the CPI is expected to be negative, the USPS may be allowed to file for a
rate increase due to special circumstances.
Postmaster General Jack Potter is on
record saying that a big increase would
drive away mailers.
This may mean that they will be looking at a small increase, from 3 to 4 percent,
with standard mail shoppers being a little
less and periodicals a little more.
The USPS has until February 2010
before they have to file for any changes
[email protected] • (405) 499-0027
STEVE BARRYMORE, Chief Sales Officer
[email protected] • (405) 499-0034
SCOTT WILKERSON, Front Office/Building Mgr.
[email protected] • (405) 499-0020
LISA POTTS, Member Services Director
[email protected] • (405) 499-0026
SARAH BARROW, Ad Director
[email protected] • (405) 499-0021
CINDY SHEA, Media Manager
[email protected] • (405) 499-0023
Access denied to record containing birth date
By MICHAEL MINNIS, OPA ATTORNEY
The continuing conflict between privacy concerns and open
government heated up this summer when a journalist was
denied access to documents containing the birth date of a public
After a public employee was placed on administrative
leave because of an investigation of certain allegations, a
journalist asked the City of Oklahoma City for access to records
containing the name and birth date of the public employee.
The City denied access citing two statutory exceptions to
the Open Records Act. The first exception is for “personal information within the
driver records”. 51 O.S. § 24A.5(1)(c); § 24A.8(G)(c)(3). The second exception
cited by the city applies where the release of the information would “constitute a
clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Id. § 24A.7(A)(2).
As Oklahoma State University Associate Professor Joey Senat has noted, the
driver’s license exemption does not apply to records of a municipality.
In explaining the second claimed exemption, the City contends that releasing the
public employee’s birth date would lead to “identity theft” and thus such release
would be an “unwarranted invasion” of privacy.
Although identify theft may be a possible valid concern, the evidence supporting
this conclusion as to a public employee has yet to be proffered.
Personal identifying information such as a birth date is available from other
public documents such as voter lists, i.e., the information is not “private.”
Public access to this type of information is not for the purpose of publishing
the birth date, but to differentiate the person under investigation from others with
the same or similar names. The personal identifying information is necessary if the
public wants to obtain additional information about their public employee.
In the case of a public employee, the public need for accurate, complete
information should prevail over the potential risk of identify theft.
The courts undoubtedly will wrestle with this particular issue in the near future.
The city reportedly is seeking an Attorney General’s opinion.
KATHY NASH, OCAN/2by2 Coordinator
[email protected] • (405) 499-0025
LANDON COBB, Account Executive
[email protected] • (405) 499-0022
MELISSA TORRES, Advertising Assistant
[email protected] • (405) 499-0035
JENNIFER GILLILAND, Creative Services Director
[email protected] • (405) 499-0028
KEITH BURGIN, Editorial Assistant
[email protected] • (405) 499-0029
WILMA MELOT, Computer Consultant
[email protected] • (405) 499-0031
BILL NEWELL, Postal Consultant
[email protected] • (405) 499-0020
OPEN (DIGITAL CLIPPING)
LOUISE GARVIN, OPEN Manager
[email protected] • (405) 499-0032
JOSH COLEMAN, Digital Clipping Account Exec.
[email protected] • (405) 499-0036
(405) 499-0020 • Fax (405) 499-0048
Toll-Free in Oklahoma: 1-888-815-2672