The Writing Process Between an Editor and Author: Jan Winburn and Lisa Pollak “Talk Shop”

Lisa Pollak

Lisa Pollak

Jan Winburn

Jan Winburn

Former Baltimore Sun editor, Jan Winburn, and former Sun writer Lisa Pollak offer aspiring narrative writers a look at the process of publishing a narrative piece for a newspaper. The two shared their dialogue on publishing the article “From Citizen to Activist: The Conversion of Laura Brodie,” a story of a former military-mom turned anti-war activist. During the process, the two faced struggles of finding the right subject, the pressure of the deadline, and the overall struggle of writing the right piece.

The Baltimore Sun article, "From Citizen to Activist."

The Baltimore Sun article, “From Citizen to Activist.”

Winburn and Pollak demonstrate what a good relationship is between an editor and a writer in this process. Winburn pitched the idea of an “Unexpected Activist” to Pollak, who panicked initially to find the right subject, eventually discovering Laura Brodie. The two were on deadline to finish in about a month, in time for a Washington D.C. rally. Pollak would return after each reporting session to discuss with Winburn.

As the deadline drew nearer, Pollak was worried her writing was lacking. She decided to submit her rough draft to her editor, despite the exposure she would feel from sending in her raw work. Winburn advised her to freewrite until she was inspired, rather than telling her to just go with her original piece to meet the deadline.

Though they didn’t meet their deadline, they were satisfied with their final work. The lesson taken away from this dialogue, then, is that the importance was the communication between editor and writer. Pollak knew she could go to Winburn for advice and with rough, unfinished work. Winburn was willing to even just simply listen because she knew her feedback would help produce a good article. Both knew, also, to trust one another in advice and feedback.


Isabel Wilkerson on Interacting with Subjects

Wilkerson at a speaking at University of Nevada, Reno.

Wilkerson at a speaking at University of Nevada, Reno.

In her essay “Playing Fair With Subjects,” from the book “Telling True Stories,” Isabel Wilkerson writes on narrative writing and its treatment of a story’s subject. Her essay focuses on a piece she wrote for the New York Times in 1993, called “The Manful Life of Nicholas, 10.” The narrative describes a 10-year-old boy bearing the weight of a father figure in an impoverished family on the South Side of Chicago.

In Nicholas’s story, Wilkerson describes the family’s everyday tasks, the mother’s college classes, the comings and goings of the five children’s separate father’s, the grandmother’s sermon-like lessons, and Nicholas checking to make sure each sibling has gotten to class. Wilkerson didn’t gather these details from mere interviews, she would arrive early and stay late to see the family, following their daily life for about a month. Her first day with them was spent folding socks at a laundromat.

In her essay, Wilkerson wonders whether or not her presence had some kind of effect on the family and thereby the story. After school, Wilkerson would take the boys out to eat at McDonald’s. Some, she says, would argue against her doing that. If she was there helping with laundry and buying the children food, was she not changing there situation? By becoming almost like one of the family, was she not changing that family’s dynamic? Wilkerson argues that it is typical for journalists to treat their subjects to food, and the children deserved no less. However, Wilkerson also admits in her essay to moments when she had to be careful not to intervene, such as when the children experienced abuse, particularly from their mother.

We must learn the subtle rules and hierarchy of the world we have stepped into, adjusting ourselves to it and finding a place in it by responding in natural and human ways.” -Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson points out that a journalists will always be intervening in and in some ways changing the life of a subject. Why not then, try a method of immersing oneself in that subject’s life, soaking in all the vital details necessary for a genuine article worthy of their subject.

The Block: Chevy’s Social Media Site

A downloadable image from Chevy's site

A downloadable image from Chevy’s site “The Block.” The site includes a page of free downloadable images.

Cars made by the division of American manufacturer General Motors, Chevrolet, are known for what could be called their American traits. Built in America, they’re not known for their well-knit design, but rather the fact one can fix a Chevy in their own backyard. It makes sense, then, that Chevy’s social media site, The Block, has a very do-it-yourself attitude.

The site includes a forums page so that fellow Chevy users can discuss anything from car repair to to racing, giving and getting tips and feedbacks on their forums.

The site also includes a page devoted to the various parts that make up a Chevy, with users able to provide feedback under each photo of a part.

Also on The Block is a photo album page, including not only albums from the company itself, but also users, allowing more information on the fixing and building of these cars to be shared.

The Block has its own video page, but their are only videos posted by the company, not by users. If there is anything I’d recommend the site change, it’s to add user videos to the page, allowing more information on building, repair, and other tips to be shared.

The block also has a page, titled “Drivers,” featuring its many members. However, it appears most of the members have not set up their status. That large a group could indicate the site was not made as user friendly as it could be.

