Author Archive

Diversity fellows: What we learned at SFJ14

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Mariecar Mendoza WatsonDenisePhoto (1)

The Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship winners, Mariecar Mendoza and Denise Watson, reflect on their time at the 2014 SFJ annual conference:

During a time in the media industry where metrics and analytics rule many newsrooms, it’s refreshing to know that there is a still a smart, creative group of enthusiastic people who champion the art of storytelling.

What’s more, they’re focused on storytelling about music that moves, food that strengthens bonds with loved ones – or helps folks with their gastrointestinal tract.

That’s the biggest takeaway I got from my first Society of Features Journalism conference, hosted in Nashville this summer.

When I was a teen, I always dreamed of being in the same room with arts and entertainment writers and editors who understood the importance of what most newsrooms scornfully dub “fun journalism.” This year, not only got nearly a week with them, but I got real time with them to bounce around ideas – steal a few ideas, too – and find out how they’re dealing with this digital world that has everyone working on so many platforms at such a fast pace.

Tommy Tomlinson, a writer for Forbes, probably summed up what features writing means to me when he told the attentive crowd of SFJers: “I like to write big stories out of little moments.”

There was no escaping that we’re in a digital world that thrives on web clicks and by no means did this conference talk about the industry’s digital push with disdain. Going “digital” is what has sparked departments everywhere to rethink how they do journalism.

But what is doing journalism in this digital world?

It’s still about telling stories about moments in your community, in your state, in your world.

SFJ’s conference was inspiring, uplifting and all those sappy words that features writers are told not to overuse in their stories. It gave me a refresher course in mobile video, narrative writing and metrics, but it reminded me that there is still a reason to do journalism – and more importantly, features journalism.

Mariecar Mendoza is a features digital director for the Los Angeles News Group. She is one of the 2014 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows.


The conference, particularly the sessions with writers Tommy Tomlinson,Peter Cooper, and Robert Hilburn, reinforced my mantra: Journalists still have an important role to play in society.

It goes beyond the obvious, such as giving readers information they need to navigate their lives. What Cooper, Tomlinson and Hilburn did was speak to the idea that writers, particularly with narrative, connect people.

Tomlinson’s presentation on “Ode to Billie Joe” was brilliant. One of the first questions he asked, “How do we become storytellers?” sent me back to listening to my grandfather’s World War II stories while sitting with him on his front porch.

Tomlinson then answered his own question by saying that he became a storyteller through music. That is also true for me. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve gravitated toward music and musicians who told stories through their songs – Billy Joel, Elton John, Joni Mitchell – even when I was too young to understand the lyrics. Their words and their voices, I knew instinctively, meant something. And that something is why so many other people love and relate to the same song, such as Joel’s “The Piano Man,” or Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

By dissecting the music, Tomlinson did what I’ve seen Tom French do in presentations, and it is a great practice for writers. Analyze the song in order to find out why it rings true and how you can use those same tricks in your writing.

Why does the first line of “Ode” catch you? The alliteration of “dusty, Delta day,” particularly at the end of the sentence.  The contrast of the shock of this man’s death woven into the day-to-day goings of this family is authentic. Often, crap happens but life can’t stop. And the unfolding of the action throughout the song, the listener realizing that the narrator has a connection to the dead man, is the wonderful narrative arc of the story.

Hilburn reminded me of all the research that is necessary to paint an accurate portrait of a subject. You can have all of the facts in the world, stitch them together and you can still be off in your assessment. But, for family members, who should know the subject in and out, to compliment a writer for his authenticity is high, high praise.

Cooper was not only entertaining, but refreshing in that he didn’t come into the business from journalism school. But he was led here by what leads so many writers. As he said, “We are in the passion business. We want to make people feel something.”

He’s shown that time and again with his work, and that is always inspiring to me.

I also loved the tips he gave about not writing a true budget line when you can’t possibly know the story (I’ve been there so many times), and how not to tell your editor where you are going and what you are up to.

What writer wouldn’t like that advice?

 Denise Watson has been a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot for 22 years

Categories: Diversity fellowship

Show and Steal: Saved the Day

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Saved the Day cover

Here are the best “looked like we planned it this way” ideas for print and online, as presented at SFJ14 conference in Nashville.

