Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Summary of Learning

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Here we are. The final Summary of Learning for Public Relations Writing. This semester has flown by, and I can't believe summer is just a week away for me... I have grown as a writer, a student and future public relations professional throughout this course. I am very excited about the writing skills I have learned and have even relied on them several times in my real world experience. 

Starting PR Writing, I was somewhat confident in my skills as a writer and storyteller. I needed continued practice to refine my talents. I could write something and recognized that it needed more. A lot more. At this point, I knew a public relations professional would be expected to write items such as news releases, media pitches and position papers. I didn't even think of the other important tools a public relations professional would need in a future career, like fact sheets, radio PSAs and cutlines to name a few. I was ready to learn about the different forms of public relations writing.

The first couple of weeks of the course served as a good foundation for the writing assignments that would follow. During this time, we reviewed AP Style and important grammar and punctuation guidelines. Having had Writing for Mass Media the semester before, many of these rules and principles were still fresh in my brain. However, many of them had faded away. I wouldn't have been able to create quality work without this comprehensive refresher. 

Next, we looked at the problems of brevity and clarity. When they come together, they give conciseness to a piece a writing, meaning readers can glean information quickly and succinctly. It's always a good idea to cut 10 percent from a first draft to help in this domain.

After looking at the technical aspects of writing, we looked at the ABCs of journalism and news values. As public relations professionals, it is imperative that we be able to determine what is newsworthy about an event and utilize that element to create a dynamic, engaging story that journalist and other audiences will want to read. We also examined the parts of the most expected tool in our public relations toolbox, the news release. Once this unit was over, we were able to plunge directly into our first writing assignments, the writing of news releases

Writing news releases is no easy feat. We were given information to write two news releases that unit. To do this effectively, I read over the information to glean the most important points in order to answer the 5 Ws and H in a way where the reader could get the information in order of importance while still leaving a bit of information at the end to keep the reader engaged. The first release was difficult since it was a general release about the Tipton Children's Home, and choosing a news element was difficult to come by. The second release was much easier since it was about an event the home was hosting. There, I was able to stress the elements of proximity and currency relatively easily. These first two releases taught me how to extract important points to create an engaging piece that answers any questions a reader might have. 

The next pieces we focused on were media pitches and media advisories, where we try to grab the attention of journalists, in either pitching a story to them or advising them on an upcoming event. Both are relatively short, but it is nonetheless necessary to find the crucial, must-know info to give to journalists who might write about an event your organization is hosting. I utilized a media pitch this semester when I served as director of communications for my Choctaws of OU group. I wrote a Facebook message to the OU Daily about our Choctaw Day that was coming up, keeping in mind all of the parts of a media pitch. Within the next few days, I received an email about scheduling an interview. I was proud that I successfully employed my public relations writing abilities to get coverage for Choctaw Day.

After pitches and advisories came fact sheets and backgrounders. These two pieces were difficult, to say the least, because of the information they must provide. Fact sheets just give bulleted facts; whereas, backgrounders are comprehensive pieces that give history, facts, and current aims of an organization. Once again, we must decern which pieces of information are pertinent to include. These two pieces will serve us often, especially when compiling media kits. 

Next, we moved into position. Position papers, that is. As if writing a comprehensive piece wasn't hard enough, we had to actually argue a point in a position paper. We had to state the issue, summarize counter arguments to debunk, and then move into three points to argue. This assignment helped me in my French course, surprisingly enough. For that assignment, we had to write an argumentative composition that detailed whether or not we believe American democracy to be crumbling because of wealth inequality prevalent throughout the country. Because of my experience in writing argumentative pieces, I was able to effectively detail my argument and state strong evidence in support of it. 

In going even more in depth, the assignment after the position paper was a feature story. I chose to write mine about a figure on campus, my Choctaw College and Career Resources adviser, Hannah Blackwell. I chose her because she is leading Choctaw students in their experiences as college students, while still a student herself working on her Ph.D. in education. I interviewed her and the people with whom she works daily, the students. I feel that I was able to tell her story in a compelling way, using a good scene lead and transitions throughout the piece. I showed the feature to Hannah, and she was impressed with it. 

Picking back up again with opinion pieces that shed light on a particular argument, we wrote op-eds and letters to the editor. Ironically, these two pieces were due the same week as my argumentative French composition. I argued a lot that week, suffice it to say. For these two assignments, I made sure to choose topics about which I am very passionate. My letter to the editor was in response to an article that appeared in the Tulsa World. Someone wrote a column about why athletes should be paid in addition to receiving scholarship money. I wrote about this would even be more unfair than the current system. In my opinion, athletes receive so much as it is and lesser-advantaged students don't receive enough. It's not a popular opinion, but I digress. My op-ed was focused on teacher pay and why it is imperative that Oklahoma raises teacher pay soon. This was easy to write because I see the struggles of a new, underpaid teacher: my sister. I feel that I was able to argue my points in a powerful way because of this. 

The last two units of public relations writing focused on audio and visual pieces. Unit 4.1 dealt with broadcast scripts. For that assignment, we had to write a PSA about the upcoming PRSSA Panel on Inclusion. Writing for broadcast is quite a different animal than writing for reading. In broadcast writing, you have to keep in mind that you are writing for someone to read. Thus, the piece must be conversational and easy to read. My 27-second-long PSA focused on the importance of diversity in the media before introducing the event. 

The last assignment was the most fun in my opinion ( maybe because I'm a photographer), and that was writing cutlines for photos. We were to take pictures at an event, pick nine photos and write cultines for them. Since Choctaw Day was close, I decided to do my cutline project over it. I captured some really interesting scenes and activities that day. I am very proud of the work I did. I made a picture slideshow video showcasing those pictures and more for the Choctaws of OU end-of-year banquet. My Choctaws of OU Adviser printed one of the pictures as a gift to Choctaw instructor Freddie Lewis for his help throughout the year. 

Of all the projects I discussed in this post, I wish I could redo the news releases. Since these were the first assignments, I would have given them more time. Knowing what I know now, I could have made them so much better. This is evidence of my growth since beginning this class. I had to learn to become resourceful as writing while keeping in mind I am writing for an audience. I had to discipline myself to go the extra mile to ensure that I was producing my best work. 

Overall, Public Relations Writing taught me to refine my writing and adapt it to different purposes. In addition, I learned to always to be my worst critic, to complete assignments on time and to have confidence in my abilities. Though I still feel like my writing can have more, I recognized that one does not simply become a writing pro overnight. It takes years of practice and dedication to get to that point in writing. 

I look forward to advancing further in my writing career after taking these first important steps. With all that I have learned, I know I will be an asset to my future employer. Because of the diverse writing activities in this class, I will adapt my writing to suit whichever occasion and whatever purpose. I am ready for my future. 

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