With the exception of these few errors, Chevrolet’s social media site The Block gets its image across as an all-American, do-it-yourself car company.

A Youtube video posted on The Block’s video page.

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Nora Ephron: Writing Stories On and Off Screen

Nora Ephron begins her essay with her usual instructions to aspiring screenwriters, “Do not become a screenwriter, become a journalist.” Her reasoning is that, after years of telling stories for the news, one can understand more of the world and how to tell a story about it. As a reporter for The New York Post, an afternoon paper, Ephron had to find a feature-like angle for her stories. Ephron’s skills in both writing for the post and later in narrative journalism helped when she became a screenwriter and had to further her story-telling skills.

“Too few journalists become screenwriters. I say to all the would-be screenwriters: Become journalists. An I’ll say to working journalists: Do not stay journalists. Become screenwriters.”

-Nora Ephron

But Ephron feels she also would have benefited in journalism from the skills she learned as a screenwriter. She realized stories are not mere happenstances, but rather events influenced by one’s narrative. She learned the crucial elements of a story’s structure: the questions of where the classic beginning, middle, and end begin, end, and transition between on another. Her writing of the screenplay for the film Silkwood led her to understand how to make psychological changes in the real-life character of Karen Silkwood be palatable to an audience. She learned new methods of story-telling, methods which she added to the ones she had carried with her from her time as a journalist.

Ephron also carries with her a lesson on story-telling, that methods from various mediums complement one another and come together to tell a bigger picture than even the screen.



The Valatie Community Theatre

The Valatie Community Theatre, on Main St., Valatie NY

In 2005, a group of people took an abandoned movie house and decided to turn it into a local theater. Today, the Valatie Community Theatre is still a bit dusty even after years of renovation, but the members remain devoted. The Valatie Community Theatre is a venue for musical and theatrical performances located about in the small village of Valatie about 30 minutes outside of Albany. The program was created as a 50(c)3, a not-for-profit, organization in 2005. The building had originally been built as a movie house in 1926, becoming a community gathering place. The movie house ran until the 1970’s. The last movie shown there was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The organization includes a summer youth program, The Valatie Youth Theater, and a string of musical performances starting in the spring. The theatre’s board members had to add a bathroom and a new doorway to the building, as well as renovate the lobby. They hope to add a backstage to the theater, whereas now a brick wall exists behind the curtain. “We’ve got a legacy to leave in terms of building,” says University at Albany professor and theatre board member Craig Hancock, “But we’ve also got a legacy to leave in terms of programming.”

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The Red Chevy

So I tried using the app Videolicious. As far as video editing goes, I’ll say that it’s best for making something out of nothing. The “Chicken Scratch” video was only a minute or two of footage, while “The Red Chevy” took 10 or 15 minutes of footage that had to be cut down to 60 seconds; I had to cut out some important details (that thing he was fixing was the hose) and had to rush through B-roll. But whatever the case, here’s a look at the relationship between a man and his crappy car.

Chicken Scratch

A look into the life of bad handwriting (video courtesy of Maria Derenzo).

390: Rewriting Cutlines



Original caption: Lisa Lampanelli (Shearer PR)

My caption: Not pulling any punches, Lisa Lampanelli delivered racy standup full of vitriol Friday night.



Original caption: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, center, in court this month with his lawyers Judy Clarke, right, and Miriam Conrad. Credit: Jane Flavell Collins, via Associated Press

My caption: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, center, in court this month, has yet to take the stand to testify. His lawyers Judy Clarke, right, and Miriam Conrad, are likely considering and rehearsing the situation.



Original caption: Diane Nolin announced her candidacy for Cohoes mayor Friday.

My caption: New candidate for Cohoes Mayor Diane Nolin said her main campaign platforms include sharing services and promoting communication with citizens at the Cohoes Senior Center Friday.



Original caption: Pictured: Koni and Gary Valenti of Koni’s Broadway Kafe, a new business located at 357 Broadway in downtown Troy.

My caption: Owner ofKoni’s Broadway Kafé, Koni Valenti is the cafe’s namesake as well as its chef.Her parents, Charles and Barbara Mamone, formerly owned and operated three deli-style establishments in downtown Albany: Barley’s, BA’s Uptown Deli and Lunch, and her husband Gary is a Troy native.



Original caption: Parents hold their newborn babies in the nursery on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, at Bellevue Woman’s Hospital in Niskayuna, N.Y. From left are Amanda Madigan of Albany, Mike Jones of Niskayuna, Christine Winchip of Ballston Spa, Jose Rodriguez of Schenectady, Corinna Schinnerer of Ballston Lake and Juntao Wu of Niskayuna.

