July has seen a lot of diversity in the writing jobs people have been asking me to help with in Whangarei, Northland and Auckland.
People I provided writing services for in July 2018 were largely in Whangarei, although I did some work for a creative talent agency in Auckland who are a pretty good company to get along with. That project involved creating the right words for a brochure and website text for a property developer in a part of rural South Auckland.
That same project gave me some knowledge I used in some columns I wrote for a great Northland writing client, Property Plus. Very soon I will have delivered 100 columns for Property Plus. An excellent client with stimulating challenges each week – and definitely a client on my Christmas present list each year.
A column is the art of writing a factually-sound piece using enjoyable conversational language. In July I helped polish a couple of columns for a great Whangarei guy with a strong voice who has been a client for a few years now, and always a pleasure to deal with.
I took some steps to keep my freelance journalism skills alive over the past month. What I’ve realised is media publishers around the country often don’t have writers and photographers in Northland, so that’s a gap in the market I can help fill. I worked with North & South magazine to write a story about the obscure sport of Jugger and worked hard to get excellent photographs for the client.
Another freelance journalism job was for AA Directions magazine, which has one of the largest circulations in the country. The magazine has a submissions style I’m not used to, but that’s cool. I enjoyed producing some Northland tourism-y material for them. Again – they’re a mag which has a need for more content from the winterless north.
I did some proofreading for clients and helped spot out of date references, spelling mistakes, factual inaccuracies and missing bits of info before things went into print.
Whangarei clients also asked me to help write official letters, web pages, FAQs, blogs, social media and newsletters over the past month, and there’s been some uptake of the services I offer helping get fiction writers’ ebooks onto internet platforms. It’s about having a set of images, branded phrases, titles, numbers and quotes ready, then sharing the same words and images on platforms including Createspace, Kobo, Kindle, Amazon, BoobBub, Bookfunnel and more.
Massive thanks to all the clients who left me five star Google My Business reviews.
…I also found time, somehow, to complete the latest draft of what should be my first published literary fiction novel, Crimechurch. I aim to launch this before the end of the year. Needs some beta readers and a cover, though.
Media releases are easy to handle – so long as your information is clear.
Firstly, understand that readers might have little prior familiarity with what you’re telling them.
Because media means ‘halfway between’ – it’s not the final resting place of the message you’re putting out – you need to make the words clear for the ‘handlers’ of the story you’re announcing.
You have to tell your story from scratch as you need to inform not only your end-readers but also the conduits of the information (websites, magazines, radio, print and social media). Many readers will have heard of your organisation already – but many others need to be told things the writer takes for granted, for example:
You can’t assume somebody knows the rank/experience of people named in the media release
Don’t assume people understand what the jargon and slogans mean
Don’t assume readers will be familiar with the last time the subject was in the news.
Don’t feel humble or unworthy when it comes to putting out news. Almost everybody wants to hear your news, from news publishers to journalists to consumers to staff.
TO PUT OUT A NEWS STORY WHICH WILL GET PICKED UP
Begin with the easy stuff – put clear contact details at the top of the document
Lay out your story as an upside-down pyramid with the most NEW information at the top and the least important at the bottom.
Include photos, but don’t expect them to always be used. There are many reasons publications will decline to use a photo. However, try supply high resoultion, original photos
It’s not okay to leave a journalist confused about spellings of names, products, brand, acronyms. Remember, many journalists will be asked by their editors to manipulate your media release into a story which seems as if it was researched by the journo, when in fact the only source on the story was the media release. That’s due to more and more pressure being placed on journalists to supply more and more stories.
QUOTES are essential. Have a representative of your organisation provide quotes in the story.
A Whangarei person wrote a letter to the editor of the Northern Advocate on July 14 in response to an upbeat, helpful column I published in Savvy. The letter was published. NZME. then used the letter as an excuse to dump me as a columnist.
Now, I do have some hurt feelings around this absolutely. Let me deal with that quickly:
I was providing free, unpaid work, so a little more thanks would have been nice, especially considering my enjoyable, well-honed writing style has a significant following of readers.
It was a constructive dismissal ie. Somebody at NZME. was looking for a reason to get rid of me and used the letter as an excuse.
I was told by NZME’s Northland operations manager that I had caused ‘reputational damage’ to NZME. Yeah, nah. Damage in the opinion of one unqualified person, yes.
NZME still hasn’t shared with me the letter or the reasons for dismissal! It’s unprofessional that I had to ask around and get shown the letter.
