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What do reporters say they would like from government Public Affairs offices?

When I attended the annual NAGC Communications School (National Association of Government Communicators), I heard reporters’ perspectives on dealing with Public Affairs offices.

The reporters’ biggest frustration? “It’s so hard for reporters to find the right number to call in a government agency. Please put those numbers on the website.”

So to all the PIOs reading this: Put clearly marked direct phone numbers on your agency’s website. Make everyone’s work easier. Nobody likes being stuck in a phone maze.

stack of books

How to write perfect press releases … how to choose the right typeface … how to handle intellectual property: Book reviews for anyone who writes

My 7/5 blog talked about Technical Communication: the Journal of the Society for Technical Communication.

Technical Communication runs an excellent book review department. In the hard-copy issue I’m looking at (ISSN 0049-3155), the book review section runs from pages 57-79. That’s amazingly large.

Books reviewed include:

  • Conquering the Content: A Blueprint for Online Course Design and Development
  • How to Write Perfect Press Releases
  • The Evolution of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Landmark Typefaces
  • Technical Writing Process
  • Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design
  • Ethical Issues in Science Communication

I cite this journal to benefit two distinct groups:

  1. Professionals who need to write about technical topics [You can count on the quality of these detailed reviews.]
  2. Authors who want to get attention for their books [Authors: You won’t see many book review departments this good or this big. If you write a book related to communication, consider submitting a copy for review.]

Pick one adjective. Just one, please.

To prepare for teaching a corporate writing workshop, I read a wide range of speeches, press releases, summaries, PowerPoints, and speaker notes. One issue kept popping up: the word “and” appeared too many times.

Consider this sentence:

1. A key challenge each year? Keeping employees engaged and interested. [Pick “engaged” or “interested”. You don’t need to use both.]

Look at this one:

2. The forum prompted them to explore the topics and discussions in greater depth. [Pick “topics” or “discussions”. Audiences don’t want to hear both.]

Here’s a whopper:

3. We kept our customers engaged and involved by posting noteworthy information and updates. [You know what to do: cut.]

This is the most practical editing tip I know:

If you’re tight for time, just cut the unnecessary “ands” in your document. It’s the fastest/best way to boost your writing. You’ll get a great return on your editing investment.

I promise.


Resource: Where can you learn about technical communication?

If you write about technical communication issues, tap into the resources of the Society for Technical Communication. STC’s journal, TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION, is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal aimed at both tech comm practitioners and academics.

The journal’s multidisciplinary perspective brings value to nonfiction writers in a wide range of fields.

I first learned about the Society for Technical Communication when I attended NAGC’s communications school last month. [NAGC is the National Association of Government Communicators, and I highly recommend their annual comm school to anyone who writes for government … writes about government … or needs access to government information.] STC exhibited at #NAGC2016.

Writers & authors: Tap into the expertise of government communicators to get the information you need

A guest blog from Donna Harris, a government communicator who serves on the board of NAGC (National Association of Government Communicators) …

Argh…Government! That’s what you hear these days.  Either there is too much or too little government action. But wait, I work for the federal government—well to be honest—for an independent government agency and I have a secret.  The federal government is a wealth of knowledge.  How do I know?  I’m a government communicator and I can’t wait to tell you what I know—well mostly.

When I started this job, I really didn’t know much about the communication field or the resources available to be successful in addressing the onslaught of media concerns. Where to start? Where to look?  Okay like any other person, I Googled my way through press conferences, quotes, and other exciting ways to communicate.  But not until I learned of the government network, did I really start to percolate.  How did I learn this?  I went to the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Communications School; a little known school established to offer networking opportunities and workshops, to address and advance the needs of the government communicator.  What I found during this school is the opportunity to interact with the media in a learning environment, and the ability to build networks and exchange ideas that can be useful when the need arises.  What was even better about the school is the ability to obtain resource information and gain the comfort level to pass along resources to both my communicating peers and the media.

As I type these thoughts, one recent example comes to mind. Last week I received a media inquiry for case information on illegal substances we’ve come across in the course of our investigations. I really didn’t have an answer, so what did I do; I got on the communicating horn and spoke to my folks, who in turn told me to call someone else—okay it’s government.  But mysteriously in my inbox and not from my Agency, I received an email of a press release announcing an arrest on the substance in question.  Well I called the reporter and passed along the information with the appropriate contacts, steering her to the correct Agency.  What did this tell me and the reporter? With the ability to communicate and research information, we could work as a team to obtain the elements needed for a great story.  This was a win-win and helped to shape a new and hopefully lasting partnership.

So the moral to this story is…always be willing to explore and communicate with government employees. While we may not always have the answer, I’m certain through trial and maybe a little error, we will find you the assistance you need.  Because it is really true…most of us are good and very conscientious workers, who strive to do good by everyone and the world.

By Donna Harris…a government communicator.

Do you write about finance?

