Collaboration Nation: Takeaways from #ASJA2019

by May 14, 2019
Check out these highlights from #ASJA2019. (Photo by Britta Jackson via Pexels)

Editors, freelance journalists and content marketing writers flocked to downtown New York City earlier this month for American Society of Journalists & Authors’ (ASJA) annual conference themed as “Collaboration Nation.” Keynotes and sessions stressed the importance of staying agile as the media industry evolves, while remembering journalistic principles like evaluating sources critically and avoiding conflicts of interest.

Here are some highlights from #ASJA2019.  

Word choice matters. Adam Pawlus, executive director of NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, presented one of the opening keynotes reminding attendees to be conscious of how they cover LBGTQ people and to use their chosen pronouns. He cited an old headline about the Stonewall uprising to show much coverage has improved, but added that reporters still sometimes misgender transpeople or mislabel bisexual people. Accurate and respectful word choice also came up during the panel on representation, and panelists stressed asking people how they identify rather than making assumptions.

Source choice matters. Panelists in the session on representation stressed that everyone has blind spots and encouraged writers to find those smaller voices in a community rather than relying on the experts who’ve talked to every other media outlet. In the session on detecting B.S., Richard Eisenberg, managing editor of NextAvenue (full disclosure: I’ve written for them), noted when a freelancer only interviews experts from their own city, it makes him think they haven’t searched widely enough for sources.

Voice matters. Content marketing writer Jennifer Goforth Gregory presented on brand voice, but many of her takeaways could also apply to those who need to modulate their writing voice for different news outlets. She showed how punctuation and point of view can impact the formality of writing. For instance, longer sentences in third person can feel more formal and business-like, while shorter sentences in second person with parenthesis or em dashes tend to feel more casual.

Tenacity matters. In her presentation on finding freelance projects, Montreal-based freelancer Wendy Helfenbaum encouraged writers to be constantly planting the seeds for future work. She suggested sending letters of introduction to publications that win journalism awards (typically the editors will be named as part of the award announcement) and targeting associate editors rather than editors-in-chief. Helfenbaum pointed out that seeds can take months to bear fruit, and editors in the Rate My LOI session echoed that sentiment, saying they appreciate it when writers follow up because it can take time to find the right assignment for a writer’s expertise.