My caption: None of the babies born in the nursery on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, at Bellevue Woman’s Hospital in Niskayuna, N.Y., held the state’s most popular names, Sophia and John. Instead they were named (from left) Amanda Madigan of Albany, Mike Jones of Niskayuna, Christine Winchip of Ballston Spa, Jose Rodriguez of Schenectady, Corinna Schinnerer of Ballston Lake and Juntao Wu of Niskayuna.

Thomas Bass’s Talk on Censorship in Vietnam Relates Around the World

Professor Thomas Bass

Professor Thomas Bass‘s lecture began in Humanities 290 at the University at Albany, traveled to China, then Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, Utah, Tunisia, and finally returned back to UAlbany. The UAlbany professor of journalism and long-form journalist used his book, “The Spy Who Loved Us,” a book on the Vietnamese spy Pham Xuan An, as a nexus for the broad topic of censorship, due to his book being censored in Vietnam.

Though his book leads into the topic of censorship in East Asia, Bass chose to also discuss censorship in the United States.

Pham Xuan An watches as NVA tanks take over Saigon—1975. (Courtesy Le Minh & Ted Thai)

“I’m holding in my hands the latest copy of the World Press Freedom Index,” said Bass, “There are 180 countries, where does the United States rank?” he asked the audience.

“64, 68,” guessed a student.

Another guessed 46, and another tried 37.

“All these numbers you’re giving me are really shitty,” Bass said, “The United States has dropped three places down to 49.”

Why this low a ranking? Bass attributed it to a number of factors, including partisanship in media, the lack of a federal shield law for journalists, the Espionage Act, and incidents of spying on citizens and the press by the federal government.

2015 World Press Freedom Index

But even worse in ranking are China and Vietnam, essentially police states, according to Bass. He decided to use his own book to monitor Vietnam’s censorship.

“I get an offer to have the book translated into Vietnamese and published in Vietnam,” said Bass, on the publication of the book, “I know that Vietnam censors everything, that’s just the way they work.”

Bass agreed to the publication, but drew up a contract stating he would be notified every time a change was made to his work.

The Vietnamese translation of “The Spy Who Love Us,” censored and published in 2014

“I wired my book, I call it a kind of literary seismometer,” said Bass, “So that every time the Vietnamese censors got near the book and decided to change things, I’d be notified.”

According to Bass, 400 passages were removed from his book, as well as certain people, pages, and the index. Even the book’s title didn’t remain the same, due the statement that the titular character “loved” the Americans.

With mentions of Edward Snowden, General Petraeus, and Professor Rosemary Armaeo’s  Eastern European reports, Bass’s talk traveled across the globe, and he spoke of the fact that censorship is worldwide as well.

“Every part of the world has it’s own ideological blinders.”

Ellen “Nan” Hauley and her life at Kinderhook Lake, Niverville NY

Ellen Hauley, called Nan by many, lived in a small red house located on the shores of Kinderhook Lake in Niverville, NY between 1944 and 1970. Though she now lives in Valatie, NY, she was willing to share the stories of around 25 years of her life spent at this house.

JPEG Image (1701)The back of Hauley’s former home overlooks the shore of Kinderhook Lake. The property for the house had been bought up cheap following the closing of resorts along the lake’s railroad line, such as the theme park Electric Park. However, a bar on One Tree Island still operated on the lake when Hauley lived there, and the train line was still in service when she commuted to The College of St. Rose in the 1950’s and 60’s in order to earn her Bachelor’s in social studies, and later her Master’s in education.

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Hauley’s mother, Helen Snyder, had kept a plaque representing each of her children. The oldest of eight siblings, Hauley had many responsibilities, including refilling the kerosene-powered space heater, tending the coal-burning furnace, helping her father maintain the house, and watching her younger siblings.

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What is now a back room was once the original main room of the house. Originally a summer home brought in pieces on a hay wagon to be built in 1910, the house originally had no running water and consisted of a porch, three rooms, and a separate summer kitchen. Hauley’s father, Raymond Snyder, began rebuilding the summer home into a house when the family permanently moved in in 1944. The home has been refurbished and repaired countless times since.
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Hauley’s youngest daughter keeps chickens and ducks behind the house. She has been helping her daughter, Rachel, during her pregnancy tend to chores around the house, such as bringing water to her chickens and ducks that live behind the house. Though the home was originally owned by her mother, Helen Snyder, the eldest daughter, and was meant to be passed on to each eldest daughter, her youngest daughter now lives in the house.

JPEG Image (2049)Hauley’s daughter added the chicken and ducks’ coop after moving into and fixing the house. Hauley still frequents the house on the lake to help her youngest daughter maintain the house.