Download the PDFs by clicking Saved the Day

Show and Steal: Online Superstars

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Online cover

The best online feature ideas from SFJ14 conference in Nashville.

You can download a PDF of all the Online superstars here.

Show and Steal: Holidays

September 1, 2014 Leave a comment

xante page

PDFs from the SFJ14 conference in Nashville on holidays.

You can download the PDFs here: Show and Steal: Holidays

Show and Steal Editor’s Choice

August 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Editor's Choice-3

FOR MEMBERS ONLY: Enjoy great ideas in our Editor’s Choice portion of Show and Steal, as presented at the SFJ14 conference in Nashville.

Download a printable set of Editor’s Choice here.

We’ll be posting more galleries from Show and Steal soon.

Categories: Members only

Storify: SFJ14 conference highlights in Nashville

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Categories: Uncategorized

SFJ Conference schedule

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment
The John Seigenthaler Center, Nashville, Tenn., the site of the annual SFJ Conference

The John Seigenthaler Center, Nashville, Tenn., the site of the annual SFJ Conference

All sessions take place in the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

5:15-6 p.m. Seigenthaler Center atrium

4 p.m. SFJ board meeting
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room

6-8 p.m. Opening reception; Rotunda.
Join SFJ members and distinguished guests in an opening reception for the SFJ conference.

Registration continues

9 a.m. Welcome
Location: Lecture Hall

9:15-10:30 a.m. General Session
Video Training, Part 1:
Val Hoeppner, a media consultant who has been training newsrooms on video, will take you through the tools and current thinking on videos in newsroom operations
Location: Lecture Hall

10:45-11:45 a.m. General Session
Show and Steal, Part 1 — Great print and web ideas from our members. Be sure to attend.
Location: Lecture Hall

Noon-1:4johnny-cash5 p.m. Lunch
Speaker: Robert Hilburn, author of “Johnny Cash: A Life”
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room

2-3:30 p.m. General Session
Video, Part 2, with inspiration from Josh Metzler, a photojournalist and instructor. He will show you how to leverage video for compelling storytelling and pieces that are a hit with readers.
Location: Lecture Hall

3:45-4:45 p.m. General Session
Peter Cooper, The Tennessean, talks about covering the music beat in Nashville. Peter will share war stories and talk about the paper’s music initiatives, especially its new video series, “The Story Behind the Song.”
Location: Lecture Hall

5:30-7 p.m.
Silent auction/reception
Help raise money for our Penny Fuchs diversity fellowships and have fun mingling and noshing with fellow SFJ members.
Location: Rotunda (items will be in Classroom 106)


9:15-10:15 a.m. General Session
Tommy Tomlinson, a former columnist with the Charlotte Observer who now writes about sports, music and writing for Forbes, will talk about narrative storytelling and music.
Location: Lecture Hall

10:30-11:45 a.m. General Session
Show and Steal, Part 2: More great lifestyle, arts and entertainment, food, travel and home and garden ideas to steal for your features sections and websites. We’ll begin with a small panel who will talk about apps.
Location: Lecture Hall

Noon-1:30 p.m. Awards luncheon and presentations
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room

1:45-3 p.m. General Session
Stefanie Murray of the Tennessean and Lisa Kresl of the Dallas Morning News will show you how understanding analytics and embracing out of the box thinking can help you remain a vital player in your newsroom’s future.
Location: Lecture Hall

3:15-4:15 p.m. General Session
A group of designers and editors will share the ups and downs of working remotely and through central design desks, and share secrets of their success.
Location: Lecture Hall

5:15 p.m. Friday happy hour
Freedom Sings,” a musical history of the First Amendment (and threats to it) presented by Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center at the John Seigenthaler Center.
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room


9:15-10:15 p.m. General Session
As budgets get tighter but need for content gets greater, editors and producers are increasingly relying on freelancers. A panel of writers and editors guide you on how to make the most of these relationships.
Location: Lecture Hall

10:30-11:30 a.m. General Session
We’re bringing back out Features 9-1-1. Submit questions throughout the conference and we’ll get together to get you the answers you need.
Location: Lecture Hall

11:30 a.m. SFJ Foundation meeting
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room

12:45 p.m. SFJ board meeting
Location: Freedom Forum Conference Room


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