There’s also the factor of being hurt because my tone wasn’t understood! Yes it is risky to mix humour with clinically-sound advice, but that’s exactly what I achieved. I’m hurt that one person’s opinion has been seized upon as an excuse to fire me from a volunteer position.
Some corrections about the complaint author:
The complainant, who calls herself CEO, has not been named by a board of directors as the chief executive officer of Business Crisis Support NZ Limited. She is a sole director and can give any title to herself that she likes. She is not listed as CEO on any official documentation or company registration. When James Adonis wrote some journalism on this for Stuff in 2014, he put it like this: “The sole trader whose business card refers to him as the CEO or the managing director. He’s not, in reality, managing or directing anything (especially in a business comprising just one person) to justify such a grandiose headline. To most people, those types of descriptors normally characterise leaders of big companies. The sole trader, in his blatant attempt at pompous marketing, isn’t fooling anybody.”
The complainant registered her company only one week before sending in her letter of response, and signed it “CEO, Business Crisis Support NZ.” I would suggest the complainant used the letter as a publicity stunt to gain attention for her newly-launched venture.
The complainant , sadly, doesn’t have a website or a professional email address- just a Facebook group, so the person is hardly an industry representative.
The complainant’s only expertise seems to be around Asperger’s syndrome (she convenes a support group of some kind). The person only holds a bachelor of education – no qualifications that I can see in the area of mental health. Or operating a business. Or journalism.
Any organisation which uses the labour of unpaid volunteers like me needs to have process and policies to handle intake and departure of volunteers. If NZME Northland has these policies written down, they were not applied here.
The complainant is only as much of a mental health expert as I am – that is, we draw on the same sources: The Low Down, Depression.org.nz. I am a journalist who drew on those sources; the complainant , alas, is not a journalist.
And now, a helpful, constructive column referencing advice from real mental health professionals, plus my experience working at Northland District Health Board
Keep Your Mental Health Up Over Winter
By Michael Botur
Winter worsens our mental health for lots of reasons – there’s no daylight after work, it’s challenging to do washing or exercise, and Winston Peters is Acting Prime Minister. There are a few simple and shame-free instructions you can follow, though, to get your moods in a good place, and it all starts with owning your moods.
Be like my liberal pinko friends and use phrases like “I’m anxious” or “I’m worried” or “Recently I’ve been unhappy… .”
Don’t tell people to “Swallow some concrete pills” or “Sack it up.” Instead, try saying these sorts of things to people you care about:
Tell me how you feel about that.
Are you eating and exercising right?
I’m here to listen whenever you want to share.
If you are having low moods every day, phoning Lifeline is a good start and may lead to your doctor helping out (phone 0800LIFELINE or text ‘Help’ to 4357).
And now, some winter mood-lifting advice for you:
Cross That River
You won’t find spiritual satisfaction by binge-watching Lightbox. Instead, doing something as simple as walking a loop of a cul-de-sac you’ve never been down will help you feel happy. In the words of Anthony Bourdain, who emerged from a druggy kitchen in his 40s then completely revolutionised his life, “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river.”
Have muddy mini-adventures.
In healthy doses, risky activities can stimulate brain function and relationships or reduce symptoms of depression. You should find going into the wilderness and getting wet and muddy is wholesome, cheap, and replenishing. I personally go hiking and mountain-biking. There is even an entire therapeutic specialty around this: Adventure Therapy.
Don’t dwell online (unless you’re on Depression.org.nz)
Reading vicious whiny hipster rants on The Spinoff may seem like therapeutic problem-sharing, but sitting alone in one place staring at a bright screen late into the night is bad for your sleep, and bad sleep means bad moods. Piles of evidence tells us that face-to-face human contact is better for keeping depression away than lurking online. Find someone today to share a cuppa.
Depression isn’t just a bad day
Head to TheLowDown.co.nz or Depression.org.nz. Both websites offer checklists helping you distinguish the fleeting disgruntlement of having your short story rejected by Landfall from clinical depression which requires a medical intervention.
Walking around the block isn’t dorky
Kids and teens think walking is wack and driving is dope. They’ve got it all backwards, though: walk around the block and you’ll feel less anxious about your neighbourhood, your brain will release delightful hormones, your blood pressure will ease, and you’ll receive mental stimulation including ideas for excellent NZME. columns.
UPDATE AUGUST 15 – NZME / Herald have now deleted most of the other columns I wrote for them off the website. Nice one. Presumably they’re as embarassed as I am about the way this has all been handled.