By Carlos Frías
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — In the 40 minutes it takes Diane Cowen to commute from the Houston Chronicle, she’d considered, conceived and came home ready to celebrate the idea for her first book.
Cowen, the Chronicle’s food and religion writer, burst through the door, heading for her computer, and called out to her husband, “I’m going to write a cookbook!”
His response? “OK. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?”
They went out to dinner.
She came up with the idea for “Sunday Dinners,” a book that examines the Sunday mealtime traditions for famous families of faith such as Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, simply by thinking about her beats — something she suggests any reporter can do.
“I thought sarcastically, ‘I guess I could write a cookbook for religious people.’ I literally laughed out loud in my car and then… I thought, ‘That is not a bad idea,’ ” she said during the Society for Features Journalism panel examining how books can spring from the newsroom.
By Carlos Frías
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — To watch Al Tompkins concoct story ideas is a free association spectacle.
Government shutdown, you say? Tompkins, a Poynter professor and journalist of 35 years, sees FHA loans that aren’t being processed, veterans’ disability checks getting held up, the flu spreading wildly without the CDC open to warn us, border patrols shutting down and food stamps not getting processed.
He can do that with just about any topic, conjuring story ideas simply by asking how a big, public event affects five areas: money, family, safety, health, community.
With that filter, writers and editors can devise local angles to big stories. And not all of them have to focus on malfeasance.
“Part of our job is to investigate wrong-doing. Part of our job is to investigate right-doing,” Tompkins said. “There are people who do good work and we should hold them up when they do. … People are hungry for that.”
The core of reporting, he said, is to forget our stereotypes — that politicians are all crooked, that the elderly are all frail, that “kids today” all know nothing.
“It’s not all like you think,” Tompkins said.
Moneymakers: Reader contests, special promotions and new sections.
Saved The Day: Quick turn-around packages, great ideas stolen from the newsletter or last year’s Show & Steal.
Totally Entertaining: Fun topics from the world of entertainment and pop culture.
Holidays: How did you cover (any) holidays this year in a fresh, innovative way?
Editor’s Choice: Enterprise, special projects or any great concept that doesn’t fit elsewhere.
Online Superstars: Digital content only, a video, blog or anything else that got lots of traffic and buzz.
Content should have been published between June 1, 2012, and July 31, 2013.
For print entries, please send PDFs of your pages. For online entries, please send web links.
SEND ENTRIES: ShowSteal@chron.com
DEADLINE IS: Sept. 6, 2013
If you have any questions, contact Melissa Aguilar and Diane Cowen, Show & Steal committee co-chairs, at ShowSteal@chron.com.
We want to see you in October for #SFJ13. The annual features journalism conference is an excellent way to gain new skills, networks and friends in features journalism.
Need more convincing? Here are a few tips to make the sell to your editor or boss:
The challenge: Convince the boss to let me attend the SFJ Annual Conference at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg October 9-12.
The solution, Part 1: For three days, I will rub elbows with the most talented features journalists and the best journalism trainers in the country. I will return renewed, refreshed, energized and filled with new ideas to help make everyone in my newsroom a better journalist/writer/editor/producer.
The solution, Part 2: I will become more productive, a virtual “…Story Idea Machine”** and will be better prepared to handle the challenge of “Leading Creative People”**.
The solution, Part 3: I’ll move further along the ever changing cutting edge of the business with “Visual Thinking from Big Data to Simple Idea”** and “Tablet Storytelling”**
Take a moment to mark your calendar and make your plans to join us for the SFJ 2013 Features Journalism Conference.
Hotel reservations are being accepted now.
A bulk room rate has been secured for $109/night. The hotel offers free wifi and provides a shuttle to and from the Poynter campus.
You can reserve your room now by going to this link: http://cwp.marriott.com/tpasd/societyoffeaturesjournal
We would love to hear why you attended the conference and what’s the best idea you picked up at a recent SFJ conference that you put to use in your newsroom?
As the features editor of The Roanoke Times, I’ve attended five conferences and have felt recharged at each one. It’s a great way to network and meet other features editors and learn from one another. It’s also nice to have the time away from the daily pressures of the office to evaluate our jobs and challenges, and get advice if needed.
Thanks to the Show & Steal sessions, I’ve brought back great ideas to reproduce at my paper, including asking readers for their hilarious Scared of Santa photos. And you’ll never fail to find something amazing at our annual silent auction to benefit our diversity fellows program.
Now it’s time for you to share your testimonial. How did the conference help you in your job? Leave your comments below or tweet us at @WeareSFJ. We may share some of your thoughts in our conference program this year.
– Kathy Lu
SFJ would like to recognize the wonderful work being done on a daily basis by you and your colleagues around the country. The full list of winners can be found on our contest page.
All winners will be formally recognized at our annual conference at Poynter in October.
Congratulations one and all!