If so, consider attending the Association for Financial Professionals annual conference: October 23-26 in Orlando FL.

I was invited to speak at their 2014 conference in Washington DC. With about 6000 attendees from all over the world, the networking was terrific. I gave a sold-out session on public speaking to a room of 300 and made great business contacts.

How to Write  Give a Speech smallforhomepage

How can writers/reporters/authors tap into the resources of government communicators?

Here’s a brief interview I did with Kathryn Stokes, president of the National Association of Government Communicators:

1.What was your first job in government communications? What is your current title?

I came to state government first as a contractor in the communications department tasked with writing the agency’s Continuity of Operations Plan, then was hired on as the Public Relations Manager.  Currently, I am the Strategic Affairs Officer [Mississippi Department of Employment Security] reporting to the Deputy Executive Director, CFO.  I manage the agency’s social media, provide backup for communications department, track agency performance measures, and manage executive projects.

2. How has government communications changed during your years in this field?

Since my tenure in government communications is relatively short [8 years], the primary changes I have seen are the adoption of social media and other technology we use to get our messages out.  In addition, changes in executive appointments have impacted how our agency communicates.  When new political appointees come on board, they seem to want to manage communications until they become comfortable with our skills.  Our most recent appointee has an English degree, so he wants to see all written communication.  However, he relies on his communications team for talking points if he has to appear on TV or radio, and has even engaged in the use of social media, something he was vehemently opposed to when he came on board 4 years ago.

3. What would you like journalists/writers/authors to know about working with government communicators? Or, put another way, how can government communicators serve as resources for journalists/writers/authors?

Journalists/writers/authors should look to government communications as the conduit for getting them the information they need. They should know we are not always the masters of our strategies; political appointees often control communications activities and although we do our best to facilitate their requests within their timelines, we rarely have control over getting the information/SME/spokesperson, etc., in a timely manner.  It would be helpful for them to know this when requesting information and to leave plenty of time for us to manage their requests.  It’s also a bit frustrating that they do not use our websites to gather information.  We often get requests for information that is readily available on our website.  At least in our case, we encourage journalists to get on our lists for e-mail blasts and to follow us on Twitter to keep abreast of timely information.

Top writers discuss the future of public health

What’s Next? The Future of Public Health

Bold thinking. Provocative discussions. Future visions.

Join us for a remarkable live webcast June 9, 2016 for What’s Next? The Future of Public Health as three of the nation’s leading writers explore what’s ahead in pandemics, social justice and other critical issues that will shape human health in the coming decades and beyond. Participants include:

Yamiche Alcindor, a national political reporter for The New York Times, who has produced videos on human trafficking, gun violence and poverty.

Sonia Shah, a science writer, whose most recent book is Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond.

Laura Sullivan, an NPR News investigative correspondent who has reported on the business of disaster response, the de facto housing of the mentally ill in America’s jails, and other major issues.

Julie Rovner (moderator), the Robin Toner Distinguished Fellow and senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News; and author of Health Care Politics and Policy A-Z.

The onsite event is sold out. Please be sure to  watch the webcast.

What’s Next? The Future of Public Health

1 – 3 p.m. Eastern

Thursday, June 9, 2016


How to make money writing speeches: ASJA “Shop Talk” on June 15

stack of books

What questions should you ask to build your speechwriting career?

I’ll address speechwriting topics during the June 15th “Shop Talk”, a monthly webcast sponsored by the American Society of Journalists and Authors – hosted by Sandra Beckwith. If you’ve ever wondered about any of the following questions, participate on 6/15 and get answers:

How can I break into speechwriting?

Does a speechwriter need a specific academic background?

What’s the difference between political speechwriting and corporate speechwriting?

How can freelance speechwriters build their businesses?

What does a staff speechwriter need to know before going freelance?

Why is social media so important to an independent speechwriter?

What should be in my writing/speechwriting portfolio?

How much can a speechwriters earn?

What role does geography play in freelance speechwriting? (Can I still make money writing speeches even if I don’t live in a big city?)

How has speechwriting changed in the 30+ years since HOW TO WRITE & GIVE A SPEECH was first published?

ASJA members have free access to “Shop Talk” webcasts. (Yes, that’s another good reason for you to apply for ASJA membership!) But you don’t have to be a member to benefit from this superb Shop Talk series. A modest $19 fee lets you gain access to the insights and expertise of top nonfiction writers.

Join me 6/15 to learn about the business of speechwriting.



What is the future of journalism?

I look forward to attending “The Future of Journalism” panel at next week’s NAGC Communications School in Washington DC.

This panel is being organized by NAGC’s current president, John Verrico. Panelists include:

Wendy Benjamin (AP Washington Assistant Chief of Bureau)

Ellen Shearer (Bureau Chief, Medill News Service & Medill Washington Program)

Marisa Jean Endicott (Medill News Service)

The National Association of Government Communicators

June 7-9, 2016: NAGC Communications School, Washington, DC

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